Friday, September 26, 2008

Fighting on



Date: Thursday, July 31, 2008 Section: Metro Page: A1 Edition:

Source: JACOB BENNETT, Courier & Press staff writer, 464-7434 or

Photography by SERGE GIACHETTI, Courier & Press staff photographer

The world went black, as if someone pulled the plug on a TV, and Kanna Domangue crumpled to the mat.

A trainer, medic and cameraman rushed to the 26-year-old woman.

Just moments before, they'd watched Domangue, a part-time model, pound a punching bag at Big Bully Mixed Martial Arts Center, pausing every so often to catch her breath. She'd pressed on even as she wondered which of her health problems would get her this time.

Domangue's been fighting since the fourth grade, when a classmate pulled out her hearing aid --she's fought against childhood tormentors, allergies and stress-related hives and, later, endometriosis, a condition that can cause crippling menstrual pain.

Now Domangue has another fight. Her body was going through a change similar to menopause after having a hysterectomy. She had signed up for a mixed martial arts
reality show to push the limits of the body that had both tormented her and given her a second chance. She couldn't let her health beat her again.

From the floor, Domangue read the medic's lips: "Do you want to get up?"

She nodded. She didn't know what was wrong, but she knew what she had to do: keep punching.

A few weeks before, Domangue faced a full-length mirror, after putting on a skimpy outfit for her gig as a mixed martial arts ring girl. She didn't see the olive complexion, dark hair and dark eyes that make photographers call when they need an "exotic" model.

She saw cellulite on the back of her thighs.

She yelled at her boyfriend, John Gauer, when he said he didn't see it.

Her reaction isn't shallow. Before she became a gorgeous grown-up, she was the kid picked on by classmates. She was called "radio ear" and mocked for a lisp that turned "specific" into "pacific" and "pizza" into "pisa."

She also feared post-hysterectomy hormones were making her gain weight. She stopped taking them, which meant risking hot flashes, headaches and increasingly brittle bones.

As she worked the fights that night in late May, she already was planning to step into the ring again for a different reason: Gauer's cousin, Jeff Osborne, had invited her to try out for the second season of his locally produced mixed martial arts reality show "FIGHT SKOOL."

On the show, Osborne and several fighters teach average people the punches, kicks and grappling techniques that define their sport. The culmination is a big November fight night at the Evansville Coliseum.

Osborne invited Domangue because, he said, he knew her looks, health problems and back story would make great TV: She is the oldest child of divorced teen parents, and she came to Evansville with little more than a green Ford Mustang and the dog she'd adopted after Hurricane Katrina.

"I'm fighting for myself," said Domangue. "Fighting, I was mentally used to it; now, I'm going to put it in physical form. If I can get beyond my limits, I've done what I wanted to accomplish."
Osborne knew the odd number - Domangue and the six other women - posed a problem. Before pairing them off for an Aug. 9 show, he would have to cut one of them.

When FIGHT SKOOL is in session, the Big Bully isn’t a pleasant place to be. Body heat collects in the air like in a parked car on a summer day, and the smell of sweat fills the nostrils like a salty ocean breeze.

Forty people showed up for the tryout June 7, roughly the same number as last year. But this group was in better shape and more confident. Nearly two months after the first tryout, more than 30 contestants remained - twice as many as the same time last year, when Osborne didn't have to make a cut.

Eight quit during the first day's tryout in 2007 - driven away by the same workout Domangue was about to endure.

It was a 45-minute marathon of sprints, rope-jumping and grappling against experienced fighters.

The pros call it a decent warmup. For those without training, it's so brutal that the training staff tapes hand-written signs on the garbage cans: "Puke Here."

"You'll pass out before you die," trainer John Turner told the contestants.

Domangue handed her hearing aid to Gauer, then started a drill that required her to jump a rope and then roll under it. She struggled to catch her breath.

During the six-minute punching bag workout, she had to stop. She staggered, and dropped to the floor.

But she would not let her health beat her. She opened her eyes, and read the trainer's lips. Of course she wanted to continue.
As soon as she got to her feet, she resumed swinging.

Cameraman Cody Cannon tracked her down at the end and asked, “Are you ready to fight?”
“Very,” she said, and pretended to box the camera.

A few minutes later, she ran to the bathroom and vomited.

Long before the punching bags and the hysterectomy, Kanna Domangue was little 5-year-old Kanna Antill.

Her grandmother, Mary Antill, thought she was stubborn because she would keep walking after being told repeatedly to come back.

She simply hadn't heard.

Kanna was living in Lodi, Calif., where her mother followed her aunt to the first of many different homes around the country. A prekindergarten screening discovered the hearing loss.

Taunting later caused her to skip school dances and wear her hair down to cover her hearing aids. In sixth grade, she saw a TV show about a deaf boy and decided she shouldn't be ashamed anymore.

In 2005, she married Ron Domangue, a Marine she had first dated when they were in junior high in Louisiana. They split a year later, about a month before she came to visit family in Indiana.

While in town, she visited the Deerhead Sidewalk Cafe on East Columbia Street, where she met Gauer, a musician. He autographed a copy of his CD with his phone number.

She didn't call for three days. They talked so much the next couple of days that his ear hurt. Gauer, 36, told her he had three children and a bunch of debt.

She told him she sometimes thought about moving to Evansville to be with her mom, but she didn't tell him what she was about to do.

She was on the day shift as a phlebotomist at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales, La., where her father lives with his second wife. On her break, she called her mother in Indiana and asked if she could live with her.

Domangue apologized for giving short notice, and went home for some clothes and her dog.
She went to her mom's first, but that night, she stayed with Gauer. They haven't been apart since.

"I'd never done anything like that," Domangue said. "I just took a chance. I'm glad I did. Everything I wanted to do just took off, I guess because I got out of the box."

Two weeks after the tryout, Domangue did her first runway shoot at Icon, a nightclub on Green River Road. In a sea of big hair, short shorts, glittery makeup and dangling jewelry, she modeled four outfits.

Domangue's modeling career had picked up in Evansville. She was included on the 2008 Showme's calendar and modeled for an online retailer in Bloomington, Ind.

She had only a couple of drinks at the club, but they proved to be too much.

At the next day's "FIGHT SKOOL" tryout, as the group moved in a circle, practicing footwork and jabs, Domangue had to stop and stand in a corner, slightly doubled over, her hand clutching her heart.

The next exercise was worse: Four trainers used padded boards like baseball bats to hit an assembly line of contestants in the stomach.

Bare-chested guys gritted their teeth, doubled over or swore as they walked away, their six-pack abs red as wine.

Domangue says she probably shouldn't have gone through the line. She spent the next two days in bed, missing a runway show.

Of the seven girls in the competition, Osborne estimated Domangue's skills put her in the middle of the pack.

She didn't have the jujitsu grappling game of Marie Cartwright, or the boxing skills of Amber Asher-Jones or April Penrod, or the kicking ability of Renee Pennington. As they grappled on the floor, Cartwright put Domangue in a hold that caused her to "tap out" or give up.

Four weeks in, Domangue climbed into the ring to spar with Kim Lindsey, a 42-year-old grandmother who won her final match of the first season.

Domangue's ponytail bounced as she tried to land a jab or kick. She wasn't keeping her eyes up when she punched, and Lindsey landed a left hook on Domangue's nose.

"I'm sorry," Lindsey said.

"No, you're not," trainer David Overfield said from the side of the ring. "You're here to spar, not to play Barbie."

Domangue was willing to risk the hot flashes and fatigue and other uncomfortable results of her decision to stop taking her hormones, but Gauer was worried.

One day at work, when a doctor came in to buy some sharp clothes, Gauer asked his opinion on her decision.

The doctor’s advice was clear: She needed to resume taking the hormones immediately. She was too young to go through the changes that would be brought on without them.

She agreed, but she couldn’t shake her insecurity about the hormones’ side effects. In an effort to firm up her legs, she decided to roller blade from her house to the Pigeon Creek boat ramp and through the Greenway Trail that leads to Garvin Park.

She tried to pass a pair of girls who were walking down the ramp, and she lost her balance and flipped at least three times down the hill. Her right arm bent underneath like a chicken wing.

“Wow, are you OK?”“Practice makes perfect,” she said as she got up and skated on, trying to shake out the pain in her arm.

Soon, her broken wrist had swollen to the size of an apple.

The conversation with Osborne didn't go well, Gauer said.

Doctors said she would be in a cast for about four weeks.

She couldn't wrestle in the first "FIGHT SKOOL" show but could be ready before the November finale.

Osborne didn't say if Domangue would be eliminated but told Gauer to bring her by 15 minutes late for the next workout.

He needed that time to talk to the other contestants.

He asked the women who of them should be eliminated, but didn’t mention Domangue’s arm.
When she showed up in jeans and a neon pink cast, a cameraman was waiting for her and Gauer at the door.

Sometimes people make decisions easy on him, Osborne said.

"She's got a broken arm from rollerblading. Kanna's out."

All Domangue said was, "Can I come back next season?"

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ex-wrestler Jericho to show nice side at event

Ex-wrestler Jericho to show his nice side at event

By Jacob Bennett
Evansville Courier & Press
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Original story link:

If you meet Chris Jericho this weekend, don't expect him to make fun of your name, dis your girlfriend or put you in his signature wrestling hold, the Lion Tamer.

"A lot of people meet me and say, 'Oh, Chris Jericho, you're such a nice guy. We thought you would be a jerk,'" said Jericho, who is a veteran of almost all major U.S. wrestling leagues and is the son of former hockey player Ted Irvine. "That's why it's fun to play a character. Chris Jericho is a jerk. Chris Irvine is not."

Jericho, who called himself "Y2J" around the turn of the century and was famous for clever mockery of other wrestlers, has been out of wrestling for more than a year, since his World Wrestling Entertainment contract expired and he lost a "You're Fired!" match to John Cena.

Since then, he has toured the world with his metal band Fozzy, filmed movies, done improv, written a book and made numerous autograph signing appearances, such as the one scheduled Saturday at the HOOKnSHOOT mixed martial arts event at the Owensboro Sportscenter in Owensboro, Ky.

Jericho said he is a fan of mixed martial arts, but this is the first event he has attended live.
"MMA is the new boxing, it seems, as far as popularity and notoriety," he said. "Being a boxing fan, there just haven't been the personalities of yesteryears. It's really hurt the sport.

"MMA, it's got that kind of boxing excitement to it. It's a little bit, I'm not saying 'barbaric' in a bad way. We're all human beings and we like to see other human beings beat ... each other. There are a lot more personalities you can sink your teeth into."

A few athletes have crossed over in the worlds of pro wrestling and MMA. Former Ultimate Fighting Champion Ken Shamrock was probably the most famous to make the jump to the WWE, and former wrestler Brock Lesnar has just begun an MMA career.

Jericho said he won't compete in an MMA event, but he has been considering a return to wrestling.

"I just needed a break, man, that's all," he said. "I wrestled for 15 years straight. It's a tough schedule, it's a tough grind, both physically, but mostly mentally. I was very burned out on the mental side of things. I needed to get away and clear my head. You never know what might happen over the next six months, the next year or so."

He has had plenty of projects to keep him busy, which he said was another reason he took a wrestling hiatus. He has been a mainstay commentator on various VH1 programs, such as the "I Love the 80s"-type shows.

"They kind of ran out of topics," he said. "They kept just pumping out those shows, probably about 20 of them over the last three or four years. 'I love the '70s,' 'I Love the '80s', 'I Love the '90s,' part 1, 2, 3. Then you go back to 'I Love the '30s.'"

The last one he filmed was "40 Most Softsational Soft Rock Songs," which is an interesting subject for a guy whose wrestling name was inspired by a rock song by Helloween.

"Anything music is my forte," Jericho said. "I just kind of know everything about nothing. It's one of my superpowers."

This 'Dog" hot on the scent of salvation

This article is © 2007 EVANSVILLE COURIER & PRESS


Date: Thursday, August 16, 2007 Section: Features Page: D1 Edition:
Source: JACOB BENNETT, Courier & Press staff writer
Original link here

How's this for a motivator? Bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman said he can't retire until he captures his profession's biggest prize: Osama bin Laden.

Chapman, star of the A&E network's top-rated "Dog the Bounty Hunter," will speak Monday at The Centre in Evansville. A convicted felon and born-again Christian, Chapman is an experienced motivational speaker: He used to tour with self-help guru Tony Robbins as a bad convict turned good (in addition to more than a dozen arrests for burglary, Chapman spent two years in prison for being an accessory to murder after a fellow gang member shot a man during a drug deal gone bad).

He phoned the Courier & Press last week from New York City, where he was promoting his new book, "You Can Run But You Can't Hide." It was just a few days after charges against him were dropped in Mexico, stemming from his star-making capture there in 2003 of Max Factor heir Andrew Luster, a fugitive convicted of 86 counts of rape.

He talked about turning your life around, making up for past sins, and taking down the FBI's most wanted man.

What do you want people to get out of your speech?A lot of people go through challenges. They get divorced; they get fired from their jobs; they get arrested for something they did do or didn't do; hooked on drugs; they're negative; they don't know how to speak to their bosses, their wives, their kids. I want (to help) every single person in the room. A lot of guys say “if I could help just one guy out of that 1,000 people ...” I want 999 to be helped because I know at least one of them will be wanted.

Do you think that years of good deeds can make up for past sins?I hope that, brother. I hope that the score is even. Through the people of society and, of course, through God, I hope that I'm even. I'd like to get way ahead of the game. Once the Mexico thing was dropped, (catching a man convicted of) 86 counts of rape, I think that made the score even. But I want to get ahead now. Onward, Christian soldiers.

For someone who loves his job as much as you, will it be hard to retire?
I'm the kind of guy who will die with his boots on. I don't want to retire. There's one big, big, big fish out there. Uncle Bin. I'm waiting on the phone to ring. I don't think I'll retire until at least then.

You think you could catch Osama Bin Laden?
Absolutely, 100 percent, guaranteed. I wouldn't put a time limit on it because that would be stupid. But I guarantee you I could catch that guy. Or I could train the troops in America to be able to catch him.

I don't know if I could be the one, in our business it's called "laying of the hands on him," I'm not sure of that, but I would be very instrumental in the capture. I'm just waiting for an offer. I'm waiting for them to say, "Dog, would you be interested?" and I'm going to say, "Absolutely."

I get tips right now. Yesterday I got a tip. I've got a lot of criminals from that area that have been calling saying, "Are you going to chase him? Are you going after him? I might know where he's at." That's usually what happens. The criminal side starts calling before the good side does.

"Uh-oh, who's looking. We don't care if the cops are, you'd better make sure Dog is not. He won't give up."

It could take a while. It could be quick. I would not come back without him. It could be the end of my career, I could lose my life, but you got to die anyway. That is a hell of a legacy, brother. If he's No. 1 wanted, I want him.

That would be a good ending for your show, wouldn't it?
Wouldn't it, brother?

Ted Nugent still hyper at any speed

This article is © 2007 EVANSVILLE COURIER & PRESS


Date: Thursday, June 7, 2007 Section: Features Page: D1 Edition:
Source: JACOB BENNETT, Courier & Press staff writer

Love him or hate him, there's no denying Ted Nugent is sure of himself.

Take, for example, his theory on why he's still rocking 40 years after recording "Journey to the Center of Your Mind," his landmark album:
"God loves me more than he loves you."

On Saturday, Nugent, 59, the hunter/rocker/self-proclaimed agitator of liberals, is bringing epic songs such as "Stranglehold" and "Cat Scratch Fever" to Mesker Amphitheatre.

He called recently from his home in Waco, Texas, for what was supposed to be a Q&A session. But nearly nine minutes in, he wasn't done with his first A.

He was on a roll, talking about why he exercises his First Amendment rights almost as much as his Second Amendment rights, and about how he feels about a batch of songs he wrote in the last couple of weeks.

"The new songs are just hysterical," he said. "They're so intense, so grinding, so rhythm-and-blues. James Brown would really, really be proud. 'Love Grenade' is the title of the record, and that's the first single. It's probably my greatest composition ever."

There's also "Bridge Over Troubled Daughters," which Nugent said is "just another hyper guitar lick masterpiece."

And another song about the "Trail of Tears" called "Geronimo and Me" that he said is "going to become a classic before this tour is over."

The first single is set to be released June 23, but the songs could pop up in Evansville, Nugent said. There was only one drawback to what he called a "recording jihad."

"I did, heartbreakingly, cancel a British Columbia bear hunt, which means some poor camper is going to get mauled and it's my fault because I didn't adequately reduce the black bear population on Vancouver Island. (Forget) 'em, they're just Canadians."

It's that kind of comment from Nugent that has always riled up some people, especially animal rights activists, and that has kept him in the news nearly 20 years after his last mainstream hit. He was just joking (about the Canadians, not the bears), but he when he talks issues, he gets just as upset as those who disagree with him.

His voice rises as he decries people who drink and drive and kill and rape and rob, who are able to work but still take welfare. The sermon ends with "get a job and get off my .. back" before he catches himself, stops, takes a breath, and calmly says, "my point is..."

"I wouldn't have to fight for welform reform, I wouldn't have to fight for education reform, because I already have the perfect life. I can go out right now, I own property, I can hunt 365 days a year and just kill (stuff) until I turn blue in the face .. But if I am so blessed to live in a country where young men and women are dying so I can, how dare I not fight for the freedoms they're sacrificing their lives for."

Street star adjusts to USI

This article is © 2007 EVANSVILLE COURIER & PRESS

Date: Friday, December 28, 2007 Section: Sports Page: C1 Edition:

Source: JACOB BENNETT, Courier & Press staff writer
Photo by JASON CLARK, Courier & Press photographer

On the playgrounds in Harlem, they know him as "Africa."

Out there, they don't hand out nicknames to just anyone, but Anthony Pimble earned his.

At famed Rucker Park, he stepped onto the green court with red paint and played alongside some of the best ballers in the world - and onlookers sitting in the beat-up bleachers inside the chain-link fence left talking about the 6-foot-6, 185-pound wingman with the really dark skin and the chicken legs that could take him to the moon.

There are playgrounds full of players like Pimble, guys who hoped their basketball skills would give them a chance at something better. Some got busted. Some got F's. Some got jobs because they got girls pregnant.

Pimble got out. First to a community college on the opposite side of the country, then to a Division II basketball school in Middle America.

And he brought the crowd to its feet the first time he stepped onto the University of Southern Indiana court, jumping over a ball rack - and a freshman teammate - to dunk.

His coach at USI says it's too soon to talk about where his legs might take him next, that he's still got a lot to learn. But the people back home who still ask about Africa say it's not too soon to dream.

Anthony Pimble grew up in an 18-story apartment building called the Lewis Morris, 1749 Grand Concourse, the Bronx. He had a little brother, Rashaun, seven years younger, and a single mother, Rosalie Pimble, 16 years older. Rosalie's eight brothers and sisters helped raise the boys while she worked minimum wage jobs and squeezed in nursing school classes.

Sometimes Pimble would watch the Rucker Park streetballers on TV, because basketball was one thing you could do in New York City without much money. He didn't really dream of getting out, or of being like Herman "Helicopter" Knowings or Earl "The Goat" Manigault, guys who made their names at the Rucker - a court named after a city parks employee who founded a basketball league that stressed the value of education.

An aunt asked the basketball coach at his middle school if her nephew could play. It would be a good outlet for his energy. Soon he was traveling with guys from the Square to nearby parks and gyms, playing against guys on high school teams and AAU clubs.

"You hear their names watching TV and you think, 'I was just in the park with them the other day,'" Pimble said. "'Maybe I could get good and get on some TV stations.'"

He elevated past a senior into the starting lineup; his grades dropped. He kept jumping for the rim, falling woefully short, until one day after his sophomore year he dunked for the first time. Soon, there wasn't a dunk he couldn't do.

Some of the guys he knew started stepping on the neighborhood's landmines - fights and other bits of trouble - and it was only a matter of time, Pimble figured, before they tussled with the wrong guys, ones who carried weapons.

"It's not a good neighborhood," said his friend Joe Bynum, who lived near 188th Street and Webster Avenue, where Pimble moved his sophomore year. "I don't know if you understand, but it's like the hood. People doing illegal things. Drug trafficking, robbing, stealing, doing drugs, cutting class. Anthony would always tell us, 'I'm not going to be a part of none of that.' He gets a lot of respect out here for not going down the wrong path. They like to see people do good. Even if they do bad, they like to see others prosper."

Rosalie Pimble suggested the Job Corps. Make a little money from the government and learn a skill while finishing high school credits. He could stay home or live on a campus.

Pimble and his mom went to a nearby Job Corps office to enroll, but they didn't bring all the necessary documents. Later that day, he told Bynum what he was considering.

Bynum had another idea. He had just graduated from Bronx Regional High School, a basketball dynasty that gives another chance to students in academic or other trouble. Thanks to Bronx Regional, Bynum was about to move to California to play junior college ball, until he got some unexpected news: He was going to be a father. He canceled his trip, got a job, and transferred his hopes onto Pimble.

"With his talent, Job Corps is not where he should be," Bynum said. "I told him to transfer to (Bronx Regional) so he could get more looks, more schools to see him play. 'You can use your skills and take it to the next level.' He's got a good head on his shoulders. He just needed a little more umph. He just needed a little guidance."

And a little commitment to his school work. Pimble sat out his junior year to get his grades up. But he was about to become a star.

Playing with the stars
That summer, 2003, his AAU coach got a call from a man named Tony Rosa, who coached the Harlem Mustangs in the Entertainer's Basketball Classic, a tournament featuring local stars, NBA players and rap musicians. Rosa needed a player for a youth division team that played on a court at 145th and Lenox.

A few weeks later, the Mustangs were short of players. Rosa asked Pimble to come out but wouldn't promise playing time. But when Pimble took the D-train from his apartment to the park at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, across from a housing project on the former site of the Polo Grounds, he learned he would start - NBA players Ron Artest and Theo Ratliff were running late.

There were movie stars in the bleachers and rappers on the sideline when Pimble took the court alongside Danny Artest, Antwan "Antifreeze" Dobie and Adrian "Wholelottagame" Walton, who played briefly at Fordham. Mic'ed up courtside were Jeff "Hannibal" Banks and Khalil "Boobie Smooth" Scott, the guys who for years cheered great plays, heckled lame ones and gave many stars their trademark nicknames.

"I had the bubble guts a little bit when I first started," Pimble said. "I wasn't worried about who was there. I didn't want to get embarrassed."

No worries. He threw down a dunk on his first fast break, and a star was born, said Gregory Marius, the event's inadvertent founder in 1980 when his rap group The Disco Four took on the Crash Crew while the Sugarhill Gang and the Treacherous 3 watched.

"To catch an offensive rebound and dunk it on a defender's neck, that's what caught everybody's attention," Marius said. "The first time I seen him do that, everybody had to look twice, 'Who was that?' From that moment, everybody knew who he was."

It took Hannibal and Boobie Smooth a couple of games to decide on a nickname, Pimble said. By that time Artest and Ratliff were in the lineup. Alongside them was Africa.

After Bronx Regional won the Public Schools Alternative League Championship in his senior year, Pimble said he had a miscommunication with a junior college coach and sat out the 2004-2005 season.

He moved with his family to New Jersey and worked in a suburban Shop Right supermarket, combing through the snowy parking lot for stray shopping carts. "There were, like, a billion carts," he said.

He started going to junior college showcases to keep in shape. But he had his mind made up: Ventura College in California. His friends Elijah Muldrow and Gary Nunez played there, and they arranged for him to talk to coach Greg Winslow.

Winslow said a lot of the players he lands want to be like Rafer Alston and Jamaal Tinsley, streetballers who overcame tough New York City backgrounds to land NBA riches. Winslow knows that's not going to happen for most of them, but he also knows an education would be as important.

"There's a ton of kids who are looking for an opportunity," Winslow said. "Most of them need an opportunity away from home. Somebody had to break the cycle. They probably won't all own homes, but for some guys, being in an apartment and being safe is like hitting the lotto."
It took Pimble half a season to adjust to life in college and California, and, Winslow said, to the college team concept, more structured than streetball. But Pimble came on at the end of his freshman year. "He was a crowd-pleaser," Winslow said. "The guy's a freak athletically. He can jump to the moon. There's something in his legs. You wonder how he can get up in the air so high on those chicken legs."

Making it to the Garden
That summer Pimble played for the Mustangs at Rucker Park for the fourth year, this time alongside Florida star Joakim Noah. They won the EBC title and Pimble was chosen for the EBC all-star game at Madison Square Garden on July 23, 2006.

His mother, a lifelong Knicks fan, was pregnant with twin girls. She thought she might have them in the Garden. Her son's monster game didn't help, as it turned into a dunk contest between Pimble and Ryan "Special FX" Williams.

The Dime Magazine recap: Africa throws down a sick windmill, and the crowd is going nuts! Special FX is matching Africa highlight-for-highlight. Africa pulls out a 360, after which he hangs on the rim like Spyda from AND1. Africa cops MVP.

Finding love and a team
In Pimble's sophomore season at Ventura, Division II coaches started showing interest.
So did K'Lah Houston, a friend of a teammate's girlfriend.

Houston thought he was cute. Coaches saw his athleticism and these averages: 15.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals.

Pimble had seen Muldrow go off to Arkansas Little-Rock and Nunez to Northwestern Oklahoma. He knew he would leave soon, so he didn't want to get serious with Houston. But they were hanging out at the same places together, and eventually spending much of their time together, alone.

He still needed to get serious about his next college. He went online and looked up their records over the last five years: Grand Canyon University in Arizona, Chaminade in Hawaii, Kentucky Wesleyan. But there was one program that stood out: Southern Indiana. USI had won at least 27 games in the last five seasons, and hadn't lost more than seven. He visited the campus in April and decided he didn't need to visit anywhere else.

Houston thought she might be pregnant. She didn't tell Pimble until July, a few days before he was supposed to fly away for good. He took her to the store to buy a pregnancy test. It was positive. She tried the second one in the package. Also positive.

She wasn't so positive.
At the very least, she was nervous. She'd just had her son, Dion, in September. She wasn't sure she could handle another. Pimble told her not to worry. He would be a good father.

He finished some summer classes to make sure he had all the credits he needed to play at USI. She flew to New York in August. He showed her where he lived, showed her where he grew up, showed her Manhattan. Soon, she would be on her way to Vicksburg, Miss., where her mother had moved seeking a more laid-back and affordable lifestyle. He flew to Evansville.

It was a big change from New York City and Southern California. He was lonely and bored. He thought about leaving. Houston discouraged him. She told him he would be fine once the season started.

"It's kind of hard, but he has to do what he has to do," Houston said. "I'd rather have him there than here doing something he's not supposed to do."

Pimble flew to Mississippi on Sept. 28 and came back two days later.

Two weeks later, he blew away USI fans with his creative dunks at the Midnight Madness preseason kickoff.

He still gets calls and instant messages from his friends back home. They don't believe him when he says he only dunked about eight times in the first six games - he used to get that many in a game.

But he knows he can attack the basket - now he's learning to guard on the perimeter, to dribble once and pull up quickly for a shot, to disrupt long inbounds passes. He has to know all these things if he is to keep playing after his USI career. He's too thin for the NBA right now, friends and coaches say, but a lower-level professional league isn't out of reach.

Even if Pimble doesn't play professionally, Winslow thinks he will be in good shape. He will have four years of college under his belt, and a degree at least within reach. "That will open doors Anthony might not have even thought of," Winslow said.

Inspired by his son

On Dec. 10, he got a new reason to strive to be the best. Anthony Lamar Pimble Jr. was born in Vicksburg, Miss.

In the two games since, he has totaled 29 points, six dunks and eight steals. He leads the Great Lakes Valley Conference in steals. In his last game, Dec. 19 against Ferris State, the PAC Arena crowd showered praise on him no fewer than four times, including three dunks - an alley-oop from sophomore guard Darren Cloud, a fast-break gorilla slam and a particularly filthy one-handed windmill on a fast break. He was also cheered appreciatively for his epic effort on a steal in which he tipped the ball away, fended off a guard who tried to get it back, and dribbled the ball between his legs, inches off the floor as if giving CPR to keep it alive.

He was even impressive when he turned the ball over, surprising Norman Plummer under the basket with a rocket behind-the-back pass that would have killed at Rucker.

USI coach Rick Herdes chastised Pimble immediately after for not making the simple pass, but admired him after the game. "That was a good pass," Herdes said. "It hit Norman right in the hands. I couldn't have made that pass. You're so quick, you don't know how quick you are."

Pimble said his only regret was that he didn't bounce the pass to give Plummer more of a chance. Then he said goodbye.

It was Christmas break, and tomorrow he would meet Anthony Jr. for the first time. Tonight he had to pack. He hustled out into the night, backlit by the light of the moon.

Perfect match seems impossible

This article is © 2007 EVANSVILLE COURIER & PRESS

Date: Sunday, February 18, 2007 Section: Metro Page: A1 Edition: Final

Source: By JACOB BENNETT, Courier & Press staff writer

This is a story about two people born 7,500 miles apart.

One is a Christian minister, an Indian man born in Kuwait who now lives in Evansville.
He needs a new kidney.

Doctors told him he would have to wait -- five years at least -- before he could find a donor.
But the search was over in less than two years. He is scheduled to get a new kidney this week at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.

The perfect match for his body turned out to be the perfect match for his heart -- and every night that woman, a missionary from Texas with the last name Pray, was only inches away.

More improbable is how Sam and Erika Meesala, 28 and 25 years old, respectively, say they found each other. How each twist and turn and choice and chance in their lives led them to meet and marry all those years ago in India, so she could be here to have a chance to save him now.
They'll tell you God has provided for them their whole lives, that along the way they were put where they needed to be.

But to really know how they found each other, you have to start with Saddam Hussein.

War begins

It was 2 a.m. in Kuwait City one August night in 1990, when 12-year-old Sam Meesala awoke to the roar of planes overhead, the boom of bombs in the night, the unsettling pop of shotguns fired not so far away.

He and his three siblings ran to their parents' room, where their father let them in the bed and hugged them and kissed them. He told them the sounds were just a training exercise. But Sam had never seen his parents so emotional.

The next few days were chaotic -- neighbors banged on doors and told people to hide, or raided the market to buy up supplies as if a storm were brewing.

Iraqi soldiers barricaded the streets, changing the names of familiar roadways to titles such as Saddam Street. The Kuwaiti TV station blinked off, replaced by an Iraqi station and a message from Saddam: "Welcome to Iraq. There is no Kuwait."

Meesala's parents were nurses who had moved to Kuwait for higher salaries more than 20 years before. For several weeks after the Iraqi invasion, they kept going to work at what was now called Saddam Hospital. But as the situation in the country deteriorated, and United Nations help had not yet arrived, the Meesalas decided to take their family back to India.

The Indian government was neutral, so Iraqi soldiers didn't try to stop buses full of Indian nationals from making the 700-mile trek across the Iraqi desert to Jordan. From Jordan, Meesala's family flew to India and their new lives.

Moving her heart

Could it be? Was that moving in 14-year-old Erika Pray's heart the Lord?
This was it. After years of searching in southern Texas, of trying out different churches that didn't feel right, this was the one: The nondenominational Church of the Good Shepherd.
A month later at a scheduled service, she walked to the front of the church to meet the preacher, and he submerged her in a tub of water.

"That was where I felt my home was," she said. "That's when I really gave my heart to God. It was the biggest blessing of my life."

Good Shepherd was heavily involved in missionary work, and her youth group made several trips to Mexico, 30 miles away. The adults often made trips to India, and when she turned 19 in 2001 the church was planning a trip to the small southern Indian town of Gudur .

They gave Erika and a few other people contacts there. She was to call them and ask what they could do and whom they should visit.

One of her contacts was a young preacher named Sam Meesala.

Arrival in India

Eleven years earlier, Meesala and his family had arrived in India without food or clothes or a car. But they had family to stay with, and for years his parents had been sending money back to a savings account in the country.

At 17, he enrolled in an Indian medical school, seeking a physical therapy degree. Sometimes in the afternoons, he felt too tired to go to class. He also felt God calling him to something else.
He started preaching at Christian churches in the area and began his own Jesus Loves Ministries.

Meesala came to know Erika Pray through phone and e-mail conversations over a 10-month period before she finally visited India.

It turned out they were exactly what the other was looking for. She felt a spark as they prayed together. He listened to her talk about dealing with her father's death when she was 5. He felt it, too.

"That's what I was looking for, a prayerful lady who sings and prays and loves the Lord," he said. "It turned out to be that she was the one."

They prayed on it, and decided to get married in November 2002.

The newlyweds thought they would be happy moving back to Texas to work as counselors at a children's home, but Meesala soon stumbled upon a job opportunity that would be too good to pass up.

A church in Evansville was looking for a married couple to be youth ministers.


After a game of basketball at the Metro Christian Center, cousins Darin Cook and Matthew Johnson decided to walk over to the parsonage and get to know the new youth pastor.

Within a few minutes of that first conversation, Sam Meesala was talking to them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. His interpretations of the Bible connected with them so much that the boys, who had spent much of high school smoking pot and playing video games, decided to straighten out.

A year later, the cousins, along with their grandparents, Philip and Maxine Stewart, became charter members of Meesala's new nondenominational ministry, the Assembly of the Living Word. One day in early 2005, while the Meesalas were visiting the Stewart home, the group began messing around with Maxine Stewart's digital blood pressure monitor, which she uses often and had left on the living room table. Matthew was fine, Darin was fine, Erika was fine. Sam's was sky high.

Erika, a part-time secretary at a doctor's office, told her boss about her husband's blood pressure.

The doctor said Sam should go straight to the emergency room.

Delivering bad news

There must be some mistake. Though Meesala still needed a lot of naps, he thought he was healthy.

But now, this doctor at Deaconess Hospital was telling him his kidneys were failing? The blood test must have been wrong.

Doctors did a biopsy, just to be sure, and confirmed that Sam had FSGS -- short for focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. The part of his kidneys that filter blood are scarred, but nobody knows why. He might have had it since he was in the womb; he might have gotten it from antibiotics after a series of fevers when he was a child.

There isn't a good cure. He needed a new kidney, but doctors said it would take five years to find a cadaver match because his blood type is the rare B and, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are more than 70,000 other people in the U.S. waiting for kidneys. He started asking members of his immediate family if they could donate.

By December 2005, the Meesalas found that there was a child on the way. But Sam's symptoms were finally kicking in -- restless legs, nausea. And his dialysis machine, which filters the wastes and toxins from his blood, wasn't working .

"I thought I would die," Meesala said. "I literally gave up."

The couple had pinned their hopes on Sam's brother, Steven, who was hoping to fly in from India to give up one of his kidneys . But there was too much legal red tape, and he wasn't going to be able to make it in anytime soon.

Meesala's parents wanted to donate, but doctors wanted younger kidneys. His sister Sheeba, who lives in California, considered donating, but she and her husband were afraid there would be too many complications, the Meesalas said.

Erika Meesala had said all along she would donate if she would be a match, but she couldn't while she was pregnant. Anyway, she wasn't a good blood type match, or so she thought -- until that phone call with her mother.

"`Don't you remember?'" she recalls her mother saying. "`You're O-positive.'"

Wife's donation

It's not always an easy decision to donate a kidney.

Sure, most people are born with two when they only need one, and the risks of the surgery itself are low, at least as far as surgeries go. But many people can't bring themselves to do it, transplant experts say. There are too many "what-ifs."

"If she should come up with kidney disease, or if she's in an accident and her kidney is damaged, she's going to find herself in need of the gift that she gave to her husband," said Sam Davis, the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization director of professional services.

Erika Meesala did not struggle with the decision to try as soon as her body had healed from the June birth of their son, Joshua.

"That was the only thing I could think of, was keeping him alive and making sure he sees Joshua grow up," she said.

She put herself through the battery of tests doctors use to determine if she would be a good match for her husband and if she could physically withstand the procedure.

Doctors at Vanderbilt Hospital, where they chose to have the surgery, decided they were a good match.

"We're absolutely thrilled that they match," said Verna Johnson, transplant coordinator of the hospital's kidney and pancreas program.

Surgery on ThursdayOn Thursday, Sam and Erika Meesala will be placed in the same operating room, tended to by two surgical teams.

First, doctors will cut Erika, then Sam, and then take one of her kidneys and attach it to arteries and veins in her husband's lower abdomen. They will leave his kidneys, which have shriveled.

The surgery takes three to six hours and will require a few days of recovery. With luck, the new kidney will give Sam an extra 10 to 15 years before he needs another transplant. He will have to take anti-rejection drugs constantly, but he hopes the new kidney gives him the energy to be himself again.

"After that, we truly believe that normalcy will come back," he said. "I don't know what it feels like to be normal. I've had a bad kidney my whole life."

Both Erika and Sam have thought about what they will say before doctors put them to sleep.
"I'm sure I'll be emotional at the time," Sam said. "We came this far with God's help. I'm going to say thanks for everything, and this is a great thing you're doing for me."

Her gift should allow another chapter in the story of the minister and the missionary, who started life thousands of miles apart and ended up side by side, she sharing a part of herself so they could continue to share a life.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

We can put a man on the moon, but we can't go to space?

I’d like to say my story begins with me locked in a three-way steel cage death match with Mr. T and a lumberjack, but that’s not the truth.

It really starts with me zoned out for a couple of hours at my office cubicle, reading a New York Times article about the future of space flight, where I found this sentence:

“Government-financed space travel could stall in the face of America’s growing aversion to risk.”

Wait, what? We’re afraid of risk? In America? The home of the brave?

No way. We’ve all seen some pretty bad space tragedies, but America is the greatest country in the world, and you can’t be great if you don’t take risks.

We wouldn’t even have the America we know if a bunch of religious fanatics had said, “I might get seasick; I can’t get on that boat.”

We wouldn’t have electricity if Ben Franklin had said, “I might get shocked; I can’t fly this kite.”

We wouldn’t have “Hysteria” if the drummer for Def Leppard had said, “I’ve only got one arm; I can’t rock.”

So we can’t say, “Our ship might break; we can’t go to space.”

For one thing, we learn new stuff in space — NASA helped improve eyeglasses, cancer research and even NFL Sunday Ticket. And the space program does cost billions of dollars, but compared to the rest of the budget, it’s really only Stanley Nickels and Schrute Bucks.

We should keep going to space for the same reason we climbed Mount Everest, built bases on Antarctica and jumped Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle--it stretches the limits of humanity.

That’s the whole point of space travel— you blast off in a space shuttle that’s shaped like a middle finger and point it at the laws of nature.

We didn’t let the Russkies beat us to the moon, but we haven’t done anything that jaw-dropping in decades. Our buildings are no longer the tallest, our basketball teams are no longer the dreamiest, people can see our stealth bombers.

My greatest recent accomplishment was hitting 300 straight notes of “Freebird” on “Guitar Hero II.” And even that wan’t a huge deal—those 300 notes were at the beginning of the song, and the solo starts right about note 301.

Meanwhile, the Chinese might beat us to Mars.

We can’t let that happen. Granted, blind patriotism doesn’t always end well—Manifest Destiny and the Trail of Tears come to mind. But Americans — both natives and immigrants like Albert Einstein who knew this was the place to be—have done a bunch of rootin’ tootin’ stuff.

Off the top of my head, there’s the light bulb, the airplane and the American version of “The Office.”

You’re welcome.

But the toppermost of the poppermost was when we put a man on the freakin’ moon. It was a giant leap for mankind. But we could go farther.

I bet even all the astronauts who died in tragedies would have wanted it that way.

I’m gonna go pick a fight.