Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dan Hugo & Brad Weiss ~ Friends through Faith

The recent 2013 Saipan Sportsfest drew a field of fourteen impressive professional XTERRA triathletes to our small, remote isle and we were fortunate to host two South African gentlemen, Dan Hugo and Brad Weiss, for two weeks at the Quinn Inn.

 Since XTERRA Saipan’s inception in 2002, we've had the opportunity to host several international pros at our home including Anke Moore (S Africa), Gary Mandy (S Africa), Josiah Middaugh (USA), Melissa Thomas (USA), David & Ingrid Henestrosa (Spain) and Mike Vine (Canada).

Homestays are routinely known for cultural exchange student programs but XTERRA typically promotes them for the pros so that they can experience “local life” as well as help save on costs during their 1~2 week visits.  Unlike many mainstream professional sports like soccer, football, baseball, golf, tennis, the top world triathletes make a pittance in comparison. They obviously don’t do it for the money, but rather for the immense challenge and true love of the sport.

This visit with Dan and Brad was unique as we simply had more quality time to spend with them.  In the past, we were busy working 8-10 hours a day at our jobs, leaving minimal time to say “hello” in the mornings and “good night” in the evenings.  As I reflect back on those past homestays, I feel a tinge of remorse of not being able to have been more hospitable.

This year, Russ volunteered to organize the homestays and as such, I was able to review the list of pro names and select one.  Dan Hugo’s name was familiar from the top XTERRA races so I checked his website, read through his bio and learned that he’s a Christian. That alone made all the difference. Aside from Jamie Whitmore, we haven’t met too many other XTERRA pros who are faithful believers.  Dan emailed Russ and inquired if a friend, Brad, could also stay with us and we warmly agreed.
After service on Sunday with Pastor Jason Warren
We were really pleased that Brad and Dan wanted to accompany us to Saipan Community Church on both Sundays to meet Jason, our new pastor and witness firsthand, a typical Sunday service.  We were able to share stories about our church experiences and engage in conversations about the impact of God in our lives. For many Christians, there exists a dense nest of often unspoken reassurance that stirs within when we're among other believers.  It's a tangible sense of intent, comfort and peace that overrides my outlook in the way I handle Life. The faith thread binds us together as part of God's family.  Dan had even remarked that the opening greeter,"Family Song" at our church is something that is carefree and genuine.  I never thought about it in that way. We just called it the "cult" song where we clasp hands and form a large circle around the pews. 

The adventures of cooking for two additional men honed my culinary skills.  I thoroughly enjoyed planning and creating healthy, gluten-free meals for all of us.  The biggest hits were the eight dozen tropical oat muffins which I only learned to make a few weeks prior. I also made French onion soup, miso soup, salmon, artichokes, pesto crusted Basa fillets, grilled eggplant and tofu sprinkled with ginger, bonito, spring onions and soy, honey soy sauteed kabocha, Vietnamese salad, kale avocado salad, tropical fruit salads, stuffed bell peppers and tons of quinoa.  They appreciated everything I made so it was easy.
Eating those papaya coconut muffins
In addition, I experienced a sense of culinary enlightenment.  For Russ and me, meals satiate our hunger and provide time to connect during dinners, but for Dan and Brad, it played a more purposeful role to provide pure fuel for their bodies. They think about everything they consume. Balanced nutrition through healthy eating simply equates to enhanced performance and that ignited my desire to sample and create more nutritious recipes.  Simply put, what you eat and drink makes a world of difference in how you feel and move.  This is a basic concept that I've always understood, yet my personal "no sweets" restriction for lent filtered that knowledge into a physical benefit of shedding excess pounds without trying harder. 
Sampling sake at Kuriya
For us, taking the time to share a good meal with friends is one of our sacred past times. We are generally comfortable hosts who entertain frequently at our dining room table. On the first week, we invited long time Swiss XTERRA pro and dear friend, Renata, and her Aussie friend, Peri, to join us for a Japanese dinner.  Great meals solidify friendships through engaging conversations and of course, laughter.  We ate, drank, talked and played a politically incorrect game called Cards Against Humanity which at times left us bursting into belly jarring amusement. What a perfect ice breaker. The card game melted our reserves as we sometimes struggled to read aloud the intensely humorous answers.  Sharing food, stories and adventures always allows me to communicate on an integral level of purpose.
Aside from the Awards banquets at PIC, we dined out on several occasions to explore the island's diverse eateries including Tropical Blendz, Wild Bill's, Taste of India, Coffee Care, Kuriya, and the Hyatt's Teppanyaki for our final dinner together which was a memorable feast. We definitely indulged ourselves for an evening.

While pro triathletes' jobs requires them to train rigorously for their races, Dan and Brad mixed training with sightseeing during their long rides and runs.  They were also invited to join a Saipan Swim Club practice at the Marpi pool and speak to the youth about being pro athletes and how perseverance and the pursuit of dreams led them to where they are today.
Possibly the highlight of their Saipan stay was the Grotto swims. The first afternoon visit sharply contrasted to the second. When we arrived at the Grotto parking lot one afternoon, every single parking space was full and Marianas Trekking had 34 Japanese guests descending down the 110 steps. Couple that with 20 divers and more snorkelers, the cavern appeared to be a crowded swim thru aquarium.  It didn’t matter. After waiting in the long queue, we jumped in and explored the island’s most unique swim site. One of the dozens of divers breathed massive ring bubbles of which Brad swam through, resembling a dolphin jumping through his trainer’s rings at Sea World. Fish were swimming about, eager to obtain their snacks from their diver friends and we were there to enjoy the true ethereal beauty of this natural wonder, right in our own backyard.
Grotto Swim
On the final morning prior to their departure, I took our guests to the Grotto for a final snorkel. We arrived at 7:30 am, a perfect time to play in the water in peace. It was our own private swimming hole. While the waters were a bit more aggressive, the clarity of the rich blue light that shines through the Grotto remained intense.  Whenever we have visitors to the island, we take them to the Grotto. There’s nothing else like it… it’s that spectacular.

In comparison to the amount of time and energy these pros expend on growing their level of fitness to excel in their races, my scattered weekly workout activities appear trivial at best. I hadn’t really noticed how much the other home stay pros trained as I was busy at work.  It’s beyond admirable because I know it’s physically exhausting. They go on long rides – 4 to 5 hours, run 90 minutes and swim another hour on a big workout day.
One outcome was that I joined them in the pool last week for swim laps in the 50m pool for the first time since my shoulder surgery.  While I’m not a fast swimmer, I do enjoy the fluidity and non-impact succession of the movement.  My left arm struggled to stretch far and execute a proper stroke, yet I managed to swim 1k and that’s sufficient progress.

In my view, their strive for excellence drives Dan and Brad to push themselves both mentally and physically to attain titles and sponsorships so that they can continually pursue their passion for multisport.  It’s what they do and they shine as triathletes on the world stage. 

For the 2013 XTERRA Saipan Championships on 9 March, Dan and Brad placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively, on a tough race day drenched with rain and consequently a slippery, muddy bike and run course. Congratulations!
Pros Brad, Dan, Rory & Sam at the Swim Start
Dan 2nd, Ben 1st, Brad 3rd
It takes an onerous amount of commitment, dedication, enthusiasm and time to make a career out of racing as a professional.  It’s unfathomable to the general populace because we’re just not as athletically gifted.  Yet, so many of us enjoy following sports, whether it’s triathlon, football, soccer or the Olympics.  There’s that delicate rewarding sensation when we witness individuals achieve a pinnacle highlight in his/her career. It’s pure magic.

Riding my bike with friends gives me a tremendous sense of freedom as we navigate the top tourist sites in Marpi from Suicide Cliff, Bird Island, Grotto, Last Command Post and Banzai Cliff.  Not only do we view the natural breathtaking scenery on our route, it’s uncongested so we can enjoy the sights and sounds that make cycling so pleasurable.  There’s that one point on the descent from Suicide to the FEBC road where I stop to gaze south at the coastline and see the brilliant light and dark turquoise waters remarkably protrude into a picture perfect image with a verdant Managaha Island appear floating to the right.

Friends Peri from Australia and Renata from Switzerland
Freedom comes not only from riding, running and swimming, but from travelling the globe, by meeting new faces and making new friends.  It’s a lifestyle designed for the adventurer.  Last year, I travelled to Tokyo, Niseko, Korea, Guam, Ireland, England and California. For a Saipan resident, that’s quite a bit.  The 2013 XTERRA Saipan Champions Ben Allen and Jacqui Slack travelled to 10 different countries on the 2012 XTERRA Global Tour.  Their life experiences were sharply enhanced by stepping out of the comforts of their hometowns and venturing abroad.
Visiting Juergen in Titisee, Germany
 In the last few years, our XTERRA connection has led us to visit Sam & Susan in England, Renata in Switzerland and Juergen in Germany.  In May, we’ll stop by Edinburgh to see Rory Downie, who placed 7th in XTERRA Saipan and 2nd in Tagaman.  In August, we plan on taking a trip to Nikko/Marunuma to see the XTERRA Japan race to cheer Dan as well as guide him through the sites of Tokyo post race.  In fall 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa, is our resolute destination.

During times of rest, we lounged on the sofas and delved into three acclaimed films.  Russ introduced his all time favorite movie, “Rudy” to Brad, who had never seen it before. It’s a story of an underdog, a poor college student who pushes his limits to successfully join and play one glorious moment for the Notre Dame football team. Rudy showcases immense courage, persistence and passion and it’s an inspiring film that we’ve watched many times.

Dan suggested the two other wonderful films. The first, “As It is In Heaven” is an Oscar nominated Swedish drama which discloses the moving story of a famous conductor who returns to his home town and rouses the attention of the sleepy community. The characters literally come alive when the conductor establishes a new church choir. 

The last was my favorite, The Intouchables, a heartwarming French comedy based on a true life story of a wealthy French aristocrat / quadriplegic, injured in a paragliding accident who hires a brash young black man to be his personal assistant.  It’s a voyage of two people’s lives intertwined through love, friendship and trust. It’s a MUST-SEE film that resonates within all of us who seek to live, love and laugh through our own journeys. 

Five Love Languages
Due to our active involvement in Marriage Encounter with meetings and fundraisers, I spoke at some length of how we gladly accommodate ME into our life as it’s transformed our marriage for the better. It brings immeasurable joy for us to work with couples during the Steps Along the Journey program, teach them the communication concepts and witness their marriage bloom. 

As young, single men, Dan and Brad are unmarried but I proposed that they learn the valuable concepts of “love is a decision, not a feeling” and being others-centered versus self-centered to sustain a healthy, loving relationship. Dan had previously read the “Five Love Languages”, an excellent book by Dr. Gary Chapman, whose platform stems on the belief that we can fill our spouse’s love tank by speaking the right “love language”. For our local ME community, we recently created a new enrichment program based on the Five Love Languages last fall for couples who graduate from Steps. It was affectionately received by our group of five couples who shared, gave and trusted each other and their spouses to love more deeply. 
Date night at Casa Urashima
I find that marriage parallels sports in many ways. They both bring a rich sense of accomplishment, excitement, joy and happiness as well as anger, pain, frustration, sadness and sometimes jealousy. In both, you have to work incessantly to be successful. It takes countless hours of training to be an elite athlete. And while many couples don’t recognize it, it takes even more effort to be an active partner in a happy marriage because it’s easy to be selfish and do something for yourself as in going to the gym or a long run. In marriage, the focus is redirected from self to your spouse.

Without families, whether biological or otherwise, life would be lonely and bland. My family is not limited to the confines of the nuclear unit of Russ, me and the dogs or even to the expanded company of our parents, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.

We consider our close friends, here on Saipan and Guam, as well as those around the globe, as part of our extended family. We cherish all of our Godchildren whose lives we hope to impact in some significant way, now or in the future. Our various affiliations through ME, church, PIC, university, hometown, volleyball and XTERRA have allowed us to secure a connection with an amazing array of people who enrich our lives through their love and support, no matter where they are.
A home stay visit essentially invites a stranger to become part of your family for a brief period of time. Our lives were blessed because we chose to host Dan and Brad. Likewise, Dan & Brad, we hope your Saipan visit was memorable and that you’ll return to your Saipan “home” next year.  You are part of our family.  We wish you all the best this racing season and look forward to our next reunion. Good luck and God Bless!

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