Anchorage — Their feats, whether singular or across careers of sweeping longevity, both awe and inspire us.
Invariably, though, the champions of sport honored each year at the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, turn it back on those who helped them achieve. Actually, they are the ones left awed and inspired, they tell us, touched by the support of coaches, spouses, siblings, family, mentors, teammates, communities.
They are great athletes, we know — that’s the overriding aspect that gains them entry into the hall, which honors great individuals, teams, events and moments. Turns out that maybe they are better people, filled with humanity and humility, humor and graciousness.
Herb Didrickson, for instance, is a legend in Sitka, in all of Southeast really, mostly for his sublime basketball talent, though in his prime he was no slouch on the baseball field or the track.
Yet when the 86-year-old turned over the lectern to his friend Gil Truitt following a short speech Tuesday night at the seventh annual ceremony at the Anchorage Museum, Truitt did not speak of Didrickson’s mad skills, but of his enduring sportsmanship and generosity.
Truitt said Didrickson, who was inducted as an individual, always visited the opponents’ locker room after a game, whether it was to congratulate the winners or console the defeated, how he never uttered a bad word about an opponent or a teammate.
“In Sitka,’’ Truitt said, “we call him 'The Pride of Sitka.’ ''
Didrickson has a street named after him in Sitka and a gymnasium bears his name at Sheldon Jackson College — not a bad measure of a man.
Check out the late Buck Nystrom, Alaska’s all-time winningest high school football coach, the motivating and earnest soul who guided Eielson and North Pole to state championships, and was inducted as an individual. His wife, Barbara, read from a letter written by a former student of Nystrom’s who eventually became his colleague. The student wrote of Nystrom’s inexhaustible work ethic, his determination to teach kids not just about football, but about self-respect and teamwork and making the most of yourself.
Or take Paul Tandy, the blind wrestler from West High who fashioned a winning record this past season and is an outstanding student. He didn’t speak of his courage, which is evident, but of those who have guided him along his path — his parents, his coaches, his teachers and his teammates.
Tandy, who received the Trajan Langdon Award for leadership, inspiration and sportsmanship, gave a shout-out to his teammates in the auditorium — “You’re back there somewhere — I can’t see you’’ — that seemed like stand-up from, well, a stand-up kid.
Richard Hill, who coached the Nunaka Valley Little League girls softball team to a world championship last summer, beamed as his 12 players lined the stage while receiving a Spirit of Alaska award for female athletic excellence — former Bartlett High and current Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers was honored for male excellence. Hill talked about how his players sacrificed, for three hours of practice each day, five days a week, even when remnants of snow remained on the field, to seize their dream.
Steve Bainbridge, an instrumental force behind the Equinox Marathon, a grueling race in Fairbanks that has been around for 50 years and earned induction as an event, spoke of how that community rallies around the race and makes it a point of pride in the Golden Heart City.
Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, spoke of Les Anderson’s world record, 97-pound king salmon caught on the Kenai in 1985, and how that fish story that was inducted as a great moment — finally, a whopper of a fish story about an actual whopper that didn’t get away — brought fame to the river. The late Anderson, Gease said, graciously and patiently talked about that whale of a day to anyone who inquired, and folks constantly inquired.
Charles Cole, the former Alaska attorney general accepting the Joe Floyd Award for lasting contribution in Alaska sports on behalf of honoree Don Dennis, who has been a transforming leader for both the Fairbanks Goldpanners and the Alaska Baseball League, spoke of his friend’s tireless work on both fronts.
And Anchorage runner Chris Clark, who stunned the nation in 2000 when, as a doctor and mother and basically non-professional runner, trumped the women’s marathon field at the U.S. Olympic Trials, did not speak much of her remarkable defeat of sponsored, professional runners. Inducted for the enduring moment of brilliance she delivered, Clark did not talk of doing much of her training on a treadmill upstairs at home because the Chester Trail outside the window was so icy that winter, or of cranking the thermostat to prepare for the possibility of hot weather on race day.
Instead, Clark lavished thanks on her husband and family, on the co-workers whose support never wavered, on the coach who helped get her dialed in for the big day, and again on the even bigger day when she finished 19th at the Sydney Olympics. She praised a place called Skinny Raven, which back then was just a funky little store — or, as Clark called it, “the best running store in the galaxy’’ — that hooked up a non-sponsored runner with shoes. She raced those Olympic Trails against all those runners sponsored by shoe companies, and proudly wore a Skinny Raven singlet when she broke the tape that unusually hot February day in Columbia, S.C.
What all these folks new to the Hall of Fame have accomplished awes and inspires us.
Funny, though, from where they stood, inspiration was all around them.
This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.