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Archive for June, 2011

I’ve been sitting on this idea for a post for a few days, letting it roll around my head, partly out of procrastination, and partly because I want to make sure I was making a correct judgment.

On Friday I read a story about a man who stabbed his girlfriend with their children in the house. Horrifying, of course. But I still can’t get past the lede of the story:

Six months. If Jacob Rodriguez could stay out of trouble for that long, charges that he harassed and stalked his girlfriend last June would be dismissed.

But he couldn’t, authorities say.

On Wednesday, according to police, Rodriguez stabbed and slashed his girlfriend, Brittany L. Hickman, on the first level of the West Deptford townhouse they shared, while the couple’s 2-year-old daughter and Hickman’s 5-year-old son were upstairs.

What an astonishingly bizarre and irresponsible way to introduce the pertinent information. Look, I get the reporter’s instinct to find an angle, and I understand the desire to present a compelling account of the facts. But good gravy, this is not the way to do it.

Let’s just consider a few things.

First, the news is that the girlfriend was stabbed. It’s absolutely an incident of domestic violence and should be judged as such.

Secondly, the context is that this is not the first — or, likely, even the second — time he’s shown abusive behavior. We learn later in the story that Rodriguez was charged with stalking and harassing last June after trying to run his girlfriend off the road. Because his girlfriend withdrew a temporary restraining order after that incident, those charges could be dropped. It’s a pretty important detail.

But instead of using the history to set the context for the stabbing, the reporter decides to frame the story as some sort of struggle and personal hardship for Rodriguez. As though he’s just so damn unlucky to be in more legal trouble. Yes, Rodriguez would be a free man in Jersey (so unfettered and alive) right about now, if only he hadn’t been so unfortunate as to stab his girlfriend.

Heavens. Using the straightforward inverted pyramid style would have been loads better, and using the facts to identify the stabbing as another act of an abuser would have been loads more accurate.

Instead, we get flippant language.

“If Jacob Rodriguez could stay out of trouble…”

“But he couldn’t, authorities say.”

The phrasing takes the blame off Rodriguez and makes it disappear — It wasn’t his fault. It was nobody’s! He couldn’t help himself.

Sorry. The blame’s all on him, and given his history, the incident can be a lesson about how abusers continue to try to gain power and control in a multitude of ways. It should have been prevented. And it’s a tragedy. Just not for him.

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The race: Tour of Mt. Nebo
The date: 6/11
The result: 9th (Category 4)

The story…

There’s something seductively romantic about road trips. Hitting the open road with nothing but some gas, clothes, money and a direction — it’s very poetic. The seams in the road make tires ka-chunk in iambs or anapests, the miles tick by in uniform couplets, and if you’re lucky, the scenery washes over the windshield in free verse.

There’s also something romantic about cycling. Everything about it is defined by rhythm. The cadence of pedal strokes, the sway of handlebars during a steady climb, the lub-dub of the engine that powers it all.

That might be true. I was looking forward to taking my new-old car on its first extended trip today, and I was looking forward to a potentially awesome race, but there was nothing romantic, poetic, or seductive about getting lost in Lancaster at 7 in the morning.

It’s true! Even though I’d been to this race several times, I still wasted 40 miles and about an hour meandering around Pennsylvania farm country. How did I manage to do this? Mostly because I was distracted by my own thoughts.

A handful of miles before I had to make a left turn onto a Swan Road, I noticed that one heck of a storm system was building in the sky. Then, a few miles later, I noticed a sign for a Sadsbury Township, which sounds like the place where all the mopes in the world are assigned to live, or a kind of corny slang.

With the clouds and Sadsbury occupying the two functioning channels of my brain, I zoomed past Swan Road without seeing the tiny green sign.

That I kept recognizing landmarks only compounded the problem. Dutch Wonderland, a teepee stand for shoo-fly pie, a giant bear carved out of wood: I saw all these things and thought I was heading in the right direction (yeah, for FUN!). Not so.

Thus, I had to embark on a furious edition of Ask the Locals. No one could point me in the right direction until a potato chip delivery man overheard me ask the woman behind the Wawa sandwich counter. He gave me detailed instructions, including landmarks. And I, in turn, did not buy a bag of chips. But hey, it wasn’t even 8 a.m.

But it was close, and that put me into Urgent Mode. I sped to the course in a whirlwind, blowing the flies off the cows’ ears along the way, kitted up, pinned my number on, pumped up my tires, got in the world’s worst warmup, sucked down an energy gel, and pedaled my lycra-clad butt to the start line.

It wasn’t ideal. Normally I like to arrive early so I can calmly get ready and warm up well. That usually makes for a better performance. But it’s funny how things work out. Despite all the preceding shenanigans, I felt good and rode a smart race.

My smartest move was making a conscious effort to stay near the front early on, especially approaching climbs. Sure, my training helped me do that, but the hilly nature of the course and first-lap adrenaline strung the field out, making it impossible to catch back on by yourself. My approach today made life a lot easier; I was part of a small lead group after one lap.

The pace settled into a rhythm after that, and the lead group was reduced to 10 after the second. I led us up the climb to the start-finish line, figuring I’d try to push the pace and shed some riders. I did that so well, in fact, that I created a small gap.

I could have pushed on but knew that would never work with nine tough miles still to go, and sat up.

My plan for the third lap was to stay in the group and conserve energy for the finish. Unfortunately, that was thwarted when I fell off the back with only a couple miles to go. We made a hard right turn onto a short riser…and, boom. My legs just turned into concrete.

However, I ripped down the following descent and re-joined the other nine riders for the finale, and at that point it seemed like the winner would be the one who slowed down the least. It was tough.

One guy made a solo bid for glory with a little more than a kilometer to go and blew halfway up the hill. He was the one I passed on the way to my ninth-place finish. I didn’t think I had another surge left.

I watched other races from that hill later in the day, and saw the most exquisite series of grimaces. Clenched teeth, furrowed brows, the works. It would make a fine scrapbook.

It would also serve as a reminder. The Tour of Mt. Nebo can be easily poeticized. It’s pretty fun to imagine yourself flying up the finishing climb, tap-dancing on the pedals. But then you see those faces and remember the reality. Not every poem is romantic. Then again, it doesn’t have to be.

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For those keeping track of my fundraiser, a quick recap.
Smoketown Criterium – 24th (worth $5)
Tour of Mt. Nebo – 9th (worth $10)

So, yay! Progress.

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Tomorrow marks the second race in my fundraising project, and it is one of the more unique races on the local circuit — The Tour of Mt. Nebo.

The course is a nine-mile loop in the Lancaster area, featuring about 1,000 feet of climbing per lap. My race will do three laps, so while the actual distance isn’t that long, it’s going to hurt. Check out a video of the course shot by the race promoter:

I’ve done this race twice before, and it’s definitely challenging. The fun — or sinister, I guess — part about the course is that the climbs aren’t all that long. There are a lot of short, steep pitches, and even the two primary climbs can’t be longer than a mile. The course was made for punchy climbers who have the strength to zip up those pitches, which can top 20 percent in places.

I’ve used the weeks between my first race and Nebo to put in some targeted training on hills that mimic the climbs. Hill repeats, experimenting with gear ratios, fiddling with climbing position — I can’t say it was fun, but I hope the work pays off.

(I feel obliged to point something out. In these entries, I’ll write about training and races as though I’m some kind of professional cyclist. That’s more a reflection of my writing ability than my cycling talent, and should indicate the kind of dedication it takes to be an actual pro, or even an elite amateur. In the world of competitive cycling, I’m small potatoes. I’m home fries. I’m Potato Stix.)

The last time I did Nebo, I went in completely unprepared for the hills and suffered. I know I’m going to suffer tomorrow, just like everyone is going to suffer. I only hope others’ suffering is greater than my own.

Actually, what I really hope is that I can create that suffering, through well timed attacks or a high tempo up climbs. I would be filled with glee if, halfway up a climb and feeling strong, I looked to the rider next to me and saw his face filled with pain.

That’s a truly bizarre thing to type. I created the fundraiser with the ultimate goal of helping to eradicate domestic violence — eliminating that suffering — and here I am writing about creating pain.

The ideas are at odds, and this is how it sounds in my brain:

“Hey, everybody! So, my goal is to create a TON of suffering in this race, and, hey, you know, raise a little dough for a domestic violence organization. Peace. Feminism.”

Coincidentally, the most suffering I can create, the better I’ll do. And the better I’ll do, the better the donation I’ll eventually have for A Woman’s Place.

Of course, all suffering is not created equal. Everyone who pins on a race number tomorrow expects that suffering. Nobody in any kind of intimate relationship should expect to suffer. We cyclists are essentially asking for it; victims of domestic violence never do.

And when there is still plenty of victim-blaming happening in the world, that is a point worth reiterating.

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Normally, I like the features and columns produced by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan. He’s a good writer and reporter, and his material is usually original and fresh. Unfortunately, what he wrote today is flat wrong, irresponsible and made me angry. Let’s get into it.

Alexi Ogando barely met the woman who cost him five years of his life. He didn’t get her name. Wouldn’t recognize her face. She still doesn’t seem real.

She haunted him. Ogando, one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, spent half a decade isolated from the world that was supposed to be his because of her.

That sounds pretty serious. And it certainly places the blame on this mystery woman for whatever happened to Ogando. Because of her. So what happened?

In 2004, Ogando married the woman he didn’t know. At least he thinks he did. He was among 30 young Dominican players who agreed to participate in sham marriages which played a vital role in an elaborate human-trafficking scheme. The new brides piggybacked on players’ work visas to get their own in the United States, then were farmed out by the scheme’s perpetrators as prostitutes or cheap labor.

Flames, flames, on the side of my face.

Essentially, Ogando was promised money to go along with this human trafficking scheme, but instead never got that money and was denied a work visa into the United States. How is that the woman’s fault again? You know, the woman who was farmed out as a prostitute or cheap labor?

All of what I quoted is part of an opening to his feature. The opening ends with a quote from Ogando saying he didn’t have anything to trust in but God, and this, from Passan:

Until another woman came along. She gave him her name. He learned her face. She was undeniably real.

And before his career vanished, she saved him.

Passan is seemingly aiming for parallelism, casting the first woman as The Villain and the second, Charisse Espinosa-Dash, as The Savior, who helped Ogando get into the United States. Ogando is now a very successful and talented pitcher for the Texas Rangers, and it’s worth reading how Espinosa-Dash helped resolve the case. It’s worth reading the frustrations of the Rangers and, especially, Ogando, who is certainly a victim.

He lost years of his life because someone preyed on his naivete, offering a couple thousand dollars to do something that cost him valuable time.

But you know who else is a victim? The unnamed woman. Espinosa-Dash recognizes that, saying in the story that Ogando and other players caught in the scheme “were just as vulnerable as the ladies being trafficked.”

And I think Passan knows that the woman was also a victim. But in the name of story structure he decided to turn the woman into the perpetrator, making her responsible for Ogando’s lost years.

The end of the story is a quote from Ogando saying that he gets to decide his future, “Not her. Not anymore.”

The only thing is, she never had any say in Ogando’s lost years, or any say at all; the human trafficking scheme did. While it doesn’t make for as good a narrative structure, it’s the truth. And the mystery woman might have haunted Ogando’s dreams, but using her as bookends for the story and saying Ogando was denied a visa “because of her” makes the woman out to be some dastardly mastermind, which she is certainly not. Not when she was treated worse by the same scheme.

After all, Ogando has a prized arm. He was fortunate that his talent provided a way out of the Dominican Republic and into the United States. We know what happened to him. Not her.

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