Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 12, 2011
A fictional tale of a life in and out of sports. This story is told in the first person. Any resemblance to persons real or imagined is unintentional.

As children, slipping off to sleep, we all had dreams; thoughts of life yet to be lived. For some, those thoughts centered on a life ordinary; for some, on a life less ordinary. Dreams are what shape our conscious minds from within the subconscious. There is little rhyme or reason to why one child may have differing dreams than his sibling in the same room. Yet, there they lay, sharing the same walls; the same windows and the same roof with dreams as divergent as night and day.

From my earliest memories, it seems the competitive nature that derives from the deepest segment of human nature, survival, seemed to control my world. "Everything, I do" I thought to myself, "I must be the best."

In retrospect, this just is not a feasible concept. Or is it? Should we not always try to do our best? If our goal is not to be the best that we can at whatever we try, aren't we failing ourselves?  During football season especially, I often ponder this thought and remember a childhood with many great memories, yet full of the disappointments of not always being the best.

Were those days really wasted? Was all that time spent attempting to achieve something nearly unattainable nothing more than a lifelong exercise in futility?

These are all tough questions for a contemplative man who wants to always find the silver lining. If indeed those days were truly wasted, what is it I am left with?

Let me explore those thoughts some more. Though I was always attempting and dreaming of being the best, I was, in fact, learning important life lessons. It is not possible to be the best at everything you do. In fact, it is highly unlikely that any individual will be the best at what they choose. There is only one Michael Jordan. His success took the combination of genetic fortune, dedication, belief and hard work. And, even then, luck was involved. What if he had lived in Nebraska where basketball took a back seat to football? Would he have been the best ever basketball player? Would he have been a football player instead?

There I was a skinny kid, living in a small Midwestern town of less than 5000 people dreaming of a life less ordinary; a life of sports. In those days, though, less was known about exercise science. A skinny kid was skinny and would likely always be skinny. I didn't care; I was going to be the exception. So, I persevered.

And, this is where I start to see a positive light when looking back. In this world, no one will give you anything. If you want something it must be earned. Even the best athletes in the world have to spend countless hours dedicating themselves to their craft. Michael Jordan did not become a great basketball player by dreaming about it; he became great by playing. Failure is not missing a shot. Failure is not learning from a mistake. A missed shot is a learning opportunity. No one plays a perfect game. There are always things that you could have done better.

This is the lesson that I learned from athletics. As I continued to work and move towards my dreams, I made changes; bad choices; bad decisions. I learned from each of those and continued moving forward. By always having a goal, a competitive desire, there was rarely a reason to look back on life and be dismayed about the success I did not achieve. Instead, I was still moving forward, focused on the success I could have if I just kept working harder and smarter.

Sure, there are things I wish I could take back. Like the year of school that I skipped as a sophomore. That set my life back more years than I can count. My entire senior year of high school was lost making up for that missed time. And the girl I skipped it all to hang out with? Never saw her after high school. Was that really worth my lost time? The pessimist would say no, it was not. But, I am far from the pessimist.

In my senior year of high school, one where I was taking seven classes in day school, four classes at night, delivering newspapers in the morning, working in a gym in the afternoon, doing homework at 10:00PM after night school was over, sleeping for 4 hours and then getting up and doing it all again, I learned more about myself than anyone else I know. I learned just how hard I could push myself.

I almost gave up on my original dream; I originally wanted to play college football. During the first part of my sophomore year, after transferring schools two weeks into the school year and missing most of football season do to transfer and practice rules, I was approached by the cross country coach. As I could not play football, I gave cross-country a shot; and I was good. Lettered as a sophomore. The dream began to change. The Olympics?

Distance running was not in my blood, though. I enjoyed the sport, but I loved football. During that tumultuous senior school year, I managed to find time to lift weights during lunch. By the end of December, I had put on 30 pounds of muscle. Suddenly, people thought I might have a chance. However, because of the sophomore choices, I had to take a different route.

(Next Week: Part II-The story continues)


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