Sunday, February 22, 2004

It was a honeymoon off the beaten path for these newlyweds

Good sports: A look at sports in the community

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Nothing says 'I love you' like a six-month, 2,172-mile hike through 14 states. Just ask newlyweds Mike and Melisa Sanwald.

After exchanging vows last June, the recently graduated veterinarians began a half-year honeymoon on the Appalachian Trail. The walking trail, part of the national park system, would take them through 14 states and more than 60 parks and forests with no more than backpacks in tow.

"We thought, why (honeymoon) some place like Jamaica when all you're going to do is lay around?" asked Mike, a Northwest High graduate. "I'd always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, and we knew with work there wouldn't be another time we could be gone for six months."

Most Trail hikers are 'Northbounders,' meaning they begin the journey at its southern-most point in Georgia. To avoid a bitter, December reception in Maine, the Sanwalds began at the Trail's north peak. Family members dropped them off at Maine's Mount Katahdin on July 2.

During the next half-year, the Sanwalds braved weather from 100 degrees to zero degrees. They reached elevations up to 6,630 feet. And they adjusted to the physical demands of traveling across mountains, woods and streams.

"I think anybody could do this. It's just a matter of knowing how many miles you can go every day," Melisa said.

Before they left home, they formed a pact: If they ever wanted to quit the trip, they would wait three more days from that point. If they still wanted to stop after that, they would.

They never reached that point. They survived by eating 180 pre-assembled food packages their parents mailed to 12 drop-boxes along the Trail, and slept in wooden shelters at night. There were perks, like munching on fresh blueberries in the White Mountains and swimming in fresh streams.

They also saw a bobcat, seven moose and dozens of deer, and a flying squirrel landed on Mike's leg.

By the time they reached Georgia's Springer Mountain, they were thin, tired and thrilled. According to the Appalachian Trail Conference, 291 Southbounders attempted the journey in 2003. Forty-five - or 15 percent - finished.

"It was really an emotional end," Mike said. "We'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Brad Giesting/Mount Washington

Senior Brad Giesting has spent four years keeping stats, filming games and washing uniforms as manager for the McNicholas varsity boys' basketball team. He wanted only one thing in return: To play in one game before he graduated.

His dream came true Feb. 13. As part of a standing tradition among four-year managers, coach Pat Stricker let Giesting wear No. 13 and sit on the bench with the team.

Giesting, whose older brother, Greg, is a former McNick manager, had an idea what to expect from his fans. With five minutes to play, the crowd began its chant: "We want Giesting! We want Giesting!"

The spectators, including the 20-some Giesting family members in attendance wearing "We want Giesting!" T-shirts, went berserk when Stricker signaled Brad to check in with 1:30 remaining.

"It was a pretty close game, and I knew anything could happen," Stricker said. "But I made the decision to put Brad in, no matter what."

Teammate Jeff Foltz, swarmed by defenders, passed off to an open Brad. He shot - and sank - a field goal just inside the three-point line.

With 30 seconds to play, Brad was fouled in a double-bonus situation.

"I hadn't really practiced shooting (free throws), except the Thursday night before, because I'm usually busy doing other things for the team," Brad said. "I was thinking, 'Please let me make one of these!' "

Both shots missed, but no one was disappointed that Brad didn't break the record (3 points) set by one of McNick's five managers in the last 20 years. When the final buzzer sounded, McNick players hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him off the court.

The four years of dirty work were worth the moment, said Brad, who hopes for similar excitement for his younger brother, Ryan, who's also a manager.

"I always knew I wasn't athletic enough to play," he said. "I just wanted to be part of the team somehow."

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