Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Big C and Me

Bring it on!
They say I have lung cancer.

But I'm grateful. How can that be? Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know it's mainly about my journey as a photographer who specializes in motorsports. On January 4, 2019 that journey took on a whole new meaning for me when the results of a PET scan showed I had a cancerous spot in my right lung. I have been scanned from head to toe and those tests show no other signs of cancer anywhere else in my body. I met with a  thoracic surgeon last Wednesday and surgery has been scheduled for February 19th to remove the cancer.

So how can I be grateful they found cancer? I smoked for 40 years but at the end of this month I will be smoke free for 3 years, so I was hoping for good news from the earlier tests but I wasn't surprised to hear the news from the PET scan. After all, my Mom died of complications from lung cancer in July 2015 so the family history and my personal history intersected about where I feared. The good news is that it is a small spot and my doctor says that no further treatment will be required aside from regular scans in the future to see if it recurs or shows up somewhere else in my body. So there's gratitude for early detection.

I'm also grateful because my employer, Goodwill Education Initiatives, encourages and gives incentives for employees to get annual physicals. My primary care physician had urged me to get a $49 heart scan because of my and my Mom's histories of smoking even though I have no symptoms of any kind. I got the heart scan November 2nd last year and followed that up with a CT scan December 7th. Without that series of scans which culminated with the PET scan and a brain MRI January 11th, I seriously doubt that the cancer would have been caught until it was much further along. The surgeon described the spot as the "size of a pea" and it is only in Stage 1. There's still a small chance that a biopsy of the tissue that will be taken during surgery might not actually be cancerous, so I will pray for that outcome but I am not betting on it.

Some funny things have happened along the way that I am also grateful for. During the January 4th meeting with the pulmonologist about the PET scan results, he said he was surprised that there was virtually no history in my medical records for him to review. I have been an athlete my whole life and lead a very physically active lifestyle so we got a good laugh out of his observation. I used to think my level of  physical activity would "blow out" my lungs and counteract the other aspects of my lifestyle but at 61, it appears that fallacy has all caught up with me. Another humorous moment came with the surgeon who asked me if I could walk up two flights of stairs. I laughed at her and said I routinely walk 20,000 steps a day doing my motorsports photography in 90 degree heat carrying 25 pounds of camera gear. She responded "he laughed at me!" so I am grateful for my overall health.

I am also grateful that I get the chance to write about my experiences and have a platform to share what I am going through. I've had broken bones and gotten stitches a few times throughout my life but have been fortunate that I've never had to undergo any kind of surgery until now. Considering all the things I've put my body through, that in itself is amazing! Now I know that lots of people have written about their experiences with cancer so my blog reports may not be anything earth shattering: it's just my story and maybe someone else will read something they can connect with.

A week before I had my PET scan and found out I had cancer, I had the opportunity to photograph the Music City Bowl game between Purdue and Auburn in Nashville, Tennessee. Before the game, I got to see a young man, former Purdue student Tyler Trent, who had almost single-handedly united the Boilermakers during his own very public fight against his cancer. Since my diagnosis, I have thought to myself that if that young man can keep his faith and fight to live at the age of 20 when he had barely begun to live, then I have no reason to mope around or feel sorry for myself. Less than a week after I photographed Tyler at the game, he passed away, so I consider myself lucky to have been in his presence that day which turned out to be so close to the end of his fight. Godspeed. #TylerStrong Boiler Up Hammer Down

So how do I feel about my diagnosis? Initially I felt alternately sad and angry, in nearly equal measure, but today I am grateful and happy things are working out the way they are. I have so much to do in my life and no one is issuing any proclamations about how much time I have left so I plan to carry on as if this surgery will take care of the problem once and for all. The reality of cancer is rarely so simple and none of us gets out of here alive anyway, so I am going to live my life "as if" I have another 20 or 30 years ahead of me and do all the things I've dreamt of doing. We're not even guaranteed tomorrow and I don't want to waste a minute.

Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me. I appreciate people asking how I am doing and if there's anything they can do, but I don't want to be treated like I have the scarlet letter "C" emblazoned on my forehead. Let's just live and love with all our might and be grateful for whatever time we have together. There's no time like the present - it's a gift after all. And I still have a lot of life to live. Next up for me on this journey is shooting a Purdue men's basketball game February 3rd and then the following week I fly to Florida to shoot the ARCA race event at Daytona, so you'll be hearing from me again soon. To paraphrase the late Sid Collins, "stay tuned for the greatest spectacle in living." And thanks for reading; see you soon!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Music City Bowl Photography Experience

Alabama friend Greg McWilliams and I  worked the game at field level
If you follow my blog posts on a regular basis, then you know that most of the time I am writing about my experiences on the road as a motorsports photography. You might not know that I have been shooting all kinds of sports since the late 1980's and that I have been trying to get an opportunity to shoot a college football bowl game for at least 10 years. Well I finally got my chance to do just that last weekend for the website Indiana Sports Coverage when I got an assignment for the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee to provide photography of the Purdue Boilermakers. The game turned out to be a bust for the Boilers but I quickly remembered how much I love shooting football when I walked out on the field at Nashville's Nissan Stadium during pre-game warmups. My fiance traveled with me so we were able to take in the Nashville night life on Broadway Thursday and Friday nights plus I got to hang out with friends from Alabama who were up for the game as well. We had a blast!

Purdue All American Rondale More was very impressive
When I decided to change careers a decade ago so I would have more time to pursue my passion for photography, I envisioned photographing lots of different sporting events but in hindsight, my timing was not the best as print media outlets were shrinking and the whole media landscape was changing as internet  outlets grew. When publications like Sports Illustrated lay off their photographers, you know the opportunities to restart a photography career are going to be tough. That has definitely been my experience, but it hasn't stopped me from trying. I decided if I were going to make a change, then I had to be "all in" and I couldn't turn back no matter what so opportunities like this bowl game are investments that I feel are worth making. Back in 1987, I had the chance to shoot for the Indianapolis Star during the Pan American Games in Indianapolis and probably could have pursued a full time position with the Star back then but I didn't think I could make enough money as a photographer. That was a life lesson that took me another 30 years to learn. Now I tell my grown son to pursue his passions and not worry about the money. I wish someone had told me that back then but it's never too late for second chances and I am living proof of that.

One of my goals was to get the Gatorade bucket shot of the winning coach: nailed it!
I have been to Nashville numerous times to cover auto races for ARCA and Indycar but this trip was the first chance I had to experience more of the city. We decided to splurge and stay in the downtown media center hotel for the bowl game and we were two blocks from the hub of nightlife in the Music City on Broadway. It was simply amazing. The number of clubs with live music was astounding and some of them were multi-level bars with a different band on every floor. My fiance didn't go to the game with me but she found some nice boot shops to explore and found the downtown area quite walkable and enjoyable herself. And everyone we met was just so doggone nice! When some young ladies from the Auburn band addressed me as "sir" in the elevator, I was quickly reminded that we were in the south and were experiencing southern hospitality. I can't wait to go back again.

Auburn was just too big and fast for Purdue
Already this investment of time and money to travel to Nashville is generating dividends as the Indiana Sports Coverage website has offered me the chance to shoot some Purdue basketball and I already have a game scheduled for February 3rd in West Lafayette. I am grateful for the contacts I have made through social media networking as that is how I got the bowl game opportunity in the first place. I know these games are going to help rebuild my portfolio with current examples of what I can shoot in big time sports so these games are welcome additions to my motorsports schedule which is already looking quite packed for 2019. Back in 2006 and 2007 I shot all kinds of high school sports for the defunct website, including state championship level games in basketball and football. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to take these next steps with a website that specializes in covering Indiana-based schools and teams. So stay tuned and follow me on Twitter @alleygroup to see where  I go to next on this journey! Until next time, here are a few more photos from my bowl game weekend in Nashville.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

2018 Motorsports: My Grateful Year in Review

Click Here To View My Best Of Racing Photo Gallery
From Daytona Beach in January to Kansas City in October, my year in racing crisscrossed the country from my home in Indianapolis, and all but the trip to Daytona was done by driving. By the time of the ARCA Racing Series annual awards banquet in Indianapolis earlier this month, I had racked up some serious miles on my Honda Civic Si coupe and catalogued more than 50,000 images in the process. Indycar, ARCA, CRA, USAC Silver Crown, IMSA WeatherTech sports cars - these were series I was lucky enough to cover this year. Next year promises to be even better with more travel and some surprises I hope to be announcing by the end January.

Danica Patrick raced into retirement this season
During the course of this racing season, as always the Good, the Bad and the Ugly sometimes reared its head. The Good was in evidence at each of the 10 ARCA races I covered as we endured 2 rainouts yet everyone came back each time ready to put on a show. The Bad was losing one of racing's seniors when ARCA team owner James Harvey Hilton lost his life in a tragic highway accident going home from the Talladega race in May. The Ugly occurred at Salem in September when two of the ARCA youngsters got caught up in some retaliation, but thankfully only race cars were torn up. Along the way, I got to see Scott Pruett race his final sports car race and Fernando Alonso get experience in the same event at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I photographed Danica Patrick running in her last race during May at the Indianapolis 500. Will Power got the 200th win for Team Penske in Indycar at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then followed that up with his first Indy 500 win at the end of May. So many memories and yet the time seems to have just sailed by since I boarded that Southwest Airlines flight to Daytona last January.

Indianapolis from the roof
Dirt track racing, small ovals, superspeedways, a road course and medium ovals were all on my schedule this year and I got to do and see some amazing sights that I tried to memorialize with my cameras. Shooting the start of the Indy 500 from the roof of the penthouse seats overlooking Turn 1 is always a thrill, and if I do have to fight off a little vertigo. Standing in the flagstand at places like Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway shooting the start of ARCA events is equally thrilling and offers unique perspectives that very few people ever get to experience. At the dirt tracks of Springfield and DuQuoin, there's no way to get any closer to the action than I do there while hugging the guardrail as the USAC Silver Crown or ARCA machines roar by literally inches away from me. Then there's Indianapolis, where everything takes on more epic proportions due to the history at the famed oval. I live for that rush of adrenaline standing at the drop gate in Turn 1 as Indycars exit the turn and head right for me at 225 miles per hour. There's nothing else quite like that, and the common thread of all these experiences is that racing photography is a totally visceral and all encompassing experience with sound, motion, vibration and potential mayhem unfolding in front of me on every lap.

Daytona in January is always a blast
Then there's the weather: there might be "moisture", there will definitely be heat and humidity, and there might even be snow and frigid temperatures. Regardless of the conditions, I might walk 20,000 steps during an 18 hour day at the racetrack and then get up early and drive home the next day, totally satisfied yet hungry for more. I have to pinch myself sometimes to be sure I'm not dreaming as I often can't believe my good fortune in being able to do some of the things I get the opportunity to do. I have worked hard and been blessed with some fantastic opportunities over the last decade. My life has totally changed since I decided to change careers and allow more time to pursue my passion for photography and I have a lot of people to thank for the chances I have had. I've said it before but I must give credit to people like Keith Pritchard, Larry Coles, Steve Snoddy and Dave Martin who are no longer with us but gave me great inspiration, support and taught me so much about photography. As a self taught photographer, I needed their help and I continue to try to learn from everyone I can.

Love the view from the flagstand
I also have to thank my friends at ARCA like Mark Gundrum, Tom Legeman, Doc Hunter and others for their faith in what I try to do to support the series. I can't forget my French friends Pascal Saivet and others at MPS Agency who allowed me to represent them internationally at Indianapolis last May. I am also grateful for the continuing opportunities to work for AP staffers like John Raoux at Daytona and Brynn Anderson or John Bazemore at Talladega. As this year comes to a close, I know I will have left someone off of this gratitude list and I apologize for that. I will try to make it up to you in the new year. Until I see you all again, be safe and enjoy the holidays. See you at a racetrack somewhere soon. Let's make some freaking pictures.

Turn 1 at Indy
Stock cars on dirt: a ground shaking thrill every lap when you are up against the rail
Kids like this one are the future of racing
USAC Silver Crown cars dance on dirt like skaters on ice
I chase the best light at every race and follow a "10 laps and move" strategy to cover it all