Uber rider of the month: May '16

Deandre was a tall fella who stepped into my backseat with a 5.0 rating.  Usually, as an uber driver, when I see a 5.0 rating on a rider I'm picking up, I assume that the rider is either a) abundantly polite, or b) new to the uber process.  Standing around 6'2", Deandre slid his large athletic frame into the backseat of the Dodge Caliber and we were on our way to the Walmart fifteen minutes away to get Deandre some groceries. 

It was obvious in his first couple of seconds in the car that Deandre was not from Michigan.  "Man, it's cold here."...the first words from the backseat, on a day that most Michiganders would say was a very pleasant Spring afternoon; Sunny and 54. 

"What are you up to today?", a question I ask nearly all of the riders I have. 

"I'm in town from Houston.  I have a workout in the morning with the Lions, and then I gotta fly out right after to work out for Oakland."

As a sports fan, my interest was piqued.  Here's a guy pursuing his dream to play in the National Football League, and after playing a year at the University of Houston, then transferring to a Division 2 school to finish his college career, Deandre was going through one of the longest and most public interview processes that exist, professional sports workouts, just days before the 2016 NFL Draft.

"My 40 time has been on point so far, so I'm hoping I can show these guys what I can do catching the ball in traffic.  Like anyone, all I'm looking for is a shot."  Deandre didn't play in the BCS, and he wasn't headlining anyone's wish lists going into the final week before the draft.  But in a few minutes of chatter, it was obvious that there was one team that didn't lack confidence in Deandre's skills, and that was Team Deandre.  His management, his family, his college teammates all texted him while he was in the uber to wish him luck at his tryout the next morning.

After the ride, I paid attention to Deandre's fate.  I looked up his college stats, his scouting report, and for what teams he officially worked out. In the football world, there weren't many people giving Deandre two seconds of thought as a pro prospect.  "Too old", "Too slow", and "Not enough experience" were all comments you can find scouts writing about him.  In short, Deandre is a longshot.

But that's why Deandre is worthy of a blog post as an uber rider.  Deandre's story is the same story that many of us share.  Other people have labeled him a longshot.  If you're reading this, there's a chance that you've been labeled as a longshot at one point in your life.  You had long odds to beat a disease, you had a goal that seemed too far to reach from the outside, or you had obstacles that seemed like they were too much to overcome.  But you also have people around you that believe in you, that text you encouragement, that love you.  So there you stand, in the middle of two competing choirs of voices.

In Deandre's case, what outsiders said about him didn't shake his belief in himself, or his dedication to his call.  He tuned his ear to the radio station of his supporters.  He never considered himself a longshot.  Neither should you.  If your call is noble, if your goal is right and praiseworthy, then be a Deandre. 

Listen to your team, because they don't see you as a longshot...they see you as an inspiration.

Deandre ended up going through the three days of the NFL draft without getting drafted.  He's a free agent.  But in 15 minutes of riding with him in the car, I can guess that this is not the end for him.  And I can guess that's exactly what Team Deandre is telling him. 


A Retro-active Diary of My First Marathon

Here’s a retro-diary of the first marathon I’ve ever run. All times are EST on Oct. 19, 2014:

5:45AM — My phone alarm goes off, and I roll out of bed in my room at the Detroit Marriott in the RenCen. Have you ever tried to get up on time when sleeping in one of their beds? It’s nearly impossible, they’re so comfortable. There was a 13% chance the comfort of that bed would make me change my mind about running the race.

5:53 — In the hotel bathroom, looking up the temperature outside on my phone. I knew the forecast called for a 36 degree morning, but you never know…there could’ve been an unexpected heatwave since the last time I’d checked the temp 5 hours before. “Measure many times, run once”, I think, is the saying. Also, I apply Body glide to every square inch of my body. Seriously, when I finish, I am more slippery than a watermelon seed…but I am NOT going to chaff.

6:14 — I get in the elevator to go meet other runners in the lobby to walk to the starting line. Two other runners enter the elevator with smiles on their faces. One of them welcomes us by saying, “How you guys feeling?”. Runners are almost annoyingly positive, and combine that with the fact it was 90 minutes before the sun came up, I am having a hard time meeting that positivity. “I’m feeling like I’ve made a huge mistake.” is my response, with only 70% sarcasm.

6:25 — My friends and I make our way from the hotel lobby to the starting line…about a mile walk. On the way, there are already volunteers handing out cups of water, and half of the other runners are walking around in garbage bags. There are also groups of people in very stylish running gear posing for group pictures that, believe it or not, are not being taken selfie-style. I didn’t think you were allowed to have another person take your picture with a cell phone anymore.

Also, I have to believe that all pre-race smiles are nervous smiles, and all laughter is nervous laughter. Who smiles knowing they’re about to put their body through hell? Crazy people, that’s who. I am about to run with a bunch of clinically insane people.

6:45 — I post on Facebook and twitter this line: “HERE! WE! GO!”, plagiarizing multiple beer commercials and my favorite mid-90's DJ Kool song. I assume very few people would get it, but felt like it is worth posting anyway.

6:50 — With the runners in the corrals just a few minutes before the race starts, a young woman, over the loud speakers, sings the Canadian national anthem. This is immediately followed by the U.S. national anthem, but no one hears the girl on that one, because every runner is audibly singing the Star-Spangled Banner in one giant chorus. Goosebump moment number one.

6:55 — So we’re standing in the street in downtown Detroit, five minutes before the race, and immediately after the national anthem, the loud speakers start to blast “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I had told myself before the race that I would not let adrenaline get the best of me early on, and that plan was already out the window 4 minutes before the race started. Looking around, every runner is bouncing and swaying like they are about to make their ring entrance to a heavyweight prize fight. It is wild. Goosebump moment number two.

7:01 — And we’re off!

7:10 — I run into Traci, Melissa, and Wynn. They are important to my strategy. You see, going into the race, my goal was to run a sub-4:30, and my pipedream was to run a sub-4 hour. I planned to do this by running the first 10 miles at an 8:00–8:15/mile pace, the second 10 miles at a 9:00–9:15/mile pace, and then survive the last 6.2 miles. When I run into Traci, Melissa, and Wynn, I see Wynn has a watch he’s pacing them with. I ask him what their pace is. Wynn tells me that he’s not allowed to say it aloud, because the girls don’t want to know, but then mouths “8 minutes” to me. My response: “Cool, I’m going to stick with you guys as long as I can.”

7:16 — “…as long as I can” only lasted about 6 minutes. An overly aggressive border patrol officer shines his light in my face and screams that I have to get out of the race and that I’m disqualified. Stunned, I ask why, to find out that I need to have my bib on the outside layer of my clothes, I quickly negotiate that I’ll just remove my top layer, and he relents and lets me back in the race. It was a short exchange, but it definitely scared me. I then attempt to sprint to catch my new friends/pacers, who are now 40 seconds ahead of me on the ambassador bridge, while at the same time trying to tie my jacket around my waste. (Note: I’m no where near coordinated enough to do this). I catch up with Traci, Melissa, and Wynn a third of the way up the bridge, and they tell me how frightening the border patrol was to them. I was thinking, “you weren’t the one he was yelling at.”

7:36 — My favorite sign in Canada is a guy on the side of the road, as hundreds of runners are going by, holding up a sheet of posterboard that reads “I’m just trying to cross the road!”

7:43 — For some reason, just over 5 miles in, I’m feeling really good, and decide to pull ahead of my good friends. Goodbye Traci. Goodbye Melissa. Goodbye Wynn. It’s time for this young bird to leave the nest and learn to fly.

7:54 — Just before I get to the tunnel, I pass a Canadian border patrol woman who says, “Come again when you can stay longer.” This was the only time in the race I actually laughed audibly.

7:57 — Remember Heel-ies? They were tennis shoes that had roller-blade-like wheels in the heel of the shoe. For the next 4 minutes, I wished I was wearing heel-ies. Everyone warned that the tunnel from Canada to the U.S. was going to be not fun…that it was hot and muggy. The part they don’t say is that it’s a pretty great downhill for about 6/10 of a mile. Imagine just leaning back on your heels and coasting to near 25 kilometers per hour (We are still in Canada). Now…you do have to go back uphill when you come out, but the down hill is a magnificent “rest” early on in the race.

8:11 — I don’t know the name of the street, but after the tunnel, I’m running on the Lodge Freeway, and there is one overpass that is PACKED with people, probably close to a thousand spectators, and as I approach and go under, they are losing their freaking minds. It is one of the 2–3 loudest spots on the entire course. They had cowbells, vuvuzuelas, and are screaming like the Lions defense is about to defend a 3rd and goal. It is awesome. Goosebump moment number 3.

8:26 — I hear, approaching from behind me, a “Hey, Greg”. It’s Traci. Melissa and Wynn are a couple steps behind her. They are running the half marathon, so with 2 miles left in their race, they are starting to kick it into gear. I am not kicking anything into anything at this point. I stay with them for maybe a minute, then let them go on their way. Maybe that’s the last I’ll ever see of those three, but the 30 minutes we spent together earns them a spot in a story I’ll probably tell for years.

8:40 — As I approach the halfway point of the race, I’ve been holding my gloves for about 3 miles. Right around mile 9, I couldn’t take how sweaty my hands were getting. So I took my gloves off and folded them together, and my plan was to throw them at the first person I recognized along the course. At the 12.5 mile mark, I see Kathy and Weston Gleiss. They cheer me on, and the moment they do, I scream, “Here, take these!”, and toss my gloves into the crowd in their general vicinity. I did not see the gloves land…I was nearing a place called “Tunnel Vision”.

8:46 — Halfway there!

9:03 — Now is the time when people are passing me left and right. It’s a little demoralizing, but I knew it would happen at some point. I run two different paces on long runs, but a lot of marathoners run the same pace the whole way. So when I downshift into my second pace, everyone just behind me rushes past. It’s the least fun part of my race for my ego. At one point, a group running an 8 min/mile pace passes me around mile 15. They are about 100 yards ahead of me, and guy next to me asks, “Do you wanna go up and run with the group up there? It’s much easier to run in a group.” I say, “Dude, if you’ve got a tow rope, I’m right behind ya.” I know he is trying to be encouraging, but at this moment I want to shove him into the grass.

9:20 — This is the moment I am feeling the worst about myself. I figure that I need some energy, so I rip open a pouch of gooey substance called Boom that I’ve been carrying in my pocket. I’m supposed to take it and then wash it down with water. It says Watermelon flavor on the front, but when I rip it open and squeeze it into my mouth, it tastes like a melted Halls cherry cough drop. I quickly grab a water from a water station, and do my best to rinse the residue of grossness out of my mouth.

9:29 — I finally pull out my phone to check the time at the 18 mile mark. After being passed by SO many runners, I assume that I’m doing terrible. I see that it’s just a minute before 9:30, and then my internal calculator starts counting backwards…

HOLY CRAP! If I can just keep below an 11 min/mile pace from here on out, I can break 4 hours!!! I’m on pace! I can do this! HERE! WE! GO!

9:40 — I’m about to get on the bridge to cross over on to Belle Isle. It is beautiful outside, with the sun reflecting off the water, and the Detroit skyline off in the distance. But I don’t let myself think about that for more than a few seconds. I start to break down the last bit of the race into two 5k’s. I just want to finish the first 5k as solid as I can, and then I’ll let myself think about the second 5k.

I don’t know this for sure, but I think this is what happens when you’re trying to accomplish something and you come to the end of your own ability (or what you thought was the end). You start to break down what you have to do into very small, manageable pieces. Instead of 6.2 miles left, I just have to do the next mile in front of me. If that’s too much, I just need to get to the cross street up there. If that’s too much, I just need keep putting my one foot in front of the other one and not stop. If you see the size of the task, your brain goes into panic mode, so you have to make the task as small of a contract as you can make with yourself, with an option for the task after it.

9:48 — By the way, running on bridges is THE WORST. (I don’t really believe this, but at this moment, it’s the only thought going through my mind).

10:04 — A number of people are starting to pull off, stop and stretch, or just start walking. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who is stopping either…it’s people of all ages, both genders, etc. It’s as if an imaginary marathon sniper started to pick people off around mile 21. In my head, I’m dodging bullets. I will NOT stop. I will NOT walk. I will NOT cramp. I am Dori…just KEEP swimming!

10:18 — I am at mile 23. I could run 13 min. miles from here on in and break my pipe dream of 4 hours. I CAN do this!

10:23 — It occurs to me that I totally understand runners that poop themselves during marathons. For one, you have very little energy left to do things like swallow, make a fist, or turn your head. Whatever energy you have left is being saved in reserve to keep running. For two, you really don’t care that much. I think you begin to lose your sanity around mile 21. All you care about is finishing the race. If holding a poop takes too much energy that you’ll need to keep running, then screw it, let it fly. That’s what showers are for, and they’ll have towels at the finish line. Like I said, no sane person thinks this, but no one is really sane the last 20% of a marathon.

10:27 — I see my friend Amber as I’m running on the Detroit riverwalk. She’s holding a DRAW sign, and I hear her say something to the effect of, “I see my friend Greg, and he looks awesome! You’re almost there buddy.” First, I think, there’s NO WAY I look awesome right now. Second, thanks Amber. You gave me a boost and made me smile. (On second thought, if the smile you put on my face takes energy away from my ability to control my bowels, then I’m blaming you and sending you the dry cleaning bill).

10:36 — No, dude,
I do NOT want a beer at the 24.5 mile mark.

10:41 — I cross the 25 mile mark, and look at my phone. I have 19 minutes to run 1.2 miles to break the 4 hour mark. I AM GOING TO DO THIS!

10:47 — With a half mile to go, I feel a very real and very large cramp starting to form in my lower left calf. This CAN NOT happen! I start to run with my left foot at an angle, so that the cramp can’t form any more, essentially stretching and running at the exact same time. This is also the moment where I became a maniac, probably scaring all of the runners around me. I start screaming at my leg, almost as if it’s a dog that’s about to pee on the carpet; “NO!…NO!…Do NOT do this! NO!”. The screaming works. After a quarter mile, the cramp subsides, and I start to run with a semi-normal form.

10:52 — I approach the finish line. I see the clock and that it’s slowly ticking around 3:52. I throw both arms in the air, and finish the run with them extended high. I haven’t won anything of significance, but for the last 100 yards, I think about the fact that I just finished a marathon with a time that far exceeded my wildest hopes. The names of the people that supported my run for the past five months start running through my head like credits in a movie. And there are a TON of names, to the point that you assume there’s a deleted scene at the end or something.

I cross the finish line: 3:52:41.

I can’t believe it. I’m Andy Dufresne at the end of Shawshank. I’m Roy Hobbs at the end of The Natural. I’m Kevin McAllister at the end of Home Alone. (I’m totally dating myself). This is the moment I’ve trained 5 months for. I am home.

The Voice in My Head

Who is the voice in your head? Let’s get past the fact that it sounds crazy to even have a voice in your head, but we all have a nagging conscience. It’s the voice that persistently bugs you while you lie in bed between the 1st time you hit the snooze button and when you finally get up. It’s the voice that quietly judges you as you debate whether to finish a meal that was far too big for you to eat in one sitting. It’s the voice that audibly rolls it’s eyes and sighs when you’re on the verge of sending that text that you know you probably should not send.

For everyone, that voice comes from somewhere, or at least it sounds like someone. If that voice in your head sounds like Aaron Neville, then you’ve hit the jackpot. If that voice in your head sounds like your mom, maybe you need to call your mom more often. If that voice in your head sounds like Siri…well, it’s time to put your phone down for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure there’s rhyme or reason to who that voice is. All I know is that the voice in my head, for the majority of my adult life, was a guy named Jeff Pickens, or to anyone who knew him, “Pick”.

Pick was a wrestling coach at my alma mater for three decades, and Pick LOVED the sport of wrestling. Depending on how old you were, and what age you wrestled, it was possible that you were coached by Pick anywhere between the ages of 5 and 18. And when I say he was your coach, I don’t mean that he just showed up to practice and then cashed a monstrous coaching check at the end of the season; Pick was a coach who organized trips to go scout other wrestling teams. He would stay way after practice to help guys cut weight, despite the fact that he had already worked 8 hours in the factory before practice. He would go to a little kids meet to coach early in a day, and then show up at the high school meet later that day. Pick poured his life into his wrestlers, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

There was one other thing that set Pick apart from other coaches: his voice. 

That dude had a booming voice that no two sub-woofers could ever match. In a gymnasium filled with people screaming, you could hear Pick’s voice over all the rest. I wrestled in close to 400 matches between my middle school and high school career, and there weren’t many matches that I couldn’t hear him shake the gymnasium rafters with his low pitch bellowing.

During matches, there were two words that you would hear from Pick over and over and over. The first was the word “Again!”. Pick would say the word “Again!” when you tried to do a move, and it almost worked. He wanted you to keep attacking a weakness of your opponent, until it finally did work. He didn’t say “Again!” with the subtle, still calm of Mr. Miyagi, but rather with a booming command that you heard in your earholes, but you felt at the base of your central nervous system. When Pick yelled “Again!”, your body would do the move again before your mind could even process what you were doing.  

Pick knew that, if you keep doing something over and over, that the habits of your body would become stronger than the will of your mind.

In a one word command, “Again!” represented the practice of becoming a better version of yourself. You couldn’t embody something you had tried 3–4 times…you had to keep doing it “Again!”

The second was the word “Finish!”. With any move in wrestling, you have to complete it to score points. If you only do a move halfway, you might as well not have done the move at all. So many times in matches, I would do a move part of the way, only to meet resistance from the other guy. At that moment, one word could be heard above everyone else in the gym; “Finish!”. You could hear “Finish!” 7–8 times in a row, at the same pitch, and at the same volume, all from the mouth of Pick. The combination of his will and his voice was nearly enough on it’s own to get you to “Finish!” what you started.

Over the course of my teenage years, between matches and practice, I probably heard “Again!” and “Finish!” thousands of times. The words, the tone, and the sentiments were drilled into my head, against my wishes, much like every Taylor Swift song for the three weeks after it’s released. (Haters really are gonna hate) I am now 18 years out of high school, and Pick has still successfully planted “Again!” and “Finish!” into my head, and those words have now infiltrated everything else I do.
Remember those two words for a second…

The other thing that Pick would do was, after the wrestling season was over, he would still show up and run practices for offseason training. We would have just finished 5 months of cutting weight, daily practices, and two meets per week, and he was there the day after, ready to keep pushing us. My junior year, at the end of the season, I had gotten All-State honors, and the next week, Pick was there rolling out the mats, ready for practice. He was teaching me, subtly, that life doesn’t have an offseason, and he wasn’t going to let me stop short of what I wanted just because I had gotten ‘close enough’.

For him “Again!” and “Finish!” were more than just words he’d bellow out during a tournament. For him, they were a mantra that was bigger than a sport.

You do things “Again!” to make yourself better.
You “Finish!” things so that they actually count.

I can’t become the man I need to be in the lives of the people around me unless I do the things I’m supposed to do “Again!”…and “Again!”…and “Again!” And when I get tired of, annoyed by, or sidetracked from the responsibilities I have as a man, I can still hear that low-pitched, echo in my head, urging me with one word…


All I have ever wanted, since the moment I became a “grown-up”, is for my life to count, and I know that it won’t if I don’t “Finish!” the things I’m supposed to “Finish!”. When I’m in the middle of what seems like an infinite, unendurable circumstance that makes me want to quit a project I’m working on, there, in the back of my head, I hear the commanding voice of a coach;


Recently I had stepped outside, saw the colors and felt the fall breeze, and was reminded that it was that time of year again: wrestling season. I can still feel it in my bones, even though I’ve been away from the sport for more than a decade. Every former wrestler can feel it when fall comes around. It’s strange how, years later, being a wrestler still is part of your DNA.

Sadly, this is the first wrestling season where Pick is not physically with us. He lost his fight with cancer 10 months ago. Fittingly, his memorial service was in our alma mater’s gym, with the mats rolled out. But, wrestling season or not, he has been with me ever since I left. Through career changes, life’s curveballs, goal chases, and evolving relationships, he continues to urge me to be better by doing things “Again!”. He continues to not let me quit what I start, pushing me to “Finish!”.

From beyond the grave, that dude is still the voice in my head.