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|| News Item: Posted 2006-12-19

Leading Off: Two Stories
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Sports Shooter Academy III participant Marcus Yam at a basketball game at Cal State Long Beach in November of 2006.
I meet a lot of people --- some famous and others not famous --- it is one of the great perks of my job as a staff photographer with USA TODAY.

During the Holiday Season I think a lot about my family and I also think about some of the people I've met through the years that have made an impression on me.

Sports Shooter has also provided me with a sort of extended family, people I've met through the newsletter, website or workshops that I continue to chat with from time-to-time. To me that has been a real perk for all of the time and energy I put into Sports Shooter.

Yeah, I'm going to kinda get sappy on you ... but hey! ... it's the Holidays, I'm Sports Shooter's Big Kahuna, so I'm allowed...

There are two people this Holiday Season whose stories I'd like to share with you because I've been thinking a lot about them recently. These guys are special ... courageous, humble, in many ways just like the rest of us, but are involved in very extraordinary situations.

Marcus Yam was one of 20 college students enrolled in Sports Shooter Academy III this past November. Like all of the participants, he was enthusiastic and excited about being a part of The Academy. This was his "workshop year" ... attending the Eddie Adams and Mountain Workshops in addition to the Sports Shooter Academy III.

I made it one of my jobs to poke and prod Marcus to get more out of him at events and during the nightly editing sessions. I called him "Mister 155" when he moved 155 photos into his loose edit folder after the first day of shooting and got on his case when he shot into horrible back light at a swimming event.

As Marcus later told me "My childhood dreams were to travel through the golden state of California." And that's what he planned to do for a couple of weeks after the Sports Shooter Academy. A little over a week after SSA IV, I received an urgent email from Ventura Star staffer Dana Bowler informing me that Marcus was involved in a very bad accident while visiting the Bay Area. Dana also attended the Mountain Workshop in the fall and had met Marcus there.

Here is Marcus' story:
"After completing Sports Shooter Academy III, I was ready for everything and anything but a car accident. In a blink of an eye, I was like sardine stuck in a crushed can. I was heading northbound on interstate 880 passing through San Leandro. This was the final leg of my journey before a stop in San Jose and then a flight back to Buffalo.

"Traffic that night was congested, but was in a steady flow. My heart started beating as my eye caught glimpse of a vehicle cutting close from the side and onto the lane inches in front of the my car. In shrieking horror, another car was losing control and was headed towards us. There was nothing left to do. I thought I was done for good. Crash. I was completely knocked out. Bits and pieces of my memory recall being woken up by a stranger named Ken, and seeing a lot of headlights.

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Marcus Yam (right) during a Sports Shooter Academy session before the Big West Shootout Swim Meet at UC Irvine.
"We had been flipped onto the opposing side of the thruway and collided with another vehicle. I remember seeing a lot of wreckage and blood all over. My blood. I couldn't feel any pain at that point; I must have been numb from the overwhelming pain in my legs being crushed. I've seen plenty of motor vehicle accidents, as I've had to photograph a few. When the firefighters had to cut me out, in all my confusion, I thought of the irony that prevailed. Recollection is painful, as a child lost her life in the accident. She was ejected out of a vehicle upon collision as she wasn't buckled in. I would have traded places, as there is nothing more precious than a life of a child. It haunts me still.

"The car accident left me with minor knee injuries and minor skull fractures. Picking up a camera to my left eye was nearly impossible without pain. Doctors were prescribing me painkillers and all sorts of medication, despite my protests. Doctors promised me that I would lose some form of vision in my left eye periodically during the healing process and that I would get constant headaches in my front lobes. They weren't lying. As soon as I got back to Buffalo, I remembered an important lesson that I learned while covering the Big West Swim Meet under the guidance of Donald Miralle and Robert Hanashiro: If you get wet or get knocked over, just keep shooting. Don't miss the moment.

"I took home from the Academy an important lesson: Perseverance as a photographer, and as a person. It brought me to Atlanta immediately for the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar with an open heart and a smile. Bad things will come and go, but the good things will stay with you forever. Life is precious, live the moment.

"In a blink of an eye, my life has changed in many ways from the accident. Buckle up and drive cautiously. You never know when things might lose control. My post SSA III experiences has brought me closer to my emotions, and closer to my thoughts. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is traveling this holiday season."

After reading Dana's email and forwarding on the little info I had to the other workshop staff members I tried to contact Marcus. I didn't know what hospital he was admitted to or what his condition was. But Jordan Murph got in touch with him via cellphone later that day and reported that Marcus was doing fine, but had several broken bones, including a couple of skull fractures. A day later, Marcus contacted me by email ... and told me he was "doing better" but his one comment at the end really gave me the true measure of him:

"I'm just really, really sad that a little girl died in the same motor vehicle accident. I feel guilty. Given a choice, I would have traded places with the little girl."

When I saw a "Fun Pix" taken in Afghanistan last month ( showing Anthony Bolante with a big smile on his face, his arm around a young village boy, it brought a smile to my face... "That's the Ant-Man," I said to myself.

Photo by an Afghan dude from Zardsang Village

Photo by an Afghan dude from Zardsang Village

Anthony Bolante (left) in Zardsang Village, Herat, Afghanistan with Army Major Sean "Gusto"Gustafson and villagers of Zardsang.
My buddy Rod Mar introduced me to Anthony (aka "Ant-Man") Bolante several years ago. Back then I only knew him as a Reuters shooter up in Seattle. But as I got to know him better I found out that he was also an Army officer (soon to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel) and a helicopter pilot in the Washington National Guard. For the past several months he's been deployed as the Aviation Operations officer on loan to the Oregon Army National Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team that is the backbone for the task force stationed at Camp Phoenix, Kabul Afghanistan.

After I saw the Fun Pix I immediately emailed Anthony, asking how he was and asking out of curiosity "why he does what he does" ... he replied to me the next day: "As Rod Mar has heard me say more times than I can count, I do this service for friends and family like you Bert ... be well bruddah ... I will fly a flag in your honor tomorrow, bro.... Aloha for now ... Anthony."

Anthony, and thousands of his fellow soldiers, is all away from home during the Holidays. I can't keep the thought out of my head about how afraid I was 34 years ago when I had to register for the draft and watching the CBS Evening News' coverage of the war in Vietnam. As journalists sitting in our underwear in front of our fancy computers at home listening iTunes and surfing the web it's easy to marvel at the work and courage of "war photographers". But what of the actual warriors ... those guys out there doing their jobs in a really crazy situation, far from home and family?

Here's what Anthony told me:
"Why do I still do this as a "citizen-soldier" as I have been home in Seattle with my wife for a total of only two months in the past 36 months? I see it everyday in the eyes of the children of Afghanistan who are suffering after nearly two decades of Soviet occupation and then after nearly a decade of the Taliban and Al Queda. Their oppression reminds me that those who can help, must help those who cannot help themselves.

"There is hope in Afghanistan and we as a coalition force have made significant headway toward Afghanistan's self sufficiency. The issue is that there are idiots out there who are trying to kill us coalition forces as we conduct missions like MEDCAPS, which are military impromptu clinics to help the poor villages throughout the country with some medical care. Then, those same bad guys are trying to blow us up with IEDs or they snipe at us as we build irrigation ditches to help restore agriculture in a country that has been ravaged by nearly a century of overgrazing and water pollution. It saddens and also angers me that I have lost many colleagues here in Afghanistan in the past few months, all because in each instance, we were trying to help the people of Afghanistan.

"These concepts are evidenced by the photo I am attaching to this Email, Bert. While I have a million photos of my aviation team flying helicopters on combat operations, the photo of me with my US Army Engineer buddy Major Sean "Gusto"Gustafson standing with some of the neighborhood of families of the village of Zangalan in Herat Province, Afghanistan is more indicative in that it shows a photo of a grateful group of villagers that are helping us Americans rebuild a dam that a Soviet Union Army tank blew up in 1979 during their ruthless occupation.

Photo by

Anthony Bolante
"The Soviets blew up this 300+ year old dam and flooded the valley destroying the original village of Zangalan. Its original 1,500 occupants had to evacuate the valley and only a small handful of about 500 remain today after that dam flooding destroyed the landscape. Pictured here are the next generation of the Zangalan village who want to reclaim their homeland and the dam will allow the re-growth of agriculture in the valley. More importantly, the US Army engineers were mentoring the Afghan National Army engineers "how" to fix the dam themselves. This all relates to "teaching a man how to fish" is a way more important concept than just "giving a man a fish to eat."

"Strategically, the more stable and self sufficient countries that fostered terrorist organizations like Afghanistan did in the late 1990s where Al Queda and the Taliban thrived, the safer our homeland of the United States will be. I love my wife, my family, my friends and my colleagues like many of you Sports Shooter road warriors out there. I dearly miss experiencing the freedom to live making beautiful images of magical sports moments and can't wait to get back to doing photography on a daily basis. In Afghanistan, a man's "good living" is that he's got a new plastic tarp over his mud hut. Literally. I bear these sacrifices and endure these dangers in order that those I love can sleep well at night.

"PS: I complete my 16-month combat tour in Afghanistan in June 2007. After I am done in Afghanistan, my wife Roo (Clarissa) and I are going to our hometown of Honolulu for a month to surf and unwind after being shot-at and nearly blown-up in Afghanistan and then we return home to Seattle where we're going to finally build our ski cabin in the North Cascades mountains before I go back to work as the Seattle Reuters photog. And, oh yeah, I'll be a helicopter pilot back in the Washington Army National Guard doing boring things like fighting forest fires and conducting high-altitude mountain rescues again ;-)"

As the Holidays approach, consider all of the cool people you've meet in your life and your work. Think about the Marcus Yams and Anthony Bolantes out there and say a quite thanks that these people have crossed your path and made our lives better all the better.

* * *

Juggling assignments for USA TODAY, holiday shopping, planning another Sports Shooter Academy and getting a newsletter out BEFORE Christmas is really a labor of love. Obviously I get pretty sentimental this time of year and you'll all have to indulge me as I make some much-needed MAHALOS to the people that really make all of this possible. So here goes...

Thanks to my colleagues at USA TODAY for their help and for sharing my vision for improving this professional and promoting education; to my partners Brad, Grover, Jason, Joe and Mike ... these guys are the best and prove everyday that I'm really a figure head that takes all the credit; to Matt Brown, Myung Chun, Wally Skalij, Michael Goulding, Donald Miralle, Jordan Murph and Crystal Chatham ... the people that really make Sports Shooter Academy what it is: THE coolest photography event of the year; thanks to my mom Helen and my dad Seico for giving me the real start I got in this business ... a love for reading, journalism and photography; my rabbi Bob Deutsch for listening to me whine and not holding me to any of the threats I make and lastly, but most importantly to the loves of my life Deanna & Emma whose patience, understanding and sense of humor are undeserved by me but definitely appreciated and though I might not say it enough.

'Nuff said!

* * *

Sports Shooter v.97 features an article by Yana Paskova on her recent project she did on a Bulgarian psychiatry ward and the struggles of improving health care in impoverished eastern European countries.

In keeping with the season several friends of Sports Shooter give us a Holiday message and make their New Year's resolutions and The Photodude returns to the Sports Shooter Newsletter and tells us his predictions for 2007.

Paul Myers, Darren Carroll and Zach Honig check in with their regular columns and The Count --- Eric Risberg --- returns to these pages with his recommendations on a vintage port and a good "short" cigar.

The Sports Shooter Newsletter Annual Contest details are announced and we have shameless plug for Sports Shooter Academy IV April 4-8, 2007.

So sit back, turn up the volume on the "Elvis Christmas" CD ... and enjoy Sports Shooter v.97!

As always, thanks to Special Advisors & Contributors: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Rod Mar, Trent Nelson, Jason Burfield, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen, The Photodude, Reed Hoffmann, Paul Myers, Darren Carroll and Bob Deutsch.

Thanks this month to: Yana Paskova, Zach Honig, Eric Risberg, Robert Beck, Kohjiro Kinno, David Burnett, Chuck Liddy, Vincent Laforet, Matthew Mendelsohn, Jordan Murph, Thomas Witte, Michael McNamara, Jonathan Daniel and Rich Pilling.

I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at

The Sports Shooter Archives as well as tons of cool resources and information can be accessed through the Internet at

Use of the content of the Sports Shooter Newsletter is prohibited without the expressed written permission of The Big Kahuna and the author of the article.

Opinions, rants, raves, insults and praise whether intend or not, are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sports Shooter and public sensibilities.

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