Good sports

Watching equestrian jumping on my tablet at my desk

I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic coverage this past week: not just the mainstream events that are shown during primetime but also more obscure events you can live-stream online. I love watching equestrian competitions, so I’ve set an alert on my tablet that lets me know when those events are live, and I watch them with the sound muted while I work on other things.

Olympic jumping

I could spend hours watching Olympic jumping: it’s soothing to watch large, powerful creatures fly over fences. When I was a horse-crazy kid living in a central Ohio neighborhood far from any farms, I loved the classic movie National Velvet, in which a young Elizabeth Taylor dresses as a boy to compete in the Grand National steeplechase, and International Velvet, a modern sequel in which Tatum O’Neal plays a girl who competes in the Olympics.


Although I don’t remember much of the plot of either movie, the fact that they both centered around horses and horse-crazy girls was enough to grab my attention. In addition to a huge collection of model horses, as a child I had a Barbie-sized International Velvet doll that came dressed in a riding outfit complete with riding boots and helmet, and I would play with that doll for hours, imagining what it was like to soar over fences. As a city girl without a horse of my own, I relied upon books, movies, and toys to quench my horse-hungry appetite, and watching Olympic equestrian events as a grown-up also serves to scratch that long-dormant itch.

Over water

In addition to show jumping, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic dressage competitions. Folks with an untrained eye often dismiss dressage as “horse dancing” as riders guide their horses through a set routine of carefully orchestrated gaits. When I was a kid, however, I read Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lipizza, in which a boy spends months as an apprentice at the famous Spanish Riding School with their world-renowned royal Lipizzan stallions, and that book taught me how much training both horse and rider undergo to master the moves of classical dressage.

Flying over fences

The royal Lipizzan stallions perform jumps and kicks known as “airs above ground,” but Olympic dressage doesn’t involve that kind of acrobatics. Instead, Olympic dressage horses move through a routine of artificial gaits such as the piaffe, which is a prancing trot where the horse pauses in each step, and the flying change, where the horse alternates his lead hoof while cantering. Whenever I watch riders guide their horses through these or other meticulous moves, I have a single question in mind: How do you get a horse to do that? A good dressage horse looks simultaneously energetic and collected, like a wound spring, and a good dressage rider stays calm and focused, sitting upright and still in the saddle as she guides her mount through his paces without any visible cues.

Throw your heart over the fence

Sometimes when I’m meditating, I imagine myself astride the powerful dressage horse of my own mind, my cushion like a saddle. A seasoned equestrian knows you mustn’t crush your horse’s spirit: a well-trained horse is alert and engaged, marshaling its energy in calm abeyance. When you watch an Olympic jumper or dressage horse, you’re watching a powerful creature that is contained by concentration, his rider literally reining in any exuberance while spurring on an alert and active demeanor. When you watch your mind in meditation, you hold its wandering exuberance in check with the rein of your own breath: easy now, boy. Stay with me, calm and collected.

I shot all of today’s photos from the livestream of Olympic coverage I’ve been watching on my tablet: a blatant violation of broadcast copyright.

Marathon bombing memorial

This morning on my way to meet friends in Harvard Square, I stopped at Copley Square to visit the Boston Marathon finish line. Yesterday was One Boston Day–the anniversary of the 2013 Marathon bombing–and on Monday, I’ll watch this year’s race here in Newton, cheering the runners before they face Heartbreak Hill. Today, I wanted to visit the two spots on Boylston Street where three people died and hundreds were injured: a chance to pay my respects at a place simultaneously festive and somber.

Four crosses

There is no permanent memorial commemorating the Marathon bombing; instead, impromptu offerings of flowers, handwritten notes, and homemade crosses mark the two spots where pressure cooker bombs turned a festive event into a scene of mayhem. If you didn’t know that lives and limbs were lost in front of Marathon Sports and the former Forum Restaurant, you’d notice nothing remarkable about these two stretches of sidewalk. But if you know the hidden history of these sites, you recognize them as invisible portals between the Here and the Hereafter: two otherwise ordinary places where souls prematurely crossed to the other side.

Remember Martin Richard

Today when I arrived on Boylston Street, a 5K race had just finished, and throngs of people were watching an awards ceremony for the winners. Boylston Street was closed to vehicular traffic, and tourists posed for pictures at the finish line: a festive scene. This is the disconnect that will forever mark the Boston Marathon finish line: a site of both triumph and tragedy, the sidewalk here holds a hidden history of heartbreak.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The statue of Boston Marathon legend Johnny Kelley at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street here in Newton serves as a kind of shrine for long-distance runners, many of whom leave medals or race bibs from the races they’ve completed: an offering left to honor a man who still inspires.

Shoe offerings

I always wonder about the people who leave these mementos. Why not keep the keepsakes they trained so hard to earn, and why give them to a statue rather than a flesh-and-blood person?

But in asking these questions, I reveal how little I understand of a marathoner’s mind. In the the course of training and then running a marathon, there must be many times when runners hearken to their inner pantheon of heroes, reminding themselves that if Johnny Kelley could run the Boston Marathon 61 times, win it twice, and complete his final race at the age of 84, they can finish their own marathon, too.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The title of Johnny Kelley’s statue is “Young at Heart,” and it shows a youthful Kelley running his first marathon hand-in-hand with his older self. I can only assume that the runners who leave well-worn shoes at Johnny Kelley’s feet do so because they feel he somehow ran alongside them during their marathons, too.

2015 Boston Marathon

After the winter we weathered here in Boston, it would have taken a lot more than rain to keep us from watching this year’s Boston Marathon. Today was cold, rainy, and windy–as miserable as this past weekend was lovely–so the crowds were smaller than usual but as enthusiastic as ever: diehard fans undaunted by a little damp.

2015 Boston Marathon

Today’s weather was the kind that looks wretched from inside but isn’t that bad when you’re actually out in it. Somehow being in and among other cheering fans distracts you from your own discomfort. There weren’t as many families with pets and children as there have been in fair-weather years, but there were still some hearty souls who weren’t scared away by the forecast.

2015 Boston Marathon

The families with children and bundled babies between Miles 18 and 19 in Newton all looked like old pros when it comes to New England weather. Both their rain gear and general nonchalance suggested they’d been to other soggy Marathons, or had sat through rain delays at Fenway Park, or had weathered rain, sleet, and snow at Gillette Stadium.

2015 Boston Marathon

J and I have been to more than our share of foul-weather sporting events, including New England Revolution games that continued despite pouring rain and one infamous Patriots’ game where we had to dig out our seats from a half-foot of snow. From these events, I’ve learned that cheering vociferously really does keep you warm, as does hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and other kinds of movement.

2015 Boston Marathon

At the Marathon, at least, you aren’t tethered to a single assigned seat, so when you get cold, you can pull up stakes and walk, cheering the nonstop stream of runners from a new and moving vantage point.

2015 Boston Marathon

In past years, J and I have established a routine where we initially watch the race from the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue, then we walk toward the massive block party at Newton City Hall, walking alongside the runners as they pass large houses on one side of the road and the backside of Newton Cemetery on the other.

2015 Boston Marathon

This is my favorite segment of the Marathon route, as the crowds thin and the sidewalk peters out into a dirt path. As you walk alongside the runners, you can hear the hypnotic rhythm of their footfalls along with the sotto voce conversations between running partners as they prepare to face Heartbreak Hill. “This is where the race gets interesting, isn’t it,” I overhear one runner ask another. “Yes, it is,” the second responds.

2015 Boston Marathon

Today there was a lone man standing along this segment of the route quietly uttering encouragements: “Great Job!” “You’re looking good!” “That’s a good, steady stride!” His observations were the kind a running coach might tell his charges, but none of them were shouted, merely spoken as if the man were addressing a person right beside him, or himself.

2015 Boston Marathon

After the noisy hoopla of drums, cowbells, and clapping spectators the runners had just passed through, and given the festive music and upbeat DJ they’d hear over a loudspeaker at City Hall, this man’s encouragements seemed as subtle and subliminal as one’s own heartbeat pulsing a litany of encouragement from within.

2015 Boston Marathon

Click here to see more photos from today’s soggy Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Snowy backyard

Last night the Patriots won the Super Bowl, and today the sky is falling as snow: another day in New England. After the snow tapers, we’ll dig out our sidewalks, driveways, and cars, and tomorrow, the Patriots will parade through downtown Boston, victorious. These two things—digging out from a foot of snow and celebrating sports championships—are part of what it means to live in New England.

Snowed in

The rallying cry for the Patriots this year has been “Do your job,” a concise summary of Bill Belichick’s no-nonsense coaching philosophy. The motto “Do your job” seems particularly apt here in the Boston suburbs right now as we start cleaning up after another whopper of a storm. There’s nothing glamorous about snow shoveling, roof raking, or other winter chores: I’m guessing most folks would happily live their lives without ever once having to dig out a snow-buried car. But here in New England, doing your job means digging out your car, sidewalk, and driveway several times a year, every year.

Long icicle

This morning I woke before my alarm, checked my phone, and saw that Curry College had cancelled classes, so J and I slept an extra hour. But even on a snow day, we couldn’t sleep too late, as there are dogs to be taken out and in, dishes to wash, litterboxes to clean, cats to feed, and a diabetic cat to inject with insulin. “Do your job,” I think every morning when my feet hit the floor and I begin a routine of daily chores that’s become automatic, pulling on a faded Patriots hoodie whose cuffs are frayed from housework. Bill Belichick is famous for wearing a slouchy hoodie, the sleeves cut off without any eye to fashion. But why roll up your sleeves when you can simply do without them?

Inside looking out

“Do your job,” I thought this morning as I turned on my laptop to post an online equivalent of the work my students would have done in class today: snow may come and go, but the work of teaching and learning always remains. Regardless of the weather, the dogs still need to go out, the cats still need to be fed, and the blank page still waits to be written. In my Zen school, we talk about inside jobs and outside jobs. Your outside job is what you do for a living, whether you’re a football coach, college writing instructor, or housewife. Your outside job can change—you can switch careers, take a day off, or enjoy a snow day—but the inside work of keeping a clear mind always remains.

There used to be a sidewalk there

Just as “Boston Strong” was the perfect rallying cry for the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, “Do your job” is a perfect fit with New England sensibilities. New Englanders are renowned for their reserve, and Belichick’s reticent on-camera persona matches the local temperament. Why talk about your job when you can simply do it, regardless of what it is? If you have breath enough for chatter, you’re probably not working hard enough. In winter, after all, the snow piles as deep as the nights are long, so there’s little time to waste.

Thank you, Rondo

Last night, J and I went to the TD Garden to watch the Boston Celtics play the Dallas Mavericks. When we bought tickets for this particular Celtics game at the start of the season, we didn’t know that Celtics point guard, team captain, and 2008 world champion Rajon Rondo would be traded to the Mavs right before Christmas. When we heard Rondo had been traded, J and I were saddened: Rondo was the by far the best player on this year’s Celtics team, and he was the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. But when we realized we’d be in the house when Rondo came back to the TD Garden in a Mavericks jersey, we knew we’d be on our feet, cheering.

Rondo on defense

Whenever a former Boston sports star returns to town after a trade, sportswriters speculate about how he’ll be received. Will diehard fans cheer their former favorite, or will they greet him with boos? In my experience, diehard fans are loyal fans, especially when a player didn’t ask to be traded. In December, J and I saw the Celtics play the Washington Wizards, and the hometown crowd went wild when former Celtics captain Paul Pierce was introduced, even though it’s been more than a year and a half since Pierce was traded. When it comes to championship players like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo, the adage “Once a Celtic, always a Celtic” seems to apply. Diehard fans, in other words, don’t forget what a player did to contribute to the team even after the color of his jersey changes.


So last night, a sold-out crowd of diehard Celtics fans went wild when Rajon Rondo was announced as part of the Mavericks’ starting lineup, and we cheered again when Rondo scored the first bucket of the game, and we cheered even louder when a video tribute to Rondo was shown during the second quarter. As the game went on and Rondo hit shot after shot, the cheers turned to good-natured groans: how could we have been so stupid to trade such a player away? (Had Danny Ainge, the Celtics President of Basketball Operations and architect of the Rondo trade, been shown on the Jumbotron, I’m sure HE would have gotten booed.)


Basketball is a business, and both teams and players have to keep their eye on the bottom line: gone are the days when a player spent his entire career with a single team. But just because team owners and player agents remain hard-nosed when it comes to the business of basketball doesn’t mean fans can’t play favorites. Paul Pierce just doesn’t look right in a Washington Wizards jersey, and Rajon Rondo doesn’t look right in Mavericks’ blue, either. In my mind and heart alike, Pierce, Rondo, Garnett, and the rest will always be a part of the team that won another championship for Boston.

Thank you, Rondo

Apart from the first and last photo, which I shot with my phone last night, the other photos illustrating today’s post come from past games when Rajon Rondo played for rather than against the Celtics.

Kind of blue

I first blogged this photo of empty seats at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium in June, 2009, after J and I had been to a New England Revolution soccer game there.

Primary colors

When J and I had Revs season tickets in 2010, there were always lots of empty seats, Major League Soccer not being a big draw. But last weekend’s MLS championship game–in which the Revs lost to the LA Galaxy in extra time–was watched by nearly two million viewers. This suggests soccer in general and Major League Soccer in particular are both becoming more popular in America, making it easier for the Revs to fill those empty seats. That’s nothing to be blue about.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Blue.

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