Allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your stunning achievement (damn you)

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1998

Allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your stunning achievement (damn you)

A few heartwarming tales from the annals of high-minded competition
By Florence Williams

Did. Did not. Did too. How rich the level of discourse in the sporting world, how satisfying its reasoned debate. For as the guidelines of good sportsmanship dictate, the pursuit of athletic accomplishment and individual achievement is never a crass undertaking, and never petty. It is, as the following examples show, an environment in which colleagues are always ready with a proffered handshake and a hale "well done!" It's a world of gracious competition, without the tawdriness of, say, trivial bickering, endless chest-puffing, and jealous sniping. It truly is. Is not. Is. Is not. Is. Is. Is. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.

Louie Anderson

THE BOAST: I conquered one of the nation's toughest climbing routes
PROBLEM IS: Experts say it can't be climbed

In the summer of 1995, Anderson shimmied up Refiner's Fire, a 20-degree overhanging wall near Barstow, California, that at the time was one of only two 5.14b climbing routes in America. Or so he says. Unfortunately, Anderson has no video, no track record, no proof. What he has is his word, which was good enough to initially net him considerable fanfare in the sport-climbing world. In the years since, however, many elite rock-jocks have taken a hard look at the wall and a hard look at the 31-year-old Anderson, and have come to a different conclusion. Their new name for the route: Refiner's Liar. "On his best day, the guy couldn't even come close to climbing it," says Randy Leavitt, a former training partner of Anderson's. A highly regarded sport climber, Leavitt himself tried the route and failed. Then he dangled $1,000 in front of Anderson simply to repeat the feat (with cameras rolling). Anderson declined. So Leavitt asked Boone Speed, who had redpointed the nation's only other 5.14b, what he could make of Refiner's. "Randy figured if anyone could do it, I could," shrugs Speed. He couldn't: "You'd almost have to be a fly to climb that wall." Anderson dismisses the attempts to vet his story; it took a year and a half of study to manage the 19 moves on the smooth, granite face, he says. "It's not a clear-cut thing that you're going to be able to repeat it every time," Anderson insists. Thus it seems his feat will go unconfirmed. Which is fine with him. "I don't care if anyone thinks I'm kick-ass or not," Anderson says. "I'm comfortable with the truth."

Joe Breeze & Gary Fisher

THE BOAST: I fathered the mountain bike
PROBLEM IS: It's time to let go

Well, it's not as showy as Oliver Stone's cinematic attacks on Chief Justice Earl Warren, but among grease-packed theorists one conspiracy swirls eternal: Did Fisher, the 47-year-old president of the Gary Fisher Bicycle Company, birth the mountain bike, or is the rightful genius getting jobbed? You wouldn't think too many people would care — happy enough that the thing got created at all — but Fisher and his chief nemesis, 44-year-old custom frame builder Breeze, have been sparring for a quarter-century over just this point. Fisher claims to have retrofitted an old Schwinn with thumb shifters, rear derailleurs, and tandem drum brakes as early as 1974. Not so, says Breeze: A little-known group of trail riders in Cupertino, California, had already built such bikes. Breeze's smoking gun? A 1974 photograph of Fisher eyeballing the Cupertino bikes at one of the West Coast Open Cyclo-Cross Championships. J'accuse. Fisher counters that he made his innovations weeks before that race, and anyway, his was better. But as Breeze and his camarilla of naysayers eagerly point out, there's a pesky lack of documentation to support this claim. "A lot of people around here had done a whole lot, and they got pushed aside when Gary took all the credit," says Breeze, who himself claims to have built the first such customized bikes ever offered for sale. Fisher's retort: "It's a jealousy trip." Given the energies expended, perhaps the parties should take note of an impartial jurist's opinion. "This is about a bunch of guys with a grudge," says Maurice Tierney, publisher of the popular off-road zine Dirt Rag. "I mean, who cares?"

Susie Maroney

THE BOAST: I completed the first nonstop, unaided swim from Cuba to Florida
PROBLEM IS: Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: "aid ... to provide what is useful or necessary in achieving an end."

Although maroney breaststroked, crawled, hallucinated, and vomited the full 107 miles from communist to capitalist shores, her resulting record has not wowed her colleagues in the long-distance swimming community. (And yes, there is a long-distance swimming community — a darn nasty one.) "It was a stunt swim," grouses English Channel record-holder Penny Lee Dean. "As far as I'm concerned, the Cuba-to-Florida swim has not yet been done." What gives? Well, critics gleefully point out that Maroney's pace — she beach-to-beached in a very fast 24.5 hours — exceeds the pace Janet Evans set in her 1,500-meter world record. Thus, detractors note, the shark cage and attached mother-boat that Maroney used must have provided considerable draft. Even Diana Nyad, the grande dame of distance swimming, has taken a whack at the 23-year old's feat. "It sounds like sour grapes," says the former record-holder for the longest nonstop ocean swim, "but I still hold that a shark cage does not make a swim legal in open waters." Maroney's use of a sun canopy and protective clothing during the swim didn't endear her to purists, either. Still, the three-time winner of the Round Manhattan race insists on her due, since, she says, the idea of an unprotected swim in the Gulf Stream is positively suicidal: "If someone else wants to try it, they can go ahead." Presumably, harshest critics first.

Karen Thorndike

THE BOAST: I'll be the first American woman to sail solo around the world
PROBLEM IS: Someone already did it

Halfway into her attempt at sailing history, thorndike received some irksome news: Another American woman, Pat Henry, had just sailed into Acapulco, completing a solo global circuit begun eight years earlier. Bummer. "I didn't even know she was out there," Thorndike says. For good reason: Unlike the richly sponsored and media-upped Thorndike, Henry wasn't trying to set the record, having taken to the sea as a midlife crisis balm and then larking from one port of call to the next (selling watercolors to fund her ocean-based therapy). Before she knew it, the 57-year-old had gone around the world. Such unambitious achievement sits uneasily in Thorndike's craw, however, and she cites sailing authorities in saying that Henry's record is bogus because she sailed through the Suez and Panama Canals rather than around the capes. Fair enough, yet Thorndike's trip can also be nitpicked (she had to be rescued in rough seas 300 miles off the Falkland Islands in February 1997). For now, the 55-year-old salutatorian is slated to end her journey sometime this summer, at which point the me-first-itis will likely escalate. Ironically, whoever grabs the valedictory banner will likely be met with silence by the great arbiter of firsts, the Guinness Book of Records, since other women have already sailed solo around the world, and the Americans hardly set any speed records. "So one sails around the capes and one doesn't," says Guinness consultant Sir Peter Johnson. "So what? They're not going to get anything from me."

Corran Addison

THE BOAST: "I am immortal ... really"
PROBLEM IS: Corran Addison

Some find their place at the center of controversy through blindered single-mindedness. Others land there by way of fate. And then there's rodeo kayaker Addison, who earned his contretemps the old-fashioned way, through tireless and ever-humble effort. "I take great pride in irritating people," explains the 29-year-old silver medalist at the 1995 World Rodeo Championships, also a boat designer and co-owner of Riot Kayaks. "Especially people who are not my equals." Alternately called the Dennis Rodman and Howard Stern of his sport, Addison has sought attention in all the clich‰d, Bad As I Wanna Be/Private Parts ways. He's sported 17-inch Mohawk plumage, directed temper tantrums toward event judges, and created brash ad campaigns featuring, in his words, "a naked chick painted gold with boobs hanging out, cooing over a boat." He himself poses naked without hesitation. ("My body's very developed, very muscular.") Swell. As might be imagined, the generally low-key kayaking establishment has some issues with Addison. "Corran has asserted in public that he's been responsible for every innovation in paddling technique and design in the last five or ten years. That's bullshit," says noted expedition kayaker Doug Ammons. "If he believes he is the Leonardo da Vinci of kayaking, he is deluding himself." Nonetheless, Addison's bluster is mitigated somewhat by feats such as paddling off a 100-foot waterfall in France (an unofficial world record). And boorishness also turns sponsorship spigots; Addison is making big money in a sport where bounty is hard to come by. So what's not to love? As Addison notes, he's a force for good. "This sport needed to be shaken up," he proclaims. "Too many kayakers are gray-headed, bearded, tree-hugging forest fairies." The defense rests. Anything to add? "Oh, by the way, did I mention I'm a great lover?"

Florence Williams wrote about Aspen's ER in the April issue of Outside.

Photographs by Michael Tighe; Terry Husebye; Montalbetti/Campbell (2); Suzanne Langevin

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