People I Owe: My Dad

I’ve avoided writing this “people I owe” post for years out of pure fear. How can I possibly “do it right?” I felt some of the same anxiety writing about Stan Klotkowski, Jeanie Omelenchuk, Clair Young, and Mike Walden but not like this. Deep down I’ve also been worried about the very real fact that Stan, Jeanie and Clair all passed away within months after I wrote about their impacts on my life. As far as I know none of them even were aware of my heartfelt gratitude. Mostly I’ve avoided this “people I owe” because it is a family member and hence any recognition contains the complex interactions that the designation of “family” creates.

In recent years I’ve participated in a number of leadership training curriculums where part of the interaction was to share with the group about someone who had had an impact on my leadership capacity or “leadership legacy.” I was repeatedly chagrined and surprised when teammates listed their father as one of their leadership icons. For these people their father had been a person who exemplified “typical” leadership characteristics – volunteering, military duty, leading charitable efforts, roles in community organizations and chairing change efforts. Inevitably they seemed to be extroverts, social organizers, “pillars of the community”, outspoken, brave, members of committees.

With absolutely no judgment upon my own father he simply did not fit this model. Meetings, committees? No way, my father – a strong introvert - avoided even social gatherings like family reunions. So I put this aside and found stereotypical leader archetypes from other walks of life to share as my influences – Jack Rooney or Mike Walden for example, people who had been pinnacles of traditional top-down leadership, with “presence.” Deep down though, part of me thought, “If my dad wasn’t a leader, what was he? He certainly impacted my life…”

With maturity comes wisdom and perspective and with perspective comes the realization of the gifts of leadership my father gave to me.

1)   Opportunity: growing up a series of opportunities were, in some cases, literally put at my feet. Tennis lessons, swimming lessons (I'll circle back to these two), piano lessons, french horn lessons. The there was my orange crate Kmart bike with the banana seat, a first round Hobie skateboard, hockey skates, downhill skis, cross country skis, running shoes, hiking boots, camping gear – my life as a kid in the Coyle household meant that almost every weekend and many weekdays were filled with outdoor sporting activities. Gladwell and others have written about the 10 year/ 10,000 hour rule, and in hindsight, I probably rode more miles on my bike the summer when I was 8 years old than any other 8 year old on the planet – by my count we did 13 century / half century rides. I skied the Pinery in Canada, Great Bear up north and of course the Wabeek golf courses. I played hockey on our frozen lake, raced BMX weekends and weekdays winning more than 200 trophies. At one point when I was 11 or 12 I was State Champion in road cycling, track cycling, BMX racing, cross country skiing and skateboarding all the same year. I was horrifically competitive, crying if I even came in second place. But that part, the ridicululously competitive part appears to be something I was born with that my father managed with grace.

2)   Being There. Did my father ever miss a game, a meet, a performance? Maybe he did – I guess in the grand scheme of life he must have. That said, I scratch my head and can’t come up with a single instance or memory of him not being there. Not once, ever. I have no notion or emotional impression of a repeated theme from movies, stories and books of “daddy wasn't there/didn't care.” 4am practices on Sunday morning after an hour’s drive to Flint Michigan or a Saturday evening soccer game? A painful band concert or choir rehearsal? Practices for 5 sports and music every single day of the week in disparate locations around the country for decades? He was always present, always supportive, always driving - the car that is.

This is a picture of set of two day planners that capture calendar entrees from the years 1980 and 1981. Almost every single page of those years have a journal entree of a practice or race or often two entrees. When we traveled for a competition, the mileage was sometimes noted. The 1980 journal shows that we traveled in excess of 52,000 miles for competitions. With my own daughter I am daunted by this form of servant leadership. How can I EVER live up to it?

fathers1

The following entries give about 6 weeks of my summer as an 11/12 year old. In the first below you can see practices each evening and then a 100 mile century ride in Michigan on Saturday (called Helluva Ride) followed immediately by a bike race in Connecticut on Sunday (drove all night? we NEVER flew anywhere)

fathers3

The next week was spent racing in Wisconsin. Here's my first Superweek races - at first getting beat by Steve McGregor... Sadly this year is the first year in 33 years that I won't be racing superweek as the series closed down at the end of last season.

fathers4The next week: in one week we went white water rafting in West Virginia, then raced on the track in Pennsylvania, did a few practices and a BMX race in Michigan, then another century ride in Indiana (the Amish ride). It then rained on Sunday - perhaps we were relieved...

fathers5I remember this week clearly - we had a Camero Z28 that got hit by another car just before our plans to drive it out to Arizona and California (and then sell it to pay for the trip) I got crushed at road nationals coming in 4th, but the next day won two different BMX races in AZ.

fathers6The following week I went to Tijuana on my 12th birthday (August 18) and I became national champion for the first time in San Diego, CA. (See lower right)

fathers7Here's a few pictures from the 1980 nationals:

Scan 2w dad

3)   Belief. Perhaps the greatest gift of a leader to a follower and a father to a son, my father gave me 100% unequivocal belief. Belief begets hope, which is the greatest power in the universe. A skinny, redneck, hard-to-tame kid managed to harness a potentially deadly over-abundance of energy through one and only one force – that of belief.

My father treaded that incredibly narrow tightrope between sharing the destructive power of reality “you’ll never be good at this” and the equally damaging artificiality of the fake, “You’re the best, it was the referees fault”.  At its core, my father anchored belief in one of my real strengths: “the gift of acceleration” as he called it. Little did I know how physiologically resonant was his evaluation of my talents. To be clear he didn’t say much. We didn’t have big inspiring coaching conversations, but when things went poorly he had a reason that provided a balance of opportunity for me to improve with that of hope.

How did he learn it? Why did he do it? To be clear, my father did not appear to have any kind of role model from his own parents. Generally ignored as a late addition to a family with an overachieving sister he certainly received little support from his own parents. He could be brittle and sadly our closeness created a separation with my sister that exists to this day. Conversely he also managed to avoid the mold of the “vicarious living through your offspring” parent often seen in competitive sport. He was, as I’ve learned the phrasing recently, “committed, but not attached” to the outcomes of my activities. Deep down I want to believe he just enjoyed the ride that my feeble singing voice, lousy French horn playing, decent academics and powerful but skinny legs provided. Maybe it was a simple as that – I wasn’t much to look at, didn’t come from a legacy or pedigree, but when my legs hit the pedals or skates, a resonant hum took over – at least for few seconds – and it was surprising coming from such an average kid. I was, when it comes down to it, pretty fast. Watching my daughter in sport now, I "get it" - it is a joy to watch when she's fully committed.

Time for a confession: what my parents may or may not know is how truly competitive I was as a child. If I wasn’t immediately good at something, I immediately wanted to quit, and in two cases at least, I was secretly successful. When, as a young boy, I was given weekly swimming lessons for a summer paid for by good parents, and on the first day found myself cold and floundering against more accomplished swimmers, I quit. Each week thereafter, after getting dropped off, I went and hid in the woods for 90 minutes rather thane “lose.” I never completed another lesson. Sadly the same was true for tennis lessons: after the first one I hid and skipped all of those as well. Sorry mom, sorry dad.

I am a father now. I struggle constantly with the balance of “over-involvement” that has come to characterize parenting today. When I was a child, if I fell down they didn’t rush out and soothe me, but if I fell and I was actually hurt they did. They didn’t pretend every performance was awesome, but did acknowledge that every tremendous EFFORT was awesome.  But they also didn't miss a single program.

What is leadership if not the ability to help someone else achieve all that they are capable of? Like all humans my father had and has his flaws, but when it comes to his role of a parent to a spastic, competitive, sensitive kid, he was near perfect in helping me tap into my limited strengths. Literature, movies, and deep conversations seem to often turn to "daddy doubts" or a sense of abandonment by parents. From a distance it is pretty clear: I'm a limited talent athlete, decent student, poor musician who has been granted a life of adventure and accomplishment that is founded and grounded in the love of two parents who managed to give at least one of their offspring the feeling of complete and total unconditional love.

I have never, and I mean never ever, doubted the complete love and support of my father. It is so much of a given that it has been completely taken for granted. When it comes to my parents and my father I doubt for nothing. Nothing needs to be said, nothing needs to be done, it just exists. We sometimes go without talking for periods of time that (I realize now) are selfish of me. But no experiential time passes between conversations and meanwhile I'm naturally applying everything I've learned to the relationship with my own daughter, which, by the way, is a beautiful and "near perfect" relationship. I didn't even have to think about it really - I just needed to follow the directions I've been given.

In hindsight, we never talked much, my dad and I. We just did things, experienced things. So perhaps for that reason I probably never got around to thanking you dad. Thank you for the gift of experiences and slowing down time together (did we really do all that!?). Thank you for always, always being there. Most of all thank you for believing in me. Because you believed in me, I believed in me. My life has become a wondrous adventure through time, filled with incredible experience thanks to your unshakeable belief. It is the foundation that serves me every single day. Oh, and sorry about the swimming and tennis lessons.

Happy Father's Day dad. I love you.

-John, 6/16/2013

dad

Mike Walden

People I owe: Mike Walden What do a tennis school in Siberia, a soccer club in Brazil, a music camp in upstate New York, and a baseball club in Curacao all have in common with a bicycling club from Detroit?

They are all “chicken-wire Harvards,” a term coined by Daniel Coyle in his great book “The Talent Code”. That is, each of these remote destinations has a number of things in common: they tend to be underfunded, they have programs with a relentless focus on the fundamentals of a sport or activity, and at their helm they have or have had iconic coaches who “say a lot in a little,” and “repeat a little a lot.”

They also produce champions. Lots of them. So many that, when plotted on map in red, they become a “talent bloom” – a rose against the white of the page. In fact, one small, yet famous tennis club in Siberia, called Spartak, which has only one indoor court, achieved eight year-end top 20 women’s rankings for professional tennis players for 3 years running (as of 2007.) During the same period, the entire United States only had 7. As it happens there is also a little cycling club in Detroit with even more striking results.

Statistically speaking, it is impossible to conceive that there was more talent concentrated in the environs of Spartak in 2007, or around the Dorais velodrome in Detroit in 1980 than the entire United States. In fact the preponderance of talent from these locales belies their demographics – the argument can, and should be made that these coaches and environments created talent. But how?

Detroit, 1978. The Wolverine Sports Club was one of many of its ilk – typical in many ways. Underfunded, provided for primarily by largesse from Mike Walden’s bike shop in Hazel Park, the club also supported its activity through fund raiser “bike-a-thons” (also a Walden invention.) The Wolverine Sports Club (WSC) ran a regular series of practices – Tuesdays at the run-down Dorais Velodrome in Detroit, Wednesdays were the iconic “Wednesday night ride” from the Royal Oak Library complete with fans in lawn chairs who blocked traffic for the huge peleton, and Thursdays featuring practice races in Waterford on a 2.2 mile race car track. Weekends were for racing, because “racing is the best training,” or so we were told.

To an 8, 10, 12, even 18 year old kid, it all became so normal. I remember my first visit to the Dorais velodrome. Names were inscribed in the cement along the homestretch – Fred Cappy, Mike Walden, Clair Young, Jim Smith. These etchings were meaningless to me and hidden each year under more and more graffiti. Today the track has fallen into disrepair.

One of my first nights at the Dorais velodrome was in the fall, with a low turnout and leaves skittering across the cracked banked surface. Walden was mostly occupied shouting at two female racers who were preparing for a big competition somewhere. I was clueless and didn’t care. That is until, after a series of timed flying 200m events by the two women, Walden suddenly focused his shouting at me. “What about you? Let’s go: 200m as fast as you can go! Pedal circles and finish at the line!”

The two muscular women quickly shared some strategy – line up high on the track on the first corner and then dive for the blue line (marking the 200m mark) and then stay as low as possible on the “pole lane” or black line to the finish.

Moments later, exhausted but exhilarated by the speed, Walden barked out a time (“13.8!”) and turned to other riders. The two women, Sue Novara and Sheila Young, slowed to pass along compliments, “wow – you’re a fast little thing.” Little did I know that both were rivals and world champions in this exact event – the match sprint on the velodrome.  I was surrounded by greatness. I was lucky. It only takes a quick spin through Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” to realize that one of the core elements of the Wolverine Sport Club and my own success was simply the environment: we all got an early start on the requisite 10 years/10,000 hours of deliberate practice that greatness requires.

Another great book, that might have have featured Walden as its poster child is by Geoff Colvin’s “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” The thesis? “Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades - and not just plain old hard work, like your grandmother might have advocated, but a very specific kind of work.”

“The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.” Deliberate practice, as practiced by Mozart, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Sheila Young and Frankie Andreu, is an unrelenting focus on the potentially mind-numbing basics of a sport or activity. In fact, at the tennis camp in Spartak, Siberia referenced earlier, kids spent an inordinate amount of time swinging rackets at the air before they were even allowed to hit balls, and then they were not allowed to enter a tournament until they had 3 years of practice under their belts.

Daniel Coyle then describes the unique characteristics of the coaches who create the right environment for focus on deliberate practice. In one chapter he details the key elements of a master coach, by documenting the actions of a certain famous athletic coach. This coach’s “teaching utterances or comments were short, punctuated, and numerous. “There were no lectures, no extended harangues…. "He rarely spoke longer than twenty seconds. “What made this coach great, “wasn’t praise, wasn’t denunciation, and certainly wasn’t pep talks. “His skill resided in the Gatling-gun rattle of targeted information he fired at his players.”

This, not that. Here, not there. “His words and gestures served as short, sharp impulses that showed his players the correct way to do something. “He was seeing and fixing errors. “He was honing circuits.”

For those that knew him, this sounds exactly like Mike Walden. But this case study was of basketball’s John Wooden. The circuits Daniel refers to are the biological occurrences of “myelination” – the wrapping of neural circuits that become “talent” through repetition, coaching, and deliberate practice.

The hubris of youth suggests the following: “everything good that I have - I’ve earned.” And then the corollary “Everything I don’t have? Not my fault – I wasn’t born with that talent (or I’ve been thwarted by outside forces.”)

With time, maturity and a series of books by acclaimed authors I’ve been forced to realize that virtually all my athletic accomplishments and perhaps even all of my achievements in general – even in academics - boil down a couple simple facts: 1) I had the right parents (a subject for another day), and 2) I was born, raised, and trained at the right place at the right time: Detroit, 1980, WSC... with Walden.

Take away Dorais, Walden, Waterford, and the repeated refrains of “pedal circles,” “win it at the line,” and “race your strengths, train your weaknesses,” and humbly, it is clear that my entire life’s journey would be on a different trajectory. Gone would have been a bid for the Olympics, gone the silver medal, gone the singular element that encouraged some strong undergraduate (and graduate) schools to accept a student with SAT’s and GMAT’s that were at best “average” for these institutions.

My relationship with Mike Walden was not one I would have described as friendly: I came to practice, and he yelled at me. During practice, he yelled at me. Sometimes, after practice, he yelled at me. This was the same for most of the team, though I sometimes I felt singled out. Dorais velodrome was the worst – in the oval you were always within shouting distance. The bumpy track in the inner city was fraught with danger – bumps, graffiti, random kids throwing rocks, and the worst of all, crosswinds. Week after week, year after year, Walden demanded that riders should have only a 4 – 8 inch distance between the tires of other riders in high speed pacelines against crosswinds, over uncertain pavement, and variable speeds – all on racing bikes without brakes or gears. “Follow the wheel” meant be right on the wheel in front of you. If you let a few more inches stretch out as the peleton accordioned down the homestretch, then Walden’s penetrating voice was right there, “close the gap Coyle! Get on the wheel!”

Between each activity, Walden was not shy on letting anyone and everyone know how bad they had failed. “Alcala – you’re a disaster – can’t ride a straight line.” “Andreu – you pick it up every single time you hit the front.” “Paellela – you’re herky-jerky – ride smoothly, quit riding up on everyone.” I was afraid - everyone was afraid - to get it wrong, and you modified each and every pedal stroke to pedal circles, keep an even distance, accelerate smoothly, and drop down after pull at the front. I didn’t know it then, but this extraordinary focus on pedaling fundamentals every Tuesday for nearly 10 years allowed a 30+ year racing career featuring 3000+ races, with almost no crashes (<10), and not one injury serious enough to prevent racing the next day. It also gave my limited strengths a path for success: to move swiftly and safely through the peleton in preparation for the sprint in a manner that may be my primary defining strength as a cyclist. Mike always said, “race your strengths,” here’s a video of that put into action. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9W0WETpST8]

Walden was not one to shower complements. In 1980 at 11 years old, racing as a Wolverine, I won the national championships at the Balboa Park Velodrome in San Diego, California. In the process I also met Eric Heiden who I would “pro-fro” with (live with for a week as a prospective freshman/frosh at Stanford 6 years later.) My relationship with Walden had only slightly warmed over the years, nonetheless I was fully expecting some warm words after my victory against some difficult odds against the likes of Jamie Carney. Immediately after the awards ceremony, still wearing my stars-and-stripes jersey, Walden sought me out and came up extending his hand. I was beaming and expecting (finally) some recognition. Instead I heard, “Don’t get cocky - it’s just a race. “There are a lot more important ones in your future.” He turned on his heel and stomped away. 30 years later and I can still feel the flush of heat to my cheeks as I describe that moment.

By the time I was in my late teens, I was winning races left and right. At 15, like Frankie Andreu, I was solicited by the almighty 7-11 team, and raced for them over the next couple of years. I continued attending Walden practices and continued to fear his penetrating bark. I had decided that he must clearly hate me until an odd morning one summer when I was 18.

I had been invited to a club ride that was leaving from Walden’s house in Berkley one Saturday morning. I rolled into the driveway a little early and no one was there, so Harriet Walden, Mike’s wife invited me into their comfortable, but humble home. I was struck by how normal it seemed. For nearly a decade Mike had been an enigma to me, someone ‘other than human’ who only pushed and prodded, who only repeated the same damn things again and again, “pedal circles! “Finish at the line! “Race your strengths!” Harriet was very accommodating and seemed to know all about me. As I waited for the other riders to arrive, she said something to me that shocked me then, and still cuts me to the core now, “You know, Mike is quite fond of you…” She paused, waiting for her words to sink in. “He speaks very highly of you.” I was stunned.

I didn’t know. But I know now. I should have known then. How could I not know? What kind of courage does it take to push someone to become all they can be and never even ask for any acknowledgment in return?  

A few years ago Richard Noiret made a movie, “Chasing the Wind” about Walden and the Wolverine Sports Club. I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. How did a club in a random suburb of Detroit produce 5 Olympians, 10 World Champions, 300 National medalists, and more than 25% of the nation’s national champion cyclists for two decades?

I’m a coach myself now, both for an incredible team at work, and as the head coach for the Franklin Park speedskating club. It’s odd: I’m relatively terrible at coaching speedskating despite a life dedicated to practicing the sport - it feels like total mayhem. Yet, every Tuesday night, more than one of the kids will say to me, “thanks Coach John!” as they leave the ice, despite all my yelling and it gives he a huge thrill. During all my formative years, it never, ever occurred to me to thank my coach – Affholter, Young, Walden – and it never occurred to me that they weren’t paid for all that time, effort and shouting.

Theron Walden (Mike) died February 12, 1996. I never even new his real name. I was probably busy with something I thought was important. I missed the funeral. It came to me later that I had never really known the man, and worse, that never, in my life had I ever said, the simple words I write now, 15 ½ years later. Thank you, Mike.

I owe you more than you could possibly imagine, but it is only now that I realize it. Thank you Mike – for your (tough) love, and your legacy that I’m attempting, clumsily, to pass on.

----------------------------------------

PS: In order to pass on Mike’s legacy I feel I must pass on the below verbatim. It concerns a sophisticated understanding of strengths vs. weaknesses that is best described in the incredible book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham. As usual, an incredible amount of science belies the couple sharp barks that only become clear with time and repetition. This is another great legacy of Mike’s: repetition is the key to coaching. Think carefully about the conundrum posed by the below and what it suggests for your life’s path regarding your strengths, passions, and weaknesses:

Race your strengths, train your weaknesses. Racing is the best training. Race your strengths, train your weaknesses.

References:

  • “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell 

 http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0316017930/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318566226&sr=8-1

  • “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle 

 http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Code-Greatness-Born-Grown/dp/055380684X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318566246&sr=1-1

  • “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin 

 http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-World-Class-Performers-EverybodyElse/dp/1591842948/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318566269&sr=1-1

  • “Now Discover Your Strengths" by Marcus Buckingham

 http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Strengths-Marcus-Buckingham/dp/0743201140/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321302063&sr=8-1

National Championship results, 10 years:  1972 – 1981, Road & Track

1972 -  Road – Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 5-6

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Debbie Bradley, IA, 28mi in 1:19:10

2.        Jeanne Omelenchuk, MI

3.        Eileen Brennan, MI

 

 1973 Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 1-4

SENIOR MEN 10 MILE  -

1.        Roger Young, MI

SENIOR MEN’S MATCH SPRINT : final for 1st and 2nd: Roger Young. Ml beat Jack Disney, CA, 2,0

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT: final for 1st and 2nd: Sheila Young, Ml, beat Sue Novara, Ml, 2,0

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 21

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 10

 

1974 Road – Pontiac, MI, July 27-28

JUNIOR MEN

1.  David Mayer-Oakes, TX

2. Pat Nielsen, MI

3. Tom Schuler, MI

 

1974 Track – Northbrook, IL, July 31-Aug. 3

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT – Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara, MI, beat Sheila Young, MI, 2.0

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.      Connie Paraskevin, MI, 21

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.         Kevin Johnson, MI, 14

2.          Troy Stetina, IN, 8

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jacque Bradley, IA, 21

2.         Debbie Zbikowski, MI, 9

 

1975 Road – Louisville, KY, Aug. 14-15

SENIOR MEN

1.        Wayne Stetina, IN, 114mi in 4:35:53.22

2.        Dave Boll, CA

3.        Tom Schuler, MI

 

1976 – Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 3-4

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT- Final for 1st and 2nd: Sheila Young, MI, beat Sue Novara, MI, 2,1

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jane Brennan, MI, 17

INTERMEDIATE BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jeff Bradley, LA, 17

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 15

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 19

2.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 12

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Kirstie Walz, NJ, 19

2.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 15

3.        Anne Obermeyer, MI, 8

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 5

 

1977 – Road, Seattle, WA, July 26-Aug. 6

SENIOR WOMEN – 1.        Connie Carpenter, WI, 38.24mi in 1:38:31

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Greg LeMond, NV, 71.5mi in 3:10:40

 

2.        Jeff Bradley IA

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Beth Heiden, WI, 31.5mi in 1:24:28

MIDGET BOYS

1.        Grant Foster, CA, 11.25mi in 31:27

2.        Greg Foster, CA

3.        Jimmy Georgler, CA

4.        Glen Driver, CA

5.        Frankie Andreu, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Sue Schaugg, MI, 9mi in 27:50

2.        Lisa Parkes , MI

3.        Ann Marie Obermayer , MI

 

1977 – Track  - Marymoor Velodrome, Redmond, WA, Aug. 2-6

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 15

2.        Dana Scruggs, IN, 10

3.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 8

4.        Rena Walls, MI, 7

5.        Jane Brennan, MI, 7

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 14

2.        Lisa Parks, MI, 12

 

1978 Road Milwaukee, WI, July 26-30

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Jeff Bradley, IA. 7Omi in 2:50:48

2.        Greg LeMond, NV

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Sherry Nelsen, MO, 24mi in 1:03:51

2.        Tracy McConachie, IL

3.        Nancy Merlo, MI

4.        Karen Schaugg, MI

5.        Louise Olson, MI

VETERAN WOMEN

1.        Jeanne Omelenchuck, MI 15mi in 40:26

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Elise Lobdell, IN

2.        Tyra Goodman, MI

3.        Beth Burger, PA

4.        Karn Radford, CA

5.        Celeste Andreu, MI

 

1978 – Track – Kenosha, WI, Aug. 1-5

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT – final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Jackie Disney, CA, 2,0

SENIOR WOMEN POINTS RACE

1.        Mary Jane Reoch, PA

2.        Cary Peterson, WA

3.        Sue Novara-Reber, MI

JUNIOR MEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Eric Baltes, WI, 13 pts

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 12

3.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 8

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 17

2.        Sherry Nelsen, MO, 15

 

3.        Tracy McConachie, IL, 7

4.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 6

5.        Rena Walls, MI, 3

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Beth Burger, PA, 19

2.        Elise Lobdell, IN, 11

3.        Tyra Goodman, MI, 7

4.        Karn Radford, CA, 7

5.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 7

 

1979  - Road – Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 1-5

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Connie Carpenter, CA. 39.6mi in 1:44:16

2.        Beth Heiden, WI

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Greg LeMond, NV, 70.4mi in 2:55:08

VETERAN WOMEN

1.        Jean Omelenchuk, MI, 15mi in 43:30

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Sarah Docter, WI, 15mi in 38:02

2.        Sue Schaugg, MI

3.        Abby Eldridge, CO

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI

5.        Laura Merlo, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 9mi in 27:09

2.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA

3.        Melanie Parkes, MI

1979 – Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 7-12

SENIOR MEN POINTS RACE

1.        Gus Pipenhagen, IL, 18 pts

2.        Roger Young, MI, 18

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT  Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Jackie Disney, CA, 2,0

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Rebecca Twigg, WA, 16

2.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 13

JUNIOR MEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Mark Whitehead, CA, 15 pts

2.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 13

3.        Peter Kron, IL, 7

4.        James Gesquiere, MI, 6

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Brenda Hetlet, WI, 17

2.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 10

3.        Laura Merlo, MI, 10

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 7

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Clayton, IA, 17

2.        Jennifer Gesquiere, MI, 15

3.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 13

4.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA, 4

5.        Melanie Parkes, MI, 3

1980 – Road – Bisbee, Az, Aug. 13-17

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Beth Heiden, WI, 35mi in 1:43:56

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Sarah Docter, WI, 28mi in 1:25:58

2.        Rebecca Twigg, WA

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Dedra Chamberlin, CA, l7mi in 57:52

2.        Lisa Lobdell, IN

3.        Mary Farnsworth, CA

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI

5.        Susan Schaugg, MI

MIDGET BOYS

1.        John Chang, MI, 7mi in 24:29.54

2.        Steve MacGregor, WI

3.        Hector Jacome, CA

4.        John Coyle, MI

5.        Jamie Carney, NJ

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 7mi in 39:59

2.        Lisa Andreu, MI

 

1980 – Track – San Diego, CA, Aug. 20-23

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT -Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Pam Deem, PA, 2,0

INTERMEDIATE BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Tim Volker, IA, 19

2.        Brad Hetlet, WI, 11

3.        Bobby Livingston, GA, 10

4.        Joe Chang, WI, 4

5.        Frankie Andreu, MI, 4

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 14

2.        Dedra Chamberlin, CA, 9

3.        Amy Saling, NJ, 7

4.        Mary Krippendorf, WI, 7

5.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 6

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        John Coyle, MI, 19

2.        Jamie Carney, NJ, 11

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Celeste Andrau, MI, 17

2.        Jennie Gesquiere, MI, 15

 

1981 Bear Mountain, NY, Aug. 3-9

INTERMEDIATE BOYS

1.        Gordon Holterman, VA, 33mi in 1:33:47

2.        David Farmer, PA

3.        Frankie Andreu, MI

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA, 23.4mi in 1:15:15

2.        Bozena Zalewski, NJ

3.        Celeste Andreu, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Lisa Andreu, MI, 11.7mi in 38:17

2.        Joella Harrison, AZ

3.        Gina Novara, M

 

1981 Track – Trexlertown, PA, Aug. 11-16

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT –  Final for lat and 2nd: Sheila Young-Ochowicz, WI, beat Connie Paraskevin, MI, 2,0

Final for 3rd and 4th: Sue Navara-Reber, MI, beat Betsy Davis, NJ, 2,0

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Rene Duprel, WA, 19

2.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 15

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jenny Gesquiere, MI, 21

2.        Gina Novara, MI, 15

3.        Alicia Andreu, MI, 9

 

This list only represents cycling – note the rising tide of MI athletes on the national stage.

 What is missing is the world and Olympic results for cycling and the same results for speedskating. Champions like Gold, Silver and Bronze Olympic medalist Sheila Young, World Champion Roger Young, World Champion and Olympic medalists Connie Paraskevan, World Champion Sue Novara, 9 Times Tour de France Rider and Olympic 4th place finisher Frankie Andreu – and on and on the list is a Who’s Who of American cyclists and speedskaters.

Marc Affholter

Marc Affholter:

 

Childhood bullies, if never conquered, never shrink, never quite die. Childhood heroes have that same lasting power for the same reasons. It is a benefit of timing really – if someone you grow up with retires from the fray before you are able to beat them, then they are stronger or better than you – forever. When it comes to skating, never mind the lap times or eventual results: if a competitor beat me consistently as a kid and then retired before I could give full measure, then they will always remain fixed in my childhood mind as superior.

 

I occasionally try to remind myself of these same dynamics as I watch these next generations of speedskaters coast past my own records of the day. My natural tendency is to invert the response, look at their superior times and assume that every one of these skaters is also superior to me for all time. But their reality matches my time machine: for a series of young skaters, despite my failures, my ever receding records, I will always be ‘better than them.’

 

It is with these thoughts that I write about one of my favorite coaches of my entire career – Marc Affholter. Marc was the jolly green giant of my youth. He ran our practices in Wyandotte, MI on Tuesday nights with a loud voice, green tights, and the bulging quadriceps and calves to match. He was everything I wanted to be: confident, powerful, quick, and in control. He is better than me in every way.

 

My relationship with Marc was much like my relationship with Walden – at first it seemed to be fraught with conflict… Why was I singled out? Why didn’t he leave me alone? Why did he always follow me and yell at me the most? The more I tried to fade into the woodwork, the more Marc yelled.

 

It came into stark clarity one practice when I was probably 11 or 12. We were doing starts again and again, and Marc was yelling at me, and then again at ME to move my feet. “What about everyone else?” I thought, but he continued hammering at me.

 

Finally, in a fit of pique I slashed away from the line and around the corner full of anger and frustration. As we crossed the half lap mark where we could coast to do it again, I could hear Marc yelling, “Yeah! Yeah! That’s what it looks like everyone! That’s how you win a start!” I glanced around and noticed the large gap I had on the group, and then Marc coasted up and put his arm around me and said, “remember this – today you learned how to win nationals,” and then he skated off to yell at some other skaters.

 

That was probably the moment I became a speedskater. Until that moment it was just a part of the routine – something I did because we scheduled it. Suddenly the green giant with bulging muscles began fighting it out with me for that first block, and suddenly I found that I could occasionally beat him to it – and NO ONE ever had done that before. I thought he’d be mad, or jealous, but instead he was practically giddy with pleasure. I learned to be aggressive, to not shorten my strokes for other skaters, to race my strengths of acceleration and fight for that first corner block. Marc would be pleased to note that in thousands of races after this, I NEVER gave back that first block…

 

Like Walden, Marc was a man of few words. He was a downriver guy working in the heavy machinery industry with a vocabulary to match. But… he was very emotionally involved with his family, and his skaters as I discovered over the coming years…

 

A few years later, in a race in Alpena Michigan, where I was skating up several age classes, one of the senior skaters pushed me down, and then took a swing at me. I was a young punk mixing it up with the seniors in the Michigan state championships and probably not playing by the rules. I was being put in my place.

 

Marc was having none of that. Even as I rose from the boards I saw his nimble bulk of muscle fly over the boards in a bound and head for the aggressive skater, hands at his sides but ready.

 

When that skater still came at me, Marc’s fist shot out like a cannon and with a weird crack, the skater was back down and not moving even as Marc failed to break stride and came over to me to help me up.

 

Fast forward a decade, and I returned home after winning a silver medal in the Olympics. Somehow it didn’t occur to me at this time to thank Walden, but it very clearly occurred to me to thank Marc. So one afternoon, I put together a thank you note, and framed it with a picture, and sent it to Marc, not really expecting a reply.

 

Sure enough, I didn’t get one – at least, not in the way I expected. Marc, the gruff old warrior didn’t respond directly, but via the emerging miracle of email, his daughter Ashley did. What she wrote to me burned into my senses and remains one of my favorite thoughts and memories – it went something like this:

 

“My dad would be too proud to tell you, but your note meant an incredible amount to him – he cried a lot when he read it, and immediately put it up in a place of honor in our house – I thought you should know.”

 

Marc Affholter, you are a man – a true man. You taught me the sport of speedskating and gave me that first inkling that I might actually have some talent. You were tough on me because you cared, and I NEVER EVER would have had the privilege of representing our country at the Olympics without your tough love, your unrelenting passion, and your consistent and insistent voice.

 

Thank you.

 

-John 

12/24/2008

Clair Young

In July of 1977, I was just 8 years old, and I was already a ‘bike rider,’ I just didn’t know what that meant yet. I had a black, red, and yellow Raleigh ten speed with 24 inch chrome wheels and relatively narrow tires (at least as compared with my BMX bike) that I began riding on local AYH rides with my father, and then began attending longer supported rides on the weekends together.

My dad was a former telegraph delivery boy in his youth and had rediscovered bike riding in the past few years. He had tried a couple century rides the previous year and had decided to bring me along. Seems that like him I had a penchant for suffering and he found pride in my ability to weather through a 7 or 8 or 9 hour day on the bike. I was in it for the snacks (candy bars every 10 miles!) and I didn't really know any better - at first it was just something to do.

I do, however, remember a particular 2 day, 200 mile ride we put in that summer. We rode from Detroit to Lansing, stayed in dorms on the Michigan state campus after the first 100 miles, and then headed back on a somewhat hilly route on the return (I think it was called “Helluva Ride” because it passed through Hell, Michigan.) Along the way, an elegant older couple passed us on a tandem, and slowed to take a look at me - this tiny, boney, scrappy 8 year old following desperately in his dad's draft (I learned early how to survive) into a headwind as we completed the long slog back to Detroit.

The couple were both interested and complementary - slowing to spend some time talking to my father, to encourage me. I remember Dorothy’s penetrating blue eyed gaze – like she was looking right through you to your soul – with just a twinkle of amusement. The couple was none other than Clair and Dorothy Young, parents of national and world champion cyclists and speedskaters Roger and Sheila Young.  

It was then, that I heard Clair say those infamous words that changed my whole world and the rest of my life in a half a second, "He’s a good bike rider - he should be a bike racer - bring him to a race," in that clipped direct way Clair has. The way Clair says “bike rider” is also somehow unique – when he said it, it meant more than someone who is capable of riding a bike – it had panache. I wanted to be whatever that was…

I ponder now, 32 years later, what my life would be like if those words had never been uttered. My life, in its entirety, would have been completely different. I had no grand ideas about anything – much less of being an athlete. The concepts, beliefs, activities and confidence that were to come: of competing in the state championships, of driving across the country to the national championships, of qualifying for the world championships – none of these ideas had ever passed through our heads -  we were just ‘regular’ people. The very idea of the Olympics was some great mystery reserved for those ‘other’ people that had money, contacts, and talent.

But in a flash of care, understanding and engagement, these two people changed my whole life. My father managed to remember the location and timing of the race (Dearborn Towers, Dearborn, MI) and he and I showed up to race with Frankie Andreu (9 time Tour de France finisher), Celeste Andreu (10 time national champion) and Jamie Carney (3 time Olympian and my arch-nemesis to this day – whether he knows it or not.)

Here are my impressions of that fateful first day:

Flashback: August of 1977.

I am 8 years old and my father and I are pulling our GM Beauville van into the parking lot of the Dearborn Twin Towers office buildings where I was to participate in my first ever bike race. It was pouring outside and I remember not wanting to get out of the van into the cold rain. I dressed in the van into my wool jersey and black cotton and wool shorts (with a real leather chamois), my leather “hairnet” helmet and gloves, and then, with my father holding the umbrella, I climbed outside the sliding door and onto my bike, goosebumps standing out on my shiny forearms. 

He suggested that I “warm up” by riding around the parking lot a few times, and I did but I was immediately back under the umbrella and back into the van, shivering from the cold and wet. We waited until almost race time before heading toward the start/finish area. With his plastic raincoat on, and holding the umbrella, my father walked and I coasted on my bike over to the start finish line where a stocky, bald, grumpy older man with glasses and a mustache was yelling instructions to the parents, “Midgets! – midgets – you have to roll out your bikes before the race! – bring them over to Clair…C’mon Andreu – you know the drill!” 

His name was Mike Walden and I disliked him immediately. Clair, however, I recognized. Clair Young, wearing his referee uniform, was the reason I was there in the first place. After Clair's intervention on that ride it was only a matter of a few calls, and there I was at the Dearborn Twin Towers just outside Detroit in the pouring rain, checking out my gears (12 and under or “midget category” racers were limited in their gears so as to not injure their knees) by “rolling out” my bike backwards for a full revolution of the pedals between two tape marks to ensure that my tenth gear was not too big (this was in the time where bikes still only had “ten speeds”)  10 minutes, and an eternity in the rain later, they lined up the boys, and then the girls behind us on the line.

There were about 12 of us boys, to the right of me was the tallest of the group, with dark hair and a fixed expression, seemingly unfazed by the rain. Next to him was a hyperactive boy who was badgering his father, “This rain is freezing me – why can’t we start? What are they waiting for? Frankie’s going to win anyway – why did we come?” Next to him was a pale, hollow cheeked boy of 10, whose father, like mine, hovered over him with the umbrella, guarding him as best he could. 

And so we lined up, myself – a few days before my 9th birthday: the tall one - Frankie Andreu – age 11 (eventual 9 time tour de France finisher and 4th in the Olympic games), the hyper one: Jamie Carney – age 9 (3 time Olympic team member, my arch-rival for decades to come,) the pale Englishman: longtime friend Paul Jacqua – age 10, and a number of other boys, readying for a short 3 lap, 3 mile race. 

In the old Italian tradition Mike, (or was it Clair?) announced, “Torreador, Attencione, Go!” and within seconds Frankie had disappeared into the mist while I was still trying to get my foot in the toeclips. Once I finally did, I could see the outline of two riders ahead of me in the rain, roostertails kicking up high with the water flying off their rear wheels. Frankie was nowhere to be seen and I was left strugging through the downpour with Jamie and Paul and we headed through the darkened corners of the course, wheels whizzing with water and rain, pain and breathing only matched by wonderment of “where did he go?”  

I was not used to being beat – the fastest kid on my block during tag, and the fastest kid at school during recess, I felt a frantic, almost asphyxiating rhythm take over my pedaling and breathing. There was pain in every pore of my skin and my lungs were on fire but I was fixated on the mysterious disappearance of the rider ahead.  Jamie and Paul and I shortly established the pattern known to racers the world over as a “paceline” pulling into the wind for a short distance and then moving aside for the rider behind to pedal through, blocking the wind for the riders behind.

For perhaps the only time in my career, I took the role of a “roadie” and would pull through faster, chasing the elusive Frankie, or even making attacks to the side of our little peleton.  2 laps into the race and suddenly a dark figure appeared and quickly disappeared outside our little group. It was Celeste Andreu – Frankie’s sister, and she had already made up the 1 minute start gap provided between the boys and girls, and passed us. We made a fruitless effort to chase, but resolved back into the loosely formed paceline we had formed after the start, Paul doing most of the consistent work, and Jamie and I occasionally trying to sneak away off the front. 

We came by the start finish with one to go and the few parents remaining in the rain cheered and then disappeared and we continued our route around this urban maze. As we headed out of the last corner, Paul sprang out into the lead and as I started to follow, Jamie slingshotted past him. But I had grabbed his wheel (i.e. gotten into his draft), and as our tiny gears spun, and out little feet rotated at over 200 rpms, I passed Jamie just before the line to win the “field sprint” and come in 2nd establishing in that 3 mile microcosm a pattern in the world that would be significant in my life for the following 30+ years. 

After drying off (and the rain stopped) there was a medals ceremony followed by a trip to a tent where the sponsor of the race from the local bike shop provided me with my prize – a heavy, chrome plated bottom bracket tool kit.  I didn’t know what a bottom bracket was, but I could tell that this was a significant prize by its weight and shininess and I resolved to really like bike racing. I still have this bottom bracket tool kit, now 32 years later, and it has never been used as far as I know. But it is still shiny… 

Thank you Clair and Dorothy – for bothering to notice a skinny kid dangling in the wind on a hot windy July day. I’m sure it was par for the course for you, but it made all the difference in the world to me.

-John

PS: 29 years later I discovered that I had inadvertently “paid it forward” to another athlete – Alex Izychowski – and so the circle of life continues. http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/torino-journal-9-epilogue/

 

 

 

Stan Klotkowski

Stan Klotkowski:

Stan Klotkowski was my coach back in the early 90’s. Stan is a polyglot from Poland who speaks Polish, German, Hungarian, English and probably several other languages. He became a regional coach for the United States International Speed Skating Association (USISSA) and found himself with the misfortune of being my coach in the 1990 and 1991 seasons.

Stan’s version of the English language was a lot of fun. It was interesting. His analogies and metaphors were unlike any I had heard. It was never quite certain if the metaphors and similes Stan offered up were Polish sayings or just ‘Stanisms’ – I suspected they were some combination of both. But they worked…

Here’s one: Stan told me over and over, “John – you makes skate like duck – feet wide opens – you must makes your feet straight – even when you are walking – you must always makes your feet straight.” Sure enough, on video I could see an awkard transition between strokes where my feet were pointing out.

Even to this day, I can find myself walking and then suddenly catching myself – making sure my feet are pointing forward. This last February, after a significant snowfall, I walked our dog around the pond behind our house. I was chagrined to find my footprints with my toes pointing out at an angle off center. I reversed it on the way home.

Some lessons never die.

Some of Stan’s other lessons were for others – but I still remember them. Rick Swanson, another skater under Stan’s tutelage had difficulty keeping centered over each leg – his knees tended to lean inward, knocking together with each stroke. Stan’s advice?

“Rick, you skate like young girl - first time having sex” (Here Stan pantomimes knees locked together) “You must makes your knees open – not like whore (he pantomimes legs wide open) – just straight – nor-mal”. We laughed about this one for a long time – but Rick’s technique immediately improved.

Stan, like Walden, believed in me. For an entire season, Stan would wake early, arrive at our slovenly hotel or dorm room, and take our resting pulse while were still sleeping to ascertain whether we were well rested. I think my inability to recover completely threw Stan off – he was always convinced that he had scared me or wakened me, or his favorite when I finally found a girlfriend, “Your pulse makes very high – but I think it was because you are finding a girl...”

In the early weeks with Stan – my first year of full time training after graduating from college, I progressed quickly, and his (and my) excitement grew. I was like a desert flower just waiting for rain – my jumps, my squats, and my lap times improved dramatically. But who knew that I was operating in a delicate ecosystem of fast twitch and slow twitch muscles?

As I worked harder and harder, my results, laps, and strength wained. This was vexing for everyone involved – but most of all for Stan and myself. For the second or third time in my life, I found a direct correlation between ‘working hard’ and ‘failure’. I began to soft pedal.

If for 2 or 3 months I was the first to wake up, the highest jumper, the deepest squatter, the most intensive when it came to technique and laps, eventually I began to just “show up.” The worst part? My results immediately improved – though not enough to make me a serious contender (despite being one for several years while training part time living in California).

I saw Stan a year and half ago in Salt Lake City. He was every happy, gregarious and complementary. He told my wife that, “if John had just makes more hard training, he makes Olympic champion and world champion – he is true talent.”

I’m so pleased to have had such a coach and inspirational figure in my life as Stan – he truly taught me proper skating technique and for those lessons I’m eternally grateful. But in the 20/20 vision of the rear view mirror – he was wrong. I failed the training regimen not from not working hard enough – I failed because I wasn’t made of the same stuff as an Eric Heiden or Bonnie Blair. I was and am a weak and fragile facsimile of those kinds of athletes. And when I forced my body into weeks and months on end of anaerobic, high intensity workouts with little rest, I removed the one chance I had for success.

Thank you Stan for all your care, support, and belief. I wish I had truly had the kind of talent you hoped to nurture in me. That said, despite my flaws, and with your adept guidance on technique – I did get pretty far.

-John

 

Stan Klotkowski, Feb, 2006

The Dohnal Family

Whenever I think of the Dohnals, I always think of the movie Parenthood. In particular, I think of the woman whose daughter was dating Keanu Reeves and whose son (Joaquim Phoenix) is in a bit of trouble. So much drama in that household in the movie - now multiply that into 2 daughters, and 3 sons, and you get an idea of the Dohnal household - mass chaos all the time. (And Jean Dohnal sounded, and even looked a lot like that mom in the movie) The reason I know it was similar is - I slept on their couch - a lot. For years on end it seems I would fly into Milwaukee or drive or get dropped off somehow at their house and I would either sleep on the couch out front or on the floor in David's room. They'd feed me and talk to me and make me do chores. Honestly I felt like one of the kids - just slightly better behaved - as befits a guest.

Bob (Mr. Dohnal) would ask me to shovel or clean something and I would do it - and then all the other kids would laugh at me - "You're actually going to DO it?" They'd say incredulously.  One time, because Bob found out I was an 'engineer' he asked me to fix a light switch. I did so, but when I put in the new one, I reversed the wires, and for years I get hell for the basement light switch where 'down was on, up was off'.

Growing up in a strict household where you didn't contradict your parents, it was absolutely stunning to me that these kids had so much freedom to mouth off and disobey - and in my earlier years, for a while, I thought in some weird smug yet jealous way, "these kids are going to turn out all bad..."

Let's see - David (Slacker) has done multiple duties in Iraq for the US military and will return home to his new bride in Alaska.

Brett and Kevin have both earned significant promotions in the military and are officers of significant stature and travel the world.

Cari is married and living a great outdoorsly life in Durango Colorado, and Darcie is a doctor with several beautiful children. She also won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and we traveled together for years on the world team.

So - why did they do it? Why did they feed and ferry some kid around they hardly knew (at first) back and forth to competitions? What prompts this kind of rewardless charity from parents with a large brood who are trouble enough on their own to take on multiple other kids as well and care for them? Why were those kids so nice to me?

I don't exactly know, but they have set the gold standard. I do also know, that my continued skating during my college years, while living in California, was significantly contingent upon my ability to come stay at their house again and again, for years on end, to compete in those meets. And without that continued exposure to the sport and quality competitions, I would have never have made an Olympic team.

Thank you Bob. Thank you Jean. Thank you Slacker and Darcie and Cari and Kevin and Brett. Maybe it seems small to you - but you all have had a big impact on my life.

-John

Eric Heiden

Eric Heiden

 In 1980 Eric Heiden won an unprecedented 5 gold medals in the Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid, New York. Paling only in comparison to the underdog achievements of the “Miracle on Ice” hockey team of the same Olympiad, Eric’s successes were even more notable because… they were expected. In the previous years, Eric had managed to win the world junior championships, the world all around championships (senior division) and the world sprint championships (senior division) all in the same year.  

Talk about pressure – think Bode Miller, Marion Jones, Chad Hedrick. When was the last time the guy (or gal) expected to deliver it all actually mustered the breakthrough performances again and again and again to deliver in every event?

 

In the summer of that same year of 1980 I first met Eric sitting by the pool of a motel in San Diego where the U.S. national track cycling championships were being held and where I, at age 11, had just won my first national championship.

 

5 years later, I had been accepted to Stanford University – and also admitted to the school’s prospective freshman – “pro-fro” - program. Each student selected for this program was to fly out to the school and visit with someone within their preferred academic or athletic program. Lo and behold, Stanford hooked me up with the one and only Eric Heiden – a medical student working on his PHD as my “pro-fro” host.

 

The significance of this pairing was, embarrassingly, lost on me. I was a senior in high school, varsity in a couple sports, dating one of the prettier girls in school, and riding (like Eric) for 7-11 cycling team and was national speedskating champion the prior winter. I guess I thought I had it ‘going on’ though in my defense I don’t think I was cocky – just not exactly aware of the significance of my luck.

 

It didn’t occur to me that it might be odd and incredibly charitable for a 27 year old millionaire, 5 time gold medalist, cycling world champion and doctorate candidate at one of the world’s best medical schools to take on a skinny naïve high school kid from Michigan for a whole week. Even the fact that his girlfriend – an elegant blonde beauty from L.A. by the name of Tracy Kristofferson – was the daughter of a movie star and musician – even that escaped me.

 

The fact that he was so unassuming meant that I never got it – not until years later. Eric Heiden was a study in humility and success. When I arrived at his ‘cottage’ in the redwood forest above the Stanford campus on the appropriately named Upnuf Drive, the first thing I noticed was his stereo – Carver amp, pre-amp and some of the largest speakers I had ever seen. “The Drive” as I referred to it – that zig zag switchback approach to his house thousands of feet up above sea level we had to do daily in his Audi Quattro – left me sweating and terrified. Eric, as it turns out, doesn’t do much slowly..

 

After we settled in, his cat proceeded to pee on all my clean clothes – so Eric cheerfully washed them for me. I then waited what seemed like a polite interval and asked to see a gold medal.

 

He seemed perplexed at first and I was about to apologize and then he said, “Well, lets see… where are they…?” He dug around in the bowels of his closet on the floor for a minute or two, and then produced a sock – a heavy, dangling sock – and then shook it gently to extract its precious cargo – the solid gold of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics’ gold medal. Back in the closet it went…

 

Over the next days we rode bikes, visited the Ritchey bike factory, went to movies, listened to music. Tracy – his girlfriend – was the coolest chick I had ever met and provided me with all kinds of Hollywood gossip I was able to take back to my friends. “Did you know George Michael was gay?” Stunning news in 1985. She also took me to town to see a movie (Eric joined us after an errand.) It felt kinda like a date and I ate it up – we saw  “American Flyers” – one of only two movies about cycling ever to make the mainstream. This one starred Kevin Costner.

 

A couple days later and we went for mountain bike ride. I rode one of Eric’s spare Ritchey bikes and we met some of his buddies out for an ‘easy jaunt’. For Eric everything is easy. Its easy when you are not quite human. Just last summer (2007) Eric was out for a training ride with the national speedskating team. It was a long day full of climbs. There was a headwind on the way back, and Eric started taking a good portion of the pulls at the front to lead out the group and get them home. When friend Andy Gabel asked the 48 yr. old Heiden, “so, do you think you could have dropped them?” (the best of the best athletes in the country at the top of their game 25 years younger than you), he shrugged and mused, “yeah, probably…”

 

So on the morning of our ‘easy ride’ we pulled into the parking lot, and there are some of his buddies. Tom Ritchey, Chris Carmichael, Wayne Stetina and a few other top pro or ex-pro cyclists. Needless to say I got my ass handed to me on the ups – but they waited politely and we would then launch down the backsides of the trails where I held my own.

 

One night in particular helped to put Eric’s ‘hidden celebrity’ in stark contrast. Eric indicated he had an ‘errand’ (he was notoriously terse about things he had to do) so we drove out to Candlestick park. We got within about two miles of the stadium and then it was blocked off – there was a 49’ers game in progress and it was about to end, so all roads only led out. “Let’s trot” he said. “Trot” for you and I and other humans means one thing, “trot” for Eric Heiden means 5 and ½ minute pace.

 

I kept getting dropped and then we finally arrived at the fence surrounding the back side of the stadium – just as the game was getting out. One of the 49’er team managers came out to give Eric something (don’t recall what it was) and then out wandered Joe Montana to sign autographs – but he changed his direction to come say hello to Eric. At the top of his game, 1985, and he immediately changes course to greet Eric...Of course I didn’t really know much about Joe Montana at the time, so this was (again) lost on me.

 

Finally, it was time to fly home to Michigan. I distinctly remember the phone call home the night before my return flight. We had been so busy I hadn’t gotten around to calling home since my first day. Just as the question on the phone was voiced by my father, fear gripped me…

 

“So how’s campus? Did you get to watch any classes? How are the dorms?”

 

I suddenly realized we’d never quite made it over to Stanford. That confession was not met with much pleasure. But I promised to swing by Stanford in the morning on the way to the airport.

 

That was 22 years ago, but I remember much of it like it was yesterday – that’s how big an impact it truly had. What amazes me most, is that a 27 year old athletic hero deeply involved with school and businesses and on top of the world, would bother to give away a week to a skinny teenager he hardly knew.

 

Eric – thank you for that week and all the memories you helped create. You are a study in humility are truly a man to look up to.

 

(Here's a great article summarizing the accomplishments and media shunning habits of Mr. Heiden)

 

http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014225.html

Eric Flaim

Eric Flaim

My first memories of Eric were at the first national speedskating championships I ever attended – in 1981 – in Butte Montana. I was terrible but managed to get one 4th place in one final.

True to form, Eric wasn’t shy at all and on a touristy trip to visit the local copper mine – an expansive bowl shaped hole in the ground terraced by the digs and service roads for the heavy equipment - Eric’s snap comment was, “Now I know why they they call this Butt Montana – it’s a gigantic toilet."

This was strong humor for me - a 12 year old raised by conservative parents and I laughed long and hard until my dad reappeared. “Look – it’s a butt!” Eric pointed to a cloud, getting a rise out of all of us.

Eric is a fierce competitor and of all of those I competed with through the years, probably he is the one I was most surprised by – and I mean surprised – when I discovered (and I mean discovered) that we were friends.

Two years older than me, as teens growing up we only competed on rare intervals. Even as I failed to make the team in 1988, Eric skated a world record in the Calgary Olympics in the 1500m in what was one of the most technically perfect race ever skated. Even today you can watch the race and just be in awe of what he put together in that minute and fifty seconds. Ultimately he won a silver medal, having the gold stolen from him in one of the later pairs of skaters.

Cocky? Sure. Brash? Yes. Confident? Yep. Loud? Yes. Bold? Yes.

At first these aspects of Eric’s personality really make you want to dislike him. And for a while I held him at a distance – intrigued by his charm, pissed off by his on ice antics. In the 1994 Olympic trials, Eric and I had several run-ins leading to shouting matches with the referees. It was pretty much accepted that Eric was a favorite amongst the judges and referees – and in hindsight, who can blame them if it were true – Eric’s clearly a gutsy clutch player.

In the 1994 Olympic games, during the great race of the games – the 5000m short track relay where the USA won their 13th and final medal (the most ever in a winter Olympics), it was Eric (with an amazing push from Andy) that put in four straightaway strokes at the end of the race to steal back silver from the Australians and match his own medal from Calgary. Another silver medal – but this time one that I share with him along with Andy Gabel and Randy Bartz…

Ok, so Eric does suck as a roommate. Seriously he’s the worst roommate you can imagine on a trip overseas. In Norway in 1995 Eric was my roommate. Prior to that I had established a great rhythm with Andy or Randy as roommates. Respect for the nap, keeping quiet when the other person was sleeping, keeping the shades closed, keeping the bathroom reasonably clean, no rap music… These had become expectations for me, and Eric proceeded to break every unwritten rule. When Eric is up – everyone’s up. If Eric wakes early with jet lag – on goes the rap music, up goes the shades and when I grumpily stumble into the shower after he was done, he’s managed to use all the towels and still leave a puddle on the floor.

But Eric – he’ll do anything for you. I’m constantly reminded of my own selfishness in the face of his selflessness. If you are traveling through Boston and you have a layover, give him a call and he’ll volunteer to come get you and take you to dinner – and then insist on paying for it. The first to buy drinks, a big tipper, always willing to drive or go out of his way for people Eric seemingly has a horde of close friends – and no wonder – he is just so engaging and one of the most generous people I’ve met.

Thank you Eric – for so many things – your friendship, your lessons in service to others, and not the least for, on February 25th, 1994, slicing an amazing four straightaway strokes deep into your 8th relay exchange of the final event of those Olympic games and guaranteeing all of us the silver medal we share.

 

-John

  

Jeanne Omelenchuk

Jeanne Omelenchuk – Olympian 1960, 1968, 1972

Detroit Michigan, 1981 – 1984.

It was always frigid on those Tuesday and Thursday nights. Twirling in the black hole of grasping darkness, speedskaters from across southeast Michigan would gravitate to this forsaken twilight world - a world artificially created in a forlorn city park settled in the middle of the urban blight of the lights of Detroit. Taillights streaming, slinging our vehicles down the long chain link fence lined dirt drive to the low outbuildings of the Farwell Field warming hut, we were a disparate group of hardy souls in search of ice. Oppressed by the darkness but lit by the few lights afforded by the city, this patch of greenish black ice became a Mecca for a strange set of tightly clothed pilgrims.

Now, as an adult– all kinds of questions come to mind – wasn’t it dangerous there in the inner city? Who paid for the heating bills in the drafty, run down warming house? Who drove the Zamboni in order to keep that blackish green sheet of ice fairly smooth amongst the grit of the city? What did the parents do while us kids froze for hours on end out there in the dark?

Regardless, for several years during my early teens, a fixture of many winter evenings was the long drive through the black winter sky to Farwell field. The lacing of skates, and the walk out on the black rubber mats to this weird frozen tundra in the urban jungle were a staple of my after school experience. And always there was the presence of this elegant woman, this fragile piece of porcelain in the dark ill-lit cold of this urban skating mecca.

Often accompanied by her gregarious husband George, who whose booming voice and large frame would dominate the warming house, Jeannhe Omelenchuk’s presence was made known only on the ice.

To my 12, 13 and 14 year old self, Jeanne was sort of ageless. Older, but with elegant lines and grace on the ice – night after night I watched her make beautiful turns and then fade into the dark, coaching her pupils. Most nights she wore the old 70’s style peaked speedskating hat and the cotton or wool tights and jerseys that were just fading in favor of spandex. But some nights she let her hair loose.

One night, she took an interest in me. I think we were in different clubs – not exactly sure – and started coaching me. No pay, no rewards – just the common interest that one human being displays to another human being after witnessing their struggles.

I was everything Jeanne was not – awkward where she was elegant, hard angles where she was lissome, choppy where she was graceful. But she took pity on me, and night after night would ask me follow her and would skate slowly, smoothly ahead of me and show me how to ride the left blade, how to move my limbs smoothly, under control, how to skate a crossover without requiring centrifugal force to align my limbs.

And it worked and slowly, painstakingly, I was able to make an elegant crossover – in slow motion – that wasn’t awkward and forced.

And then time moved on and different rinks came and went and I saw her less and less.

I won clocks – many of them – from the annual ‘silver skates’ competitions and other meets and still have most of them. All of these supplied, and sponsored by George Omelenchuk’s clock shop in Detroit. And usually, she was still there – a face in the crowd, smiling, quiet - always pleased with her pupil… until one day – probably 20 years ago, I glimpsed her elegant features again for a moment in the face of the crowd and then never saw her again.

Unthanked.

 

Thank you Jeanne Omelenchuk, for bothering on a miserable, cold, dark evening in Detroit to select an unwilling and undeserving student. Thank you for giving so much and receiving nothing in return.

   

Jeanne Omelenchuk

Aug. 6, 2004

Omelenchuk was chosen for the Hall of Fame as an outstanding female athlete who attended Wayne State but was unable to compete for the university during her competitive years. Olympic speedskater Jeanne Omelenchuk received her B.A. from Wayne State in 1954 and her M.A. in Education in 1962. During her outstanding career in speedskating Jeanne represented the United States in the Winter Olympics during 1960, 1968, and 1972. She competed in Squaw Valley, California in 1960, in Grenoble, France in 1968 and in Sapparo, Japan during the 1972 Olympiad. She is the holder of 14 national speedskating titles, more than anyone in the history of the sport. She was a member of four United States World Speedskating Teams during four consecutive seasons 1968-1971. During her career, Jeanne has won six North American, four National, and 12 State speedskating titles. She has state records in the 880, ¾ Mile, One Mile and Two Mile speedskating events. In 1978, Jeanne won the National Veterans Women's Speedskating Championship. Not only is Jeanne an outstanding speedskater, but she also won the National bicycling championship in 1952 and 1953. By doing this she became the first woman to ever win national titles in two different major sports events.