Nico’s Appeal

Nicolai has taken up a new cause. His latest campaign kicked off this morning. Included here is the e-mail that he hopes will find its way across the country.

At age thirteen, Nicolai Calabria, born with one leg, became the first person to summit 19,341 foot Mount Kilimanjaro on crutches. In so doing, he raised more than $100,000 for the Free Wheel Chair Mission and was the subject of an award winning short documentary film, Nico’s Challenge. He returned to Tanzania the following year to assist in distribution of wheelchairs to the impoverished disabled of that country. He has been a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show, NPR’s All Things Considered and the recipient of numerous awards for his charitable work.

Since he was five years old Nicolai has used forearm crutches to play soccer with able bodied players. When he learned of the American Amputee Soccer Association at age nine he set his sights on playing for the US team one day. Now seventeen, Nicolai has realized that dream. He has become the youngest member of the US National Amputee Soccer team and scored a goal in his debut international match to help secure a 2-1 victory over Mexico.

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Amputee soccer is played on a 3/4 size field with seven players to a side. Field players are permitted to use crutches and may play the ball with only one leg. Keepers defend a 7×16 foot goal and may field the ball with only one arm. The sport was invented by Don Bennett of Seattle in 1980 and is currently played in 29 countries. This year’s World Cup will be held in Russia among the top twelve qualifying teams.

Members of the US team are scattered across the country. Air travel and lodging is required for every match or exhibition which can easily exceed $10K per event. Teams from other countries routinely train together giving them an advantage over the US which has never been able to afford that option.

Nicolai is asking for your support as he seeks to raise $250,000 for the American Amputee Soccer Association. We can meet this goal if every soccer player in the United States contributes just 16 cents. Your tax deductible donation will support the team as it represents our country around the world and help expand the sport within the United States. Wounded warriors, accident survivors, and those battling disease or born with differences will all benefit from your generosity as we expand their opportunity to remain or become athletes.

When a person with a disability watches an amputee soccer match, their view of what is possible is forever expanded. When an able bodied person watches, they will never forget the display of courage and determination defined by a refusal to accept perceived limitations. All will enjoy the beautiful game at its most beautiful.

Are you willing to take 5 minutes from your day to make a donation in any amount to this very worthy cause? Of equal importance, will you help Nicolai’s appeal reach every soccer player in the United States?

Donations can be made at the AASA website or by check to:

American Amputee Soccer Association
1033 Creekside Drive
Wilmington, Delaware 19804
Tax ID# 510402649

Thank you for your support and we hope you will follow the US team on its quest for the World Cup.

Tripod Sale

2012-04-29 195622 001.jpg Although my soccer team secured another win this morning, I left the game in the closing minutes with a pulled hamstring muscle. Over the years I have been plagued by such injuries. Once you damage these muscles they develop scar tissue which is prone to re-injury. As a coping strategy I have learned to throttle my speed to 95%. At this point in the game, however, I ran past a pair of defenders onto a very nicely played through ball. In order to line up for what would have been a very easy shot on goal I had to max out at 100% and in that moment I felt my hamstring let go. I was smart enough to pull back immediately and in so doing minimized the severity of the injury. So far this feels like a 2-3 week recovery rather than the end of my season. I used the balance of the day to begin selling a number of tripods which seem to multiply in this house like rabbits although it could have more to do with the fact that I purchased two more yesterday.

Nicolai spoke at our church this morning on the value of international service as a means to connect with the broader world and to appreciate how fortunate we are. Maya was kind enough to make a video which allowed me to see his presentation.


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2012-04-28 113456 069.jpg From tutu to cleats Maya has had more than her fair share of exercise over the last few days. Nico will be attending her second performance of Hansel and Gretel later this afternoon after which she is sure to be physically exhausted. Her team squeaked out a 1-0 victory after which I took her out for a late breakfast at the End of the Trail restaurant.

The Journal

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For a town of 17,000 the Concord Journal cannot really afford to cover all of the news let alone the myriad of sporting activities occurring over the course of a week. I was pleased to see in the issue which came out today that the article I submitted covering Nicolai’s recent soccer experience was published along with one of my photos. Nicolai reluctantly allowed me to make the submission (he has no desire for notoriety) but agreed it would be good for a fundraising effort he is about to initiate on behalf of the American Amputee Soccer Association. His appeal will go out this weekend and any publicity will help the cause.

Tiny Buns

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While I truly appreciate all that Jeanine does to keep me healthy her latest ploy may have gone too far. The meat used for this burger came from “our cow” (Jeanine buys part of a locally raised cow which we freeze and use over the course of several months). This is not only healthy but tasty. I’m OK so far. Next we have organically grown tomatoes which cost more than my camera. Still good. I may have to draw the line, however, at her new choice of buns. They are about half the diameter of any self respecting hamburger bun. While this does represent a meaningful savings of empty calories, it simply looks ridiculous and does not afford adequate purchase on the burger. Please note, my nephew John who stopped by unexpectedly was offered a proper size bun rather than the little sesame seed covered beanie that topped my burger.

Dress Rehearsal

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Still not fully readjusted to local time, Maya had an extended dress rehearsal this evening for an upcoming production of a ballet adaptation of Hansel & Gretel. Photography is not permitted during the final performance so parents were encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to capture memories. Dressed in black Maya’s first appearance is as a “shadow”. Her other role is as a “seraphim”, an angelic being regarded as belonging to the highest order of the nine fold celestial hierarchy associated with light ardor, and purity. Maya and her cousin Rachel appear to be the most likely candidates to carry the Calabria dance tradition to the next generation. We are told that a DVD of the performance will be available and we will plan to share that with my mother.

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The Archer

2012-04-28 064610 022.jpg Maya returned from China bearing gifts for everyone. I received this replica of a Terracotta Army soldier which now graces the mantle in my study. She explained that the warrior’s hair bun is offset to one side to facilitate access to the quiver of arrows he would have worn in combat. The Terracotta Army or the “Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses”, is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.

Maya Returns

2012-04-23 212000 008.jpg 2012-04-23 212150 023.jpg After eleven days of travel, Maya returned to Boston this evening and Jeanine and I were waiting at the airport to greet her. Despite the 18-hour journey from China, she appeared well rested and her bubbly self. A veteran parent of this student exchange program arrived with two large pizzas knowing that all the students would be craving familiar food. Sure enough, it was Maya’s first priority after hugs and kisses. On the ride home from the airport she shared stories from her visits to Beijing and Shanghai and the time spent with her Chinese family. Maya clearly enjoyed herself and embraced the experience completely. I will post photos retroactively as soon as I can download them from her camera.

Maya in Xi’an

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During her stay in Beijing Maya had an opportunity to visit the Temple of Heaven, Hongqiao Market (for pearls), a noodle buffet, the State Grand Theater, and the Forbidden City. Her group then traveled by night train to Xi’an. Here Maya met Zhao Shiting, the student whose family will host her for three nights. While in Xi’an Maya attended, taught classes, and performed songs and skits at a Chinese middle school, visited the Terra Cotta Tombs, attended a Chinese dance show, rode rented bikes around the top of the city wall, toured a jade factory, visited a Chinese art history museum, ate at a hot pot restaurant, shopped in the local bazzar, played in a water fountain park, and learned how to make dumplings with her host family.

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The group spent their final two days in Shanghai where the highlight of sightseeing was an excursion to the zoo to see the Giant Pandas. Maya returned from her visit to China having thoroughly enjoyed herself. We were delighted that she was so fearless and open to new experiences. I enjoyed listening to her as she describe each photo she took in something of a role reversal for us. I find myself wanting to take some time off on my next work trip to China to enjoy some of the culture which Maya was exposed to.

Maya in Beijing

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Maya’s adventure in China began in Beijing where on her first day she visited the Summer Palace, The Bird’s Nest, the Aquatic Center and Ming Tomb Way where she flirted with the sculptures and had fun with her camera.

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Maya was travelling with a group of 20 schoolmates, five chaperons, and one guide. Day two took them on an excursion to the Great Wall where they got great exercise climbing 30 flights of narrow stairs to reach the top of the wall. They also enjoyed what she described a toboggan ride down from the Wall.

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Father & Son

2012-04-16 064010 290.jpg Of over 2000 photos I took in Mazatlan, this is one of two which includes me. It is one of my more poignant portraits and will always evoke fond memories of this adventure with Nicolai.

Fan Base

2012-04-14 190714 1381.jpg Today I completed posting a full set of images from both the Mexico-US soccer match and our Mazatlan adventure. During the process I came across this photo which I thought worth posting. Immediately after the match a contingent of fans entered the locker room in pursuit of autographs from the players. Nicolai needed little encouragement to accommodate their wishes even if paper was in short supply. I think it would not be too hard for Nicolai to get accustomed to his new role as a sports hero.

The Celebration

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I am breaking with my blog tradition by posting additional photos from last weekend since so much of the story remains untold. After the match, both teams were treated by the Mayor of Mazatlan to a huge open-air gala in their honor held in the historic Plaza Machado, one of the oldest in the city, built in the year 1837. From the stage, specially constructed for the event, we heard from local dignitaries, Bob Bennet, the founder of amputee soccer who presented the winner’s trophy, and enjoyed traditional Mexican dancing.

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The celebration ended at about 11pm but the team still had abundant energy to sample the Mazatlan night life. Nicolai was less than pleased that I insisted on tagging along as a chaperon. Having read about night time safety issues in Mexico before the trip, I was not going to relinquish my parental responsibilities to his drinking-age teammates.

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News Coverage

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Pictured here are three of four newspapers included significant coverage of the US-Mexico soccer showdown. I am planning to forward to my Spanish speaking mother for translations. The game was also televised nationally and I believe it will be rebroadcast on the internet before the end of the month. I will share particulars as they become available. It was encouraging to see the level of media interest and national pride in the Mexican team. Perhaps one day the US team will be successful in garnering a similar level of attention.

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Beach Volley

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The American Amputee Soccer Association is working to build awareness for the sport and to recruit more players to the game. To that end they have invited a documentary film maker to follow the team on the road to the World Cup. This morning Nicolai was asked to be on the beach at sunrise for an interview. After he was done we took advantage of the perfect light and empty beach to make this image. The master is actually 4x larger and includes a sweeping panorama of the water in the background. Nicolai had the idea of rolling the ball in sand to create a sense of motion after he kicked the ball. I already know that this will become one of my all time favorite images. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast on the condo terrace before returning to our room to pack. As we said our goodbyes, it struck me how deeply bonded we had become to this group of people who were strangers just four days ago.

Cliff Diving

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With the big match behind us, today was spent enjoying the city of Mazatlan. Nicolai joined his teammates for sightseeing and shopping while I did a solo trek of more than 10 miles focused on photography. I walked from the old city center out to the El Faro Lighthouse which sits atop a 500 foot high hill. The climb was not too strenuous and the views from the top were well worth the effort. At sunset I positioned myself along the Malecon (the oceanfront promenade running 4 miles from the Old City to the tourist hotel laden Golden Zone) at the spot where local cliff divers make the death defying plunge for tips. I only had a chance to photograph one dive but had planned in advance how I would use a rapid fire sequence and Photoshop to create a composite image featuring the entire dive sequence.