THE WRITING ON (AND OFF) THE WALL EX-SOCAL BEACH BOY CLAWS HIS WAY BACK.
Randy Niles struggled a bit as he navigated through the swelling crowd near the Manhattan Beach pier on an overcast Saturday morning, stopping every few steps to catch his breath.
As he finally sat down a few feet from the water, he wiggled his toes in the sand, but admitted he could barely feel anything.
As one of Southern California's better beach volleyball players of his day back in the 1960s and '70s, Niles understandably felt rather embarrassed to be seen in his present condition. Long-time acquaintances and former playing partners didn't care as they gave him a hug or a pat on the back as he gingerly worked his way toward the outside courts Saturday morning at the Manhattan Beach Open tournament.
But for the chance to see his 22-year-old daughter, Brooke, compete in the women's bracket at this famed Association of Volleyball Players event, at the same place where he once showed his stuff, this was all worth the extra effort.
The proud pop was a regular at her matches when she was a standout setter and hitter at Calabasas High and then onto an All-American career at UC Santa Barbara.
But this was the first time the 54-year-old was able to actually make it out to marvel at Brooke's abilities on the beach, where she has been coming out the past few years against some of the world's top players.
It will probably be his last visit.
``I wish I was in any kind of shape so I could just play one match with her,'' he said wistfully as he sat off to the side while Brooke and Courtney Guerra, the former Royal High of Simi Valley standout, teamed up for their first double-elimination match on Court 10.
Randy Niles suffers from a congestive heart condition, which developed after a six-way bypass operation in 1995. He also has diabetes, which accounts for the poor circulation and numbness in his hands and feet. And high blood pressure. Some days, he's so weak, he can't get out of bed. He's become bloated by changing medication and often doesn't want to recognize himself.
He suffers from skin cancer - he had more cancerous tissue removed from his arms the other day. Next week, he has an appointment to have further testing on a mass developing in his abdomen that showed up in a recent X-ray.
With his heart now pumping at about 20 percent, doctors had given him about a year to live. That was 2 1/2 years ago.
Only because he's finally able to afford some of his prescriptions - Social Security disability payments built from 20 years working at General Telephone help, but it's largely because of monthly contributions by generous friends - has he made it to this point.
``It's a little tough accepting it,'' said Niles, who lives modestly in a bachelor rental in Thousand Oaks after once spending some time living on the street, broke and depressed, after helping rear his family in Woodland Hills. ``I've been successful and here I am a pauper. But I don't require much. Expectations aren't that high.''
Brooke, now an assistant coach at UC Santa Barbara, supplied him with a phone and has kept in frequent contact while living in Ventura. She keeps her emotions in check when talking about his condition, which he only revealed to her and her three siblings about six months ago.
``It's really nice to have family around when I'm playing, and I know he can't make it out as much as he used to,'' Brooke said.
``I never did get to see him play (beach volleyball), only in the backyard messing around, and I was probably one of those kids who wouldn't listen to their parents anyway - what does he know, right? But as I get older I am finally asking him now about playing and get tips.''
He had plenty to offer Saturday, solicited or not, shouting encouragement, critiquing her passing and serving, trying to get her to conserve energy after long rallies.
``Take your time!'' he yelled out to her once during a changeover.
``We're in shape,'' she said back with a smile, wiping the sweat off her forehead.
Randy Niles, who also played four years in the Angels' minor-league system as a catcher in the late '60s before injuries forced him to quit, never won a cent playing on the beach, leaving it about five years before it started to become the money-making, corporate-sponsored event of today.
The strong legs that once carried him through marathon matches with and against legends of his time such as Ron Von Hagen, Greg and Jon Lee, Chris Marlowe, Steve Obradovich, Jim Menges and even Wilt Chamberlain are now so weakened, it takes this new vision of his daughter to jog his memory back.
``Nice dig, Brooke!'' he yells out. ``Kinda reminds me of her daddy.''
When her run with Guerra ended Saturday - one victory, two losses, a 17th-place finish and $200 check - he gave Brooke time to decompress from the final defeat, then put a kiss on her right cheek before heading out.
``You have no idea what it's like to watch her play now,'' he said as the sun finally started to peek out after a morning of hiding behind the cloud covering.
7 photos, box
(1) Former beach volleyball player Randy Niles, in poor health, sits and watches his daughter, Brooke, compete at the Manhattan Beach Open.
David Sprague/Staff Photographer
(2) no caption (Lakers and referee)
(3) JERED WEAVER
(4) KURT WARNER
(5) MILTON BRADLEY
(6) no caption (Frank McCourt)
(7) - Shannon Sharpe, who retired after 14 years in the NFL to take a job as a studio analyst with CBS