Craft beer brewing rocket scientist helps blind athletes achieve their dreams

Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at info@tourismgymhtx.com

When I was waiting tables, many out-of-towners asked me the same question: "What do you Houstonians do? It seems all you do is eat and drink.'' I never took offense to this question because on many levels, it is true. But, I knew the thing that they didn't understand was that Houston's real tourism is our hospitality. That hospitality is provided by servers, bartenders, restaurant owners, small business owners, and whoever else I'm not mentioning. For a big city, our pace is a bit slower than New York, L.A. or Chicago…..because we are one of the friendliest large cities in the world. Let me tell you about this precious gem that I just met.

It was the fourth time I had been to the new brewery in Houston, True Anomaly. I pull up to the bar and hear a raspy, male voice ask, "What beer would you like?" I look up from the menu to see a bald "bartender" with an athletic build reaching to shake my hand. I oblige and we make our introductions. "I'm Ben, one of the owners." "Awesome, I'm Jovan. I own Houston Tourism Gym. I'm meeting some tourists here in a bit and I'll have the Spotts Park Pale Ale."

"Houston Tourism Gym, huh, that sounds cool," He's making small talk while pouring my beer.

"Yeah, its inspired of my international marathon travels." I reply.

"I run marathons!" he says proudly. "I've done 15 half and 4 fulls and I serve with Catapult as a guide for blind runners."

"What's Catapult?"

Let's stop here. Over my years training in Houston, I had seen blind runners being guided before. During my volunteering for the Houston Marathon, this year, I saw a blind runner being guided at Mile 9 where I was stationed. I never knew who organized the effort or how I could get into it, but I was intrigued. I saw this as an opportunity for this article and a reason to find out a little more about Ben.

Ben running the difficult Decker Challenge tethered to a runner.

"It's a non-profit, based in Houston, that assists blind and disabled runners to run distance races."

I feel the tears begin to well up in my eyes. I try to hide them. "I'd like to know more about how you got into that. Can I sit down and pick your brain?"

We made plans for the next Sunday.

The next Sunday.

This is how our conversation went.

Tell me a little bit about yourself: "Well, I grew up in Dallas. I'm 35 years old and I went to UT and Georgia Tech," he says in his raspy voice.

How did you get into beer brewing? "Michael, Tom, David, and I (the other founders) met at our internship at NASA in the mid 2000's. We formed friendships and found that we had a fascination with beer. So, we started experimenting with homebrews. We, being science nerds took to it quickly and found that it was 90% cleaning and 10% efficiency."

Yeah, I heard that you all were NASA guys. What did you do at NASA? I'm a rocket scientist.

Did he just say that he was a rocket scientist?

"Yes, and I still work at NASA." Needless to say, I'm impressed.

So, tell me how your brewery got its start. Well, we started brewing in a garage. Since we were home-brew and not in an actual brewery, we couldn't sell it. We would just invite over friends for BBQ's. They supplied the food and we supplied the beer. We were able to get feedback for our beers this way. We would also serve our beer at the Johnson Space Center Chili Cookoff every year. Let's just say, our tent was really popular.

Is your beer in space? (I'm being a little coy now.) Being that space exploration is half Russian endeavor, there is more vodka in space than beer. But, our logo is in space.

Very cool.

So how is it different to brew in a brewery with all the equipment than home brewing? It's better water. It's cleaner. We actually treat our water to taste the way we want it to taste in our beer. Water is the most important ingredient in beer. You have to start with good water. It's much like how a chef cooks a dish in a restaurant.

I knew exactly what he mean't. To make a great dish, you can't season the food afterward. A good chef knows that he must season every part of the dish before he cooks it.

But, what I really wanted to know about was how he got into being a running guide. I switch gears.

How did you get into running? I was always into sports, but, I thought running was not a main event, but a part of a sport ( just like Meb)Like you have to run in soccer. My girlfriend, at the time, wanted to run a half marathon for the first time. I agreed to run with her to support her. And I never looked back.

What's your half marathon time? About a 1:50:00. (That's one hour and fifty minutes for 13.1 miles or 8:50min./mile).

What's your favorite marathon? My favorite is the Decker Half marathon in Austin. It's really difficult. I like the challenge.

How did you get involved with Catapult? I saw them running in Memorial Park and looked them up on the internet. I felt that I had been involved in a lot of self serving endeavors and so I started with Catapult as a volunteer outlet.

I looked Catapult up. This is no slap dash operation. These runners are very serious about their sport. They are competitive and have goals to run in the Boston marathon. To be a guide with Catapult, you really have to commit. This is no Mile 9 at the Houston Marathon and brunch at Hungry's. Ben runs 12 miles most Saturdays and stays ready to run a half marathon at all times. He has to be ready because the competitive runners choose their guides to fit their goals.

Tell me about your first experience as a guide. His name was Nick. He had 6 kids. Super impressive and super competitive. He loved speed because he ran track, but he was not a distance runner. I was actually worried that I would slow him down. It turned out that he was not naturally a distance runner. He needed to slow down to finish the race.

Those negative splits are hard to master (a negative split is when a runner starts his race slower then finishes faster. It takes practice because of your excitement. It requires a lot of self control). Another catch was, they could not train together because they lived in different cities. They got to practice by running the 5K before the marathon together.

So what's next for you? I'm thinking a triathlon.

Have you ever thought about a distance race in another country? I haven't but that sounds cool.

I tell him about the Dramathon in Scotland and the Comrades in South Africa. He'll look into it, he assures me.

Remember I said that Ben still works for NASA… I had to contact him to get some pictures. He apologizes for being slow to respond because….wait for it…..he got called to go to Cape Canaveral to work. That's super cool mister.


Ben making first contact with a patron.

It's Saturday, back at True Anomaly. It's their grand opening. I steered my Up For Whatever Adventure (which went very well I might add) to the brewery to get some more pictures of Ben. I watched him as he worked. He was super friendly to his patrons making sure to introduce himself and shake everyone's hand. I saw him sweeping and doing whatever he could to help his team. I wondered what kind of self talk enables him to switch gears from rocket scientist to beer brewer to CFO to floor sweeper.

I wonder if I could ever commit to being a guide for blind runners. I'll look into it as well as that difficult Decker Half Marathon in December. But, for now, I'll just sit here and enjoy my Ben's IPA.

Pixabay.com

Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at info@tourismgymhtx.com. Follow her on Twitter @jovanabernathy. Instagram @TourismGymHtx. Facebook @TourismGymHtx

If you are anything like me, you love the beginning of the year. You check all the running calendars and pick out all your races for the year. You go to the local running store and buy your new shoes. You even get a pair of new socks to go with them. You download some music....to get ready for your first run of the season. You get to the park and put your feet on the cinder path. You about a quarter of a mile in......and you run out of steam. You are just not as motivated as you thought. I know I'm not the only one. Because I made it my job to motivate you I have created a short list of things that can motivate you quickly.

Nothing like good tunes on the open road.

Pixabay.com

Music

This sounds like the obvious answer. Of course music is motivating. When was the last time that your heard a song and really felt it? Like, you really got it. When I trained for the Houston marathon in 2008, I was really feeling Refugee by Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers. I had come off of a rough patch and I was ready to move forward. Tom, singing his heart out with, "You don't have to live like a refugee." just resonated with me because I knew that I was not going back to that. I got to acknowledge the hardship, recognize that it was significant and that it was over and agree to move on. This leads me to my training for the 2009 Honolulu Marathon. No Drama by Mary J. Blige was the song. I decided to actively "allow no more drama in my life." Those songs got me through training and the finish line.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Pixabay.com

Your favorite Superhero.

My favorite thing to do when I run is to pretend that I have superhuman strength and abilities. I imagine myself in different scenarios overcoming odds and doing super cool things just for the hell of it. Because running did not come naturally for me, it felt like I needed superhuman powers to get through a run. It really seemed to fit. Here are a couple of superheroes who have always done it for me:

The Juggarnaut: Because once he gets started and gains momentum, he cannot be stopped. Not by rain or a heavy wind blowing against him or a slow and steady incline that never seems to end.

The Wolverine: He heals fast. It you have a cramp, a sprain, a pull, or your legs, toes, or feet are hurting, you can be the Wolverine and it will heal in about 10 secs.

The Phoenix: The bad thing about the Phoenix is that there is nothing that she can't do so, for this exercise, you have to be specific. This helps me take my mind off of pain and think about something I like to call "micro impossibilities." If the concrete of the road is bothering your joints, you could imagine that you are the Phoenix and that you can change your drops of sweat into a path that you can run on instead of the concrete. And everyone knows that running on sweat is great for your joints!

Live oaks look like lightening.

Pixabay.com

Nature

Nature has a lot of things to glean inspiration from. I am obsessed with fractal patterns. Fractal patterns are reoccurring patterns in nature. They signify how things start from a small seed, grows and replicates. They are the natural order of things and a great example of why science is so cool and how and why you can count on it every single time.

They make me think about all the possibilities that are out there and how everything is connected. Live oaks are native to Houston. Have you ever noticed that the trunk and branches of a live oak tree look exactly like lightning. I see a row of live oaks and I think of a thunder storm because it looks just like that. I makes me think of having a brainstorm. I always ask myself: What else do I have up there? See how this works. Flowers and leaves are great for this too.

If you are on your next run and you are starting to run out of gas or feel pain, remember to look up, look down, and definitely don't forget to look inside yourself. You will find yourself at the finish line.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome