Climbing back up to grace…

The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.
–Aristotle

I woke today morning and performed a task as routine as morning ablutions: I opened my phone browser to Yahoo! Sports in search of the leaderboard for today’s Deutsche Bank golf tournament. I will explain: I did this every time Tiger played when I lived in China. It was a way, like music and bootleg movies, for me to stay tethered to something wholly American. Tiger was part of America’s sports greatness and he was a symbol of how I felt about my country.

The young LT. as budding golfer

I am one of the world’s worst golfers. No, really. I started the game in hopes of finding a way to “quiet the machine” and relax with the help of a sport that rightfully is known as a good walk spoiled. I had not thought of it as much of a sport until I learned it was easier to navigate a leech infested swamp at night with an M-16 above my head than to putt a tiny white ball into a PVC drain pipe. But, I digress…

Tiger Woods, son of a Special Forces Major, single-handed turned golf into an muscular, precision pursuit of excellence. Sure, John Daly could guzzle a beer, put his garish pants on backwards and hit 7 balls between cigarettes father than any other golfer on the tour, but Tiger was the one to watch. And people did it in such numbers that people who had never watched were devoted to golf where before they might have preferred to watch weeds grow in a vacant lot.

When Tiger’s life landed in the rough I couldn’t wait for the public to begin judging him again for his athletic prowess instead of his celebrity moral failings. He literally limped along for a couple of years as I continued to hope that rumors of his death were digitally exaggerated.

On my recent trip to Detroit I visited Piquette Square for Veterans. It is an apartment complex built on the site of an old auto factory. It gives permanent shelter to veterans who

Honor Guard at the Piquette Center mugging for the camera

At the center, I was introduced to Coniel Norman,a veteran and peer counselor employed by the VA to assist homeless vets there. I instinctively knew there was back story here. Coneil had just told me he attended the University of Arizona in the early seventies and I guessed by his height and powerfully large hands that he had been a basketball player. I just didn’t know how great an athlete he had been: Coneil, whose nickname was “popcorn” due to his rapid-fire accuracy, is still Arizona’s record holder for points scoring average in a season. He was drafted in the NBA’s second round and played three seasons: Two with the 76ers and then one with the San Diego Clippers, after a two year stint in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). After being released by the Clippers in 1979, Norman enlisted in the military and served four years. He left in 1983 and then played professional basketball in Europe for seven seasons. The man who was once lauded by an opposing coach ( he described Coniel Norman as the “finest pure shooter” he had ever seen), saw his basketball career end when he was injured in a serious car accident on the Autobahn.

Time passed and Coneil eventually lost his way via drugs and alcohol. Homeless, he reached out to his family who supported him through rehabilitation. He now lives and works at the Veterans Center.

When you are one of the best at what you do, there is little place to go but down. And the people who cheered your successes are not always there when you descend. Worse yet, they turn their disappointment into anger and add considerable weight to to the already heavy burden that is recovery from injury, personal loss, or misdeeds.

That Tiger has won more events this year than the average professional can hope for in a lifetime of golf, while under such close scrutiny and subject to such blistering critique (just read some of the comments below any Yahoo! article on Woods), is a triumph on its own merits. Even if he fails to live up to fan and sports writer expectations by surpassing Jack Nicklaus for the number of majors won, his achievements are legendary and his records will likely stand long after his detractors have left this life. Hoping one day to see him play.

Coneil’s impact on the world now extends beyond the record board at Arizona. There will be veterans who will remember him as someone who returned hope and sobriety to their lives. I could not be prouder that I was able to shake the hand of an ideal man.

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Today’s call to action is a little selfish for the first time in 9 years of blogging: I could use a little help in getting to Denver to pick up Gander: http://Indiegogo.com/veterantraveler/

Comments

  1. Will Lee says

    Lonnie, I hope you will be able to see Tiger Woods play golf soon. I’ve seen Tiger play several times here in San Francisco at Harding Park and just recently at the US Open at the Olympic Club. I’ve the pleasure ro have been avle to speak to him, and I have his autograph. He’s an awesome player. I hope he wins a few more Majors.

  2. Emie says

    Real talent is hard to put down… media or no media, Tiger woods will always be good with what he loves to do. That holds true to people like us… we don’t need false prophets to tell us whether we’re good or not good.

  3. says

    I just wanted to let you know what it is we are doing for our women heroes and for MI. https://www.facebook.com/OurHomeTransitional
    The plan is to acquire & renovate a large 10 bedroom house for our first transitional home to be known as OUR HOME TRANSITIONAL. It will be a place where our female vets and their kids come to when they are facing challenges & are in need of a place to call Home. The women who need services are not limited to the Flint area. As long as we have a room available we will take in any woman hero from anywhere in the US who may be in need of our services.
    While here, they will be provided various types of assistance in efforts to transition to civilian life and self- sufficiency. As home one is up and running successfully, we will be acquiring several others on the block/area to provide a haven for our family. Training and assistance programs to be provided by the Local, County and Federal Government will include: Job training/placement, mental and physical health, educational training, vehicle, and home placement assistance, to name a few.
    According to the MI Homeless Coalition, there are over 150 homeless or about to be homeless female vets, some with children, from Saginaw on down to Detroit, right now! The need is there!
    We have a Board of Directors (one of which is a 10 yr male Veteran who wears many hats in the success and progress of OHT and a female vet with 7 yrs Military service!), a fantastic group of experienced volunteers, many active and retired Military, VA reps, and an Advisory committee, all working hard to see this program succeed. We are registered as a nonprofit in the State of MI and we have filed for our 501c3 status via our lawyer. We are supported by Kettering Entrepreneurial Society and UofM Flints Innovation Incubator as well as many other local and national orgs! http://www.ourhometransitional.org/supported-by
    We are currently working with Genesee Co Land Bank, HUD, LISC and Salem Housing for a donated or low priced house for each veteran completing our program! This should be acquired within the coming months. Land Bank has committed to giving us some homes that are completely stripped as long as we have the funding/ability to rehab and upkeep which is where SV MAP comes in. They will need to be renovated to a huge degree as most of these empty homes in Flint have been stripped completely. We have DE Recycling and many Flint residents ready to volunteer! Also, donations and grants along with other funding will help as well. http://www.ourhometransitional.org/apps/donations/
    We have our DUN’s and CAGE #’s to apply for Govt grants and contracts and we have a professional doing our Business Plan! We also view this as an opportunity to revitalize & beautify the local area, as the ultimate goal is to have several houses within Genesee County that our vets will transition to, some urban and others located in a rural setting to give our transitioning women a city or country choice. We will all work together and partner with other neighborhood organizations to keep the areas clean, beautiful and safe, while bringing in federal funds to MI as these heroes successfully transition to civilian society and self-sufficiency.
    If you could please join our page and share it as well as it takes a village! If you would like to be listed on our site as a Supporter and/or Resource please let me know! http://www.ourhometransitional.org/veteran-resources

    I hope to gain your support via sponsorship/donations/volunteers/word-of-mouth/exposure/etc!
    View local coverage of OHT here! http://www.ourhometransitional.org/media
    Thanks!
    Carrie Miller
    Executive Director
    810 309 9822
    http://www.ourhometransitional.org Copyright © 2012 Our Home Transitional. All Rights Reserved.

    • admin says

      Carrie
      I read every comment and every tweet.
      I retweet and send out support if asked.
      Please don’t cut and paste multiple identical and per-formatted comments on my blog.
      It doesn’t endear people to the cause.

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