Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Death Came Knocking: Butch Maloney Saved my Life

One year ago today, I quit smoking. I was a chronic chain smoker for some 24 years. I could easily blow through 1-2 packs a day; sadly, it was a hobby. 

Like most smokers, I tried stopping more times than I could count. When I had my first child, I stopped for the six months prior to her birth but the day she was born, I started smoking again. Senseless. 

No matter how I sliced it, dissected it, purged it, ridiculed it, I enjoyed smoking. A LOT! It was like a bad relationship I wasn't strong enough to end. 

For years I had planned to quit. When I first met my wife, I told her if she married me I'd quit smoking. When I was in my twenties I told my mom I'd quit when I turned 30. Later, I told myself that when I turned 40 or when cigarettes cost more than $4.00 a pack, I'd quit smoking. I failed miserably at making any of these pivotal mile markers stick. 

On August 15, 2013, I was on assignment for The Virginian-Pilot. The task was to photograph one of our local surfing legends, Butch Maloney, and his power-driven longboard. Pretty basic. 

During the shoot, we talked and swapped stories about our love for our different sports. He shared the history of the birth of surfing in Virginia Beach, which he was a part of, and I told him about my passion for skateboarding and my connection to the history of skateboarding in VB. 

As the shoot was coming to an end, I noticed he was having a hard time breathing. Actually, that was an understatement. He really couldn't breath - it was painful to watch him carry his board a mere five feet. 

I asked him if he was okay and if he had asthma. He paused, caught his breath, shook his head, and said, "I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for fifty years!" 

Maloney was suffering from emphysema. 

Ironically, at that moment, I was craving a cigarette. Of course, I opted not to light up and we talked more. This time we switched gears from boards to breathing. I told him I smoked and how I'd struggled to quit for years, that I had quit several times before but always ended up succumbing to my weakness. I asked him how he overcame his urge to light up. 

His story was quit simple. 

"F#*K all those patches and gum and...Look, you can stop smoking as many times as you want, but you can only quit once. You have to be a man of your word!" 

Basically, he picked a date and told himself he was going to quit. He was a man of his word. 

It made a lot of sense to me. It was direct, honest, and to the point. It was then that I realized that I, and only I, was accountable for my choice to smoke or not to smoke. No one was going to quit for me or make me quit. 

Having told my wife years ago that I would quit, I decided to honor that promise (finally) and I quit smoking on August 26, 2013, our seven year wedding anniversary. 

Since that time, I've sent Butch updates on my status. He's even invited me to his 71st birthday to help blow out the candles, but only if I'm still a non-smoker. 

Ironically, last week an article in the paper informed me that since our last meeting Butch has almost died twice. Thankfully, his life was spared.

Hey Butch! If you're reading this, hang in there, homie. We're almost to October - I'll bring the cake and candles. 

Thanks for saving my life...

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