THE BEST QUESTION

“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice”

Brian Herbert, author

Just outside the city limits where I live you’ll discover a place called Alley Park. Waiting there for your enjoyment are miles of hiking trails nestled among rolling hills and forest. Bring your bait and tackle because near the entrance is a giant lake for fishing. And located next to the lake is a lodge you can rent for your next wedding, dance, or birthday party. No need to feel lonely, you’ll be sharing this experience with a happy group of woodland creatures including snakes, rabbits, owl, deer, squirrels, fish, frogs, toads, and skunks.

Starting at the east end of the lake there is a winding trail over the hills and through the woods.

Just like the song, it may sound like we’re going to grandma’s house. But that’s not the case here. A half a mile later this hike brings us to another lake. It was here, many summers ago, my wife and I witnessed an exciting quest to conquer the high seas.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Helen Keller, author

Ignoring “No Trespassing and Private Property” signs, three boys hoisted a makeshift raft over the fence which separated the park from a farm. With rope, they had lashed together four large oil drums and made a deck out of wooden planks.  With unmatched enthusiasm, the ship builders headed out to sea. They were about half way across the lake when they must have hit the same iceberg that sank the Titanic. Their raft came apart in half a dozen pieces. Sorry, I can’t print what was said as they swam to shore then disappeared over the horizon.

From time to time I think about those boys. Put me in charge of handing out grades they earn an A for adventure. After changing into dry clothes and some time to reflect, I wonder what kind of conversation they had? Since they all survived the sinking of their ship and safely made it back to dry land, did they vow to try again?  I have no way of knowing what they did next but in my opinion the best question these young pioneers could ask themselves is, what did we learn?

“You always pass failure on your way to success.”

Micky Rooney, actor

I think we should put on our party pants and celebrate failure. Where would we be without it?

It is most often given a bad name but rarely do we ever get anything right on the first try. So failure ought to be seen as a mark of courage. Ask Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Colonel Sanders, Dr. Seuss, Stephen King, or Henry Ford. They were all failures, some many times over, before the world caught on to their gifts and talents. So dust off your dreams and have another go at it.

GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME

“As a kid, I got three meals a day, oatmeal, miss-a-meal and no meal.”

Mr. T, actor

 

For me a typical trip to the grocery store usually includes a stop in aisle 27. That’s where they stock the shelve with oatmeal. After all, if you want to be a champion, you have to eat like a champion. If oatmeal is good enough for the winner of the Kentucky Derby, then it’s good enough for me, a marathon runner.  Check out this proverb,“It is not the horse that draws the cart, but the oats.”

Secretariat, the record setting hall of fame racehorse, ate 15 quarts of oats a day. And when it was time for a workout, to turn the oatmeal into muscle the champ did speed work. I’m not quite up to 15 quarts, I’m holding steady at one bowl of oatmeal a day. Splash in some vegan friendly milk and some berries then say grace and were ready for breakfast. I’ll use some toast and a fruit smoothie to bring my fuel tank up to full.

My speed work is done on a track near my home or on a treadmill at the gym where I also lift weights. Long runs take me to the bike path that stretches sixteen miles across town. And yoga is done in the comfort of my living room.

Time for lunch where I will share the salad bar with an elephant, rhino, hippo, bison, wildebeest, manatee, deer, whale, and yak who, like the horse, are vegans.

Eating vegan is not a new idea. Some great minds caught on to the benefits of this lifestyle many years ago. Plato, one of the big thinkers of ancient Athens said, “The Gods created certain kinds of beings to replenish our bodies; they are the trees and the plants and the seeds.”

Going vegan makes better use of water, air, and soil. Vegans live longer, have lower cancer rates, and heart disease. They also have more fun on a date.

“I personally choose to go vegan because I educated myself on factory farming and cruelty to animals, and I suddenly realized that what was on my plate were living things with feelings. And I just couldn’t disconnect myself from it any longer.” Ellen DeGeneres, entertainer

A whole bunch of athletes are now enjoying the benefits of going vegan. I like the way actor and author Pino Caruso said it, “People eat and think they will become strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.”

Patrik Baboumian, who holds world records in power lifting, is a vegan.

Scott Jurek, one of the greatest runners of all time, is a vegan.

Venus Williams, one of the best tennis players ever, is a vegan.

And then there’s Jerry Snider, that’s me. I’m not yet a household name in the world of sports, entertainment or literature, but the game is not over yet. Meantime, please pass me the tofu fries.

Thank you.

Peace and love.

 

 

 

 

JUST FOR ME

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”

Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist

 

Let me give you a short tour inside my wallet.  Here we have my driver’s license, insurance cards, family photos, a dollar or two and one of my most prize possessions – a library card.  So, If you ring my doorbell and no one answers, you may want to start your search for me at The Fairfield County District Library 219 North Broad Street Lancaster, Ohio. I’m there nearly every day of the week. And, unless I drop the ball and return a book late, this magic carpet ride is free.

Motivational author and speaker Les Brown offered this advice for those seeking higher enlightenment, “If you’re the smartest person in the room then you need to find another room.”

Thanks for the advice, Les. I found a room where there are several people a lot smarter than I am.

These people call themselves librarians. And just what is a librarian?  I like this definition by author Matt Haig. He said, “Librarians are just like search engines, except they smile and they talk to me and they don’t give me paid – for advertising when they are trying to help. And they have actual hearts.”

I am well aware that hundreds of knowledge seekers like myself travel up and down the same stairwells of the library I visit. And even though the walls are decorated for everyone to see, there is one piece of information posted on the wall that I feel was put there JUST FOR ME. Midway down two flights of stairs from the main lobby to the reference room, someone was kind enough to decorate the wall with this quote from author C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream.”

It’s a pretty safe bet that at age sixty-eight I have more years behind me than I do ahead of me. So what. Nothing I can do about the clock or the calendar. But I still know who I am and where I am. And I’m certain there are enough brain cells under my hat and inside my head to keep on learning, exploring, and enjoying this whacked out world we live in.

Now let’s take a trip to the circus. Have you ever watched the performers on a trapeze? You have the catcher on one set of ropes and the flier on another. As they swing back and forth when the catcher is ready to receive the flier he shouts “HEP!” At that instant the flier has to let go of his swing if he is to successfully latch onto the catcher’s arms. The same principal applies to you and me. When the sun rises, let go of yesterday and grab hold of today.

No matter how many candles are on your birthday cake, opportunities to enjoy new adventures are everywhere. What are you waiting for? “HEP”

NO ENTRY FEE

“We are here and it is now.

Further than that all humane knowledge is moonshine.”

H. L. Mencken, journalist

 

When the topic of moonshine comes up, the first thing I think of is a still hidden in the backwoods where some good ole boys are cranking out liquor for fun and profit. But there is a second part to the definition. Moonshine not only means, “illicitly distilled or smuggled liquor but it also means foolish talk or ideas.”  So let’s work with the second part of the equation, “foolish talk or ideas.”

I am a runner in my late sixties. And not long ago a friend, also a runner in her late sixties, shared the plans for her 100th birthday party.

“I’m going to host a 5k race,” she said.

“I think that’s a great idea,” was my response.

Then, after we shared some laughter, she had more exciting news for me.

“And for you,” she said, “no entry fee.”

I’m always excited with the prospect of a bargain so I accepted her offer right then and there.

Now that I’ve committed myself to this grand adventure, it’s time to start training.

 

     *            *            *

Successful people set goals. And that is fine but it is “foolish talk or a bad idea” to wait until you reach that goal to be happy. The super successful folks among us understand the real joy is found in the journey toward reaching that goal. I have a few decades to get ready for that birthday party 5K. So here is what I plan to do. Taking advice from the author Earl Nightingale, I’m going to “live with gratitude and positive expectation.”  And I’m not only going to pay my bills: electric, phone, insurance… I’m also going to pay attention.

Not long ago my wife and I were sitting near a fountain in the town square where we live. It was a beautiful day. Clouds were rolling by in a fantastic blue sky and a gentle breeze made the temperature ideal. I looked around at the folks sitting nearby to see who we were sharing this experience with. I counted twelve people and sadly they were all looking at their phones. I’m in favor of communication. In fact, I have a degree in the subject. But come on folks, real life is out here and not in that tiny piece of technology you hold in your hands. God and nature put on some fantastic shows and like my entry into that race, it’s all free. Pay attention.

Here is another bonus. The is no fee for courtesy and kindness. And the two never go out of fashion. I’m no fortune teller but I’m going predict that by the time that 5K race gets here on my friend’s birthday, courtesy and kindness will still be in fashion. So if you and I cross paths on the running trail, grocery store and all stops in between expect a smile and a kind hello.

 

 

 

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.

COACH MOSES

“A good painting to me has always been like a friend.

It keeps me company, comforts and inspires.”

Hedy Lamarr, actress

 

Any book you read on the topic of success will encourage you to find a good role model. I would be willing to bet I’m the only marathon runner to choose Grandma Moses for the job.

Just in case you don’t know, let me explain what the word marathon means. For a runner like myself the word marathon means left foot, right foot, a whole bunch of times until you’ve gone 26.2 miles. I ran my first marathon race in 1986 finishing in 5 hours. In the years that followed, I managed to cross the finish line in less than 4 hours on four different occasions. My personal best is 3 hours and 37 minutes. Now If you hang out with serious runners long enough, you will hear this question.

“Have you run the Boston Marathon?”

My answer has always been no. But that is going to change very soon. And if you’re waiting for the punch line to a joke, there is none. I’m serious.

The Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of running. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon. They have been in business since 1897. It started with just 15 runners. Now there are 30,000. And to become part of that group you have to qualify at another marathon race and finish it in a certain time. For my age group, I need to clock in under 4 hours and 10 minutes. That’s a 9 minute and 30 second mile pace.

Now about Grandma Moses and how she came to be one of my running coaches. At the age of 76, when arthritis made it impossible to embroider, she picked up a paint brush. When the brush became too painful to hold in one hand, she would hold it with the other. With no formal training Grandma Moses completed over 1500 paintings. Some of them selling for as much as $10,000.00.

And thanks to President Truman, one of them hangs in The White House. She kept painting until her death at age 101.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

When you talk about late bloomers, a person who does not discover their gift or talent until late in life, Grandma Moses is at the top of the list.

But I’m a runner and not a painter you say. Yes and no. True, I don’t run with a brush and easel in my hands. But I do run with an imagination. And that is where I do my painting. I see myself running with the rhythm of a locomotive, the grace of a ballet dancer, and the glide of an eagle as I cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Grandma Moses was a late bloomer and so am I.

You can be too.

See you at the finish line.