Daily Archives: October 6, 2009

A Nobel winner’s motivation, baseball’s Nostradamus, and an unspeakable tragedy


So I’m one of those people fascinated by what motivates others. Maybe I’m just curious that way, but I always love to ask athletes that I interview, whether they’re famous like basketball star Jerry Stackhouse or not-so-famous like Larry Burney (former quarterback for Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C.; what, you never heard of him?), what drives them, and makes them want to do better.

Sometimes it’s a tragedy from their past, sometimes it’s a parent who always told them they’d never amount to anything, or sometimes it’s a reason I never in a million years could’ve guessed.

I was thinking about all this today after hearing the news that three American scientists won the Nobel Prize for medicine Monday. Apparently they made key discoveries about how our living cells age; I don’t quite understand it but it appears to be a huge deal.

And here’s my question for Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco; Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; and Jack Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston: What now?

When you’ve reached just about as high as you can go in your profession, what motivates you after that? Elizabeth, Carol and Jack have worked their whole lives in their field, praying for the kind of breakthrough they made last year, and probably also wondering how cool it would be to win a Nobel.

Do you want to keep working harder now, and discover something else awesome? Or are you just content for the rest of your life that anytime you’re ever introduced, anywhere, someone will mention that “you know, they won a Nobel Prize.”

I know if I ever won a Pulitzer, I think I’d sit on the couch for the rest of my life eating Chee-tos and watching old Duke basketball and New York Rangers games, along with an occasional episode of “The 25,000 Pyramid.” (Best game show ever! I may one day soon have to do a long blog post about why it’s the best game show ever, just in case it’s not self-evident. Two words: Nipsey. Russell. But I digress).

But hey, that’s me. Some people are wired differently. That’s what makes life so interesting. I’m amazed at people who win TWO Nobel Prizes, like Marie Curie or Linus Pauling, or two Pulitzers, like Thornton Wilder or Robert Penn Warren.

They reach the top, and then keep going. I admire that so much.

**OK, so this is just all kinds of amazing. This has been circulating on the Net for a few days so you may have seen it. A baseball announcer, in a pre-game prediction, gets the exact at-bat circumstances right for a Seattle Mariners player’s first-ever home run. Scary.

**This is probably not a national story, but a terrible tragedy happened in Orlando recently. A 17-year-old girl named Bree McMahon, a girls soccer player at Freedom High School, was working at a car wash to raise money for her school. A person who had pulled up to the car wash had their foot accidentally slip off the brake and onto the gas pedal, and it slammed into Bree, pinning her against a wall. She’s had to have one leg amputated and is fighting for her life right now.

What an unbelievably horrible thing. In one second, this girl’s life changed forever.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi beautifully tells the story; I link it here because A, we all should remember how precious life is, and B, at the end it tells you how you can help this poor girl’s family. Donations to Breanna’s recovery fund can be made through any local Orlando branch of the Old Southern Bank. (http://www.oldsouthernbank.com/

***And since I don’t like to end on a down note, here’s another home run of an essay by my favorite sportswriter Joe Posnanski, who perfectly sums up what it means to be a kid, and have a sports hero.

Sometimes, they don’t let you down when you grow up.