A Can O Peaches with CW, Kenny, & Wizz
By John P. DeGrazio
Nobody Beats the Wizz
I stood with an outreached hand, “Great to meet you this morning. My name is John”. The response was an extra firm handshake, a smile that lit the parking lot in the predawn hour of 5 am, and one word, “Wizz”. I finished making my introductions with Ken and Christian, then came back to the stocky former champion wrestler with the already magnetic personality. “I have ‘Richard’ on my sheet” I explained. Again, he flashed his pearly whites and said “Just call me Wizz”. Wizz it was. Of course, I immediately thought of the Seinfeld episode and whispered to myself “Nobody Beats the Wizz”.
For the next five plus hours, Wizz struggled his way up the 7.5 mile stretch of the Half Dome path. He lost his breath on the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall, bowed his head more than once on the Nevada Fall track, and then amazingly caught his second wind on the Beach. The Beach is a one mile stretch of flat sandy trail from the top of Nevada Fall to Little Yosemite Valley campground. Then, as if he was directed by sheer will and adrenaline, he powered his way through the next 3 miles which seemed to have taken its toll on his previously injured foot. Yet, every time I turned around, the smile was still there feeding energy and encouragement to the entire group.
Our team spent those hours sharing stories about, among other things, how the name Wizz was born. One of his early jobs was in the mail room at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. He had a Muir-like talent for maximizing efficiency and made several suggestions that were immediately adopted and developed into procedures for operation. Hence, the name Wiz kid was earned. Later it was just shortened to Wizz.
When we reached the base of the Sub Dome, I looked in Wizz’s eyes and asked him what he wanted to do. He shot me a look of dejection and decided it was best for the team if he stayed and rested while his brother Christian and their friend Kenny went for the summit. I sometimes try to add a little motivation but read him clearly at that point. We all knew what he said was true; however, I told him there’s no failure for making it up 4,000 feet and sitting at the base of a mountain less than 1% of all Yosemite visitors would ever dream of approaching. The smile reappeared, and we were on our way.
CW (that was Christian’s nickname) and Kenny were motivated to make the summit and were champions of the cables. CW was actually short for CW on Fire, and he brought fire and enthusiasm all day. Kenny was more reserved but no less determined to achieve this goal. The friends proudly posed for photos on the peak, and we all enjoyed our peaches and dark chocolate which was a gift from CW. Nearly an hour was spent on top, but our success was only a footnote to this story.
We returned to the base of Sub Dome to see the ranger chatting with hikers. Wizz suddenly reappeared to give his little brother a BIG bear hug. His smile was infectious as always. Christian shared some of the harrowing details of our descent and seemed to momentarily collapse on the shoulder of his older brother during a period of healthy laughter. It was a cathartic release that I was able to magically capture before taking a photo for their dad with a “Happy Fathers Day” sign. It was obvious from the moment we met that Christian adored his older brother and relied on him as a source of positive energy and strength. This series of images was the realest portrayal of brotherhood I have ever witnessed.
In that brief instant I thought of my own brothers and our missed opportunities in an uneven childhood. Witnessing these two men sharing that genuine moment of love and joy was my can o peaches and reaffirmed my earlier assertion that “Nobody Beats the Wizz!”