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Racing the Sunset

The questions at the center of "Racing the Sunset: An Athlete's Quest For Life After Sport" are intriguing: How do people who have devoted themselves to achieving physical goals which only young people can achieve handle their inability to continue to compete when they're still well shy of middle age? How do they find something to do which will be as absorbing and exciting as athletic competition was? How do they handle the discovery that the world's adulation is fickle, and that even their own family members may not know what to make of them as ordinary mortals? How do they handle their days when nobody's making their travel arrangements, buying them meals, and comping them wherever they go? How do they make a living?

Some of the most remarkable commentary on these questions comes from some of the athletes Scott Tinley, the author of "Racing the Sunset," came to know or know of while he was writing the book. Consider, for example, the comment of former Minnesota Viking Alan Page, who said of the lot of the NFL player, "You never really have the opportunity to grow up. It's like you're living in a candy store and nobody tells you that you'll ruin your appetite." Page himself managed pretty well. He's an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Scott Tinley differs from Justice Page in several respects. First, unless you follow the sport of triathlon, you may never have heard of Scott Tinley, whereas Page benefited from the monstrous publicity mill of the National Football League. Second, Tinley has opted to devote his post-competitive working life to writing, a somewhat dicier dodge than the dispensing of judicial opinion. Finally, though Scott Tinley is not incapable of an effective turn of phrase, he doesn't come up with any metaphor as good as Page's candy store. On the other hand, Tinley is honest about the difficulties he encountered when he fell from athletic grace, and he's candid in acknowledging that when he was a champion, he was often self-centered, crude, and obnoxious.

"Racing the Sunset" is, finally, a bit too much about Tinley himself. His own story is too often predictable and banal. It doesn't carry the book. On the other hand, the author's eye and ear for the useful passage from somebody else's musings is fine. Tinley finds one anonymous passage that reads "Maybe we elevate athletes to hero status because, not in spite of, the fact that they have no real utilitarian value, no real purpose other than some higher meaning to us that we don't fully understand." Too bad Scott Tinley wasn't able to identify the author of that sentence. I'd love to read more of what he or she has to say.

This program aired on November 15, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.

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