Tag Archives: Features

Lake Braddock senior battles for comeback of his life

(Photo by Shamus Fatzinger/Fairfax Times)

His fingers twitched before wrapping around the handles of a wheelchair that was about to be left behind, at least for the time being. With a wary physical therapist by his side, Nick Balenger felt the hospital hallway open up as he slowly rose out of his chair and stared at his toughest challenge yet. A walk to the end of the hall seemed a daunting task for a boy who could manage little more than wiggle a few fingers four weeks earlier.

Tuesday’s 50­-foot trek marked the latest accomplishment of a high school senior bent on defying the limitations of paralysis on the road leading back to a normal life. Even with a platform walker at his aid, a walk of any length was barely believable for someone so closely removed from the July 25 accident that changed everything.

On that day, Balenger — a standout pitcher for Lake Braddock Secondary School’s state champion baseball team — went for a swim at Makena Beach alongside his father during the family’s much­-anticipated Hawaiian vacation. Balenger somersaulted into a wave and slammed against the underlying sandbar, leaving him immobilized before his dad pulled him out of the water. Continue reading Lake Braddock senior battles for comeback of his life

Rowing straight to London

Greatness was standing right before his eyes, but former McLean High School rowing coach Jim Mitchell couldn’t see it. In search of talent at his school’s football practice, he had no idea the teenager in front of him was an indomitable athlete, a sporting prodigy, a future Olympian.

“I just saw a big, tall kid,” Mitchell said.

Giuseppe Lanzone was nearing the end of his junior season as an offensive and defensive lineman. At that moment, he only was thinking about what this next practice would bring, not daring to let his mind drift to the next game or the next season.

Then Mitchell tapped him on the shoulder and issued a not­-so-­subtle demand that changed his life forever.

“He said, ‘Hey, what’s your name and what’s your phone number? You have to row during the winter,’” Lanzone recalled. Continue reading Rowing straight to London

Dedicated fans at the center of Redskins-Cowboys rivalry


Chad Costa is a perfectly friendly guy, but he has a penchant for getting booed when he cuts his grass. His neighbors don’t take kindly to the burgundy-and-gold signs and flags splayed across his front yard, nor do they think the American Indian logo tattooed on his ankle is particularly attractive.

Costa’s 15-year-old daughter, meanwhile, proudly wears a “Dallas Sucks” T-shirt to school in hopes of recruiting fellow fans, but no one around their home in Frisco, Texas, ever seems to think very highly of her cause.

About 1,300 miles northeast, in the nation’s capital, Mike Jelencovich strolls down the street wearing a baseball cap that draws glares from passers-by. Many of his friends can’t stand the sight of that hat, whose single blue star belies its owner’s Maryland roots. By most accounts, he is also a well-intentioned guy, but sometimes he thinks he might be the most hated man in town.

While on opposite ends of the spectrum, Costa and Jelencovich have one thing in common: Their defiant devotion to their football teams epitomizes a rivalry that never wavers, no matter how it plays out on the field. Their dedication will be out in full force when the Washington Redskins pay a visit to Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Monday night. Continue reading Dedicated fans at the center of Redskins-Cowboys rivalry

UVa football, men’s hoops teams struggle while other sports thrive


The football team at the University of Virginia is reeling from a third consecutive losing season. The men’s basketball team is coping with a gut-wrenching defeat that kept it out of the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. Scott Stadium is losing fans by the thousands. And perhaps scariest of all, many Virginia fans are running out of patience.

Yet Virginia’s athletics program is thriving more than ever before. The Cavaliers closed the 2010-11 academic year with a seventh-place finish in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which measures the broad-based success of 279 Division I athletic programs. It marked the school’s third consecutive top-10 finish and second-best result ever, trailing only the previous year’s third-place finish.

The achievements behind that recognition are impressive: a men’s lacrosse national championship, a fourth consecutive team indoor championship in men’s tennis, a College World Series appearance by the baseball team, five ACC titles, and individual NCAA titles in track and swimming.

For die-hards in Charlottesville, though, the Directors’ Cup finish conceals a major blemish. Out of the top 25 schools in the 2010-11 Directors’ Cup standings, Virginia is the only one that failed to make a postseason appearance in football or men’s basketball.

Olympic sports accomplishments are important, but a Division I athletic program cannot truly gain national prominence without success in the two arenas that, in Virginia’s case, generate nearly seven times more revenue than all other sports combined on a yearly basis. With new coaches, impeccable facilities and a student body hungry for something to cheer about, can Virginia restore glory to its football and men’s basketball teams?

Continue reading UVa football, men’s hoops teams struggle while other sports thrive

Hurley eyes PGA Tour success after stint in Navy

(Getty image)


On this day of remembrance, Nationwide Tour golfers preparing for this week’s Melwood Prince George’s County Open have a lot to think about. Strolls down the fairway might be accompanied by memories of those who make it possible for people to thwack golf balls and stroke putts for a living. One player in the field, however, may think back to his own time in uniform, when golf was barely a part of his life.

Despite graduating as the country’s top collegiate golfer, Billy Hurley III has so far navigated a career highlighted by much more than clutch putts or hoisted trophies. Just a few years ago, the golfing prodigy was wrapped up in more ambitious pursuits, like steering a war ship through the Suez Canal, or sailing from Pearl Harbor to the Persian Gulf to help protect Iraqi oil platforms. Hurley – a 2004 Naval Academy graduate – spent time near Bahrain, the Red Sea, Djibouti, Indonesia, Philippines, Maldives, China, Japan and Korea before concluding his mandatory five-year tour of duty in the summer of 2009.

Now he’s trying to find a permanent home on the PGA Tour.

“I’m happy that I was in the Navy for those five years, and I’m glad that I went to the Naval Academy, and I wouldn’t change anything about that,” Hurley said. “But I want to play golf. If I didn’t, I’d still be in the Navy.” Continue reading Hurley eyes PGA Tour success after stint in Navy