Second Acts In "Life"

March 07, 2005

This week makes it 20 years for me at this joint, and that's more fun than anybody should be allowed to have with his fingers. That's 20 years of stories on colossal events and megastars. So how come everybody wants to know what happened to the little guys?

Do you remember ...

... the climber who sliced off his lower arm to get free of an 800-pound boulder? Aron Ralston says, "I'm climbing as well, if not better, than ever." His prosthetic arm is a kind of Ronco five-in-one miracle tool, which he uses to climb grade-five ice pitches and rappel down rock walls.

... the Polish swimmer who won gold in Athens in the 200-meter butterfly and wanted to sell the medal for charity? Otylia Jedrzejczak wound up getting $82,750 for kids with leukemia. Then Poland's state mint made her a solid gold replica.

... the Navy F-14 pilot Chip King, who relished making me throw up during a demonstration flight? He was the first American pilot to fly a mission over Afghanistan and now is a test pilot for Gulfstream.

... Jim Eubank, the 87-year-old swimmer who set five age-group world records and whipped me in a race? He died suddenly from a stroke last year in Oceanside, Calif.

... the poor Savanna (Ill.) High football team that lost 60 straight? It never did end its losing streak--reaching 63--before merging with two other schools' teams to form the West Carroll Thunder. Not that it helped much. The Thunder was 1--8 last season.

... the kid who gave up his senior season of high school football to donate a kidney to his dying grandmother? Showtime made a TV movie about Daniel Huffman's life. I'm sad to say he died in December from a shotgun blast at home in Rossville, Ill. Family members are struggling with the possibility that he took his own life.

... the hairball who conned NFL Hall of Famer Pete Pihos, an Alzheimer's sufferer, out of $30,000 worth of memorabilia? Shawn Stevens is serving one year in a prison in Ayer, Mass., thanks to SI's reporting and tips from memorabilia dealers. Pihos's ex-wife, Donna, got back not only most of his stuff but also almost $13,000 in donations for Pete's care.

... 1,072-pound Nebraska fan Patrick Deuel? He's a sliver of himself, down to 610. He took his first walk in seven years on Valentine's Day, a 30-footer with his wife, Edith.

... the improbable playoff-bound football team from the California School for the Deaf, in Riverside? It lost its playoff game 41--27 to Malibu High.

... everybody's favorite high school cross-country runner, Ben Comen, who has cerebral palsy yet refuses help when he falls five or six times a race? Next September he'll run for Presbyterian College in South Carolina and study premed.

... the gay high school linebacker and team captain who outed himself to teammates during the season? Corey Johnson is working on a political campaign in New York State. "I think we'll see someone, a fairly big-name athlete, come out soon," Johnson speculates.

... the kid who was the No. 1--rated fifth-grader in American hoops? Well, Kendall (Butter) Marshall is now the nation's fifth-ranked seventh-grader, according to www.hoopscooponline.com, averaging more than 30 points a game for his middle school in Dumfries, Va.

... Casey Martin, who ruined golf when he won the right to play the PGA Tour with a cart because of a rare circulatory disorder in his right leg? Wait, that's what golf snobs said would happen. It never did. Martin's career, however, is coming to an end. Asked what's working well with his game lately, Martin replied, "My cart."

... the blind New York Islanders fan who was taken to her first Islanders game after 30 years as a radio fan? Miriam Stone has been to three games now, courtesy of the team, but she's mad as hell at the NHL owners. "They're nothin' without the players," she says.

... Dion Rich, the Super Bowl sneak-in artist? Turns out my column ended his career. Cops escorted him into the next two Super Bowls, thus saving the NFL the embarrassment. This year, in Jacksonville, they arrested him as he tried to enter the stadium with a counterfeit ticket. (Rich says he didn't know it was a fake.) He missed his first Super Bowl since 1969, sitting in jail.

... the Middlebury freshmen who "pick up Butch"? The tradition continues. Butch Varno, who is 58 and has cerebral palsy, has been picked up at home and taken to and from almost every varsity football and basketball game for 44 years. Next fall Butch will be taking advanced reading classes, so he's recruiting five female tutors from the student body.

You go, Butch. ■

• If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com

After 20 years of SI stories about colossal events and megastars, readers want to know what happened to the little guys.

COLOR PHOTOPETER READ MILLER

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