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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

Three participants died in the swim leg of two different triathlons within seven days in Wisconsin this June. It’s an ominous start to the 2019 Midwest triathlon race season, raising questions about athlete safety, fitness and medical screening prior to participation in long distance triathlons such as Ironman and even shorter distance beginner events, where one of this month’s swim fatalities occurred.

Todd Mahoney, 38, and Michael McCulloch, 61, died during the 1.2-mile open water swim of the Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin, Madison triathlon on Sunday, June 9. The race is commonly referred to as a “half-Ironman” for its total distance of 70.3 miles. The event is half the total distance of a “full-Ironman” or 140.6-mile combined swim/bike/run distance event. The week before on Sunday, June 2, 59-year old Scott Beatse died in the Lake Mills Triathlon, also in Wisconsin. The Lake Mills Triathlon was a short-distance triathlon with a 400-meter (1/4 mile) swim, 16-mile bike and 3.1 mile run. The specific cause of death for each participant has not been released.

A September, 2017 report on triathlon swim deaths published in Reuters Health News by journalist Lisa Rapaport revealed that, “A study of more than 9 million participants over three decades found that deaths and cardiac arrests struck 1.74 out of every 100,000 competitors.”

While Rapaport’s story makes the chances of dying in a triathlon swim seem low, the 30-year duration of the study and the method of data collection may miss some key changes in current triathlon demographics. During the last decade, triathlon events have “filled from the bottom” with most participants coming from the beginner demographic. Beginner participants may- or may not– have adequate fitness or pre-existing medical conditions that go undetected until they experience the physical and mental stress of triathlon participation.

The question of whether athletes should be required to have mandatory pre-race medical screenings has been an unpopular one in U.S. triathlon events. In general, race organizers and participants are opposed to the idea of mandatory medical screenings prior to participation. But in endurance events outside the U.S. like the 156-mile Marathon des Sables, an ultra-distance running stage race in the Sahara Desert, all citizen-participants are required to have a cardiac EKG and basic medical health check certified by a medical doctor in their home country prior to entry. In the professional Tour de France bicycle race, cyclists receive a comprehensive medical exam prior to participation not only to screen for performance enhancing drugs, but also to detect any pre-existing conditions that may pose a health risk during the race. In the long distance Raid Gauloises adventure race, pre-race medical checks were also required.

There are reasons to question the effectiveness of pre-event medical screening in reducing fatalities among recreational participants. Basic pre-race medical exams such as an electro-cardiogram, blood pressure measurement and medical history may not reveal common athlete killers such as a “Patent Foramen Ovale” or PFO. The PFO, a cardiac defect, is present in “about 25 percent in the general population” according to the American Heart Association. A PFO can result in a cryptogenic stroke, which can be fatal, especially if suffered during an open water swim where even a mild PFO-induced stroke can lead to disorientation that may contribute to drowning.

PFOs are difficult to detect in a routine medical examination. They commonly require a color flow Doppler echocardiogram or transthoracic echocardiographic (TTE) imaging test to detect. These tests are not routine in general medical examinations and usually only administered after a patient has suffered a stroke as a diagnostic tool to discover the cause of the stroke. PFOs can be treated with a small cardiac implant to prevent their return.

Other factors that could contribute to athlete mortality and medical risk include participating in triathlons while being overweight. As special categories for participants categorized by weight have been introduced in triathlons, called “Clydesdale” and “Athena” categories, there may be more overweight participants in triathlons. While there appear to be no published metrics on risk factors for overweight participants compared to non-overweight participants in triathlons, overwhelming exercise research verifies that being overweight is a general health risk. It’s unlikely, however, that any endurance event would begin excluding participants based on health-based risk factors such as weight or family medical history.

Similar, documented risk factors exist for older athletes. As the general demographic of triathlon participations is likely growing older, common age-related health risks are increasing in the general triathlon population. Although participating in triathlons at older ages presents additional risk commonly associated with general aging, older participants are often celebrated as exceptional in triathlon. In fact, regular, moderate aerobic exercise- although usually less strenuous than triathlon distances and not in a competitive setting- have been commonly cited as beneficial to reducing age-induced health risks, especially obesity, in many credible medical findings. While risks for aging endurance athletes remain and even increase, the benefits may be worth it when spread across the broader population if participation is approached with moderation and medical monitoring.

Ultimately it is difficult to make a case for any one set of common medical diagnosis to predict athlete risk factors in triathlons except for obesity and aging. It is common knowledge that overweight athletes are at greater risk than non-overweight athletes. Those risk factors themselves are part of the reasons overweight people begin to exercise- to moderate the health risks of obesity by losing weight through exercise and diet. It’s also common knowledge that older people have more health risks than younger people. It doesn’t require a medical screening to reveal any of those realities.

Perhaps the greater question is why participants who know they have risk factors would participate in triathlons when a more moderate approach to managing risk factors such as weight loss may be safer? This is especially true for long-distance triathlons. Using less strenuous exercise as managed by a health care provider over time to moderate risk factors such as obesity before participating in triathlons makes sense. This approach addresses the risks faced by participants with conspicuous pre-existing exercise risks like age and being overweight. It does nothing to predict the mortality of participants with difficult to detect medical problems like PFOs. Unfortunately, as the triathlon community has learned so far in 2019, these may be undetectable killers.


 

Author Tom Demerly has competed in well over a hundred triathlons including the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii and five other Ironman triathlons around the world. He is a four-time state cycling champion and has participated in endurance events on all seven continents including the Marathon des Sables, the Eco-Challenge and the Raid Gauloises. He has also climbed the highest mountains on three continents and the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. Demerly is a stroke survivor who suffered a stroke while running in October, 2006 from a Patent Foramen Ovale. He had heart surgery to correct a cardiac birth defect that caused the stroke. He was also a member of an elite Army National Guard Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU), Co. “F”, 425th INF. (AIRBORNE), Michigan National Guard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Russ Gibb with Dearborn retail maven and girlfriend Alberta Muirhead in 2005

You are fortunate in your life if you’ve had one truly great teacher. I had Russ Gibb.

Equal parts Jedi Master and Morpheus-like oracle, Mr. Gibb (“Sir” to you and I) imparted sagacious wisdom, innovative premonition and traditional norms of respect. And he actually changed the media world. Russ Gibb was one of the most influential men of our century whom you’ve never heard of outside Dearborn. But Russ Gibb’s legacy has touched nearly every person on this planet.

He died last week in Dearborn at the age of 87.

Russ Gibb didn’t fit inside any established box, so he built his own. In this case, one that sits under your television and has cables running in and out of it. Gibb did not invent cable subscription television, just as Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the Wright Brothers invent the airplane. But just as the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford did, Russ Gibb took a fledgling, under-integrated new technology and launched it on a trajectory that led to internet television and is still growing. Gibb was an early adopter of new media through cable subscription television. His pioneering program in Dearborn, Michigan included locally produced television programming on topics specific to the neighborhood. Our high school, Dearborn High School on Outer Drive, was likely one of the very first high schools- if not the first- in the world to have its own television studio. Mister Gibb either found the funding for our TV studio (much of it in grants from Sony Corporation and early cable providers) or simply paid for it himself.

If Russ Gibb’s work integrating municipalities and schools with cable television was his entire legacy, that would be impressive. But it is his mystic synergy of combining this new media- even before the Internet- with unprecedented access and an innate sense for publicity that provided Gibb with another miraculous talent: Hype.

Russ Gibb was a promoter. He was always promoting. Every lesson he taught, every idea he imparted, was the promotion of some idea; real or imagined, innovative or traditional. That he walked so readily between the conflicting worlds of emerging pop media and traditional institutional respect was entirely unique to Russ Gibb. Russ Gibb didn’t have to ask his students for respect. His devotion to education, wisdom, quirky charisma and clairvoyance of the future simply commanded respect.

Gibb was an entertainment alchemist. He conjured the chemistry of publicity that included elbow-grease promotion with implied spectacle. Where fact ended, Russ Gibb’s hype continued. Gibb is largely credited with one of the first and most prolific hype campaigns in media history, the “Paul McCartney is Dead” rumor. Gibb foisted the rumor from a caller to the radio station WKNR (“Keener 13!”) where he DJ’ed on October 12, 1969 according to a story by journalist Gary Graff for Billboard magazine. Gibb spun the idea into a worldwide conspiracy sensation that vaulted The Beatles to their highest ever trajectory on pop charts. According to Graff’s report for Billboard, “The whole thing just exploded”. Gibb told Billboard, “The phones were ringing off the hook. People were calling with their own clues. It was non-stop.” Gibb laughed as he remembered the station’s owner telling him, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” He even called Eric Clapton, his musician friend in England, to ask if he knew anything about the rumor. Gibb told reporter Graff that Clapton said, “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Paul for awhile…” Clapton went on to say, “It was really a phenomenon. For a while, it seemed like it might really be true.”

Russ Gibb DJ’ing in his early years.

When he wasn’t promoting tours, album releases and appearances by musical acts like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Wayne Kramer and the MC5, Cream, The Who, Janis Joplin and many others, Russ Gibb was working on his own media venue, The Grande Ballroom. This iconic shrine of music was a flash-pot of live media evolution that predated the punk rock and new wave movement and helped bend the trajectory of modern pop music and media promotion.

Gibb did all this while, in his 8-4 work day, he transformed high school students into television executives, managers in the Big 3 automotive companies, media pioneers and child prodigies.

Classmates of mine at Dearborn High under Russ Gibb included automotive exec, connectivity innovator and owner of numerous patents Larry Cepuran. Ed Korcinski was a prodigy student of Gibb who graduated from Dearborn High early, then MIT with a degree in materials engineering and went on to become a Silicon Valley microchip innovator. Paul Streffen graduated from Mr. Gibb’s curriculum at Dearborn High and went to Sony Corporation where he worked his way up as a pioneer of new media under Gibb’s sponsorship. I learned how to write a headline, organize a news story, and, more importantly than anything else, learn that I had a voice I could develop and share around the world from Mr. Gibb.

Russ Gibb left this world with an eternal and vibrant gift, the gift of promotion and sensation, connectivity and empowerment before those things were buzzwords. While he quietly built and boosted a media revolution, loudly pitched the talents of others, and steadily worked to bolster his incredibly fortunate students to believe they could achieve greatness he remained almost entirely on the sideline, out of the spotlight, instead preferring to focus that blinding and emerging beam of sensation on others. Perhaps more than any one great innovation or media promotion, it is this humble generosity that is his greatest and most enduring legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Scott Kroske.

Danny Klein’s smile was bigger than his face. His genuine, wide-mouthed grin didn’t seem to fit on his head. That smile said everything about Klein’s life.

Dan Klein died on Wednesday, killed in a traffic accident crossing the street. His death is the thesis of every life truism shared in quotes on social media; live every day like it was your last, dance like no one is watching, ride your bike because you never know when you may lose the chance to.

Klein did all that. He lived. In many ways, Dan Klein lived as though he had a premonition that he would leave this earth far too soon. So, he went on every bike ride he could, rode hard, took photos with his many friends, smiled that oversized smile.

I hadn’t seen Dan in years until one day I rolled up on him in my car on Hines Drive. Klein was sitting in the textbook perfect position on his bike. He was on the Dearborn Wednesday night ride along Hines Drive. Klein was there, in the drops, out of the wind, near the front in the tactically perfect place in the group. Living life, calling the shots on the ride. No one would get away without him. Before the ride was over he would spend all the energy he had that day going hard to defend his position at the front. When he got back to the parking lot Klein would have judiciously spent all his strength on the bike for that day. Then he would repeat that doctrine on his next ride.

On the bike and in life, Dan Klein did not seem to age. He simply followed his passions, his inner voice. He oriented his internal compass to the things that spoke to him and worried little about things off his path. Dan Klein was true to himself. When you got to know him, you recognized that was cornerstone to how genuine a person he was and how intoxicating he was to be around.

It was as though Dan Klein somehow knew he would not live to grow old. And in that, every decision he made to take time away from work, sometimes extended sabbaticals from the normal middle-class wage earning regimen, was a good one. Especially in retrospect.

I longed to see Dan Klein again in person. He was gregarious, genuine and affectionate. He had an oddly contradictory dignity and poise for a man who lived a life of passions on and off the bike. He sampled many relationships, and the whispers from his ex’s, his many ex’s, sometimes started in their first sentences a little stung with pain but quickly swung over to a wry smirk and an endearing tone for his authenticity and kindness. It was a good thing Klein had a lot of girlfriends. He literally spread the love around. They were lucky.

Let’s grab onto Danny Klein’s life and put some of it into each of our own. We will not be here forever. We should leave work and go on that ride. And we should love and smile without reservation and with wide-mouthed sincerity- exactly like Dan Klein did. If we do that, we will each be happier, even though right now trying to be happy with only the memory of Dan Klein is a very difficult thing to do.

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

As a commentator, he was a master. Measured. Well-paced. Gifted with dramatic inflection and a lilting accent that brought credibility to his narration. As a dramatist, he was a rare thespian of the microphone. He paced his voice, volume and inflection to build a crescendo that hammered on the edge of control. And perhaps most importantly, as a person, he humanized and dignified a sport that is rife with indignity and subterfuge.

Paul Sherwen died last week at the age of 62. Far too soon. His untimely passing is gutting to the world of cycling, not just for fans who loved him, but for the complex synergy of broadcasting the Tour de France and all of professional cycling in the English language.

You can read of Sherwen’s impressive professional cycling career in any of the many eulogies published around the world for him over the last 72 hours. But Sherwen rose to greatest prominence as a broadcaster, commentator and even moderator of cycling’s most turbulent era.

Sherwen began broadcasting with Phil Liggett in 1989. That is when he went from great cyclist to mega-star. The combination of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen was not just good, it was magical synergy. The sum was greater than the total of its parts. By themselves, Sherwen and Liggett were excellent commentators. Together they became the institution of cycling in the English language.

It would not be an embellishment to suggest the team of Sherwen and Liggett saved cycling.

The damage inflicted by the Armstrong era cast a dark cloud over professional bike racing and the Tour de France. Its creditability as a legitimate sport was shattered in the post-Armstrong era and didn’t recover even after the brash Texan doper and extortionist was forced into exile. The doping scandals and accusations continued. For any informed observer, cycling had a titanic image problem. It was dirty.

Enter Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett. Commentating next to the thousand-pound doping elephant in the room the duo would chat during slow stages as the group rode together at a pedestrian pace. Cycling coverage had changed from a 45-minute recorded and scripted highlight reel to a rolling commentary of the entire stage. It became an endurance event for live announcers. Try describing anything non-stop for six hours. If your voice holds, you quickly find out you run out of things to say. Not Sherwen.

During the Tour de France, Sherwen and Liggett were served snippets about the areas the riders were passing through from race organizers. They were dry historical facts about castles, bridges, rivers and factories. It was the stuff you slept through in school. But Sherwen would grab this stuff off the feed and, as though you were sitting next to him in a touring sedan on a leisurely drive across rural France, weave a lilting tale from the popcorn-dry feed. When Sherwen talked about the milk production of the cows of Provence region, it sounded quaint and charming and… damn near interesting.

When the action started, Sherwen’s voice moved to his gut. He became more baritone. More Serious. More urgent. His pace picked up just a tick. Tension boiled under his narration. It felt as if the other shoe would drop at any moment, and we all slid to the edge of seats. His colloquialisms were Shakespearean. Who had ever heard what it was like to, “Throw a cat among the pigeons” or, “Reach deep into the suitcase of courage” before Paul Sherwen? Sherwin brought rare dramatic eloquence to a sport of blue collar schoolboys.

Paul Sherwen dignified cycling, amplified the drama, downplayed the scandal.

It is difficult to imagine a post-Sherwen cycling era. At 75 years old, Phil Liggett may decide to pack up his microphone and move on to a well-earned retirement. Something Paul Sherwen never got. Sherwen played the key role to Liggett’s performance, shoring him up when he made the errors in remembering a cyclist’s name that any 75-year old would make. They did so seamlessly, and it only added to the show. But without Sherwen as his muse and protector, Liggett may not want to continue. If that is the case, it is not too much of a stretch to say that when we lost Paul Sherwen, we lost all of cycling. Or at least any semblance of dignity, drama and decency it had left.


 

Tom Demerly has been a cycling commentator and journalist for over 30 years. He has written for Outside, Velo-News, Inside Triathlon, Triathlon Today, Triathlete, Bicycling, Bicycle Guide, USA Cycling, USA Triathlon and many others.

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Two bicycle specialty stores closed in Metro Detroit this year. Three more suddenly changed “ownership” in November on their way to eventual closure.

On the national scale, Advanced Sport Enterprises, parent company to Performance Bicycle and Bike Nashbar, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.

After decades of failure to adapt, Southeastern Michigan bicycle retail is in a brutal phase of enforced transition. Despite an overall economic boom many bike shops are a bust. Southeastern Michigan bike store closures and hasty ownership spin-offs that precede further closings confirm that.

The questions are; how did this happen; how can it be avoided and what will the industry look like once the rules of business exact their toll?

Like most significant shifts in business there is no singular cause.  A conspiracy of factors combines to weigh heavily on traditional bicycle retail. The reality that the industry has ignored these factors for so long manifests itself in this crisis.

Not every bicycle retailer is in crisis though, and some old-skool bike shops not only survive but are capitalizing on the increasing failures of retailers who thought they knew it all but had neither solid financials or enough vision to adapt in the changing retail landscape.

Southeastern Michigan bike shops like Jack’s Bicycle and Fitness, Roll Models in Allen Park, Michigan, Brick Wheels in Traverse City and Wheels in Motion in Ann Arbor are still there, still doing business and quietly surviving and growing as the others collapse around them.

In the renaissance of downtown Detroit, a new generation of bike family businesses has emerged on the shoulders of men like Jon Hughes of Downtown Ferndale and Downtown Detroit bike shops. Hughes also leads the family effort to grow the Lexus Velodrome and launch a new demi-empire in media and cycling in post-recession Detroit. He comes from a dynasty of bicycle business that stretches back three generations to Mike Walden and the formation of the country’s second oldest cycling club, the Wolverines. Even Bob Akers, who runs the decades-old, dingy, crumbling International Bike Shop in Garden City has survived as the shiny newcomers who thought they knew it all have tumbled.

Why do some shops survive while others fail? One factor common in the surviving Michigan bike retailers is they own their own real estate. But the ingredients for success, not just survival, are more complex than just owning your building.

Harvard MBAs don’t start bike shops. Bike shop owners don’t have business degrees. They start bike shops because they love bikes or have no other opportunity. They’re hobbyists. Not businessmen. The barriers to entry are low. Got $100K? You can open a bike shop. You’ll never tell a bike shop owner he doesn’t know business. As far as bicycle retail store owners are concerned, they are experts at retail. The crash of Michigan high-end specialty retailers proves otherwise.

I was this guy.  I lost my own store after 17 successful years during the recession. Then, like a scene from a movie where the plot repeats again and again, I went to work for two other retailers around the U.S. who, like me, thought they knew everything and couldn’t be told anything. They’re gone now too. More will follow.

Failure is only failure if you fail to learn. But in bicycle retail, no one listens. The first bike shop I worked for when I was 15 years old went out of business because the owners failed to adapt. The last bike shop I worked for four decades later did exactly the same thing. The owners refused to adapt. In a repetitive pantomime, I tried to convince the owners of the last shop I worked at to move the cash register to facilitate better customer traffic flow. It was a minor change that may have resulted in a minor improvement. I tried for a year. They never moved it. They went out of business months after I finally quit in frustration and left to work in another industry.

I take some small satisfaction in knowing the store that lasted the longest was mine. But business is pass/fail. You can run a successful business for 6,205 days like I did, but if you fail on the 6,206th day, you are a failure.

The first lesson I learned in losing my own store is you have to own your failure. Mine was my fault. While there were factors including a global recession that contributed to my 17-year-old store failing, I could have moderated them. Others did. I wasn’t smart enough or humble enough at the time. Some people pay college tuition for an education. I paid in bankruptcies and a modern day “Grapes of Wrath” by losing everything. While the second way may be a more durable education, it’s also more painful.

I went on to work for two more bike retail owners who made exactly the same mistakes I did while ignoring the changes that could have saved them. But bike shop owners don’t listen.

The specifics on what is killing some of Michigan’s bicycle retailers is a fascinating case study in the evolution of business that could fill a book. Bike shop owners and bike shops are, in many ways, indicative of the American economic condition. They are the epitome of small business America. As the small, independent bike goes, so goes all of small retail- good and bad. Small restaurants, pet stores, book retail, independent jewelers and all small retail can learn something from the enforced evolution and bizarre non-evolution of bicycle retail.

Small bicycle retail has been quick to scapegoat the big, ugly mega-retailer and the .com as the reason for their bust. That is a lie. In the broad sense, bicycle retailers are killing themselves by failing to adapt and innovate. They do it in hundreds of small ways every day they continue to do the same tired things over and over and over. Even the bicycle retailers who have survived could do better. For most of the survivors a major reason they still exist is they own their own real estate and remain impervious to swings in the volatile southeastern Michigan economy. But even their future is increasingly in doubt as forward-thinking innovators understand new opportunities in the age of Amazon One-Click.

What will happen to Michigan small bicycle retail? One thing is certain: it will continue to change at a rate that outpaces the ability of most shop owners to adapt. That means we’ll see more southeastern Michigan bike shops closing. Unless they learn from someone’s mistakes the cycle of failure in Michigan cycling retail will continue.

 


 

Tom Demerly is a 42-year bicycle industry veteran who owned his own business for 17 years. Today he is a defense and aviation analyst for several international publications including TheAviationist.com published in Rome, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Here’s an incredible story for you. Even better, it’s true.

Right after WWII started, well before I was born, my parents moved to Seattle, Washington. Because my dad, Tom Demerly (senior) had an essential skill as a draftsman he was hired in at Boeing Aircraft Company. He worked at Boeing Plant 2 near the Duwamish River.

My dad’s first project was drawing an update to the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber: a “chin turret” for the front of the aircraft with two forward facing .50 caliber guns. The first versions of the B-17 lacked adequate guns to defend themselves from a frontal attack. German pilots learned this and attacked the B-17 from high and head-on, or “Twelve O’clock High”. The results were catastrophic.

Early B-17 crews attacking Germany had better odds of dying than surviving before completing their required 25 missions. In fact, more aircrews from the Allied 8th Air Force died over Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific in WWII.

Because my dad showed promise at Boeing he was moved to their most secret program. He passed a rigorous background investigation and was prohibited from telling my mother what he was working on.

Half way around the world another young man who had also not yet had a son tended a small garden outside his house. Because of the war, food in Japan was in short supply so nearly everyone living on the outskirts of the Hiroshima grew what they could. He was a young lad, in his teens. His small house in the shadow of Mt. Gosasau provided a decent view down to the southeast where the city of Hiroshima was and, just beyond that, the opening to Hiroshima Bay where you could see Ninoshima Island. Except for the constant concern about the war, it was a beautiful place.

Back in Seattle my dad made top secret drawings. First, of the pressurized crew compartment. Then, of the new, remotely controlled gun turrets that held not two, but now four .50 caliber machine guns. He drafted the plans for the pressurized tunnel that passed from the front of the aircraft to the rear. The top-secret project was to be the biggest, longest range, heaviest bomber ever built by man: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Gleaming silver, massively tall, improbably gigantic propellers with four huge blades at the front of the engines, four of them, each the size of a fighter plane themselves. The engines weren’t good. They had a tendency to catch fire. And the wings- sprawling, straight and thin. Impossibly wide. The B-29 was a colossus. Much larger than the previous B-17 Flying Fortress my dad worked on. They said the long lines of shining B-29s beginning to roll off the line at the Renton plant would “end the war”.

And then the changes came. The most secret changes. Draw a version with no gun turrets to make it lighter, more aerodynamic, faster. Modifications to the bomb bay and the bomb racks. Special attention to the problematic engines on these beyond-top secret, specially modified B-29s.

It would carry only one bomb. My dad did not know why. He drew the changes.

Things were getting tougher in Japan and the garden became more important. It needed tending in the morning, in the evening. Anything ready to harvest was picked immediately. Trips into town were avoided except when necessary. There wasn’t much news about how the war was really going, there were bombs falling on Japanese cities with horrific results. Tokyo had been decimated in terrifying incendiary bombing raids. But Hiroshima, so far, had been largely spared. So, the view from the young man’s garden still passed for peaceful when the air raid siren wasn’t going off.

The project with the B-29 modifications wrapped up and my dad went on to other projects. The big bombers were in the Pacific attacking Japan in what many people on both sides hoped was an approaching final act in this long, terrifying global ordeal. There was a collective desperation though, a deep breath still held by humanity on both sides of the world.

Boeing B-29s being built in Renton, Washington, where my dad worked.

No one knew how it would end yet. Only that it would.

Pressure and desperation seemed to build on both sides. Build toward some titanic climax. In Europe, the allies had stormed the beaches at Normandy. Patton was advancing across Belgium and France and into Germany. Hitler was in retreat. Russia had begun to crush him in a massive geographic vise from the east.

There was talk that the Allies may invade Japan in early 1946. No one knew.

But on August 6, 1945, the Allies launched “Special Mission 13”.

Around the world from my dad, the other man was in his garden outside Hiroshima. It was 8:10 AM in the morning.

His back to the city, he pulled the few small weeds that had sprouted between the neat rows of vegetables, tamping the soft earth back down between the garden furrows.

Then, as he would later tell his son, who had not yet been born, “The sun fell out of the sky.”

A wristwatch in the Hiroshima museum frozen at exactly the time of the bomb’s detonation.

The plane my dad had helped design had just delivered the first nuclear strike on Hiroshima, Japan. The man watched from his garden as the sun, a new, manmade sun, engulfed the city. It boiled and sizzled and burned, then rose slowly up into the sky as a terrible shockwave cracked through the earth for miles. And a huge, dark mushroom cloud towered above the earth, the silence of death falling back to the ground.

62 years passed.

A product of U.S. public schools, I, unfortunately, don’t speak Japanese. My niece does, fluently. She lives in Japan. Married a Japanese guy named Yukimi.

Luckily, Katsumi Shiji, my new customer, speaks very good English. He wanted to buy a triathlon bike. He had completed a remarkable number of Ironman triathlons and was trim and fit. Light hearted and courteous, Katsumi was always a pleasure to wait on. He was an automotive engineer and his command of both English and Japanese along with his expertise in automotive engineering meant his skills were in demand here in the Motor City and back in Japan, where he was from.

So, I was pleased to sell Katsumi a triathlon bike.

Because Katsumi was such an interesting man, I asked him where he lived when he was back in Japan.

“Hiroshima”, he told me.

I mentioned I would love to visit Hiroshima, and that it was sad that the city’s legacy was inexorably tied to the world’s first use of nuclear weapons.

And then Katsumi told me, “My dad saw the blast. He was there, in his garden, when the bomb landed.”

So here, in a bike shop in Dearborn, stood a man whose dad had survived the nuclear strike made by the plane my dad helped design. Some massive, cosmic circle had just been closed by utter happenstance.

I told Katsumi my dad’s story, and for just a brief moment, there was an awkward silence. Then I told him, “I am so happy to know that your dad survived.”

“Thank you, thank you!” He told me, “I am happy too…” He bowed slightly while we pumped each other’s’ hands up and down in a handshake.

The calculus of what happened when I met Katsumi Shiji still boggles my mind. I consider that some massive circle has been closed. Some full circle through the worst of human experience down to a friendly meeting of two men about a bicycle.

And it occurred to me, that the world had healed.

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

They are among the most famous images in human history. The Robert Capa Life Magazine D-Day photos.

Blurry, poorly exposed and framed in terror, the images transcend photography and achieve a higher level of journalism: they are visual experience.

Robert Capa, whose real name was Endre Friedmann, was a Hungarian willing to go where no other war photographer would. He was the only news photographer on Omaha Beach with the early waves of the allied invasion force, hitting the beach with the second wave. Capa went on to shoot photos in five wars. His friends included Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.

Photojournalist Robert Capa, the only photographer on the beach during the second wave of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.

Robert Capa cut a dashing figure with handsome features and a jaunty smirk on his face. He did, in fact of matter, laugh at danger. He seemed to revel in it. Capa was 30 years old when he landed at Omaha Beach and shot his photos. His mannerisms and exploits defined modern journalists like Dan Rather, Wolf Blitzer, Christiana Amanpour, Geraldo Rivera, Peter Arnett, Robert Pelton Young, Evan Wright, and John Simpson.

The enormity and perfection of Capa’s D-Day photos cannot be overstated. They are, in every way, perfect photographs. Robert Capa’s D-Day photos not only depict what it looked like to be in the first wave of the Normandy landings, they demonstrate how it felt to be there. Horrifying, Chaotic, disorganized, polarized, distinctly black and white and desperate. Had Capa’s photos turned out to be well composed, in focus and correctly exposed with the negatives arriving to the darkroom undamaged our perception of D-Day and, in fact, warfare overall, would be different today.

The black and white medium speaks to the absolute polarization of the conflict. The battle of Normandy was not just the allies against the axis, it was a clash of good against evil. No battle since has been so clearly delineated in the public conscience.

The blurriness of the photos accurately chronicles the chaos of D-Day. Troops landed in the wrong place. Landing craft were swamped. Soldiers drowned before firing a shot. Those who survived the landings were shredded by machine gun fire from fortified concrete bunkers. Artillery from naval ships rained onto the beach indiscriminately killing both friendly forces and the enemy. More so than even Dante’s Inferno, the Capa photos are the visual depiction of hell.

In point of fact, Robert Capa’s D-Day photos changed the world to a similar degree the invasion itself did.

Along with photos of the Apollo Moon Landings and the funeral of John F. Kennedy, the Capa D-Day photos are the most famous photos in history. As media evolved into the video and then internet age the relevance and impact of still photos waned. People were hard to shock with a single image. Our brains became trained to interpret visual information differently, cameras became more common and higher quality, the transmission of images became instantaneous and every person with a smartphone became a reporter. But even with this evolution and proliferation of media Capa’s D-Day photos still stab with a sense of horror and violence.

Capa shot the D-Day images using two Contax II cameras both fitted with 50mm lenses. He carried redundant equipment in case one camera malfunctioned or was destroyed in battle. Capa shot 35mm film negatives. He carried additional rolls of film with him, but changing the film without accidentally exposing it and keeping it dry was nearly impossible on D-Day.

Although Capa shot a total of 106 frames before, during and after the landing of the second invasion wave he accompanied, most were destroyed by a fifteen-year-old lab assistant named Dennis Banks working for Life magazine in London. Banks accidentally set a film negative dryer too high and melted three complete rolls of film. In a bizarre allegory, it is as though those lost images symbolize the soldiers lost on Omaha Beach that day. Even Capa’s ruined images remain significant.

Page layout from the original Life Magazine D-Day issue on June 19, 1944.

Only 11 total photos by Robert Capa of the D-Day invasion survived the darkroom error. Capa never mentioned the loss of the images. He took the matter completely in stride, the horrors and loss of battle having hardened him.

Life magazine published ten of the eleven photos on June 19, 1944. The feature was a splash-photo spread with short captions that were partly inaccurate. The captions didn’t matter. Capa’s photos told the story of the horror of D-Day most effectively without words. The images live on, almost more impactful now in retrospect than in the month following the D-Day landings.

On May 25, 1954 Robert Capa was killed when he stepped on a landmine while reporting on the French involvement in what went on to become the Vietnam War. Two journalists accompanying him, Jim Lucas and John Mecklin also from Life magazine, reported that Capa held his camera even as he was evacuated to a forward area field hospital, where he died from his wounds at the age of 41.


 

Author Tom Demerly is a U.S. correspondent for TheAviationist.com, the foremost military aviation blog in the world. He is a former U.S. Army Long Range Surveillance Team member and has visited all seven continents. He has written for TACAIRNET, Outside, Business Insider, Velo-News, Bicycle Guide, Bicycling, Inside Triathlon, Triathlete, Triathlon Today!, USA Triathlon Magazine and many other publications around the world.

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