Up in a Balloon, Boys!

As I mentioned at the outset, I started this project by reviewing Alumni Reviews from the late 1950s. One thing that struck me was the novelty of new sports and outdoor pursuits popping up time and again – from skydiving, rappelling, and spelunking to the arrival of wheel skis and a possible predecessor to the game of Ultimate Frisbee (we’ll get to that later).

So when I went back to the beginning, you can imagine my delight when just one year into my exploration, 1910 brought me tales of the early days of aeronautics at Williams!

The whole read is quite a ride in and of itself. So what happened next?

We’re always throwing out the old, “Did you know the first intercollegiate baseball game ever played was between Williams and Amherst?” (no need to name the victor)

For the sake of variety, why not offer up that Williams was also a participant in the first intercollegiate balloon race on June 3, 1911?

Henry P. Shearman, Class of 1911 (I really need to figure out how I’m going to consistently abbreviate and note class years now that we have the ’11s of the past and the ’11s of today) and the pilot of that first intercollegiate balloon race, went on to continue his ballooning career at least for a little while – his first class notes submission post-graduation in the October 1911 issue of the Review celebrates his solo balloon flight.

Pure Heart: The Legacy of Bill Nack


A sentence can hold multitudes. Bring you to tears with just a few words. Or it can fall flat.

Some of us fall in love with the art of the sentence. And some of us do not–and that’s ok. But for those of us that do, what riches await! Sometimes around the most unexpected corners.

So it was for me upon encountering the late, great Bill Nack’s opus on Secretariat. I already knew it would be good–Tim Layden’s memorial to Nack pre-decreed it so. But still, when I made my way to the back pages of the SI issue where it was reprinted I wasn’t prepared for just how quickly and fully it would draw me in. And in turn reduce any sentence of my own to obvious amateurism. But that’s besides the point. The point is to experience it. To learn from it.

I mean, just look at this paragraph:

Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message. Dreamed them and turned them over like pillows in my rubbery sleep. Woke up with them, brushed my aging teeth with them, grinned at them in the mirror. Horses have a way of getting inside you, and so it was that Secretariat became like a fifth child in our house, the older boy who was off at school and never around but who was as loved and true a part of the family as Muffin, our shaggy, epileptic dog.

COME ON. Brushed his teeth with them! Grinned in the mirror! Just gorgeous, visceral. The emotion and wisdom of a whole person poured into a paragraph.

And then there’s the sentence that made me fall for good.

The gift of reverie is a blessing divine, and it is conferred most abundantly on those who lie in hammocks or drive alone in cars.

As I’ve written in the past, I fear what is lost if and when we lose the road trip, and in turn our ability to let our minds wander during the drive. Nack goes onto say:

The mind swims, binding itself to whatever flotsam comes along, to old driftwood faces and voices of the past, to places and scenes once visited, to things not seen or done but only dreamed.

An even more perfect encapsulation of the gift of reverie.

So, as I wipe my eyes and step off the elliptical, why do I even care if anyone knows about this article? I guess it boils down to a conviction that these emotions matter and need to be shared. If anything the act of turning thoughts into writing opens the possibility of connecting with those outside of our immediate circles. SI and Bill Nack have done that for me, and if I’m being honest I hope to someday do the same with my words. Because if we’re doing it right, sometimes, there is pure heart behind them.

Read the full Bill Nack article here.