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.

THE OLD MAN AT THE LAKE

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

Hop on the running trail near my home and three or so miles down the path we’ll come to a lake.

There we will find folks fishing, feeding the ducks, enjoying a picnic or going for a stroll. Every now and then you’ll find me running laps around the lake, taking in the scenery and breathing fresh air.

One Summer day some kids set off some firecrackers as I passed by.  I turned to see what was going on and heard one of the pranksters say, “Look, you scared that old man.” they all laughed and I kept running.

There was no one else running with me so there was no room for doubt. I was the old man they were talking about.  I will admit to having long gray hair and a full beard to match but I wasn’t ready then and I’m not ready now to call myself an old man. But I will admit that from time to time I do get scared.

For example, I’m afraid of heights which is why, except for special occasions, I never wear my wife’s high heel shoes.

Rim shot!

But seriously, Folks.

Author Jack Canfield said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

So how do we get to that other side?

Nike has the solution – “Just Do It!”

Think about it. There may be something out there you want. In my case, I want to run in The Boston Marathon. It’s a pretty sure bet that if I don’t train hard and run fast enough to qualify, I’m going to be staying home on race day.

What is it for you? What do you want to be, do, or have? Why not go for it? Well you say, you might try and fail. Then what? Think about it. If you try and fail you won’t walk away empty-handed.

Win or lose, you’ll be happy in your rocking chair knowing you went after your dream.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A TALE OF TWO TILLIES

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Snoopy, famous beagle and would be author

“Everybody loves a clown.”

Gary Lewis and the Playboys, rock and roll band

 

At Pickerington High School my senior year, Mrs. Tillie Brooks taught two subjects. The first subject, business and accounting, she taught to all students. The second subject, compassion, as far as I know she taught only me.

The dictionary definition of compassion is, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

To set the stage let me tell you that I had a troubled youth. I struggled in school and with life. My solution, I thought at the time, was to enlist in the Marines. This was 1970 and the Vietnam War was still front page news. My future did not look all that rosy.

I needed to pass Mrs. Brooks class in order to receive my diploma. And from all indications, it wasn’t going to happen. But Tillie Brooks, the teacher famous for you get what you earn and you earn what you get, stepped in with a new plan of action. Allowing me to do some extra work and fudging my grade a bit, my grade card showed a C for compassion in accounting.

 

*            *            *

My name is Jerry Lee Snider. People ask me if I was named after the rock and roll legend, Jerry Lee Lewis. The answer is no. I was born before Mr. Lewis became famous. My grandmother named me Jerry Lee in honor of two of her favorite entertainers. They were Jerry Byrd and Ernie Lee. Mr Byrd played steel guitar on several recordings by Hank Williams Senior including the hits, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Lovesick Blues. He also worked with Dolly Parton and Pasty Cline. Ernie Lee was the singing host of several radio shows in the 40s and 50s.

And that brings us to Tillie number two.

She called me Joey.

I was very young and she was very scary.  And no matter how many times or who in the family corrected her and told her my name was Jerry, to Aunt Tillie I was still Joey.

Turns out Aunt Tillie was a prophet.

A clown is a comical, silly, playful person.

And in circus lingo clowns are called Joeys in honor of Joseph Grimaldi a famous actor, comedian, and clown from England.

I consider my life mission to create hope and laughter.  And every morning I stand in front of a mirror with a red clown nose on and say, “Today I’m going to make someone glad they met me.”

After this ritual, the nose goes back in my bathrobe pocket. But the spirit of the gesture stays with ms. So be on the look out for me.

I guess Aunt Tillie did okay. She knew something all those years ago that the rest of the world would wait to discover.

 

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Proverbs 17:22