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September 4, 2007

The Dog You Feed (Part 2)

I’m not sure why I’ve been so brooding and morose over the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s the prolonged remnants of post-race depression since last month’s ironman. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve struggled to resume a consistent training routine since then, or that I won’t be nearly as prepared as I’d like for my upcoming 50-mile race next month.

Or maybe it’s because one of my former training partners was just sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Most likely, it’s a combination of all of these – but for today, you’re going to hear about my friend and fellow triathlete Jay Zubick. Less than five months ago, I was doing hill workouts with him, and talking about his plans to race at IM Coeur d’Alene. Today he’s sitting in a jail cell, abandoning a wife and four kids, and leaving a wide trail of devastated victims in his wake. It’s a tragic case of what happens when a man chooses the wrong dog to feed.

This story was almost ten years in the making, but I won’t go into all of the case details. The short version is, Jay was a crooked stockbroker who swindled large sums of money from his closest friends, and parents of his children’s closest private school friends. He claimed he was investing their money in stocks, but he was really just putting it directly into his personal account. He falsified interest statements, so the victims paid taxes on money they never made.

When the scheme unraveled, nearly 30 people had collectively lost more than $16 million, most of which remains unaccounted for. People lost their retirement money, college accounts, and health care funds. Jay faced more than 70 felony charges, pled guilty to a handful of them in July, and was sentenced last week.

(If you’re interested, a Monterey Herald recap of the whole story can be found here).

The story sent shockwaves through our athletic community, because as far as we all knew, Jay was one of us. He was on the Big Sur Marathon Board of Directors, and had done several Ironman events over the past few years. He was one of the friendliest guys any of us knew, and we were always happy to see him show up at group workouts.

He clearly had many positive attributes – and yet, deep inside him, a destructive dog was growing so powerful that it would eventually lead to his downfall. Each day of his deceitful scheme, Jay made the decision to keep feeding that destructive dog, disregarding the consequences to the good side of him, or to his loved ones.

At his sentencing hearing, one of the victims alluded to this very fact, telling Jay that over the course of seven years, he had 2,500 chances to come clean and change his ways. Instead, each day, Jay decided to keep stealing from his friends and heaping shame upon his family. In many ways, this sort of crime is much less forgivable than a violent act committed in a moment of high stress and poor judgment. Jay’s deeds were calculated, intentional, and deeply sinister.

When I first started hearing these sordid details last February, I didn’t want to believe them. I wanted it to be a misunderstanding, hoping that somebody must have somehow got some facts wrong. I wanted there to be a reasonable explanation for all of these people who believed their lives were ruined.

I wanted these things, because Jay was one of us. Scandals and crime shouldn’t happen in our utopian world of triathlon – especially not at an amateur level. We’re supposed to be better than that.

Of course, I was mistaken. In reality, triathletes are collectively no better than any of the other athletes who fell from grace so shockingly this summer.

More than any year I can remember, the summer of 2007 was a season of overwhelming immorality in the sporting world. Barry Bonds. NBA referees. Michael Vick. The Tour de France. These were the headline stories, and they all represented what is wrong with sports.

In response, it seemed like many bloggers made a specific point of saying how “pure” the sport of triathlon is in relation to those higher profile sports that were tainted by scandal. They celebrated the integrity of the middle-of-the-pack athletes in major races. And each time I read one of these posts, I grew increasingly irritated.

Because no sport is more or less pure than another. They’re all populated by humans who struggle with the good and evil dogs inside them, with varying degrees of success.

Baseball players aren’t fundamentally corrupt – and any little league or high school game is a simple reminder of all the pleasures the game has to offer. The National Football League has almost 2000 players – almost 99% of whom have never been arrested. And cycling only has the highest number of positive drug tests because they do the most rigid testing. No sport can claim honestly claim moral superiority over another.

There are just as many crooked people in the sport of triathlon as there are in the general population. There are elite athletes who have tested positive, age groupers who cheat by various means, including drugs (slowtwitch.com recently ran a series of columns on this topic), and role models who turn out to be criminals.

In other words, the bad guys are very likely to be one of us. Far too many people, with the exact same interests and goals as you and me, have chosen to feed the wrong dog - and the consequences are universally heartbreaking for everyone involved.

Obviously, I realize that my former training partner isn’t an accurate representation of the larger population of triathletes. But on the other hand, I know his dark side isn’t merely an isolated case.

We all make our own choices in life. We decide which dog to feed. Some choose the good one, some choose the bad. Whether or not we happen to be athletes is really quite irrelevant. And yet, triathletes sometimes claim the ethical high ground even without having rational cause.

Believe it or not, I actually sympathize with those feelings – but it’s not the inherent morality of the sport itself that validates our participation. Rather, it’s the manner by which we approach our daily training regimen that makes us feel like we’re feeding the good dog on a regular basis.

And that’s the topic I’ll explore to conclude this series in my next post.

**

Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 3 here.

18 comments:

Phoenix 9/4/07, 11:03 AM  

Thanks for this series - very thought provoking.

stronger 9/4/07, 12:17 PM  

I may be overly opinionated on the subject. I think endurance sports gives the person feeding the wrong dog some extra support to continue feeding the wrong dog. Let's take for example someone not so near or dear to my heart...

People are generally in awe of Ironman (not limited to IM, but IM is a fine example) finishers because it is an event that most people can't fathom. As many know from personal experience, taking on a long endurance event captures many oooos and awes from friends, co-workers, strangers, loved ones, etc. I think it is that exact response that feeds this type of person doing bad in the real world but still receiving praise for their "achievements". If they can distract themselves from the guilt of doing bad by doing something they receive lots of praise for- somehow the praise they continue to receive validates not only their inadequacy which must be a huge motivator to do wrong, but their bad behaviors as well.

My hypothesis anyway.

Megan 9/4/07, 12:57 PM  

My thoughts are similar on this topic, but your perspective was much more eloquent. Well stated.

I am really sorry to hear about your friend. I cannot even imagine the shock of the whole experience, the magnitude of the lost trust, or the sadness of a broken friendship. It sounds like, though, in his wake he also left a community of people who are also reeling, and to whom you can turn for support. Hang in there.

Annette 9/4/07, 3:00 PM  

Wow. How true it is. We make choices every minute of every day. We can feed our selfish desires or we can keep our focus on God's direction. All it takes is one step toward our own greed and each subsequent step becomes easier to rationalize. I'm so sorry to hear about your training partner. I can't imagine.

Di aka "Mrs Bigun" 9/4/07, 4:30 PM  

Donald, this was not the follow up I expected. Thank you for sharing. What a tragedy for all involved, including his wife and kids. A sad ending to what - it seems - all thought was a Happy Life.

Backofpack 9/4/07, 5:01 PM  

To add to Stronger's comment - the awe and praise of others can easily turn the head of the athlete, and not only can they ignore their guilt, but they rationalize it. They find themselves thinking or feeling superior, and thinking that they are "above the rules". I think it is very similar to what occurs with the rich and famous, maybe on a smaller scale. The idea that privilege grants them free rein...

Also, the same feeling exists (as you know) in the running community. We feel that we, as a group, are special, and I am sure we would be just as shocked and disbelieving as you were when your friend was charged. I think that belief is a result of the comraderie that comes about through training and races. We see each other outside our normal daily worlds - where there is only the fun and joy of our sport, and our vision is telescoped down to a pinpoint. We help each other, and cheer for each other and enjoy all that the comraderie brings. There are many runners that I think I know fairly well, yet I know little to nothing of their life outside running.

I also think that endurance sports peel away the layers till you think you see the raw essence of the individual - especially IMs and 50-100 mile runs. It fools us. I know our running club has been shocked twice to find a cheater and a liar in our midst. Fortunately though, most of the people we know are simply what they seem to be - honest, hard working, family oriented, fair people. I think that this is the advantage of a running club like ours - where we work to connect outside of running. We are a very social group and have become a small community in our own right. It was in that process of coming to know others beyond running that we found out that all wasn't as it seemed. Fortunately for us, a natural attrition occurred...and both left our small town.

21stCenturyMom 9/4/07, 8:04 PM  

Stronger made a really good point and I have one to add. Maybe Jay wasn't a great guy with a bad habit of feeding the wrong dog. Maybe he was an inherently deceitful guy who figured out who he could play and how to play them. Add to that the high of being the good guy with the great achievement and voilĂ  - a nasty crook.

I'm really sorry you and your community got duped that way. And I have no words for his family. Horrible. I hope they have something left to live on when the government gets done seizing his assets.

21stCenturyMom 9/4/07, 8:07 PM  

One other note. By and large I think triathletes are the type of people who feed the good dog. Athletics is often the path to sobriety for recovering addicts. It is made for good dog feeding and mostly I think we are a good lot. There are bad people in all walks of life.

I think that is what you are saying but you are just down in the chops enough about this that you almost sound like you think that bad dog feeders are not so rare. I think they are. They are there but grossly outnumbered by good dog feeders. Just my 2 cents.

rick 9/4/07, 9:54 PM  

What a mess he's created. I feel sorry for the family. He went down the wrong path and just kept on going.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 9/5/07, 2:42 PM  

I think you're absolutely right in that everyone has different metre of how far they'll go to achieve their goal. Age grouper or Pro is irrelevant.

I can only speak for me when I say my intention in the races I do is to race against my best me. I often don't know what is driving the person next to me (is she out for blood, is she in this just to finish?) or how far she'll go to get there.

everybody has a different goal. I have found that the group I train with is the same - and so far, it's been easy to find more of us who feed the "good" dog. I'm shocked when I find the other type of athlete - it seems pointless and inefficient to waste the positive energy that comes from training.

also, post IM depression is a common thing, I've heard.

Taryn 9/5/07, 3:12 PM  

I'm sorry you've lost the friend you were led to think you had.

Incredible posts, thanks to which I'm now constantly imagining my dogs. As always, thanks for putting all your thoughts out there.

Taryn

IronJenny 9/5/07, 6:34 PM  

Wow - what a mess. I agree with 21st - I hope his family will survive it in the end. They were just as duped as everybody else.
I know he's your friend and all, but I have to say I am delighted that he's behind bars for 25 years. We had something very similar happen to us just last year, leaving me with virtually no retirement savings, a new house, little kids in private school, and a husband who turns 60 this year. Not exactly the age when you want to START a retirement plan.
I wish ALL these similar kinds of crooks/ creeps got punished, exposed, and sent away.
I wish I could offer support and see him sympathetically, but I just can't.
Ick.
:-(

Anne 9/5/07, 7:40 PM  

Wow, what a powerful post. I feel badly for his family, who presumably are now broke and carrying shame they likely did not deserve. The world is full of jerks, some of whom wear nylon shorts and run among us.

Mike 9/5/07, 9:44 PM  

wow..not sure if I agree with the sentiment about endurance events feeding an ego..i'd say that it's almost the opposite..it can be pretty darn humbling in my experience!

Agree with Donald though...no group is exempt.."bad guys" all around...I just can't believe he was doing this to his close friends!?! Stealing from a stranger is bad enough but this is a special kind of evil...truly sad!

Mike 9/5/07, 9:45 PM  

Ooops!

ps...STAY OUT OF THE WATER DONALD!!

Makita 9/7/07, 8:01 AM  

What an intriguing and thought-provoking series of posts. Again, I am impressed by your candor and ability to express yourself with words. You are certainly talented and I look forward to the next installment.

I am sorry that you've lost the friend you had believed was a good person. I agree with 21stcenturymom, "There are bad people in all walks of life. They are there but grossly outnumbered by good dog feeders."

Dying Water Buffalo 9/7/07, 11:37 AM  

interesting, interesting. in VC, it is amazingly easy to raise $ here in NYC and you never know *exactly* where it is going. Hopefully they will start having more regulations on PE and hedge.

seriously, i get pitched VC opportunities like once every other week, and can only imagine how easy it would be to walk off with the $$ especially if we are talking long range gains. incredible.

olga 9/19/07, 10:12 AM  

Stronger surely has a point I sometimes try to bring. Aww's are getting some of us way over our heads. While support is important, too much of "you're great" is just like too much sugar in your coffee. Just as I tell my son: I love you but don't like what you do, I preffer to say to a someone who did a solid race or whatnot: it was a great performance (not "you are amazing"). Praise should probably go towards the deeds, not so much toward a person, because each of us at one point or another had done something we are not proud of, and we know it even if others don't, and then how come I am awesome?
OK, on to the 1st part...yep, I am reading backwards.

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