John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs In Colorado, we pull for guys like Peyton Manning. In Baltimore, they love Ray Lewis, and in Miami, the fans scream for LeBron James. These are some of the top athletes in the world of sports, and fans line up to buy their jerseys.
It’s easy to cheer for the stars.
This love of talent and this admiration for the athletes who play the game can be seen in almost every sport at almost every level. This week, the athletes who score the goals are most likely to find their names in the pages of our newspaper, the athletes who run or bike the farthest might be the subject of a headline and our words will focus on local stars playing the games we all love.
In America, we appreciate those athletes who step to another level, those athletes who help their teams find success and those athletes who seem to step into the spotlight when it matters most.
I’ll admit that I cheer for them, too, but these are not the athletes whom I admire most. The athletes I admire don’t play the game to be recognized; they play it because they love being out there.
One of my favorites was Alfred Kahn Jr.
He thought that there should be more playing fields and fewer bleachers and proved it by the way he lived his life. Kahn wasn’t the most athletic-looking guy I had ever met, but to be fair, he was in his 90s when I met him. And for a guy in his 90s, he was doing pretty well.
I was doing a story about a group of older guys — the youngest was in his 70s — who met weekly at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.
The game itself wasn’t that special, but the men who took part were. It included Kahn, John Fetcher and Stan Whittemore, who were in their 90s at the time, along with more than a few "youngsters" who were willing to step in to fill out the roster.
Fetcher died in 2009, and Kahn passed away in February. Both men lived to be 97, and the world is a slightly smaller place now that they are gone. Both men left a legacy that should inspire us all, but what I remember is the men playing a game. They made the most out of their time in this world, whether it was competing on the court or how they lived off the court.
While most of us will spend our days watching professionals play games on television, these men chose to live their lives in the game. These players might not have been Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Roger Federer, but that didn’t matter.
What mattered is that they loved the game, and that was reflected in every part of their lives. Sure, we always will cheer for the stars because it’s easy, but there are plenty of examples of athletes who deserve our admiration, and those are the guys I always will be cheering for.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com