In her new memoir Find a Way, long distance swimmer Diana Nyad tells of her epic swim from Cuba to Key West, which she completed at age 64 after failing to do so in her 20s.
The seeds for her extreme dream were sown when she was just a child. On his daughter’s 5th birthday, Aristotle Nyad opened the dictionary and pointed to their last name: Nyad (naiad), from Greek mythology, a girl or woman champion swimmer. Nyad doesn’t believe in fate, but she locked onto the word “champion” and knew that it would one day describe her.
She also became interested in Cuba as a child, when the Cuban Revolution brought an influx of refugees to her hometown, and her new friends introduced her to their culture. She recalls standing on the beach at age 9 with her mother and looking toward the horizon. Her mother told her that Cuba was so close that she could almost swim there.
After enjoying numerous other successes as a swimmer, Nyad began to plan and train for her Cuba swim when she was in her 20s. She made her first attempt from Cuba at age 28 utilizing a shark cage, but after swimming for 42 hours and covering 76 miles, strong winds and swells had knocked her so far off course that she was heading not for Florida, but for Texas. The following year, after training for a repeat swim but being denied entry to Cuba, she instead swam 102 miles from North Bimini Island, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Florida, this time without the shark cage.
At age 30, Nyad figured it was time to retire as a professional athlete and instead pursued a career as a sports broadcaster and journalist. Then at age 60, a Mary Oliver quote forced her to reevaluate her priorities: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” After pondering that question, the extreme dream was reborn. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy. She no longer had the body of a world-class athlete. There would be grueling hours of training. There would be complicated logistics to work through. She would need to sell her dream to a support team of 35 people. There would ultimately be setbacks and failures and nearly fatal encounters with jellyfish. But Nyad’s mantra was: Find a way.
This isn’t just a story of an impressive athletic feat. Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Andre Agassi’s Open, Nyad’s story also delves into her family history and personal struggles, and how they informed and shaped her future. Nyad is an impressive storyteller — here’s one of her several TED talks — and this book will leave you feeling inspired to pursue something amazing with your own wild and precious life.
In Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, Ed Caesar discusses what it would take for a man to complete the arbitrary distance of 26.2 miles under the arbitrary time limit of two hours.
Why 26.2 miles? Every runner knows the story of Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles to request help from the Spartan army when the Persians landed in Greece. He then ran 25 miles from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens where he announced the Greek victory, and promptly died on the spot from exhaustion. When the modern Olympics began in 1896, it included a “marathon” race inspired by Pheidippides’ (likely fictional) journey. Marathon distances were approximately 25 miles until 1921, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation set the distance to match the course of the 1908 London Olympic marathon. The 1908 marathon route began at Windsor Castle and finished with a lap around the track inside White City Stadium, ending in front of the Royal Box. Any runner who makes it to mile 25 of a marathon and doesn’t think he can run another 1.2 can thank the British royal family for their viewing preferences.
And why two hours? In 1991, Mike Joyner concluded that the ideal runner under ideal conditions could complete a marathon in 1 hour, 57 minutes and 58 seconds, and published his findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology. At the time, the world record was 02:06:50. The current world record, set 23 years later by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, is nearly four minutes faster at 02:02:57.
Whether it’s likely that we will see a sub-two hour marathon in the near future is hotly debated. Caesar discusses issues of science, technology, psychology and economics that affect the “ideal runner” and “ideal conditions.” He considers everything from advancements in road pavement, to the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs, to why the Western Rift Valley of Kenya produces such amazing distance runners. Caesar writes extensively about the training and career of accomplished Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai to put a face to the challenge.
Two Hours is the perfect book to relax with over the winter, perhaps in anticipation of training for your own spring marathon. Fans of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall will definitely enjoy this as well.
What do catchers and umpires really talk about during a ballgame? Longtime Major League catcher Jason Kendall reveals the secrets of that mystery in Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played. Co-authored by Kansas City Star sportswriter Lee Judge, this is not a personal memoir with a few details about what happens on the field, but instead it is chockfull of insights that any casual or ardent baseball fan will relish.
Kendall spent more than half of his decade-plus career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was known as an unusually speedy catcher with an unconventional batting stance. This resulted in him being the fifth most hit-by-pitch player in Major League history, and he divulges the methods used to reach base no matter what the cost. But for the bulk of the book, the self-described badass talks about the relationships a catcher has with the rest of his team and opponents when on the field. Kendall starts with the pitcher and discusses in great detail how statistics, while valuable, often take a back seat to keen observation. After several seasons in the big leagues, he could identify when a pitcher needed to hang it up, and when batters were simply phoning it in and when they were on fire. Most intriguing of all are the discussions between catcher and pitcher and the ever-evolving, incredibly exhaustive language of signs between the two critical players.
Written conversationally, but containing considerable detail, Throwback is a rare look into how contemporary baseball is won and lost. While other big leaguers are mentioned, this is all about the game and not about the personalities. And those catcher-umpire conversations? Kendall discloses how it is an all-game affair of compromise, conniving and convincing to make sure there would be a win for his team at the end of nine innings.
O.J. Brigance knows what it’s like to be a winner on and off the field. He had a remarkable career as an NFL linebacker, including as a member of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl winning team. Following that victory, Brigance joined the front office to help create more championship teams for the purple and black. But in 2007, he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his life was forever altered. Peter Schrager, FoxSports.com senior writer, and Brigance share his inspirational story of perseverance and hope in Strength of a Champion: Finding Faith and Fortitude Through Adversity.
Upon diagnosis, doctors told Brigance he would have three to five years to live, years which would be marked by the loss of speech and mobility. But Brigance, familiar with hits on the field, refused to give up. Rather than follow a path of self-pity, Brigance viewed his diagnosis as an opportunity. With faith, determination and the love of his wife Chanda, O.J. fought back and raised awareness for this debilitating disease. No longer able to walk or speak, Brigance remained a vibrant presence in Baltimore’s front office and touched everyone in the organization as the team claimed another Super Bowl victory in 2013.
Brigance received motivation and energy from the team as well, and shared special bonds with players and coaches. Upon hearing of Ray Lewis’ retirement, Brigance told him to go out a champion. And when illness threatened his appearance at the Super Bowl, he recovered and delivered a moving pre-game message to the team. At the conclusion of Brigance’s powerful speech, Coach John Harbaugh had no doubt that the Super Bowl would be Baltimore’s. Brigance shares wonderful behind-the-scenes stories and humorous anecdotes which will appeal to ardent football fans, but this story of one courageous man living a life of inspiration and faith transcends the football field. Learn more about The Brigance Brigade, O.J.’s foundation dedicated to equipping, encouraging, and empowering people living with ALS.
Online poker was a hot phenomenon in the early 2000s, and Ship It Holla Ballas! by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback traces the trend by focusing on some of the hottest players. Ship It Holla Ballas is a name coined from a poker term, a celebratory cheer, and urban slang and was chosen as the crew name by an elite group of poker players who studied the online game and figured out how to win. This group of college dropouts met on a popular message board and soon got together in person. While the authors introduce the main players using their online handles, all of them, including, Irieguy, Raptor, and Good2cu, are real guys who got to live lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Most of these young men weren’t even old enough to gamble in a casino when the crew was formed, but they took advantage of the online games to win millions of dollars. Those millions helped these enterprising, if nerdy, teens transform themselves into players with fast cars, big houses, and beautiful women. They eventually took on Vegas, winning some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world, and garnering even more attention.
Readers will get a sense of the personalities of these players and their individual motivations behind dominating this complex card game. The authors frame the story of the crew by outlining the rapid rise and fall of online poker. At one point as many as 15 million people were betting online. But on April 15, 2011, the government shut down the three largest sites, effectively killing the games. This is a story filled with ego, dedication, success, and excess. It is also the story of how the smartest guys in the room parlayed their brains into big bucks.
Joe Paterno long identified with Virgil’s reluctant Trojan hero Aeneas, who eschewed individual glory on his way to founding Rome. Aeneas fulfilled his destiny in a way that the late Penn State coach admired. Aeneas, like Paterno, was a team player. In his new biography, Paterno, author Joe Posnanski paints a complicated picture of the consummate team player and his rise and fall as a coaching legend.
Posnanski cleverly organized Paterno’s story into five operatic acts, beginning with his success-driven upbringing in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and concluding with the tragic repercussions of the 2011 Penn State sexual abuse scandal. By the end, and in a span of about three months, the winningest coach in college history had been consumed by scandal, cancer, and ultimately death.
Excellence and success meant different things to Joe Paterno. Examples of both are in plentiful supply in Posnanski’s book. There are anecdotes and testimonials but also contradictions. A former writer for Sports Illustrated, Posnanski visualized a different book when he was granted full access to Paterno last year. Then the Jerry Sandusky case erupted. A chapter entitled “Sandusky” explores the emotional armor of these powerful men. Apparently there was no love lost between the two. There are some interesting sidebars about Paterno’s impressions of the second most popular coach in Happy Valley.
Although the author’s tone is generally sympathetic, it is still a white-hot topic as to why Paterno, a lifelong rule follower who valued his young men, did not step up for those most vulnerable. "One of Paterno's great strengths, and perhaps one of his great flaws was his fierce loyalty and absolute trust in the people closest to him," according to Posnanski. That observation remains the crux in evaluating the aggregate of a remarkable 46-year career that reached the pinnacle of heights before plunging to the depths of misery.
Tony Siragusa, one of the most beloved former Ravens, writes about football and life in Goose: the Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy. Siragusa’s path to the Super Bowl wasn’t easy, and his was a career which almost didn’t happen. Readers meet Goose as a child in New Jersey and learn that athletics did not always come easy. In fact, he used his failure to make the Little League All Star team at age twelve as future motivation to prove his prowess. He had a successful career as a college athlete at the University of Pittsburgh and also enjoyed the extra-curricular fun associated with college days. Unfortunately, he injured both knees while playing and lost a season to rehabilitation.
During the 1990 NFL draft, Siragusa was not picked through twelve rounds, but was selected by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. The team doctor thought he would be lucky to survive a few years in the NFL. But what do doctors know? Siragusa played for twelve seasons, signing with the Ravens in 1997. He will forever be remembered in Baltimore as a critical member of the 2000 Ravens’ defense which allowed the fewest points in NFL regular season history, and which went on to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Charm City by claiming victory in Super Bowl XXXV. Today, Siragusa is a popular sideline reporter on the Fox network and cohost of DIY Network’s Man Caves. Football falls will appreciate the insider details, but this is more than a tale of the gridiron. Siragusa shares life lessons, stories about small town living, and the importance of perseverance in this breezy, humorous read which will appeal even to those readers who don’t claim citizenship in Ravens Nation.
In 1992, the United States assembled an Olympic basketball team of NBA stars and created what was arguably the greatest team ever in any sport. On the twentieth anniversary of the Barcelona Olympics, and just in time for the London Games, Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum examines this legendary team and their place in history in Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever.
McCallum had a front-row seat for the spectacle and covered the team from selection to medal ceremony. He was close to the players, and he hit the links, played cards, and drank with this disparate group of superstars. The personalities were huge, but the team put aside ego and worked together to create magic. The anecdotes from ’92 are illuminated by the contemporary interviews with each of the players. One of the most riveting stories is the play-by-play narration of the legendary intra-squad scrimmage that pitted the Dream Teamers against one another. This pre-Olympics’ contest was perhaps the most competitive game played, remembered as the greatest pickup game ever with the best display of trash talk in history.
This amazing team was responsible for creating a cultural phenomenon that helped make basketball a global sport and the NBA an international brand. Today international stars are plentiful in the NBA and many of them were inspired to play because of the Dream Team’s spirit and competiveness. This fast-paced narrative captures a remarkable sporting time and vividly describes a group of athletes who joined forces on an international stage, outperformed the hype, and changed the future of their sport.
Drive around Maryland’s thoroughbred horse country, and it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque scene than the mare and her foal romping in a shamrock green field. It is equally hard to imagine the carefully orchestrated breeding and the trials of their short lived careers. Just in time for this year's Triple Crown campaign, two new books take an in-depth look at these storied animals whose equine feats define the sport of kings.
In his well-researched biography, Eclipse: the Horse that Changed Racing History Forever, journalist Nicholas Clee brings to life the greatest horse of all time and his roguish owner, Dennis O'Kelly. Clee vividly describes mid-18th century Georgian England as a gambler's paradise. In this milieu, the Irishman wheels and deals, until he has purchased the undefeated Eclipse, the freakishly fast chestnut thoroughbred whose astounding number of progeny includes this year's Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. How O'Kelly and his brothel-owning companion, Charlotte, manage to reap the benefits from their chosen activities and turn a racehorse into a breeding stallion for the ages is what makes this historical narrative fun to read.
Fast forward 250 years to Susan Nusser's Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions. Nusser deftly records the behind-the-scenes pulse of one of Kentucky's elite horse breeding operations as it readies for a new crop of foals. It is an exhausting schedule of barn rounds, meetings, crises, x-rays, and runway-like parading, all in the hope of getting to the yearling sales. Nusser's prose is fast paced and heartfelt. A prime example is when she describes a mare's anguish over the death of a foal: "her wail is steady, coming in waves, one right after the other." Making it to the finish line is never taken for granted.
Horse lovers and historians, including fans of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, will appreciate these revealing glimpses inside the racing world and the fragile four-legged athletes who run their hearts out.
For Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry spring training is a renewal of their friendship. Every spring former Yankees’ pitching superstar Guidry drives to the Tampa airport and picks up former Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Berra. The two go the ballpark, watch games, eat dinner together, and trade stories. Every day for the next month follows the same pattern. Driving Mr. Yogi is the story of the bond between two men who on the surface appear to share only baseball in common. The catcher from a poor Italian neighborhood in St. Louis and the pitcher from Cajun swamp country were born a quarter of a century apart, and yet today Guidry calls Berra his best friend. New York Times reporter Harvey Araton first shared this story last year in an article in the paper and expands on it in this humorous and thoughtful narrative.
It all began in 1999, when Berra was reunited with the Yankees following a 14 year self-exile that began when he was fired by George Steinbrenner. The rift between the two men led Berra to cut all ties with the Bronx Bombers. The Boss finally offered an apology and Berra went back to spring training where Guidry befriended him. Berra had been a clubhouse mentor during Guidry’s playing days and Ron knew the young players would benefit from Berra’s impressive knowledge of the game and its history. Sure enough, Berra’s casual batting tip changed Nick Swisher's season, and the new ballplayers savored the anecdotes about famous old-timers such as Ted Williams and Don Larsen.
This is a story of baseball and the rituals of spring training, but it is also a funny and affectionate story of friendship that transcends generations. And yes, it is the Yankees, but even the most ardent Orioles fan will appreciate this engaging story of two likeable sportsmen!