Category Archives: Writing

The story of John Cline, UNC’s last men’s cross country All-American

Pre-race anxiety is no stranger to the runner. He feels his muscles tighten, gently and gradually pulled taut like a new guitar string. Tension builds not only in his body but in his mind. Though not normally claustrophobic, his nerves are on edge. Personal space doesn’t exist here. He can smell the runner next to him. He notices a gnarled scar on the shoulder of the runner in front of him, only inches from his face. Oxygen is scarce. His mind races with thoughts of how the next moments will play out.

What if I don’t get out fast enough and get stuck behind a pack of slower runners that won’t thin out for 800 meters? I can’t let that happen. I won’t. If only I could have gotten in just one more stride before everyone lined up, then I’d really be ready. What if my legs get entangled with someone else’s? What if someone spikes me with their cleats?

John Cline knew this feeling well, and embraced it. I’m not sure drinking two liters of Mountain Dew is a good idea for your nerves before any race, but Cline did it for every race of his life, including the biggest one – the NCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country Championship in 1997.

In the heart of November, the best collegiate runners from across the country and a handful from around the world flocked to Furman University. It was a normal late-November day: chilly and brisk, with a slight wind that slices through your racing singlet, right into your chest. The sun bathed Furman golf course’s rolling hills, the host to decades of collegiate cross country’s best runners. Anxious runners sprinted back and forth, preparing for the race’s start and relieving tense muscles and nerves.

That year’s championship race was loaded. Cline squeezed into the crowded individuals starting box with men who would go on to qualify for the Olympics twelve times. And those were just the one-off qualifiers whose teams weren’t quite good enough to make the championship field as a complete squad.

Future Olympians Meb Keflezighi, Bernard Lagat and Abdi Abdirahman, extraordinary runners with extraordinary talent and extraordinary names, joined Cline in their starting box that day.

And he was John Cline. No exotic or legendary name. No legendary running history. He had made some noise his senior year, but still few had heard of him because the oft-injured UNC redshirt senior never seemed to align his physical and mental strengths at the same time at this level. Yet there he was lined up at the 1997 NCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country Championship.

As it is with all cross country races, the pre-race jostling for position on the line was heated. Cline had trouble getting the room he needed amid the bodies.

But the starting gun doesn’t wait for anyone to settle in.

A single shot broke the morning silence.

And John Cline fell.


Two years earlier, Cline had also come crashing down on the trail.

UNC’s cross country team was in the midst of a 4.8 mile time trial to shrink the team down to twelve men. But Cline was in awful shape and on the edge of being cut.

“After one loop, I couldn’t see straight,” Cline said. “I was hurting. Really hurting.”

However, if there was one thing John Cline was good at, it was running through pain. “He has an ability to take pain at a pain threshold beyond limits, almost like he likes it,” former teammate Danny Stein said. “Sometimes it’s scary, but it’s what makes John, John.”

Cline decided to latch onto a teammate and hung onto him through the second loop. He described it as “probably the worst I’ve ever hurt in my life.” Closing in on the finish line, he picked up the pace to start moving up, putting pain on the back burner.

“And the next thing I remember, I was in an ambulance right by campus.”

He had collapsed, falling three times out of immense fatigue before crossing the finish line. But he crossed, holding on to his spot on the team.

The ambulance trip was an interesting one, as his coach Joan Nesbit Mabe (then just Joan Nesbit) recalls: “When he was about to be transported to the hospital, he said ‘No, no. I can’t – I’ve got to go do my cool down.’”

Cline was “passionate to a fault,” Nesbit Mabe said. That’s the way he is, and always has been. He pushed his body to its limits, whether in college or beginning his running career in high school.

In Charlotte, N.C., Cline rose up the ranks as a highly-touted recruit. People began to take notice as records fell and he collected trophies. Cline would go on to become named MVP of the North Carolina 4A Track & Field Championship his junior season.

Colleges from all over began to take notice. “He was a thrilling racer and had a flurry of leg speed that was sort of superhuman,” Nesbit Mabe said.

Cline chose to go to Stanford. At the time, legendary cross country coach Vin Lananna had just begun coaching at Stanford, recruiting the second, third and seventh place finishers from the Footlocker National meet. Cline knew not only would he join the best class in the nation by going to Stanford, he would also get the best education.

It was the best of both worlds, he figured.


Back in the world of 1997, John Cline was getting back on his feet, like he had done so many times before. There was no time to think, no time to wait and wonder if officials would call back the runners to restart the race.

“Instead of going out being conservative, John went ripping out with the likes of Meb Keflezighi and Adam Goucher and Lagat,” Stein said.

After breaking into a dead sprint, Cline had joined the front pack somewhere between 400 and 800 meters. He hit the mile at about four minutes and 20 seconds, now with the leaders.

At two miles in, his time was at nine minutes, 11 seconds. The guy no one had expected see close to the front was fighting to stay with Meb Keflezighi, who would go on to not only win the race, but also win a silver medal in the Olympics less than a decade later.

“I was hurting,” Cline said. “I was hurting really, really badly the whole race.”


The natural pain of pushing his body to limits in a race or workout was never much of an concern for Cline, but injuries were a constant issue for much of Cline’s collegiate running career.

They cut short his first cross country season at Stanford after two races. Frustration mounted quickly, and the college lifestyle didn’t help. He was a young kid, immature on the trails – and as it turned out – off the trails.

Cline coped with his injury by partying. A lot.

“I was very immature. I didn’t realize the dedication and commitment that it took,” Cline said. “I thought I could just play around and just run more and I’d be better. I didn’t realize that I needed to focus on my diet, my rest, stretching – just all of the little things. I’m not sure I was mature enough to manage those.”

After recovering from his injury in cross country in the fall of his freshman year, he got injured again the following spring. Without a group of friends at Stanford, he started to really miss home. With frustration dogging him at every turn and greener pastures closer to home tempting him, Cline decided to transfer.

But to avoid losing a year of eligibility, he had to request a release from Lananna.

The conversation was a memorable one. “Lananna released me,” Cline said. “But I remember what he said. He said something to the effect of ‘Nobody has ever left my program and been successful somewhere else.’ He said, ‘You’re making a mistake.’” Knowing Lananna, Cline’s teammate Dave Mabe guesses the actual conversation was probably even more intense than that.

Regardless, Cline took the talk to heart and vowed to turn it into motivation later on.

But it didn’t exactly pay off as quickly as he hoped. His first year at UNC was marred by injuries, both in cross country and a track season that marked his first of many stress fractures.

“I had the ability to hurt myself,” Cline said. “I could run really hard without a lot of training and it would just tear up my body. … Whereas some people when they race or train, the pain may cause them to back off or avoid it, I like to take it head on. I love to go out hard to try to challenge myself to make myself hurt early and then to face that challenge of hanging in there and holding on.”

Again and again, injuries struck. Frustration, it seemed, had followed him home.

But one late night would change his mindset completely in 1995, during his redshirt sophomore year. Cline and a friend were mugged in downtown Chapel Hill. It served as a wake-up call for him. Nesbit Mabe called it a “spiritual turning point” for Cline.

“It was a culmination of a lot of things going on in my life at the time,” Cline said. “‘What are you doing? You’re about to blow this opportunity to run and get a good education.’ I started to realize I needed to be consistent, that I needed to take care of myself, I needed to eat right.”

Despite sharpening his focus and surrounding himself with more positive influences, injuries continued to shadow him after nearly every season.

Cline returned in the spring of 1997 for track season and recorded a third-place finish at the ACC Championship meet in the 5,000 meter event despite getting spiked accidentally on the kneecap by another runner. The errant spike injury altered his kneecap’s tracking, setting him back once again.

There was just one shot left and he would have to battle back like so many other times in his career.


John Cline was fighting a battle at Furman University that no one thought he could win.

He made “dramatic goals,” as Dave Mabe would call them.

“Even when no one else counted him in, he was thinking no one else had a chance to win that race,” Stein said. “Everyone else had doubts, but he, himself, never had a doubt.”

Cline thought he could be top 10 at the national meet, and after two of the 6.2 miles, he was in prime position. However, his rough start began to take its toll.

“That was a race where you hurt the whole race,” Cline said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of relaxing in that race because it was so tight. Every space counts and it seems like during the whole race, everybody’s fighting.

“If you relax for one second, 10 people would go by you. So if I relaxed and let off the gas for a second, I remember there was a guy from Providence College and he would go right by me. And then I would push the pedal down and go by him. It was just a battle the whole way.”

Roaring onlookers crammed against the ropes separating them from the trail, screaming out everyone’s place. If you were 25th or better, you had better hold on tight to that position, because the difference between All-American and ‘Guy Who Ran At Nationals One Year’ could be just a single second.


Of course no one pegged Cline as a national contender for his senior year in cross country. Coming off of injury, rehabbing and training on a short schedule was a challenge few people could turn around into a historic season, but few people could get back into prime shape as quickly as Cline.

After rebuilding his base with consistent and solid training, he began his season with impressive performances against William & Mary’s future All-American Matt Lane and finishing 30 seconds behind Meb Keflezighi in the pre-nationals race.

He further impressed after winning the ACC Championship outright by more than 30 seconds, beating a talented NC State team led by two future selections for the ACC 50th Anniversary Men’s Cross Country Team.

Though his team failed to qualify for the national meet at regionals, he ran well enough to qualify to enter as an individual.


Preparation the morning of the race began like any other for Cline, who had the same ritual since he began running. He drank his morning two-liter Mountain Dew to wake up and headed out to the course. Visions grew within his mind of a top-10 finish.

Though his vision didn’t come to fruition, he cinched an All-American spot and he finally proved Lananna’s earlier remarks wrong, placing within Stanford’s top five runners and finishing 19th overall with a time of 30 minutes and three seconds.

Cline stood in the finish chute after the race for ages. “I hurt all over,” he said. “I was in intense pain. It was good, but it wasn’t the typical run where you hurt for a little bit and then you see your friends and family and your coach and you’re all better. I was in that chute for a while just going ‘Wow.’”

More than a decade later, John Cline’s talents still stand out to those who knew him. UNC still hasn’t had a men’s cross country All-American or ACC champion since.

“I still have yet to see an athlete like John with the talent level, both mentally and physically that he had,” Stein said.

Injuries would eventually preclude Cline from continuing on with professional racing, but he would become an assistant coach at Wake Forest before beginning a teaching and cross country coaching career in Charlotte at his high school alma mater.

On some days you could see the remnants of the elite talent still within him. I’ve seen him handily beat his teams of some of North Carolina’s best high school runners in workouts and road races despite injuries hounding him for years and the disadvantage of being two decades older than them.

Even those days are behind him now. His back pains him too much to permit him to run like he used to.

But the memories remain, the plaques marking the highest points of his running career tucked away in the darkness of his attic.

Recently he ventured into the sweltering poorly-ventilated space to revisit them.

“The flame was short,” Cline mused. “But it was pretty damn bright – when it burned.”


The Great Burrito Challenge Story

In the town of Chapel Hill, it often seems the sun touches every bit of ground. Even through the tapestry of leafy branches in parts of densely-wooded areas, the land is often so bright and the air so light that it looks like it could be fabricated by Pixar.

And then there’s Bandido’s Mexican Cafe.

Tucked away in the heart of Chapel Hill’s cozy and lively downtown, the restaurant is almost hidden. And unlike the rest of the charming college town, no natural light ever finds its way down the stairs in the Franklin Street alley that Bandido’s calls home.

During my descent down the short flight of stairs, I couldn’t have been more thankful for the shroud of darkness that would engulf me during one of my most foolhardy decisions. I was about to attempt to increase my weight by five percent in one fell swoop by trying to eat El Gigante, the locally-famous burrito challenge at Bandido’s.

El Gigante weighs in at 4.5 pounds and, until recently, was available for anyone to order with the reward of a free t-shirt and a photo on a wall upon completion. But recently a high school kid tried to eat El Gigante and fell ill. After the parents threatened to sue Bandido’s, owner Tony Sustaita decided the restaurant would now require parental consent for minors to undertake the endeavor. Intrigued by the attraction of such a challenge and interested in understanding the physical implications of attempting such a feat, I decided it required a firsthand experience.

Emerging from the alley and walking into Bandido’s feels nearly like being transported to an indistinctive limbo between anywhere and nowhere. Frankly, it’s just a basement with brick walls painted with palm trees and crude island scenery and some traditional Mexican-American style decorations. No location feels so distant and separated from the rest of the town like Bandido’s does. And yet, that was just what I hoped for in a location where I was to embarrassingly engorge myself way past my normal eating habits.

After the waitress sent my order to the kitchen, my mind swirled, enraptured in speculation of the size of the burrito. The thought had crossed my mind before, but it wasn’t until after the point of no return that I realized I couldn’t actually fathom an estimate of the burrito’s physical size. My confidence upon entering Bandido’s may have been at the level of a competitive eater, but doubt was now beginning to creep in.


Days after my attempt, Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest champion, gave me his advice that he would give a normal person trying to take down an unusually-large order of food. The world record-holding competitive eater broke it down into two parts: preparation and eating strategy.

“First understand your own condition and any possible strengths you may have,” Kobayashi said. “And then safely begin stretching the capacity of your stomach with different techniques. I drink water. Lots of it, in different volumes over a certain period of time.”

I did none of this.

As for mid-meal strategy, he emphasized understanding your prey: the ingredients, the texture, and what would be the easiest way to eat it and advance it to your stomach. “I believe it is first important to be able to understand how to break down that particular food into a size where I can physically hold it in my hands,” Kobayashi added. “Not necessarily so small it fits easily into my mouth, but at least a size where I can hold and maneuver it.”

I also did minimal amounts of this, and none of what he suggested about being able to hold it.

In hindsight, it is clear that doom had followed my every step from the beginning. And Kobayashi certainly had words of warning for trying to eat something like this with no preparation. “All the risks imaginable are there: any physical discomfort or dangers of the stomach, jaw, throat and certainly a lot of heartburn.”

I was undoubtedly unprepared. But such risks are the price to pay for journalistic integrity.


Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry too much about possible insult being added to injury. Despite the magnitude and size of the order, the staff neglected to make the extraordinary dinner into the spectacle it could have been. El Gigante arrived like any other meal. The couple next to me was clearly amused and somewhat bemused by the thin, 115-pound college kid being served a dish the size of a small infant.

Truth be told, El Gigante is not so much a burrito as it is a tortilla calzone with the ingredients within a thick folded tortilla. The burrito completely covers the plate upon which it is served. Ten ingredients come inside the tortilla: rice, black beans, onions, tomatoes, cheese, salsa verde, steak and chicken fajitas with sautéed onions and bell peppers. But wait, there’s more! The tortilla is topped with salsa roja, more shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole.

In spite of that intimidating list of ingredients, El Gigante doesn’t seem unconquerable, though. For a minute, I let it cool and analyzed it, trying to form a strategy. I spread out the sour cream and guacamole and just began to cut it and eat it with a fork and knife, piece by piece.

It began easily enough, but after clearing the toppings and getting into the center, trouble began. The steak was tough and tiring, slowing me down and hurting my chances to fool my brain into letting me eat more than my body normally permitted before it received the signal from my stomach that I was full.

At midway, my stomach began to tighten and contract, a telltale sign my brain was telling my body it could not hold much more. But I convinced myself that it would just be all downhill if I could reach the three-quarters mark.

I never did.

At one point my fork accidentally shoveled pure guacamole into my gullet. I held back immediate urges to purge, but with that I recognized hope was futile. I wouldn’t last much longer, even with unbuckling my belt and unbuttoning my pants.

Within minutes, I admitted defeat. Man vs. food – winner: food, by technical knockout.


After paying the bill, I returned to the rest of the world in a bloated stupor with a hefty to-go box of leftovers. I hadn’t gotten sick and my shame stayed within the dark hidden corridor. I took those as reasonable moral victories.

But the challenge still perplexed me. With the risk of shame, intense discomfort and vomiting, why do people want to attempt something where the reward is just a t-shirt and a photograph?

Much like George Mallory and Mt. Everest, the answer seems to be “Because it’s there.” Sustaita says he thinks the main attraction is simply the challenge. UNC-Chapel Hill student Dylan D’Joseph, who ate El Gigante in 20 minutes, did it on the spur of the moment for the sake of the challenge during a casual dinner with friends.

Though I hadn’t been successful, more than a handful have defeated El Gigante. In fact, rumors say one man has done it so easily and so often that he’s become a legend of sorts. Sean Ryall is now currently somewhere in Brazil on a Mormon mission and cannot be contacted, but he was known among his friends to take down El Gigante in unimaginable ways. A competitive swimmer that regularly ate calorie-intensive meals, he supposedly racked up nearly $200 in restaurant vouchers for eating the massive burrito so many times, two of his acquaintances said. Further, I was told he holds the El Gigante record for fastest time, somewhere in the neighborhood of three minutes. Sustaita denies both of these claims. The mystery lives on.

At the same time, El Gigante has tallied close to three times as many defeats as victors, crushing 70 to 75 percent of wannabe conquerors, says Sustaita. This list of casualties includes Sustaita, who has failed to best El Gigante in three attempts. This can be dangerous because of the health risks involved in eating an abnormally large burrito.

Matt Paolillo experienced these dangers firsthand when he tried a similar burrito challenge this past March at Pico Taco in Washington, D.C. Though he regularly eats a lot of food, he could not escape cruel fate. This included “sweating, nausea, discomfort, a sense that I had let down my parents and everyone I care about because I couldn’t eat a really big burrito,” Paolillo said.

And then he threw up immediately after the event and didn’t eat for about 36 hours, he recalled.

But perhaps the risk isn’t just for the competitors.

Jeffrey Mervosh, a witness to Paolillo’s endeavor at Pico Taco, saw the lone champion in their group await his prize, a free t-shirt and photo.

“The girl who took the picture asked if he wanted to see if it turned out OK before they printed it on the wall,” Mervosh said. “He just said ‘I really don’t care. I’m never eating here again.’”

An addendum on the stigma associated with blogging

I just had a very interesting discussion on Twitter about the “clownfraud” stigma associated with being a blogger and whether it can be erased completely.

We all agreed the answer is no, it cannot be removed.

But I think that’s perfectly fine. My previous piece didn’t intend to take down the stigma, but rather the complete dismissal of a medium without any consideration of the writer’s ability solely because of the form.

I think we can make a metaphor between blogging and pickup basketball in these regards (or pick-up whatever sport you want). Assuming you’re not an NBA player, let’s pretend you’re going into a gym where you’ve never played before. You know no other players on the floor. Before anyone even takes practice shots, do you assume they’re all trash? Maybe they tell you they all played Division I ball — do you take them at their word?

Of course not. If you’re anything like me, or most pick-up players, you understand to be prepared for whatever. Don’t assume the small dude can’t destroy you and don’t assume the tall guy will be a force. You wait for them to show their skills on the court before trying to definitely analyze them, right?

That’s all I want when it comes to the stigma about blogging. Don’t judge the medium; judge the player on their talents. In other words, don’t throw out opinions because they come from bloggers instead of from a traditional form of media. And conversely, you shouldn’t assume quality writing is coming from those traditional media outlets, regardless of how much they supposedly value credibility. Read the writing first (and try to leave your bias at the door), and then decide whether I’m full of crap or not.

I used to do the same reprehensible thing with the infamous Bleacher Report blogging website. The site’s a magnet for what becomes joke fodder in internet circles because with such little burden to access, any idea gets through to a large audience. Though there’s still a good many articles there that make me sigh or laugh, they do in all honesty have some good writing over there whether you want to believe it or not.

From Bleacher Report to SB Nation, the stigma will forever be there, and you know what — who cares!

Blogging is a wonderful thing, whether it’s about sports or anything else. The barrier to entry is so low that anyone can have a voice, which can do great things when it comes to issues that don’t see much light.

This is undoubtedly a double-edged sword. While some may have much valuable experience and wisdom to share over the Internet, others may spout nonsense all willy-nilly — or worse. Thankfully the cream rises and those that separate themselves as respectable bloggers will probably see results if they have the dedication and passion for it.

I find that broadening perspectives and spreading understanding through well-informed yet under-reported opinions even in spite of giving an outlet to the ignorant opinions is incredibly valuable — much more valuable than having no outlet for the ignorant views at the expense of the competent ones as well.

So for the foreseeable future there will probably be a stigma associated with a passion for blogging. Whatever. I just want people to not pass judgment on a medium and deem it incompetent because it doesn’t fit biased outdated perspectives on respectable media. Blogging has shown it’s earned as much.

Old media Luddism and the new world of blogging

The past couple years as a journalism student at UNC, I’ve faced the same questions on the first days of classes each semester: “What’s your name, hometown and something interesting about yourself?”

And each class, every semester, my mind races with how I’m going to answer the last part of the introductory question that forms the foundation of my peers’ perception of me.

Do I say My name is Ben, I’m from Charlotte and I cover the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation? Do I replace that last part with and I’m the managing editor of SB Nation’s Charlotte Bobcats site?

Or do I just come out and say I blog about the Charlotte Bobcats?

Maybe this is over-analyzing the situation. I do tend to think that way. But the perception when it comes to a journalistic position and the word “blogger,” the connotations are very far apart. One is thought of a respectable profession and the other is often thought of as simply some bozo spilling his wild thoughts to the frenzied frontier that is the Internet, a lowly basement-dweller beneath the regard of even the loons that pen letters to the editor. And I have to think about how this will characterize me to my peers.

You could be a sports columnist writing homophobic columns for a small newspaper and that title will give you higher repute than blogging better-written pieces. And yet the old guard of print media with their feet willingly planted in concrete penny loafers tries to perpetuate this stereotype of bloggers being poor writers, wantonly making mistakes with reckless disregard for truth and effort that covering anything should get.

It’s rather disgusting. I understand that the financial viability of print media is faltering and has been for years now, and that saddens me. Like other art forms I hold dear, I value the physical form. I like reading newspapers and magazines to the extent that I have a newspaper subscription and pick up magazines that intrigue me whenever I can.

But even more than that, I like reading strong writing founded on good research. Unfortunately for newspapers (and other tenured media), print media is no longer the only major outlet for those who wish to express their well-researched opinions to a large audience.

On the whole, this is a good thing. It’s evolution of journalism, for better or for worse. Wider access for people creates a much more diverse landscape of viewpoints on a more diverse variety of topics, leading to a more informed audience. Quality writing for large audiences is no longer constrained to mainstream media outlets. Sticking your head in the sand and feet in the ground while making unfounded ad hominem attacks against bloggers is little more than journalistic Luddism. Further, if traditional media are such credible sources of news and writing, then why are their credibility ratings continuing to fall?

Times are certainly changing, especially evident with the wave of old-school writers joining Twitter to interact with the readers on the Internet. Thankfully, some of the aforementioned “old guard of print media” are eager to recognize the merits of blogging and are receptive to the new development. And though perception is changing, some refuse to accept that many of those who write online are not only gifted writers with expertise in their beats but trained as such with journalism and English degrees. We are not so different. In a different media landscape, a fair number of bloggers would have joined you at the horseshoe copy desk.

Ever still, newspaper scribes like the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont continue to put down bloggers as some kind of third-world writing. He likens bloggers to the “replacement reporters/writers” of journalism, nothing more than mere typists. Dupont pats himself and his peers on the back for charity work, making a mockery of his own underlying reasons for goodwill just to slam bloggers from a nonexistent moral high ground that he fails to research for a second. If he had, he’d notice the $200,000 that comic blogger sensation The Oatmeal raised for charities. Or if he just wants to focus on the sports realm, these are some I found in five minutes of Google searching — just on SB Nation. He cries that bloggers lack ethics or morals, but perhaps the ultimate ethical fault is laziness, and Dupont has certainly exemplified this as he tries to deflect his insecurities with uber-machismo wit that reeks of what I call “Trying Too Hard Syndrome.”

Bloggers have come a long way to legitimacy. They’re making their way onto your television sets, into your newspaper (HEAVEN FORFEND!), onto your radios, into your favorite team’s front office, in your media availability scrums asking the best questions, you name it. The close-minded people that continue to demean blogging like Dupont are on the wrong side of journalistic and media history. Their intent is to hurt the image of blogging, yet just end up damaging their own.

Blogging has rightfully emerged as a growing new medium, especially in sports writingSo you’re damn right I’ve come to welcome my position writing in this so-called “blogosphere” with pride.

My name is Ben Swanson and I’m from Charlotte.

And I’m a blogger.

Excerpt from Untitled Giant Burrito Story

Days after my attempt, I asked Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest champion, what advice he would give someone trying to take down an unusually-large order of food. The famed competitive eater broke it down into two parts: preparation and eating strategy.

“First understand your own condition and any possible strengths you may have,” Kobayashi said. “And then safely begin stretching the capacity of your stomach with different techniques. I drink water. Lots of it, in different volumes over a certain period of time.”

I did none of this.

As for mid-meal strategy, he emphasized understanding your prey: the ingredients, the texture, and what would be the easiest way to eat it and advance it to your stomach. “I believe it is first important to be able to understand how to break down that particular food into a size where I can physically hold it in my hands,” Kobayashi added. “Not necessarily so small it fits easily into my mouth, but at least a size where I can hold and maneuver it.”

I also did minimal amounts of this, and none of what he suggested about being able to hold it.

In hindsight, it was clear I was doomed from the beginning. And Kobayashi certainly had words of warning for trying to eat something like this unprepared. “All the risks imaginable are there: any physical discomfort or dangers of the stomach, jaw, throat and certainly a lot of heartburn.”

I was undoubtedly unprepared. But such risks are the price to pay for journalistic integrity.

Pro Golf and Hypocrisy

Golf is a beautiful mirage. Fans hold its morals and etiquette high above every other sport on a noble pedestal. It’s so very gentlemanly, you see. They wear nice pants and polo shirts and a clean white glove on one hand. They stride the course heads high, holding nothing. They don’t hold their clubs, the caddies hold the clubs. Can’t have those golfers carrying their own clubs, of course. That wouldn’t be very noble.

And nothing exemplifies this more than the Masters.

There’s no need for me to introduce the Masters – it’s the king of the golfing world. You win the Masters and you take home a million-dollar purse, immense honor, seeing your name splashed across Sports Illustrated in the next issue and, of course, donning one of the ultimate trophies in sports: the green jacket.

That’s just the outside. Viewers see the pressed pants, the tucked in shirts, the caddies in clean white jumpsuits, the beautifully-manicured course.

But it’s all a disgusting farce.

Golf is so fantastic because as an individual sport, it’s almost like a microcosm of life. Alone in nature, there are little to no distractions, optimally. You need not judge your ability but only by the benchmarks you hold yourself. Hole by hole, you take upon yourself the goal of getting a tiny ball in a hole in the ground. If you make mistakes, you deal with them and plod onward. Frustration mounts often for players because even masterful skill can easily mean little with just a slight sudden gust of wind. Understandably, emotions can run high.

That is, unless you’re on the PGA Tour playing in the Masters.

On Friday, Tiger Woods shanked a tee shot into a sand trap. Immediately upon seeing his shot heading off-course, he dropped his club to the ground and kicked it.

Within hours I saw an article about his actions, calling them “the equivalent of wiping your nose on the green jacket.”

The sport prides itself on eschewing these types of emotional reactions. They’re not elegant. It’s disgraceful to the game, the champions of the sport say. People love seeing the raw emotion of the victor in their moment of glory. But they can’t bear to see the other end of the spectrum: the frustration that the athletes endure at the highest level of competition in their sport at its most visible event.

To call such actions dishonoring the game is laughable, especially during the Masters at Augusta. Augusta National is a place where women can’t be members in 2012. A place where African-Americans couldn’t become members until 1990. A place where a female journalist was refused entrance to the locker room for an interview in 2011. A place where a founding member said “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”

But they hold this honor of the game high above everyone’s heads as the objective for every person regardless of how well they’re playing. It’s a disgrace that players must abide by stoicism lest they be shunned as a dishonorable athlete.

We loved Michael for leaving everything inside him in the basketball court. We loved the moment he collapsed under the sheer weight of his emotions after he won the 1996 NBA Championship on Father’s Day, his first title since his father’s death. We loved the moments he fought his toughest opponents, win or lose. We loved the moments he barked trash talk and bantered with those brave enough to return fire. We hated to see him fall, but loved it because we knew he’d rise from it. To deny us the passion of frustrating losses is to deny us the captivating emotion of defeating it.

But maybe basketball’s not the honorable sport that golf is.

I couldn’t care less about that. The nobility is a farce, elitism in the sports world at its worst. Show humanity in the thick of your passion and unless it’s utter joy, you’re shaming the game and so you must be shamed, as well. They’ll call it immaturity, but if maturity means swallowing your frustration, then I know zero mature people.

And everyone seems to just accept this.

I guess I should be shamed, too. I don’t play much anymore, but I grew up playing it. At golf, I was decent. At swearing, I was superb. Yet I loved it. It’s just you and the course. You go through the journey of your emotions, frustrations and elations and come out with an experience that makes you feel like you accomplished something. Refusing to even accept expressing yourself during a game because of dishonoring the sport is stressing dated traditions over humanity.

Ah, just another year of hypocrisy at the Masters.


Note: My sportswriting class played a game of kickball Monday, after which we were instructed to write a 200-300 words blog post about it. Our professor wanted a fire to be kindled between the two teams, and the best way we figured we could do this on somewhat short notice and still splitting the class in half was “Greek Life” vs. “Non-Greek Life”.

Is it sad that I woke up this morning with sore legs after a 10-inning game of kickball? Perhaps. But dadgummit, it was worth it.

Maybe the ‘Greek Life’ team had a few too many light beers before the game – I can’t say for sure – but they were completely discombobulated and disorganized throughout the game. After 10 innings, the game ended 16-11, though the score doesn’t accurately reflect the thrashing our ‘Non-Greek Life’ team put down on the opponents.

All it really took for the Greek team to see they were clearly outmatched was the first play of the game. The batter connected, sending the ball soaring down the right-field line. But the ball was not long for fair play. The right fielder dove and snatched it out of the air. With the frat bros and sorority sisters’ gaping maws, they realized it wasn’t going to be an easy fight. Hell, it hardly was one at all.

Though they managed to pull in a run in the first inning, it was all downhill from there. Our squad of GDI’s dropped three runs in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back.

The Greek team tried to come back but it was a futile effort. Their defense was weaker than a wet paper bag. Pop-ups befuddled their fielders like they were hungover. We might as well just call the path between third and home base the ‘Walk Of Shame’ for the Greeks because of how easily they let the Non-Greek team reach the plate.

As for me, I popped out a few times but also scored a few times. I hardly did my Dream Team II Shawn Kemp jersey proud, but I imagine the Reignman would beam at my celebratory dancing.

Oh wait – maybe that’s why my legs are so sore.