LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE HAMSTERS

“Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us.

We become what we repeatedly do.”

Sean Covey, author

 

Way back in the day, when I was much younger and not quite as wise as I am now, I would run early in the morning before work on a track field near my home. Like the folks who deliver the mail, it didn’t matter if it was raining or snowing – I got the job done. Wake up, suit up, and get moving. One winter day, after running two miles, I returned home and turned on the radio. The weatherman’s teeth were chattering as he informed us listeners that the current temperature was seventeen below zero. And that was the day, with my wife’s encouragement, I made friends with a treadmill.

Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi liked to remind his players that you win football games with fundamentals. His team had lost the NFL Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960. The following Spring, on the first day of training camp, he stood before his players and, holding the ball in his hand, he said, “Gentleman, this is a football.” You can’t get anymore fundamental than that. And starting there, his team would become the best in the league at all the basic skills of football. The next time around, playing for the championship, Green Bay beat the New York Giants 37 to 0.

“Runners,” now imagine me pointing to a machine with a large belt, plugged into the wall with handles leading up to a panel of bells and whistles, “This is a treadmill and when it moves it makes your feet go forward or you fly off the back, most likely without a happy landing.”

Remember, we’re talking fundamentals.

The treadmill got its start around 1817. It was used as a torture device to reform stubborn and idle convicts. Times have changed and the motivation to climb on a treadmill is now fitness. But the concept is the same –  forward motion. And it works. 50 million hamsters can’t be wrong. No excuse, if you want to be a runner then you have to run. And a treadmill cancels out any other plans the weatherman might have.

Now that we’ve given the treadmill the recognition it deserves, let’s talk about some other habits of a winner. How much time do you devote each day to reading and what kind of books are you using to fill your mind? Who are the people you’re spending time with?  Where do you go? What do you do when you get there? It all adds up. Save the time and money on a trip to the fortune teller. In a few years you’ll be the sum total of these habits and people.

It’s a great idea to take inventory every now and then. Is what you’re doing moving you down the road to success or up the creek of despair?

 

 

 

 

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THE POWER OF YET

“Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.”

Thomas H Palmer, author

Most teachers I know agree that the biggest obstacle to learning is the fear of failure. Somehow you have to get the idea across that it’s okay to make a mistake. If you put history under the microscope, you’ll see that most inventions didn’t work on the first try. And most gold medal winners didn’t become champions without a few setbacks and strikeouts.

I’m an educational aide in the city schools where I live. And I think at least one teacher I work with may have a solution to this problem. On her classroom wall, where every student can see it, is a poster called, The Power of Yet.

THE POWER OF YET

I can’t do this YET.

This doesn’t work YET.

I don’t know YET.

It doesn’t make sense YET.

I don’t get it YET.

I’m not good at this YET.

The actor Micky Rooney said, “You always pass failure on your way to success.” And to that let me add, “Why not enjoy the journey.”

 

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I had a short and sometimes painful career as an amateur boxer.  My interest in the sport waned when George Foreman retired.  But I still enjoy watching the greats of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s on You Tube. For all the punches they took to the head, these guys offer some great insight on The Power of Yet.

Joe Louis was The Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1937 to 1949. He defended his title a record 25 times. He had this to say about the path to success. “There is no such thing as a natural boxer. A natural dancer has to practice hard.  A natural painter has to paint all the time.  Even a natural fool has to work at it.”

In 1952 Floyd Patterson won a gold medal at the Olympics. Four years later he became Heavyweight Champion. After losing it in 1959, the following year he became the first boxer to regain the title.  Floyd observed, “I’ve learned so much, so very much about myself in defeat. I’ve learned very little to nothing in victory.”

At the age of 45 George Foreman won the Heavyweight Championship 20 years after losing it. The man he took it away from was 19 years younger. George said, “The world is full of people who want to play it safe, people who have tremendous potential but never use it. Somewhere deep inside them, they know they could do more in life, be more, and have more – if only they were willing to take a few risks.”

 

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And let’s not forget about the musician lost in New York City.

He stopped a passerby and asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

The answer he got was, “Practice, Practice, Practice.”

 

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     KEEP CALM AND DISCOVER THE POWER OF YET.

Dog Tale

“Outside of a dog, man’s best friend is a book,

Inside of a dog its too dark to read.”

Groucho Marx, comedian

 

I was a Marine. Just a Marine. Not a hero. Not even close. You won’t find my name in the history books. But I did serve. And fifty years later, I’m still moved when I hear the Marine Corps Hymn or see someone in their dress blue uniform. And the older I get it seems my tears come a little faster and the pain goes a little deeper when I hear about a fallen warrior.

“Semper Fidelis” is Latin for always faithful. And it’s the Marine Corps motto. Their mascot is a bulldog named “Chesty” named after the bigger than life Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in American History. And just how big of a bad ass was Chesty Puller? Surrounded by the Chinese and North Koreans, out numbered 8 to 1 – this was his assessment of the situation,  “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.”

During the first world war the Marines were given the name “Devil Dogs” by the German Soldiers they were fighting. The newspapers in the United States started printing stories about this event in early 1918 and guess what. Today, because of the Marines fierce fighting and the writers good reporting, the Marines are still Devil Dogs.

 

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The unofficial Postal Service motto is, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Many years ago I took a test to become a postal worker. And guess what. I failed big time. But that setback did not diminish my passion for receiving mail. It started in the marines, long before Skype. All these years later, I still look forward to “mail call.”

Whenever I have the pleasure of meeting a mail carrier, I like to ask, “How many times have you been bitten by a dog?” I read that on an average day in America, twenty-eight mailmen are bitten by dogs. I’m happy to report that our letter carrier, Brian, is still bite free.

In all my years of running it wasn’t until a short time ago that I was actually attacked by a dog. It didn’t look very big until it started chasing me. But it seemed to get bigger every time I looked back to see if it was gaining on me. In time, I was able to outrun the hungry animal. But before I got away he managed to snap off a patch of my sweatpants. I figure better my pants than my leg. Now like Brain our mail carrier, I’m armed with a can of pepper spray. Look out, Fido!

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight,

It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Mark Twain, author

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT

“You are the hero of your own journey.”

Joesph Campbell, author

The year was 1961, I was ten years old. And Jerry Lucas was my hero. He played center on The Ohio State University Basketball Team. I practiced basketball sunup till sundown. I wanted to be a super sports star like Mr. Lucas. He was 6 feet 8 inches tall. I wanted to be that tall too, so I ask my mother to pull on my legs as I held on to the staircase banister in the hope that it would stretch my legs and make me taller.

Many years later I had the honor of meeting Jerry Lucas and telling him about my quest to be a sports legend like him. When I explained what I had ask my Mother to do, I looked up at his 6 foot eight inch height as he looked down at my 5 foot ten inch height.

“I see it It didn’t work,” he said.

We both laughed. I shook his hand and thanked him for his inspiration and a head full of happy memories.

Author and speaker Steve Chandler has this advice, “Don’t look at your heroes, look inside your heroes.”

Even more important than talent is the quality of passion. As gifted as he was at the game, if Jerry Lucas didn’t like playing basketball no one would have ever heard of him. And if you don’t have that same kind of passion for what you’re doing then it’s time for some soul searching. What you want to be doing is what you ought to be doing. And you should be doing it with all your heart and soul fueling that passion with determination.

That brings me to another hero from my childhood. Before there was Jerry Lucas in the 60s, there was Chief Don Eagle in the 50s. He a wrestler, an Indian with a genuine Mohawk Haircut. One of his arch rivals was the infamous Gorgeous George. The chief was very clever and fun to watch. But sometimes the villain he was wrestling would appear to be getting the best of him. Now came the part of the match I had been waiting for since the start.

Chief Don Eagle would get mad. And I do mean mad. With the fans cheering him on, including me with a ringside seat in front of the television, he would perform a war dance. At this time, If his opponent had any sense at all, he would jump out of the ring. When the chief caught up with him, it was game over for the villain.

Whether it’s running a marathon race, baking a prize winning cake, or playing the violin, you have to have what the pundits call, “A Fire In The Belly.” And with that fire you give your chosen endeavor your best and leave nothing in the locker room – you’re still a winner no matter what the scoreboard or the judges say.

 

 

 

WHO ARE YOU TODAY?

“Always be yourself unless you can be a dinosaur,

then always be a dinosaur.”

Anonymous

     I work as a Substitute Educational Assistant in the city schools where I live. Whenever I report for work I’ll say “Good Morning” to the people I pass on the way to the classroom. And just about everyone I encounter will respond with, “Who Are You Today?” They want to know who I’m replacing. And it’s always fun to tell them I’m Betty, Susan, or Phyllis – whatever the case may be.

     Most of my assignments have been with Special Needs Children. I’m suppose to be helping them. But the truth is they are the real teachers. I’m talking about lessons in courage, confidence, and commitment – all the things that make a great athlete. So let’s take that same question, “Who Are You Today?” and apply it to running in a marathon race.

“I Yam What I Yam.”

Popeye The Sailor Man

 

     Popeye got it right when he made this statement. The most important part of any race starts long before you even lace up your running shoes. Even more important than eating spinach to build strong muscles is knowing that what you believe is what you become. You have to take charge of that little voice inside your head. Teach it to say, “I am strong. I am powerful. I can do this. I am a winner.”

 

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet.”

Mahatma Gandhi, lawyer, politician and activist

 

     Sadly, there will never be a shortage of critics. People will be jealous that you’re even attempting to take on the challenge of running 26.2 miles. And they will be more than happy to tell you why you shouldn’t even try. These people are not your friends. Your real friends will say,”Yes you can.” and they will be there cheering you on every step of the way.

 

“What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.”

Helen Keller, author

 

You can learn a lot about winning from a spider. Yes, I said spider. And the spider I’m talking about is The Itsy Bitsy Spider from the nursery rhyme. Remember every time the rain washed him out of the water spout, he made a comeback. So if you run a less than perfect race, sign up and try again. Never leave home without your inner spider.

 

“Everything you tell yourself matters.

It can feel like a punch or a hug – your choice.”

Anonymous

 

     The biggest race we’re all part of is the human race. Before leaving the starting line, “Who are you today?” is a great question to ask yourself first thing in the morning. At the end of the day, asking, “Who were you today?” is an even better question. I hope you can answer, My mission was peace and love. I did my best. I had a great time. If I fell short, tomorrow is another day. I will try again.

 

DETOUR

“The really happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery even when they have to take a detour.”

Sir James Jeans, physicist and astronomer

 

At age 35, I had no plans to ever run 26.2 miles in a marathon race.

Now, here I am, a senior citizen, telling you I’ve run that far in races over forty times and I’m getting ready to do it again.

What happened?

This tale begins in 1971.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was nineteen years old, on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. After eighteen months in the service, I was more than certain that I was not meant to be all the things Marines are famous for.

But what was my future?

I discovered what I believed the answer was in a book called, The Lunacy Boom by William Zinsser.

It was about all the zany things going on in America. Included was a story about a Clown College operated by Ringling Brothers Circus. I could feel it in my bones, this was my destiny. In a few short weeks they promised to teach all the skills required to perform in their famous three-ring circus. I sent for an application. But before I could experience the thrill of performing in The Greatest Show On Earth, there were some things in my way.

I still had another eighteen months of service ahead of me. Then I learned out of thousands that applied each year, Clown College only accepted 80 students. I considered my options.

With an honorable discharge from the Marines, I was entitled to money for a college education.

So the first stop on my way to Clown College was Ohio University then look out Ringling Brothers – here I come. It took a while but in time I earned a degree. Along the way came marriage, fatherhood, divorce, financial setbacks, and a whole lot of depression. I applied to Clown College year after year. And year after year they turned me down.

I started making regular visits to counseling in an effort to get my head screwed on straight. It was not easy. For a short time, I was on medication. Following the advice of a psychiatrist, I laced up my first good pair of running shoes. A whole new world began to open up for me. I felt better. I made some great friends. I helped some worthy charities. And with a stack of finisher medals earned some bragging rights.

This long detour has been a real treat. I’m happy but I still want to be a circus clown. Ringling Brothers is out of business. So after I finish The Boston Marathon, I’ll trade my running shoes for a red nose and some grease paint. I’ll start looking for another circus. I hear there are some great clown schools in New York City.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

George Eliot, novelist and poet

 

 

RUNNING BUDDIES

“Book Now!

Imaginary Friends Stay Free.”

Marque on The Hampton Inn –  Lancaster, Ohio

Every book I’ve ever read on the subject of running encourages you to make friends with other runners and train as a group. Why not? Runners lead a positive lifestyle. Most of the time they eat right, think right and act right. What we’re talking about are the benefits of hanging out with people who want the best for you.

In my thirty plus years of running, I have enjoyed being part of several running clubs. On race day,  it’s been fun sharing the struggle and celebration with my buddies. But for my next adventure, I’m going to try something new, running with my imaginary friends.

On one side of me at the starting line is Rocky Marciano and on the other side is Norman Vincent Peale.

The most important quality a long distance runner needs is tenacity – the ability to just keep going, one foot in front of the other no matter what. There is no better athlete to illustrate this virtue than Rocky Marciano, the only Heavyweight Boxing Champion to retire undefeated. He won 43 of his 49 victories by knockout. He was relentless. Sports writer Bert Sugar said, “A building could fall on Rocky Marciano and he would still be swinging at you.”

Just like the Tortoise in the famous race against the Hare, in the beginning, Rocky didn’t look like a sure bet to become champion. He was clumsy, lacking style and grace. What couldn’t be measured in the beginning, soon became apparent as Rocky began knocking out all his opponents. For most of the early rounds in his fights against the top contenders he looked like the loser.

Bruised and battered he kept after his opponents and just plain wore them out. It looked like he became stronger with each passing round. He soon became famous for his right hand, a knockout punch that sports writers named the Susie Q. Rocky’s trainer, Charlie Goldman, said, “I got a guy who’s short, stoop-shouldered and balding with two left feet. They all look better than he does as far as moves are concerned, but they don’t look so good on the canvas. God, how he can punch.”

Norman Vincent Peale was pastor of The Marble Collegiate Church in New York City for over 50 years. He wrote, The Power Of Positive Thinking, a book that stayed at the top of the best seller list for two years. His message is still studied by those who want to be winners. Dr. Peale said, “People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.”

I’m certain that Rocky and Norman are not going to tell me to try and knock out the other runners. But I am sure they are both going to encourage me to give the challenge my best effort and never give up.