Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bob Ashburn: Hero

Dateline - Two and a bit years ago: I was new to water volleyball. I was serving. For a change the ball cooperated with me and took off like a rocket on its mission of doom. I was already warming up for my end zone dance when the water immediately on the other side of the net erupted in swirling white foam.

Was it a shark? A porpoise?

Suddenly, ten feet above the surface appeared a muscular guy with a friendly killer grin. He brought his right arm around like a windmill blade and literally hammered my deadly serve back over the net into the water and through the bottom of the pool and the center of the earth clear to China.

He vanished as mysteriously as he appeared.

"You ruined my self-confidence!" I shouted in high dudgeon in the direction of the miraculous visitation, or words to that effect. The nerve!

A few days later, I had my revenge. The perpetrator of my humiliation - Bob Ashburn - showed up at my place to install a satellite dish. He was up on the roof when a freak Southern California hailstorm let loose.

I couldn't resist. I ran out into the hail, totally impervious to the ice pellets bouncing off my skull, jumping up and down as I pointed to him on the roof and shouted ten dozen times, with full trash talk effect, "Aha! That'll show you!"

Fortunately, I live in a rural environment, so there weren't any neighbors to call the police.

Bob and his wife Linda are two of the most gracious people I've ever met, and many times I have enjoyed their hospitality. The two went out of their way to welcome me to water volleyball and to the resort community where we play the game. Bob and Linda have an RV residence at the resort (80 miles in the desert east of San Diego), and also live in an RV park in San Jacinto, closer to LA.

It was at San Jacinto last weekend that Bob did something amazing.

An RV residence there caught fire. Bob arrived on the scene and asked the park manager if there was anyone inside. When the manager replied, "I think so," Bob did not hesitate. In he went. He fought his way through the smoke. A man - Tom - was inside, in shock, in flames.

Bob literally dragged him out, then neighbors put out the flames with a hose.

According to a local news account: "[The manager] recalls Ashburn running in and pulling out the man without any hesitation and 'no regard for his own life when he went in to look for him.'

"'Tom was still on fire, his head was aflame,' [the manager] said. 'If not for Bob, he would have been a goner - bar none.'"

The news account reports that Tom is currently in critical condition, with third degree burns covering 50 percent of his body and damage inside his lungs.

So there you have it - restored faith in the goodness of man, a person to look up to, someone I'm proud to have as a friend.

Bob, I promise - next water volleyball game I'll go easy on you.

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