LIANE HANSEN, host:
The Olympic spirit is meant to bring people together from around the world. But it's often obscured by the intensity of the competition or, all too frequently, by international political differences. Still, the games do bring people together in many ways.
NPR's Tom Goldman learned that from reading the new book, 'Riding With The Blue Moth' and from meeting the man who wrote it.
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
I first met Bill Hancock at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. He was there working with the US Olympic Committee. A friendly man with a soft Midwestern sense of humor, he joked about the endless hardboiled eggs we ate for breakfast day after day, in the media restaurant.
Hancock has been an invaluable friend to lots of sports journalists over the years, mainly in his former job as the director of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Mr. BILL HANCOCK (Former Director, NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament): I was the one that people came to, to fix things. You know, lose your locker room pass, go see Bill. Need a parking space, go find Bill.
But in this case, I was on the other side.
GOLDMAN: Bill Hancock could not fix what happened January 27, 2001. His 31-year-old Son Will had followed his dad into the sports world. Will was the basketball publicist for Oklahoma State University.
The Cowboys had played a game in Colorado that snowy January day and the team and staff were flying back to Oklahoma on three charter planes. The one Will was on crashed. All 10 people on board died.
Will Hancock had a wife and young daughter, but he still maintained a special relationship with his parents, Bill and Nicki. 'The bond with Will', Bill Hancock writes in his new book, 'went beyond genetics, beyond their twin careers in sports. I taught Will to treasure Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Will led me to Mauler (ph). During Will's 31 years on this planet,' Hancock writes, 'I was blessed because he was always willing, even excited, to do things with his dad.'
After Will's death, Hancock describes this wrenching moment: 'One day, I put my hand into the oaken box that contains Will's ashes and found the pin doctors had implanted to correct a birth defect in his hand. Touching the pin, which was buried inside Will for 19 years, was like massaging his soul.'
It was a momentary comfort, perhaps, but Bill Hancock says it wasn't enough to protect him from the Blue Moth.
Mr. HANCOCK: The Blue Moth is a creature that I invented to describe the grief and the depression that came in waves ...
GOLDMAN: Blue Moth was a word from Hancock's childhood. It's what he thought his grandmother was saying when she used the term Blue Norther to describe a well-known weather condition in the Midwest.
Mr. HANCOCK: And a Blue Norther brings cold air with blue skies, but just brutally cold temperatures and just chills you right to the bone. And that's what the waves of grief came like.
GOLDMAN: At times the grief immobilized Hancock, an active man who used to run marathons and who'd been planning a cross-country bicycle trip before the accident. ..TEXT: When his son died, all plans shut down, until one day when he got together with some of Will's old friends.
Mr. HANCOCK: I thought, what if one of them had been in an accident? And, what if Will said to me, Dad, how do I deal with this?
And I thought instantly, I said, I thought, I would have told Will, you have to live again. And so, after that meeting I went home to Nicki and I said how would you like to be the assistant on a cross-country bicycle ride? And, she said, I thought you'd never ask.
GOLDMAN: With his wife pulling a Coleman pop-up tent trailer behind their car, Hancock began the bike journey, heading east from Huntington Beach, California. It was a journey he insisted at the time, not to mend his tattered soul but to simply keep moving.
Mr. HANCOCK: I was just thinking about going for a little bike ride and nothing more.
GOLDMAN: After Will's death however, everything meant more.
Mr. HANCOCK: I think it opened a wound for me, opened -- like opened a little slot in my skin and in came some thoughts and some caring, and some openness to the world that I probably wouldn't have had before.
GOLDMAN: Visits from the Blue Moth opened Hancock to emotional swings on the bike. Riding on stretch of road near the Mississippi/Alabama border, a young guy in a pick-up truck veered toward Hancock and shouted an expletive. Hit me, Hancock shouted back, get me out of this stinking life!
But then, there were what Hancock called the 'angels' he met along the way.
Mr. HANCOCK: The peach angel was about a 300-pound young man who was selling peaches by the side of the road near McRae, Georgia. And, I'll never forget what he said. He said, I don't know nothin' else but sellin' peaches. I love my mommie and daddy, he said, but I know they're not gonna be here forever. But he said, when they go, I don't want no house, I don't want no car, all I want is this peach stand.
And, the light went on for me and it was, what you've got is what you got.
GOLDMAN: Twenty seven hundred miles of bicycle riding didn't kill the Blue Moth for Bill Hancock. But by the end of the trip, he says he no longer hated it. He understood its visits were an important reminder of grief and of his son, Will.
He says he wrote 'Riding With The Blue Moth to help others struggling with loss. And he's gotten emails saying it did help. 'It's gratifying, says Hancock, but he really wishes he never wrote the book because that would mean Will was still here.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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