A Down-and-Dirty Event That Everyone Could Dig

Everyone has a suggestion for a new Olympic event. A few weeks ago we overheard some young people, at the next table in our favorite bagel shop across from the beach, talking about the need for a jet-ski surfing event.

It got me thinking, although in far less exotic directions.

It seems to me we need to add digging to the Olympics. We certainly do plenty of it in our lifetimes, and some people are noticeably better at it than others. All that would be needed, besides a standard shovel, is a standard-size hole in a reproducible soil. We could agree to use the same soil from a particular farm in Ohio, and the scientists could decide on such parameters as moisture.

No one can argue about the physical challenge of digging. Nor would many contest the aesthetics of digging. A good digger is a delight to behold.

I remember the first Olympic-caliber digger I ever saw when, as a young man, I went to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma to earn some tuition money. He was quite a sight, with roustabout muscles toned by years of digging and sledging, covered with a fresh summer tan and 100-degree sweat. He was so strong that he did not even use his foot to stab the shovel deep into the moist ground. He merely forced it into the soil with the downright strength of his arms and threw it over his head, all in one graceful motion.

Then and there I knew what I wanted to be. Not an engineer after all, but a digger, and a good one. "A digger," I said to myself, as I stumbled through my first feeble attempts.

That night my muscles told me that I was moving in the right general direction; they also said that I had a long way to go.

Digging all day, every day, week after week began to have a positive effect. It's like any sport, where dedication, discipline, and commitment finally show up in improved performance. I never got strong enough to scoop with only my arms, but I did get to the point that my dirt piles, at the end of the day, were as big as anyone else's.

My scores might have been 8s on artistic merit, but they were definitely 10s on technical difficulty.

I was blessed to learn the joys of digging at a young age, and that is probably why it is my first candidate for a new Olympic event. I went on to do some impressive and fulfilling digging, and I am not hesitant to share that fact with everyone.

In the oil field, I dug long holes for pipes, short holes for posts, and giant holes for "deadmen," which are huge blocks of poured concrete that held up swinging bridges, drilling rigs, and pulling units, if you will excuse a little jargon.

At night, for a little extra money, I dug storm cellars for the people in the next town. These are like basements, only set away from the house in the backyard. People crawl into storm cellars with all sorts of interesting supplies when they think a tornado might be coming their way. Storm cellars are about 10 by 20 feet and more than 8 feet deep. The last few shovelfuls were hard to throw out of the hole, especially if you had not thrown the first dirt far enough away from the lip.

Which brings me to the next aspect of world-class digging: planning. A good digger is always thinking about the end of the project. Where will he throw those last few shovelfuls, when the hole is the deepest and he is the tiredest? It sounds simple, but it's a lot like being a good defensive linebacker. Mentally, they are always a few steps ahead of the play. If they are thinking all the time, they always seem to be at the right place at the right time. A good digger must do the same.

Back in the city, meanwhile, I helped my father dig the footings of his new house. This was not a big project, but it did require a higher level of precision, since the holes had to be in just the right places.

THE pinnacle of my digging career, however, was to come about 10 years later, when one day, strapped to a desk job, I decided to dig a swimming pool. I must have been inspired by something I saw about the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China, because suddenly I was seized with this obsession to dig more than anyone had ever imagined. I was moving from the sprint to the marathon. I was going to create a hole so big that people would gasp at its very sight.

Gasp they did. As I dug that "hole of holes," folks would come from miles around to peer deep into the darkness at the little light, the wheelbarrow, the shovel, and me. I doubt that I have ever been more proud. It was my hole, every single shovelful.

And it is to this day, some 25 years later. That hole is still there, because the swimming pool is still there, and the whole thing is still my hole. Very little else that I have done - and, believe me, I have tried - has brought me as much joy and made as lasting an impact. Every week, perhaps every day, some youngsters in Thousand Oaks, Calif., dive and swim happily in my hole.

This boasting sounds strange, I'm sure, to some of you, but not to the other Olympic diggers. I think we make up enough of the population to speak with pride of our event, whether or not it ever yields gold or a gold medal. Like so many of life's best moments, it isn't winning so much as it's the joy of playing in the game. Every little shovelful, even in the garden, is its own reward.

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