Relentless forward sucking

Three American buddies, two Canadian brothers and a couple of Mexican entrepreneurs walk into a fantasy sports trade show…

Fantasy sports bring out peoples’ passion. Roughly half of the people I met in Nashville, at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) winter conference, started their business because they love playing fantasy sports.


I met The Footballers, three longtime friends who podcast about fantasy football all year long. There’s no offseason for them. Because they love fantasy football.

I shared a breakfast table with two guys from Mexico who built a daily fantasy service to satisfy Latin Americans’ passion for football — American football and soccer.

I pitched an idea for an eBook dedicated to sucking at fantasy football. My pitch was funny.

Pitching “24 Years of Sucking @ Fantasy Football” in Nashville.

The two Canadian brothers who won the pitch contest were funny too, plus they have cool technology that curates all of your fantasy news. Dang those Canadian overachievers.

What do you do when you’re a doctor who’s passionate about fantasy sports? You create a company that projects injury risk for every NFL and NBA player. Here’s Tom Brady’s recent prognosis:

Another pitch showed how big data is improving the fantasy experience with customized, SportsCenter-like highlights reels. Check out this version for NASCAR fantasy:

No love for kickers

Speaking of SportsCenter, an ESPN writer provided my favorite stat of the conference: Over 70% of fantasy players think that kickers should be…kicked out of fantasy scoring.

I agree. (Nothing against kickers).

There was free pizza during the conference. And hot dogs. And bottomless bags of my favorite food, popcorn.

I’m passionate about fantasy sports and about writing, so pitching a book idea at the FSTA conference was a golden opportunity.  Throw in a fantasy buffet of endless ballpark food and, well, that definitely does not suck.

Fantasy data doesn’t lie. I wish it would.

I play fantasy football. I’ve played in the same league, with the same group of friends, for 24 years. During that span, I won the league championship once.

That’s a 4% success rate. The other 96% of the time, I’ve been bad.

My team is named the UndaDawgz. A more appropriate name might be the UndaPerformerz, since I finished in dead last place 29% of the time.

My team logo.

This season was going to be different. For starters, I had more time to prepare: 67% of all fantasy sports players have a full-time job. I had no such distraction. Suckers!

The average player spends $9 on fantasy magazines. I had no desire to be merely average. I spent twice that amount.

Advanced scouting

A good fantasy draft strategy is critical. I created a spreadsheet of nearly 250 players that stack-ranked, color-coded and annotated all of my potential draft picks.

Jen and I even attended the real NFL draft in Chicago. Talk about next level preparation.

Next level fantasy football research.

I had the #11 pick in my fantasy draft. Statistically speaking, #11 is the worst draft position in our league.

How do I know this? Because I analyzed our league’s historical data. I might have too much time on my hands.

I was confident on draft day. My draft headquarters, the couch, were distraction free. I had good snacks.

The first 10 picks proceeded as I expected. My spreadsheet was on point. Then it was my turn.

I chose Le’Veon Bell, star running back for the Steelers. Almost immediately, I started second-guessing my decision.

Bell was suspended for the first four games of the NFL season. He’s a high-impact player, but did I draft him too soon? He wasn’t even going to step onto the field for another month.

As a backup plan for Bell’s suspension, I drafted his backup, DeAngelo Williams, with my fifth pick. More hand wringing and second-guessing. Did I just waste a high pick on a part-time player?

I wasn’t the only one second-guessing my decisions. CBSSportsline gave my final draft a mediocre B-minus grade.

Reality bites

In week one, the backup Williams had a monster game. Unfortunately, the rest of my fantasy team lived down to its B-minus rating. I lost the first game by 12 points.

My second game was against another team that received a B-minus grade. I lost by 16 points.

I made reactive changes. My team reacted by losing in week three by 21 points.

I made more changes. In week four I suffered my worst defeat yet, by 34 points.

It took five more weeks before I finally won a game. By then, all hopes of making the playoffs were gone. I won two games the entire season.

New technology, same results

Fantasy sports have changed significantly in 24 years. When our league began, roughly 3 million people played fantasy sports. Today, it’s 57 million.

We relied on the newspaper for stats and we calculated points by hand. There were no fantasy football websites. We submitted our weekly roster via a landline.

Today, stats are available in real-time and scoring is automated. Nearly 40% of all fantasy players get their information via cell phone.

My (lack of) fantasy success hasn’t changed much over the years. But I keep coming back. Our league began as a tight group of friends living in the same city. Today, we’re flung across the country. Fantasy football is the one remaining thing that we all have in common.

There’s always that tantalizing thought that this could be my year. Historical data suggests that my future fantasy prospects are dim. But who needs data, anyway?

Happy Flu Year! A running report

My 2017 race calendar is filling up fast. In fact, 2017 is less than a day old and I’ve already chalked up my first race result: DNS (Did Not Start). While Jen powered through the Resolution Run this morning, I sat home on our couch with the flu.

Completing the Resolution Run in a healthier, flu-free New Year.

I completed a fair bit of running in 2016. In January, I finished my first ultramarathon, the Avalon 50. I won my first race this year; it was a local 10K. I followed that with a third place age-group finish (“third among the olds”) at the Orca Half Marathon.

Photo stop on Catalina Island along the Avalon 50 miler.

I also witnessed some amazing running in 2016. When Amy Cragg, Des Davila and Shalane Flanagan dueled it out on the streets of L.A. at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, I observed from Figueroa Street. A few months later, I indulged in two full weeks’ worth of spectating at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan setting the pace at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trial in Los Angeles.

My mom is an OJ – Original Jogger. As a kid, I would spectate and cheer when she ran the New Haven Road Race. Sometimes I would tag along during her training runs, but I rarely made it around the block.

Newspaper clipping of my Mom running the Lenders Bagels race.

I tried cross country running in high school, but I routinely finished last in competitions. I gave up running entirely when I reached college. By my mid-twenties, I literally refused to run. Then I got fat. So, I fell back on running.

I trained for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C. and – surprise! – I did not finish last. And so, for the ensuing 20+ years, running has been part of my life. Some years it’s a big part and some years it’s a small part. But it’s always there.

It was there in a big way during 2016. From January through April, my runs were meandering and nostalgic. I soaked up many beach runs, in expectation of my #1WaytoSEA move from Santa Monica to Seattle. From May through July, I dialed down the running and dialed up the biking, to prep for an epic transcontinental bike ride with my brother.

Sunset run route along Santa Monica beach.

In August, I got serious about running again. I enlisted my first running coach, via a startup app called Ekiden. My goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I chose the Seattle Marathon to achieve my 3:25 qualifying time. This was probably not the wisest choice, since the Seattle course is notoriously tough with a succession of nasty hills starting around mile 20.

In late November, I finished the Seattle Marathon in 3:29:06. I missed my goal by just over four minutes. But I shaved more than five minutes off of my previous Seattle Marathon time – from 12 years ago! Not a bad run.

I can honestly say there were no bad runs in 2016. A hamstring injury made for a few painful runs and caused me to cut a few runs shorts. But they were better than not running.

In 2017, I’m continuing to chase my goal of qualifying for Boston. I’m also eyeing another 50 miler. Separately, after a hiatus, my Dad and I will return to the New Mexico desert to participate in the deeply meaningful Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon.

I’m ready to be done with this flu. It’s a bummer to start the New Year with a DNS. But there’s lots more running to look forward to in 2017.

A man of humility and strength

bataan-memorial-death-march-marathonIn 2011, somewhere on a remote military base in southern New Mexico, I was 500 yards away from checking an important item off of my bucket list. But before I could pat myself on the back, I had to finish puking.

I was in the homestretch of the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon. The grueling event is aptly described as “26 miles of high desert, 26 miles of pure perseverance.”

It honors American and Filipino service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II. Approximately 75,000 of these troops were surrendered to invading Japanese forces in 1942. The captured troops were force-marched 65 miles, under harsh conditions, to Japanese prison camps. Thousands died along the route, which became known as the Bataan Death March.

Sgt. Major John Mims and his second wife, Nena.

John Mims experienced the Bataan Death March firsthand. On the day before we participated in the Memorial version, my Dad and I met Mims.

He addressed a standing room crowd on the military base. Mims spoke softly. Sometimes he lost his train of thought. When it happened, he poked fun at himself. He was nearly 90 years old.

In 1938, Mims was too young to join the Army. But he was a teenager living on his own – both parents were dead – and he was hungry. So, he fudged his age on his recruitment papers.

At first, for young soldiers like Mims, assignment to the Philippines must have felt like a tropical vacation. There was plenty of food, plenty of sunshine and plenty of friendly girls. Things changed drastically when the Japanese invaded.

First time meeting Mr. Mims.

The prisoners’ quarters were numbered. Those who were healthy enough to work lived in hut #1. When health started to wane, prisoners were moved to huts #2 and #3. The men were moved to hut #4 to die.

Mims suffered a broken jaw, a broken back and a broken neck during captivity. Eventually, he found himself in hut #4. He was basically a dead man.

Except he survived. Mims lived to tell his story, over and over, so that those who died would be remembered.

My brother and Dad marching.

My Dad and I will participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March again in 2017. Mims won’t be there. He died recently at 94.

Judging from Facebook comments following his death, his plan worked. A humble man with great courage told his story, so that others would not be forgotten. They are remembered, and so is Mims.

Innuendo and grit

My first time teaching exercise class to seniors, one of my female students announced, “I would do better if there were ass slaps involved.”

Despite lack of training in risqué scenarios, I was able to keep the class on track. Everyone kept their hands to themselves.

img_1493Most of the seniors seem to like me. People know me as “the exercise guy,” or occasionally “the dancing man.” Nonetheless, admiration has its limits. I had to bump the start of class from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM, to avoid conflicting with The Price is Right.

My class shares a community room with other seniors who are eating their lunch, using the computers or watching TV. So, I arrive early to stake out a spot.

img_1496-2I bring a rolling tub full of exercise equipment and a Bluetooth speaker. I rotate a few different playlists. Kool & the Gang, ABBA and The Commodores are staples of each mix.

As I lead warm-up aerobics to a low-tempo version of “Brick House,” they mirror my movements from an upright or seated position. Each exercise has different versions. For example, a tricep extension exercise has two different base positions – standing or seated – plus several more variations depending on the student’s range of pain-free motion.

The average age of my students is 68. However, this group has endured surgeries and ailments that exceed their biological age. There are walkers, canes, artificial hips, fused necks and metal rods in legs.

And…there’s optimism. In a makeshift exercise room with fake flowers, there’s a sense of determination. There’s no whining or self-pity. The group possesses a quiet, persistent strength. So when a student tells me that her range of movement is improved or her energy level is higher because of my class, that’s an amazing feeling.

img_1492The favorite part of class for most students is the exercise ball. It’s a small inflatable that fits in one hand. We imitate familiar movements like dribbling, passing, shooting and bowling — without ever letting go of the ball. I think the ball activities inspire childhood memories.

I conclude each class by commending each student for their commitment to fitness. And I thank them, sincerely, for being there.

Life, lessons and clipart

flyerOne thing you don’t learn while becoming a certified senior fitness instructor: How to choose proper clip art.

The first flyer that I created to promote my senior exercise class was a failure. I used a stock image of smiling, happy, silver-haired men and women of all races. I posted my flyer on bulletin boards at both of the senior apartments where I planned to teach.

The stock photo was indistinguishable from the half-dozen other flyers promoting the Avon lady, life insurance and healthcare providers. In one building, my flyers kept disappearing from the elevator. Very mysterious.

Exactly zero seniors attended my first exercise class.

I worked in the corporate world. I understand that success takes time and patience. But when you can’t even entice one senior citizen – in a building full of them – to show up in the community room for a FREE exercise class? Man, that’s a low feeling.

The Powers of Ten

flyer2Fortunately, there are two good books on this topic. Now, neither one of these books is, per se, dedicated to increasing BIS (Butts in Seats) at your senior exercise class. But I gleaned this important wisdom from both authors: If you want to be successful in your field, you gotta work very hard.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book, Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of work to become elite in one’s professional field. That’s about 27 years. In The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone encourages readers to amplify their efforts tenfold to achieve true success.

Also, I found this pithy advice in chapter 6 of Cardone’s book to be oddly motivating: “Don’t Be a Little B*tch.”

Bring it on

I took my flyer game up a notch. Screw the boring stock images. I replaced them with bold, colorful clipart. Now, anyone walking past the message board was sure to notice the bright yellow smiley face, hammering out bicep curls while warding off sweat with his sporty red headband. Take that, Avon lady.

I posted my flyers on every floor. I put one in the laundry room, at eye level above the washing machines. I stuck a few in the magazine rack next to the TV in the common room. I even developed a theory on why my flyers were disappearing from the elevators: I suspected a rouge pushpin thief. My counterplan: Scotch tape.

Making gains

It’s been just over a month since I started teaching. A small, dedicated group of regulars attends each class. Several students use a cane or a walker. Many are coping with medical and physical limitations. No one whines.

I’ve seen improvements in some students’ strength and mobility over the past month. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling. Sometimes a student will approach me and ask for help with a specific exercise or activity. Whenever that happens, I’m motivated to increase my own knowledge so I can be as helpful as possible.

So far, the attendees are all women. A few men have expressed interest; sometimes they stop by to chat or to check out the ladies.

With 2017 fast approaching, I’m planning a “New Year’s Resolution” marketing campaign to boost class enrollment among men and women. Now, I just need to find some really colorful clipart.

Ol’ Blue Eyes still has it at 101; Drew Carey is pretty nice, too

I like to mix in some trivia questions while I teach fitness class to seniors. Today would have been Frank Sinatra’s 101st birthday. That was one of my trivia questions today. Then, I played “My Way” on Spotify. The song brought one of the ladies in class to tears. There will never be another Frank.

Seattle’s pro soccer team, the Sounders, won a championship this weekend. Trivia question #2: Name the Sounders minority owner who’s also a comedian and host of The Price is Right. The 1:00 PM class watches Price is Right together in the TV room, so they nailed Drew Carey as the answer (“He’s so nice.”) The 2:30 PM class whiffed on this question. Like me, the 2:30 group is sentimental for Bob Barker.

I provide strength and balance training to a group of about eight seniors. This group is no joke. They’re coping with serious medical conditions and traumatic surgeries. One lady does bicep curls with her one good arm. Another does aerobics with a metal rod in her leg. And so on.

There’s no complaining in this group. Just a straightforward reciting of medical conditions – fused neck, multiple sclerosis, cancer, etc. – so that we can appropriately modify the exercises.

Today a student told me that she’s finally able to wash her hair without pain, thanks to the exercise regimen she follows during our class. That made me very happy.

She missed the third trivia question of the day (What performer, born on this day, sang “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”?). But that’s just fine. There’s nothing trivial about the work that she – and this entire group of seniors – puts in during every class. I’m truly inspired by them. And that’s my final answer.