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In the first weekend of December 1976 my father pulled up to the Grand Theater on Railroad Avenue in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. I loved the Grand Theater. I loved watching movies. There was only one screen and it was a big one. It was an old theater, and it was later torn down. It’s now a parking lot where a theater once stood. I’ve seen some classics in that theater. I couldn’t have been over 11 or 12 when I saw Patton. I was around the same age when my father took me to see The Godfather. He mumbled something about it being our people. I still don’t understand what he was talking about. I never saw my father shoot Mo Greene or knock off his brother Fredo. But I digress. I saw Blazing Saddles in that theater, another favorite. Most of the movies were rated R. And most I saw before I was 13. You know what? I turned out pretty good, so take that Tipper Gore. While I’m on my rant about Tipper and her type, you can’t even make a drug reference in a song anymore and get it on the radio. Yet the word cocaine is mentioned dozens of times in Eric Clapton‘s Cocaine. Despite this, I’ve never tried the stuff. Getting back to the story at hand. I didn’t have high hopes as I purchased my 75 cent ticket on that first weekend in December. I didn’t even see the movie advertised on television. From the grainy cheap look of the poster, I was almost afraid it would have subtitles. The only hope it had was an actress I recognized from the Godfather, Talia Shire. The movie didn’t even have a good name. It was called Rocky. By the time the credits rolled, I had feeling running through my 14 year old body that I’d never felt before. I wanted to cheer like everyone else in the theater, but I thought I was too cool for that. So I didn’t. I wanted to cry but I was too much of a man. So I didn’t. I sat still in that movie I was still so long that my feet, hands and legs fell asleep. My mind was reeling. I read every piece of what rolled down through the end of the movie. I read that Conti did the music. I literally chanted the name to myself on the way home until I got to a pen and wrote it down. I kept that piece of paper until the next time I went to Baton Rouge. That’s where I bought the LP to the movie Rocky. I played it until the record wore out. That movie inspired a lot of people to be the best they could be in life, including me. I told you that to tell you this. In my life as an athlete I’ve seen a lot of inspiring things. I see challenged athletes all the time. I often wonder if I had that kind of courage if I lost a leg or an arm, or both arms. Sometimes inspiration doesn’t come from someone who’s challenged. There was no shortage of it at this year’s Ford Ironman Triathlon in Tempe, Arizona. The guy I want to mention today was a kid I grew up with, Jon Covington. In true southern Louisiana form, he had a funny nickname. We called him Jon Bubba. The story is too long and convoluted, so I won’t explain what it means. I will tell you this, we called his older brother Bubba Jon. Jon was the same age as my younger brother, so he was about four years younger than me. They hung out a lot and played sports together. Jon was a good athlete. I haven’t seen him much over the years. But I knew he would be in Tempe because we’re both on Facebook. I made it a mission to meet Jon, his lovely wife and his two-year-old son. Jon had called me in the past few months for a few training tips. He also called me a week or two before the race because the tendonitis in his knee was bothering him so much that he had stopped running. He was going to go for it anyway. The thing I noticed about Jon was that he didn’t look like most Ironman triathletes. He had a fair amount of extra weight on his body. I was worried that my friend wouldn’t make the bike cutoff time. If you don’t make it, you get pulled from the event. Jon did tell me he was a strong swimmer. He proved it by swimming the two-plus miles in an hour and 20 minutes. I thought it was an amazing time for a guy his size. I knew the bike wouldn’t be easy because there were tough winds that day. The course has an incline in one direction. Jon would be carrying 260 pounds up the incline and then after the turnaround, would push through a tough wind on the bike. Even the top pros were grimacing in pain. As Jon passed me on the bike I yelled out his name and somehow he managed to smile to let me know this course wouldn’t beat him. Next came the run, a full marathon. I asked myself how much more punishment could he take. Every time he passed me, though he was jogging slowly and sometimes walking, Jon never gave up. I walked along with him a few times for a few seconds. His morale was great.
Jon finished in 15 hours and lots of change. But he finished. We often fill stadiums with hundreds of thousands of people to watch football. We have no trouble turning overpaid athletes into heroes. But I want everyone who reads this blog to know, Jon Bubba Covington is my hero.