Friday, May 11, 2012

Of Icons and Idols

A baseball player, a skateboarder and an ultra runner walk into a bar... stop me if you've heard this one... that would actually be a conversation I'd love to sit in on. Over the course of my life, these three figures have represented the sports idols/icons that have most shaped my life.

Eddie Murray was my first sports hero. The Baltimore Orioles first baseman with his iconic hat-tamed afro. We've talked about him here before--going to your first baseball game at Memorial Stadium and being swept up in the crowd chanting, "Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!" The pursuit of his Topps baseball card and even my own wanting to play first base came after. After the Colts departed Baltimore, baseball was all we had to follow.

At age 13, and a broken arm from baseball later I had moved on to lacrosse, I discovered a sport/lifestyle much more formative and transformative for me: skateboarding. This was during the time that Powell Peralta's Bones Brigade was taking shape and a tall, skinny kid was spinning 720 degree airs on half-pipes and starting to dominate professional skateboarding. I was a not-as-tall skinny kid and Tony Hawk became the guy to emulate. Never mind that we skated street, not ramps around Easton and Oxford.

Skateboarding and running have been the two physical pursuits that have shaped and defined my life probably more than any others. It's funny to think that Tony Hawk is still the singular name in skateboarding, transforming the sport and turning himself into a worldwide brand and a household name. Maybe I should have stuck with skating.

I have stepped away from both sports at different times. When I stepped back into running, at around age 30 and started reading about it, not just doing it, Dean Karnazes was making headlines and magazine covers for unthinkable pursuits. Meanwhile, another skinny kid was quietly dominating trail ultra running, winning seven consecutive Western States 100 mile races. Scott Jurek seemed to love running for running. It would take the book "Born to Run," to spread the gospel of Jurek beyond the ears of the ultra running faithful.

While I haven't skimmed the surface of the commitment or accomplishments of a Hawk or a Jurek, if you asked someone who knew me in my teenage years, the first thing they'd remember is that I was a skateboarder. If you ask someone about me over the past ten years, they'd say I was a runner. We take cues and inspiration from the icons of the sports and pursuits we love. We may try to emulate their training or tricks or style.

I have held Murray, Hawk and Jurek up, and still do, as emblems of sports I love. Our various icons shape our lives. I've been riffing on and thinking about icons a lot lately as Adam Yauch, MCA of the Beastie Boys died of cancer at age 47. And Maurice Sendak, author of "Where the Wild Things Are," which was THE iconic book from my childhood--my mom decorated my room after the book--died a few days later.

The Beastie Boys have been the band I have most consistently listened to since I was 14. I have previously listed their album "Paul's Boutique" as one of the major touchstones in my life. I guess we reach an age when our touchstones, our icons, start to disappear. We're all ephemeral.

I don't have a point here, or a neat bow to tie everything up with. I guess it's just a matter of acknowledging and appreciating the icons, the people, who I have held up; who have dedicated their lives to pursuits that are important to me. Of giving props to the people who have brought joy and inspiration to me over the years.

1 comment:

Rain said...

Icons, good word...these people are dedicated to their passion, that's why I respect them!

And skateboarding and running! Both so different! Kind of an interesting contrast though.