Stories from the Stage



For most people, playing sports is about meeting personal challenges - from first tries on the field to last hurrahs on the sidelines. Andrew dreams of throwing a wiffle ball no-hitter; Kioko signs up for the Memory Ride; and Sophie & her sister become the first girls to play tackle football on a private all-boys team in NYC. Three stories, three interpretations of TIMEOUT, hosted by Wes Hazard.

AIRED: November 22, 2021 | 0:26:30

ANDREW SHELFFO: I figured somewhere along the time

I was ten or 11 years old, the only thing I needed

to make my life complete

was to pitch a no-hitter.

KIOKO MWOSA: I'm weaving around double-parked cars.

I'm bunny-hopping over shards of broken glass

when all of a sudden--

bam!-- I'm knocked to the ground.

And whether we win or lose,

when we take off our helmets,

the other team shouts out, "Those are girls on their team."

WES HAZARD: Tonight's theme is "Timeout."

Whether you watch sports or play them,

whether you ignore them or you can't live without them,

we all have to acknowledge that they're an enduring part

of what it means to be human.

Tonight, our tellers bring us stories of the sporting life--

from first attempts to last hurrahs,

from the sidelines to leaving it all out on the field.

MWOSA: I'm Kioko Mwosa.

Originally from Kenya,

but I now live in Milton, Massachusetts.

I am a cyclist.

I have a wife who's a filmmaker

and I have three wonderful kids who drive me nuts.

My day job is I'm in software,

and manage a team of software engineers

for a company called IBM.

So when you are on your bike,

what appeals to you about cycling,

what's interesting, you know, what draws you to it?

There's a certain freedom about cycling, you know,

getting out there and, you know, riding more miles

than you've driven the whole week, that, that is,

you know, my, my level of accomplishment.

I feel, yeah, this, this feels good and you know,

getting to explore places.

You know, without having to follow the car in front of you

for example, or, you know, having to pack things,

you know, it's, it's a very minimalist sport.

You get on your bike and you go,

and that's what I enjoy about it.

I'm very excited to hear the story

that you're going to share with us this evening.

I'm wondering, what would you want the audience

to take away from it?

A lesson, a meditation, a thought?

I want people to take away that,

you know, continue doing great things,

continue being selfless, continue doing things

because you want to help.

And there's hope.

I think that's the one thing

I want people to take away from the story,

is, you know, there is hope.

So no matter how bad things are, you know, there's hope.

For me,

Alzheimer's disease is personal.

My grandmother was debilitated by it.

My dad got early onset Alzheimer's.

It's 2003, I'm 28 years old,

and my dad is receiving full-time care.

His memory is going quickly,

and I feel the need to do something about it,

something in my control.

So I decide to sign up for the memory ride,

a 150-mile bike ride to raise money

for Alzheimer's disease.

Up until this point,

the furthest I've ever ridden is only 60 miles.

It's three days before the event and I'm feeling fit and great.

I go on a quick training ride from my house in Dorchester.

I'm weaving around double-parked cars.

I'm bunny hopping over shards of broken glass,

and I'm avoiding squirrely pedestrians

as they cross the street.

I pull up alongside this tow truck

when all of a sudden, it turns into me.


I'm knocked to the ground

and dragged about ten feet, and I am yelling and screaming.

And finally the tow truck stops.

I jump to my feet

and get on to the safety of the sidewalk.

The first thing I notice

is that my bike has been completely pancaked,

in pieces.

I am so upset,

I've spent so long training for this ride.

How am I going to complete it with a broken bike?

And then I look down

and I see drops of blood on my shoes.

My knees are completely skinned.

They're starting to look like ripe raspberries.

I turned my wrist slowly around,

and in the back of my wrist

I can see two holes very deep,

so deep that I can actually see my tendons

as I wiggle my fingers.

My whole right side is covered in road rash,

and for those of you that don't know,

"road rash" is a euphemism for second-degree friction burns.

I know I am injured badly,

but I don't quite feel the pain at first,

but I know I have to stop the bleeding.

People gather around and stop and stare.

I yell, "Call 911!"

I ask a bystander to pass me a cloth hanging from his waist.

I tied around my wrist tightly and elevate my arm.

Blood is just gushing down my arm

and I start to feel lightheaded,

and I keep telling myself,

"You just survived an accident,

don't pass out and die now."

In the distance.

I can hear the sound of sirens,

and I hope they're coming for me.

When the ambulance arrives, they pull out a stretcher,

put my neck in a brace,

and put me into the back of the ambulance.

At this point, my heart rate

has started to slow down.

The adrenaline is wearing off.

I can feel a shooting pain in the side of my ribs

and I know my ribs are cracked.

I'm having trouble breathing,

similar to taking an elbow into the solar plexus.

I can feel every single bump on the ride to the hospital.

Luckily I'm brought to the Boston Medical Center.

It has one of the best emergency rooms in the city.

I get in and it's chaotic,

and people are shouting medical jargon

and yelling out stats,

they're cutting off my clothing

and putting needles into my arms.

And then the head nurse looks at me

and asks, "Gunshot wound?"

I can't believe she just said that.

I'm horrified.

She just stereotyped me.

"No!" I respond.

"Biking accident."

And then all of a sudden, the room...

everybody disappears from the room.

Probably to go triage some other patient,

maybe a gunshot-wound victim.

Soon I began to feel a very happy sensation.

A nurse comes in and asks me

if there's anyone around to call

and gives me a warm blanket.

I give them my wife's number

and slowly drift off into a pleasant daydream.

The hand surgeon comes in and looks at my arm,

sews me up, and as he leaves,

he gives a pistol gesture with his hand.

I can't believe this guy is stereotyping me as well.

Soon my wife bursts into the room in tears.

In her wild, imaginative mind,

she's convinced she'll find me in the completely worst case.

I am still so high on emergency room morphine

that I just giggled at her and give her a gingerly hug.

Six years later, I am back in the hospital again.

This time, it's my dad that has been admitted.

He has forgotten how to chew and swallow his food.

He has accidentally inhaled some food into his lung,

causing pneumonia.

I am watching him.

The sights and sounds are familiar.

The sterile white light,

beeping of medical devices,

the slow hissing of oxygen pumping.

The emotional pain of losing my dad is different

than the physical pain that I experienced

in my biking accident.

It is so hard for me to reconcile

that seeing my dad die is the best thing for him.

I never got to do the memory ride

because of all my injuries and my broken bike.

I did, however, reach my fundraising goal,

and my donors were just grateful that I was alive.

But I am hopeful and grateful that the money

that I helped to raise for Alzheimer's research

will go and help many other families affected

by this dreadful disease.

WADSWORTH: My name's Sophie Wadsworth,

I live outside of Boston, and I'm a mom, I'm a writer,

and I'm someone who helps leaders

both in non-profits and the corporate world

to tell better stories and to really uncover

their own hidden stories in themselves

and in their organizations.

I am curious--

the story that you're sharing with us tonight,

what would you hope that an audience

would take away after hearing it?

I hope they'll take away that it can be a gift

to be an outsider

and pass through a difficult experience

with other people.

Even if it doesn't seem so at the time.

I think that's a fantastic lesson.

I mean, I wonder if I even took that advice

a little better and thought, yes,

sometime I will draw from this

a greater, I guess, empathy.

A greater understanding of somebody

because I have been through this trial.


Do you think that difficult stories

that we have in our own lives,

do you think that more often than not,

they're worth having lived through

to have that experience and to potentially grow from it?

Or do you have items in your life you're like,

"I could have done without having that story."

(chuckling): Both.

And the story I'm gonna tell tonight

is certainly one where

I'm very glad to have had the experience,

it was a gift.

It's Saturday morning,

and my sister and I put on our tackle football gear.

It's the 1970s in New York City

and my mom's in her full feminist phase.

Our football pants are so tight,

we have to lie on the bed to yank them on.

We wake those mornings

with a kind of sick feeling in our stomach,

a dread, really.

Downstairs, we kiss our parents goodbye

and climb into the van

to sit thigh-to-thigh with the boys.

Our mom actually had to talk us onto the team.

I'm nine, my sister, Jenny is eight,

and we played for years in the Pee Wee League,

but now the boys have gone on to play tackle football

and my mom signs us up and the coach says, "No way.

"They're girls, they're going to get hurt

and they need special protective gear."

Well, a few phone calls later,

finally, my mom says,

"It's actually against the law not to let them on the team

with Title IX having been passed,"

and reluctantly we're allowed to join.

On the van, the stuffing explodes

from the vinyl seat covers and the boys insult us.

One cranes his head back and sneers,

"You two look like boys."

Jenny is cowering behind me.

That night, I tell my mom about it.

I tell her in a tough way.

I try to feel tough, that's what she wants.

She coaches us to talk back.

"Here's what you do.

"Whatever they say, say it back to them twice

and at the top of your lungs."

Next time, we're passing a billboard.

There's a tall woman in a yellow bikini,

Coppertone suntan lotion ad.

And Aidan, the quarterback, skinny kid

who's five inches shorter than me,

he leans back and sneers and says,

"Bet you never wear a bikini like that."

So I spit back,

"Bet you never wear a bikini like that.

Bet you never wear a bikini like that, scumbag."

And I feel very proud

that I thought to add scumbag at the end.

Aidan looks a bit shocked, and the great thing is

the insults taper off after that.

Out on the football field, there are lines and rules

and we pull up our striped tube socks

and learn to play football.

My sister Jenny is a running back.

She has always been fast,

and what I love is to watch her run down the field,

cradling the ball in her arms into the end zone

for another touchdown.

She's our top scorer, and she's my sister.

I'm a linebacker, and I learned how to tackle.

Tackling really is like a big hug.

I wrapped my arms around the boy's knees,

push all my weight into him,

and pull him down onto the grass,

that satisfying thud.

In the afternoons,

we play games against other teams.

Four years in the sports league, there's never another girl.

And whether we win or lose,

at the end, when we take off our helmets,

the other team shouts out,

"Oh man, those are girls on their team."

And sometimes that feels good.

I say, "Yeah, and we beat you."

But a lot of the time our teammates

look like they'd rather die.

Or vaporize us, or both.

There was one time, Mark--

who is one of the kind ones,

I just had a feeling.

On the way back to the van, he said,

"Nice game out there."

It was so different than school.

We wore uniform skirts,

and if I fell down in P.E. class,

the gym teacher sent me to the nurse,

this little room with white cots that smelled like antiseptic.

One time a kid named Terrence, stocky with a buzz cut,

decided to pick a fight with me,

and he grabbed my arm and scratched

so hard down the back of my hand

that it started bleeding.

I had this queasy feeling in me.

I could feel just how much he hated me.

The coach backed us up in moments like that.

He bandaged my hand,

made Terrence sit out for a few plays,

but still it hurt,

and I never knew where the next lashing out

was going to come from.

In a couple years, the boys started boasting

that their girlfriends were watching from the sidelines

during the afternoon games.

It was probably their sisters.

I remember one time, it was drizzling

and my hands were red and raw

and I see a girl under an umbrella.

She's got on a pink sweater.

It looks like cotton candy

and she looks so warm and cozy,

nothing to prove to anyone.

Still, I did like the feeling

when I could tackle a boy with the ball

before he got to the end zone.

That satisfying thump on the grass.

And our mom had said 100 times,

"Who wants to be a beauty queen standing around,

she is going nowhere."

And one time in the huddle,

Aidan leans in to tell us the play

and he squints at me through his face mask,

and I see on the outside of his helmet

a magazine page.

It's taped with Scotch tape

and it has a woman on it who's naked,

busty, full color.

What is she doing on his helmet?

And then I realize it's for me.

He's saying, "This is a real woman.

This is everything that you are not."

By now, I understand what fear can do,

how it twists people up into meanness and cruelty.

After four years of this,

I know how it feels to be an outsider,

to be seen always as an intruder.

Now I'm a mom, and it's my turn.

One of my proudest moments

came watching our son on the soccer field.

He's eight years old,

and when a player got hit really hard,

knocked down on the ground

and is crying,

and everyone's waiting for the coach to come out.

Our son heads right over to stand beside him

to make sure that he doesn't feel alone.

Ever since those football years,

I've noticed people who are left out.

I've had a kind of special attention

for those who are on the outside,

and I've reached out however I can.

SHELFFO: My name is Andrew Shelffo.

I live in East Hampton, Massachusetts.

I grew up in New Jersey.

I currently work at

a private school where I teach English

and also oversee the school's technology.

Was storytelling a part of your life from a young age?

SHELFFO: I think it was.

I'm one of six kids, and my father was

an enthusiastic, repetitive storyteller.

He would tell the same stories over and over again.

I'm just curious, of your siblings now,

are you the storyteller?

If there had to be one, or is it someone else?

I'm going to say yes, I'm the one,

I mean I'm the one who gets the opportunity

to do great things like this.

Um, yes,

everyone in my family tells stories,

some better than others.

I think I've taken it

as something that I want to improve upon.

It's like a skill that I want to hone.

And I'm just curious, what do you find challenging

or do you find any elements challenging to this day?

You've been doing this for some time.

I think the idea of saying,

"Okay, I'm gonna tell a true story about myself

"and I'm gonna maybe reveal some things

that I normally wouldn't reveal to an audience of strangers,"

that's a challenge.

And I think every person who's either written a story

or told a story has also faced the challenge of

there's a blank page there.

How am I going to fill that up?

And we talk a lot about good endings

and good beginnings and what are the transitions

and all those things that,

there's constantly a challenge to tell a good story.

It's a Friday night,

and I'm in the bar with my best friend John

and we're watching the game.

And somewhere around the second inning,

he opens up his wallet, and without looking at me,

he takes out a slip of paper

and he slides it across the bar to me

like I'm a spy or something

and he's handing me the nuclear secrets of his country.

John and I have known each other since we were five years old.

We grew up next to each other, and we were incredibly lucky

because we lived in a neighborhood

that had a lot of kids close in age

who all liked to play sports outside.

Every spring, we would take spray paint

and we'd spray paint lines on the street

so that we could play touch football.

We'd also spray paint bases so that we could play baseball.

But on those days when

we couldn't find enough kids for those games,

we would retreat to our backyards,

where we would play Wiffle ball.

Wiffle ball is the game you play with the yellow bat

and the white ball with the holes on one side.

And if you throw that ball, it makes a distinctive sound.

And to me, it's always sounded magical,

almost like, like a baby dove giggling.

And the bat, when you would swing and miss,

it would make the sound that gives the game its name--


And the best part about the game is that the equipment is cheap.

So in some ways, Wiffle ball is the perfect game.

And every backyard had its own rules,

which just added to the fun.

In some fields,

if you hit a home run and it went over two fences,

it would be an automatic grand slam,

no matter who was on base.

At another field, you pitched against the garage.

But you had to be careful,

because you didn't want to break the window.

And in a third field,

the whole back stoop was the strike zone,

which led to argument after argument.

I didn't play organized sports when I was a kid.

It just wasn't for me,

and I didn't play high school sports either.

Wiffle ball was the only game that I played.

It was the only thing I was good at,

and it was massively important to me.

And I figured somewhere along the time

I was ten or 11 years old

that the only thing I needed to make my life complete

was to pitch a no-hitter.

And this is because

Wiffle ball is a pitcher's game.

No one who's ever played Wiffle ball says,

"I can hit any pitch you have."

Everyone who's played Wiffle ball says,

"I have a pitch you just can't hit."

I had a pitch you couldn't hit.

I would throw it really hard, right at your head,

and while you're standing there trying to decide

whether or not to duck,

it would suddenly dip and then curve into the strike zone.

It was beautiful.

As I got older, my friends,

they started spending less time in the neighborhood

because they would go play their high school sports.

So there are fewer opportunities to play Wiffle ball.

And I realized that getting that no-hitter

was going to be a little bit harder.

What had started out as kind of an abstract notion,

it became something, I don't know,

maybe it was kind of an obsession.

I wanted it that badly.

Now I could have just forced my younger sister

to play against me.

But that wouldn't have been the same thing,

because I knew that the no-hitter

had to come against decent competition.

I'd come close many times, usually against my friend John,

but there'd always be that one hit late in the game

that would just break my heart.

And as I got older, I graduated high school

and then went to college,

and then I got a job,

I still carried around in the trunk

a yellow bat and a white ball

just in case a game broke out.

But I realized that my opportunities

were slowly slipping away.

Now John and I are in our late 20s,

we don't play Wiffle ball as much as we used to,

and we probably played each other

about a thousand times in our lifetime.

But we still try to do it as much as we can,

even though sometimes when we play

it feels a little bit vestigial,

or childish,

which is why we don't really like to talk about it.

It's like when you were a kid

and you had a crush on Marcia Brady,

but you didn't want anybody to know about it.

So we'd only talk to each other about it.

And I opened up

the piece of paper that John gave me,

and it's a little article

from the newspaper that he ripped out,

and it says that there's a Wiffle ball tournament

the next day in a town 20 miles away.

We both looked at each other,

because we know we have to play.

The next morning we get there early,

because we're excited and we're nervous,

and because as soon as we decided to play,

we left the bar early so that we could get some sleep.

And we go through our warm-up exercises,

which consists of some light jogging

and some stretching,

things we never would have done

when we were ten or 11 years old,

but which we now have to do.

And while we're doing that, our opponents show up,

and our opponents are two teenagers.

And we have to beat them

in order to get to the next round.

And their pregame warm-up routine consists of

sitting on the bleachers

and eating Buffalo wings

while drinking Mountain Dew out of two-liter plastic bottles.

After I finished my warm-ups,

I start throwing some warm-up pitches,

and I throw a lot more than their pitcher does.

And I'm feeling good,

because I know how good John and I are

and I know that we have experience

and I know that we have wisdom on our side too.

And, oh, I think we're better at getting up early

on Saturday morning than they are.

And then the game starts, and we lose 4-0.

It was over so quickly,

I didn't even really know what had happened.

And I walked to the car and I tried to think of

a silver lining of some sort.

And I went over the game in my head

and, you know, yeah, I had a couple of good hits,

but I just didn't pitch that well.

I had too many walks.

And John and I get to our cars,

but we linger for a little bit

because we don't really want to leave.

We have chores that we have to do when we get home.

I have to mow the lawn, I have to do some weeding.

I have to grill a sensible dinner

and then probably fall asleep on the couch later.

And then I realize something.

"Hey John, I didn't let up any hits.

"It was all walks.

I threw a no-hitter."

John looks at me and he laughs,

but there's no humor in his laugh.

And he gets into his car and he drives away.

I can still hear that magical sound,

that white ball with the holes that it makes

when I throw it, that baby dove giggling.

But I know that my Wiffle ball glory days are long past.

But I tell myself, at least I have that no-hitter.

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