By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Hey, Super Bowl tourists. The only topic the sports pages, TV, and Internet want to discuss before the February 4 Super Bowl is Peyton and Rex. The unstoppable offense versus the brick wall defense. Chi-Town versus that other pueblo next door.
But forget about that stuff. Down here we have some real athletes. And some real sports.
And we don't mean Dan Maroone ... um, Marino.
Robert "Raven" Kraft looks like a regular 56-year-old freckled, sun-damaged complexion; slightly sagging skin; long, dark locks peppered with gray; nearly white chest and facial hair.
But the legs are awe-inspiring.
They are neither unduly muscular nor enviously shaped. They are long and lean, and function like well-oiled pistons. Over the past 32 years, they have powered his slender frame nearly 94,000 miles. "I'm on a mission," he says from his apartment on Ocean Drive and Third Street in South Beach. "I'm on a journey to make people healthy."
Raven is not paid a whopping salary, and he has no sponsors. He has never possessed a driver's license, never flown in an airplane, and never had a full-time job. He does not party. He rarely leaves his home.
Running is his life and has been ever since he set himself a personal goal January 1, 1975: Run every day on the beach for one year.
More than 117,000 days later he has yet to falter.
"It took me awhile to find out what I'm supposed to be doing in my life," he says. "And this is it."
Like clockwork, he departs from the sand next to the Fifth Street lifeguard station at 4:00 p.m., dressed from head to toe in black headband, baggy shorts, calf-length socks, and sneakers. From there he runs an eight-mile loop.
He has run through 82 pairs of sneakers, six presidencies, two Gulf Wars, three decades, and the advent of global warming hurricane-force winds, sleet that made his skull bleed, torrential subtropical downpours, and scorching sun.
And he is not about to stop.
"Hard to imagine," he says. "I'd be like a vegetable."
Who is the greatest jai alai player alive? Ask the little old lady sitting in the stands at the Miami Jai-Alai arena and she'll scoff.
"I play by the numbers," she answers, waving the program like scripture. "If you play by the numbers, you have to bet on Goikoetxea." The plump little man taking dollars at the door will tell you the same.
Inakai "Goikoetxea" Osa is the best jai alai player in the world, and few people in Miami know it. Goikoe himself refuses to acknowledge what his stats he wins a quarter of his matches and places in more than half of them confirm. He is the golden boy of the moribund sport.
Goikoe's modesty might stem from the fact that he never wanted to play jai alai in the first place at least not professionally. He grew up in the small Basque town of Zumaia, on the northern coast of Spain. He surfed every day and began playing pelota only when his brothers gave him a cesta. It was his father, a fisherman, who pushed him to travel to Milan at age sixteen to play.
Six months later he began competing in Rhode Island and then moved to Orlando. In 2003 he came to Miami.
Milan's and Rhode Island's jai alai operations have shut down, along with Connecticut's and five of Florida's consolidating only the best of the best players in the few poorly attended frontons still remaining. At age 26, Goikoe trumps them all.
But the spoils are few. Salaries seldom top $100,000, and groupies no longer exist.
He lives with his girlfriend, an optician, in Doral. He plays seven times a week, evening games and matinees. The late games are poorly attended. Few enthusiasts like to drive at night.
In the basket room behind the court, Goikoe refuses to acknowledge his greatness. He waves a friendly hello toward the card table crowded with players and tall stacks of clay chips. Then he heads back to the locker room to stretch.
"It is a beautiful sport for me," he says. "I feel bad; I wish it was like twenty years ago. If the people came, I think they'd like the game."
Brian Delatorre began skateboarding in the cul-de-sacs of Kendall when he was thirteen years old. In seven short years, he's gone from the suburbs to a two-page spread in Slap magazine, one of the skating world's most popular reads.
He's also been featured in many skateboarding videos, with descriptions like this: "Brian Delatorre has a name that sounds like a mafia cat, but his style is anything but mob. He rips hard and has some bangers that were hard-hitting as hell."
Whatever that means, it must be good. Companies have sponsored everything from his clothes (Planet Earth) to his board (Creation Skateboards). Other contracts are in the works.
Brian, who is nineteen years old, doesn't have a job or go to school. His life is skating.