Finding Resonance: Strengths x Environment(squared) = Performance

Finding Resonance: Strengths x Environment2 = Performance What’s Your Frequency? A good number of entries in this blog have been about how important it is to find your strengths, and for good reason – only by knowing your true talents can you design a life to maximize them. That said, strengths are actually a relatively small part of the equation for peak performance. Clearly identified, strengths are just a data point unless they are utilized in an environment where they are needed, wanted, and resonate. We have all known a talented co-worker – engineer, accountant, creative director – who just wasn’t “a fit” with the people, work or culture of a company and floundered, eventually leaving or being “exited.” Yet, we all know of situations where a few months later in a similar role in a similar company, this same person with the same skillset is suddenly flourishing. What gives? I would assert that the subtle and unique combination of skills, talents and capabilities of this employee (or leader, athlete, or musician) were out-of-tune with the resonant frequency of their environment. To explain, let me introduce a metaphor from the world of audio.

I have a fascination with subwoofers. For me, there is something compelling about the super-low, even subsonic, bass notes from the kick drum, tympani or pipe organ that cause standing waves in milk, and your insides, to curdle. Sadly, my neighbor, Dolores, does not feel the same way, and these days I have to switch the subwoofer off unless I’m sure she’s not home.

I used to have a 3000-watt subwoofer that was capable of 95 decibels at 20 hertz (the low end of human hearing) which would rattle the windows in the living room. Now, I have a 300-watt subwoofer that is capable of 105 decibels at 20 hertz. By way of comparison, the lower the frequency, the exponentially greater the power required to create the same volume level. 10 additional decibels requires exactly 10 times more power. Yet, this new subwoofer has 1/10th of the power. So how is it possible to achieve 10 times the volume with 1/10th of the power, a 100-fold performance improvement?

Resonance.

The old subwoofer was crammed into a tiny cabinet to save space. The new subwoofer has a large (5’) cylindrical enclosure that allows standing waves to build inside before escaping through a specially-tuned port. Now, I can rattle the windows of the neighbor’s house 100 feet away without even turning the volume up half way.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 2.23.13 PM

The subwoofer came disassembled and it was a fascinating experiment to run a low bass tone through the speaker absent the enclosure, and to hear essentially nothing other than a rubbery whooshing as it emptied its power into the cavernous emptiness of the room. The contrast upon moving the speaker into proximity with the enclosure was startling, as the whole house would begin to shake with the bold power of resonating bass.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 2.24.20 PM

To complete the metaphor: Your strengths are the power driving the speaker (yes more power is better), but your environment is the enclosure that can either amplify your strengths 100-fold, or stifle them to nothingness. Of the two, the enclosure/environment is exponentially more important in determining output and performance.

Are you in the right “enclosure” to amplify your strengths? Are you vibrating at a resonant frequency with your career, your home, your hobbies, your friends, or your relationships? Or are you out of tune with your environment, wasting all your power vacuously shaking in place with no impact on the world?

What about your teams, your children, your family and friends – what kind of environment are you creating for them? Are you helping them find their resonant frequency, and designing the kind of space, culture and environment that allows them to achieve peak performance and output? Or are you cramming them into the predetermined architecture of your world, traditional schools, traditional rules and expectations, stifling them in the process?

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

Want to learn more about your strengths and how to leverage those of your team? Join me and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Guest Post by Michael Ziener: If You Had Superhero Powers...

If You Had Superhero Powers..., Would You Need to Ask What Am I “Supposed” to Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life? - by Michael Ziener

In a recent article, John Coyle asked a very good question: what are your superhero powers? I want to echo that question. To clarify, I am not asking if you can morph into any shape to camouflage yourself from the evil villain or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, what differentiates you from the group? Every single one of us is unique. I can quickly think of some people who had incredible “superhero” strengths that altered the course of history. Who was the first person that popped into your mind?

  • Michael Jordan
  • Mozart
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Einstein
  • Ben Underwood

You’re probably asking yourself, who is Ben Underwood?

“Ben Underwood was diagnosed with retinal cancer at the age of two and had his eyes removed at the age of three. He was able to detect the location of objects by making frequent clicking noises with his tongue. He used it to accomplish such feats as running, playing basketball, riding a bicycle, rollerblading, playing football, and skateboarding.” www.benunderwood.com

Ben Underwood’s superhero strengths of listening and making sounds gave him the amazing ability to see with no eyes, no guide dog and no cane. But, he had to lose his sight before he could find his path.

So, how did I find my superhero strength? When I was in my 30’s and owned a marketing firm, I thought “This is it! I made it. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” I had a wife, a son, a home and my own company. Nope. I was the furthest away from where I was “supposed” to be, and I had no clue what was about to happen. My superhero strength was about to present itself.

First, some background. I had lost my entire family to cancer: mom, dad and grandparents. I had suppressed those emotions so deep; it was preventing me from realizing my own strength. Not strengths like being extroverted or empathetic, but something I possessed which ultimately turned into a reinvention of my career and myself. I figured out what I was supposed to be doing: why I am here.

Ziener Family

In 2007, I was looking through the lens of a video camera recording a documentary for “my company” at a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Chicago. I was filming a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer telling her story. As I was watching and listening to her take every breath in my headphones, a flood of emotion came out of nowhere that overwhelmed me. I was mentally taken back to the exact moment my father walked into my bedroom when I was 9 years old to tell me that my mother, age 39, in 1982, had died of stage 4 breast cancer. Drop video camera….

I decided to sell my company and in 2008, I became the CEO of that very same chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure©, charged with driving that organization through massive growth over a 4-5 year period. Through collaboration and my newfound strength of HELPING OTHERS, we went from $700k in annual revenues to $4m in revenues in under 5 years. These increased funds allowed women who did not have insurance to receive mammograms. I was helping. I was making an IMPACT. My pain became my passion.

Screen Shot 2012-11-24 at 1.30.31 AM

I have an undeniable ability or superhero strength to help others. To give more of myself than what I used to believe I could offer. I have found that I possess the ability to give hope and aid through a newly identified “servant heart.” My career serving others was born. I am no Michael Jordan. I may not impact the world like Martin Luther King, Jr. but, that is not the intention of this article. I want each of you to realize that you are unique and possess a strength that is non-traditional.

What differentiates you from the group? What is your remarkable ability that could potentially alter your life and bring you to a place of fulfillment that you never thought was achievable? What undiscovered superhero strength might you hold? What are you supposed to be doing?

-Michael Ziener

_DSC5081

Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers?

Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers? The popularity of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, and  similar assessments, has given a great deal of exposure to the idea that “discovering strengths” can enhance  productivity, success and happiness.

A quick scan of the field, however, suggests that most  assessments that help people find their natural strengths and talents, tend to focus on cognitive or interpersonal capabilities. Characteristics like “analytic,” “empathetic,” “competitive,” “organized,” “intuitive,” and “extroverted,” have become the language de riguer to describe strengths and talents. Yet, these terms ignore a whole host of other characteristics that clearly play a role in the successes or failures of individuals.

Perhaps we need to expand the strengths playing field.

We know from ample research that people generally make “blink” or intuitive judgments about others based on a host of factors, many of which have nothing to do with their cognitive ability. For example, we know that height is a seriously influential predictor for deciding the next president.

What “non-traditional,” unnamed, or counter-intuitive strengths might you have? Think of other categories of talent and capability:

  • Physical characteristics: height, weight, presence, shape, posture, voice
  • Kinesthetic skills: balance, touch, fine motor control, spacial capability
  • Artistic talents: rhythm, tone, pitch, color sensitivity
  • Physical abilities: lung capacity,  fast twitch muscles,  eyesight, smell, taste

And then there is synesthesia – the mixing of some or all of these elements, where smells or sounds have a color, and people can see feelings or hear a silent activity.

When I think of my super-talented friends and acquaintances, I tend to find a weird intersection of common and uncommon capabilities melded in a counter-intuitive way. For instance, Tina DeSalvo is a tiny, tiny woman. Her physical presence is so diminutive that she could easily be dismissed and marginalized in the business world. Instead, she matches this non-threatening physical aspect with a calm, yet steely, confidence to lead boardrooms of men through exercises of vulnerability that would be nearly impossible with another facilitator.

Steve DeCaspers is the opposite – a large man with a round head and kind features. Steve can make any room in the world laugh and is one of the best MC’s I have ever seen.

Matt Stutzman has no arms, but through his stubborn refusal to consider himself handicapped holds the world record for the longest accurate archery shot, thanks to the strength, flexibility and stability of his legs.

David Rendall was repeatedly rebuked as a child for being a) unable to sit still, b) unable to stop talking, c) being the class clown, and d) unable to take direction. Now he travels the world where he a) never sits down, b) talks for a living, c) tells lots of jokes, and d) runs his own successful business as a public speaker.

Chris Callis was an average student in the classroom. But, one day, when I asked him to help me pack my moving truck, I saw spacial relationship genius of the finest order. It  would have taken me 3 trips to stack, pack and rearrange all my furniture and boxes in that small truck. Yet, Chris managed to reverse, rejigger, scissor and jigsaw into place all my worldly belongings in one trip in a small moving truck. Chris grew up assisting his father, who was an electrician, so he naturally had a talent with 3-D spacial relationships.

I could go on with story after story, but the point is that each of us was born with a series of talents, and has developed a set of skills across multiple spectrums. If we could weave a thread through ALL our superhero strengths and find an environment where we could use them, it would be like being superman on earth – we’d be unstoppable.

What are all your superhero powers?


 Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 2.04.34 PM

Is your current environment full of kryptonite?

kryptonite1

What Strength Will You Focus on in 2015?

“It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.” (J. C. Watts) In 2015, I will focus on developing some relatively newly-discovered strengths and deliberately designing around the well-trodden paths of my weaknesses.

  • Strengths: I will spend more time writing and speaking (a relatively newly-discovered strength). Both of these activities fill me with energy and purpose, and bring color into my life. I have already discussed this with my employer and designed my job description to focus on these areas.
  • Weaknesses: I will stop pretending that I have significant strengths in detail orientation and follow-through. I will rely on people who are strong in these areas, so that I can dream big and still deliver.

Please share: What strength will you focus on in 2015? Or what weakness are you chasing that you will let go or turn over to someone else?  Please share with our community by commenting below.

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 4.27.47 PM

The 1, 2, 3's on Leading a Strength-Focused Life

The 1 / 2 / 3's on Leading a Strength-Focused Life

  1. What are your greatest strengths? Do you know what they are? (If not, why not?)

"Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his/her greatest strength." (Marcus Buckingham)

  1. Is there a strength or talent you have let lie dormant or that you need to focus on in 2015? 

"You will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses." (Marcus Buckingham)

  1.  Have you been pursuing a weakness at work or in another area of your life you need to let go in 2015? 

"It doesn't take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go." (J. C. Watts)

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 4.26.01 PM

Want help finding your strengths?   http://strengthssummit2015. eventbrite.com

One Resolution for 2015: "Race Your Strengths"

"Race Your Strengths" was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period. walden

For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution - the kind of resolution that "floats all boats." For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden's advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of "flow" where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are "racing our strengths" we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of "really living," experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths. 

21812447_m

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.

Enhance Your Weaknesses! Vol 4 1/2: A parody

A parody of my last post by my friend, Eric Hankins - teacher extraordinare and one of the funniest people I know. Too bad I can't post the original - alas here's the toned down version.
--------------------------------------
Enhance your Weaknesses, Vol. 197
 
As time goes by, I find myself contemplating what it takes to be a failure as an athlete.  I have trained with the best: Marek "My Waist Size is Smaller Than My Wrist" Kotrly; Dave "Could Anyone Lend Me Some Money" Dohnal; and John "I Will Be Wearing Adult Diapers Under My Spandex Skin Suit At The Nursing Home" Coyle to name a few.
 
In the book. "We Are All Failures" by Miguel inotrain, he makes a great point to say that every athlete has specific weaknesses that can be only appreciated by the athlete himself.  I maintain that there are four attributes that can make a for a truly terrible athlete.
  1. Lack of Motivation
  2. Substitutional Training
  3. Diet
  4. Deadbeat Parents
The first of these, Lack of Motivation, is something that I can relate to and as I reflect on my cycling career 20+ years ago, this is something that really comes to surface.  I remember my coach, the infamous Dr. Charles Kotrly, would yell at our team about sacrifice and being self motivated.  He maintained that consistent success is determined by consistent commitment and the desire to win will dominate at a critical time when an athlete is wavering on staying home and venturing out into the elements to train all day.  This lack of motivation is something that I not only had...I treasured.  When I think back to those rainy, windy days, I would think I should be on the bike, but then I contemplated how comfortable I was and realized getting lapped out of a race was well worth staying on the couch.  I would envision throwing my hands up, crossing the finish line in first place or being the last guy across the line.  Being a couch potato was well worth getting dropped in a race.
 
The second, Substitutional Training, is something that I was very good at doing.  I still remember looking out my window for Dave Dohnal to go cycling past my house while playing Atari.  While it might have made a difference between standing on the podium at the next race versus being fully changed with an ice cream cone in hand to cheer on the rest of my team because I got lapped out, three laps into the race, I still considered my substitutional activity to be worthwhile.  My max heart-rate and VO2 might not have equated to the same outcome as leaving the house and hooking onto Dohnal's wheel, but scoring my personal best on Pong was well worth skipping the training ride.
 
The third, Diet, is very important to failing.  There is no doubt that plenty of fruit and veggies along with a protein diet will make you strong, but consider how much more impressed we are of seeing the likes of my brother, Jonny "I look like I Am In My Third Trimester" Hankins pedal all the way across Wisconsin a few summers ago.  I actually look at fat guys with envy.  They have to work that much harder than everyone else.  I can remember how much I enjoyed an ice cream sandwich at races while everyone else was eating bars that tasted like cardboard and drinking energy drinks that looked and tasted like urine.  Eat like crap, get crap results.  It might not have been the biggest factor in my dismal performance, but it sure didn't make me any better.
 
The last is something that is probably the single most important - Deadbeat Parents.  My divorced parents were awesome.  I think they went to a few bike races and managed to not attend one speed-skating race.  When I was 8, my dad was rarely around according to my lovely mother who spent all her free time at the Unitarian Church conversing with middle aged hippies.  Whether it was talking to other ladies who shared books on astrology or how to make a casserole that turns your stool into something that looks like a yellow Baby Ruth laced with celery, my mom was always about enjoying life more than winning anything in it.  My mom would go to my cycling races and spend the entire event trying to get some random spectator signed up for Amway.  Meanwhile, the referee is blowing the whistle at her idiot son to get out of the race because he was so far behind.  To this day I remember coming up behind my mom while she was writing her phone number down for some rehabilitated inmate and she was always like "oh Eric, isn't your race still going on?"  Then there was my dad who was always offering ways I could improve my performance on the drive home with a cigarette dangling from his lip.  Blowing an entire pack of cigarette smoke in my face while preaching his ideas on how to improve performance.  Thanks for helping me win a certificate for asthma and sinusitis dad!
 
Stay tuned, more to come...
 
Eric

Race Your Strengths! Vol. 1

Race Your Strengths! Vol. 1

 

THE core principle of the Walden school of thought: more than just a ‘race rule’, this is the essential philosophy of my coach Mike Walden’s approach to training – and to life.

 

What I didn’t know is that this refrain would serve as a protective layer from the good intentions and unintended negative outcomes of almost all the coaches to succeed Mike over the years.

 

What I learned much later is that this concept has become the core principal behind one of the great new movements in modern psychology, better known as “positive psychology,” this concept of “Discovering your Strengths” has become part of the corporate ideology for success – and rightly so.

 

 

In the summer of 1990 I moved to Colorado Springs to train with the national team along with Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair and about 20 other top U.S. Speed skaters. The summer program had at its heart a series of tests to determine athletic potential and I was excited to prove my mettle with the best of the best.

 

I flew into the bright dry air of Colorado Springs flush with confidence: despite spending the prior four years mastering the curriculum of one of the toughest academic programs in the country and living in California, of all places, I had managed to make the world speed skating team both of my last two years, and mustered a 10th place finish at the world speed skating championships in the 500m.

 

Up until this point I was one of those lucky ones – despite the usual setbacks and failures along the way (I got lapped in my first speed skating race – and that was a long track event in Farwell field, Detroit,) I had made steady progress almost every year.

 

Four years earlier, as a high school senior, still training under local coaches Mike Walden, Clair Young and Marc Affholter I managed to be the top junior athlete (under 18) in the country in two sports – cycling and speedskating, and traveled to both Morocco and the Netherlands to compete in the world championships for both sports. Four years of progress later, and in the winter of 1990 I was posting some of the fastest lap times in the country for any age group for skating. Indeed, my 10th place finish at the world short track speedskating championships was a result of a fall in the quarter final. I had convinced myself I could win that event…

 

I assumed, at the time, that with the right coaches and training, my performance would accelerate – that once I joined a “real” program and trained harder, and more consistently, that results would come in spades. The training program set by Mike Walden, Clair Young, Marc Affholter, which I still pretty much followed by default on my own in California had been good enough to get me where I was, but…

 

At the time I guess I thought it was decent enough stuff for those ‘local coaches’ – but considered myself ready for ‘the real thing.’ I was fully convinced I would not only make the 1992 Olympic team, but that I had a great shot at standing on the podium. Indeed – I was so full of myself, I actually thought I could possibly compete in 3 different sports in one Olympic year – short track, long track, and cycling. Why not?

 

I had no idea that every one of these assumptions was wrong. I could never have imagined that a mere six months later that I would be a shell of my former self without even a prayer of making even a “B” travel team in any one of those sports, and that after the national team trials in my primary sport I would find myself unfunded, coachless, jobless, hopeless and confused… and that it would only get worse from there as I prepped for the Olympics in 1992 and beyond…

 

Test #1 of 5, Hard Training: (July, 1990:)

 

When I stepped off the plane in Colorado Springs, CO less than a month after college graduation. I was not fit. I had just returned from a weeklong trip to Mexico with four of my best friends for a week of partying in Cancun. My lack of fitness was also due to the 36 credit load I had to finish spring quarter to make up for a full slate of incompletes I took in winter quarter due to traveling in Europe for competitions and the world championships.

 

Still, I wasn’t worried – I had always responded well to hard training and fully expected to quickly assume a spot very high up in the speedskating hierarchy. One thing though, was different this time: I had made the switch to long track speedskating at the end of the season. After getting knocked down in the quarterfinals at the short track world championships in March in an echoing arena largely absent of spectators, I had walked outside of Edens Icehall in Amsterdam to discover nearly 3000 people skating for fun on the long track right outside its doors. I fell in love with the idea that someone (besides my parents) might watch and cheer for the sport that was slated to become my full time occupation.

 

The coaches at the camp – Susan Sandvig, John Teaford, and Mike Crowe wasted no time in clarifying the route to success: hard work, mental toughness (suffering,) and volume. This was the proven program originally defined by Diana Holum and Eric Heiden and it produced the sport’s single greatest champion (Heiden). This would be our model, and if we wanted to have a chance to be like Eric (we all did) then this was the way to do it. (Eric won 5 gold medals – one in every speedskating distance – in the 1980 Olympics. Just to put this in perspective – this would be like Husain Bolt winning not only the 100m and 200m but the 400m, 1500m, and 10,000m events as well. This is astounding even to this day.)

 

I, like everyone else, was a believer. The concept of ‘the harder you work, the more you’ll achieve’ was clear and compelling. I threw myself, as is my mode, into it with all my heart and sinew.

 

This proved to be my undoing rather quickly. After a light jog on the evening of our first day, we entered the 3 – a –day workout regimen that was to dominate the next month, the next year – indeed the next 4 years of my life. The very next morning we did a long bike ride in the morning (at least something I was used to) and then followed it up by a weights ‘test’ in the late morning, and sprints and jumps in the afternoon.

 

In the weight room I was eager to show my strengths. I had never really done squats before but I didn’t let that bother me. I was encouraged to just use the bar and ‘get used to it’ but I was way too gung-ho to listen and soon was stacking on a pair of 45lb plates, and then 4 (still nowhere near the 10 or 12 plates Dan Jansen would regularly put on) but enough to at least walk out of the gym with my pride intact. I also did bench press, hamstring curls, leg extensions, crunches and all the other things everyone else was doing. Ah… the innocence and stupidity of youth.

 

That same afternoon, I’ll never forget – we went up into the foothills near the Broadmoor as the sun began to make the fields golden and we embarked on a sprint & plyometrics (jumps) workout, swapping a dozen “knee to chest” jumps with 100 yard sprints. We did 10 sets of each.

 

Climbing down from the bus prior to the workout, I had some new sensations – I felt awkward and my muscles felt, well, tweaked – sending all kinds of startling signals and shocks to my brain, yet not responding to basic requests. They felt like foreign limbs with electrodes implanted in them jerking them into motion. But after some hill runs for a warmup during which I suffered immensely I regained some semblance of control for the main workout. After a sloppy first set of jumps and the follow-on sprint I was fully warmed up. On the second and third sets, I was on my game – floating like a gazelle on the knee-to-chest jumps – rising up above the crowd in almost in slow motion – bouncing quickly up and then during the peak of my jump, banging my knees upward to extend that float before time resumed and I dropped back down. Then the whistle and I found myself breaking quickly into the clean air of the lead during the sprints as I sailed out into the lead of some of the world’s best athletes. I smiled inwardly, just a little smug in my confidence: everything was turning out just as I planned…

 

That is until repetitions #s 4, 5, 6, 7 followed through. Each sprint and jump tore the remaining flaps and threads of my muscles. The coaches shouted encouragement and then resulted to goads, “C’mon Coyle – where’s that sprint? Where’s that height?” I tried to respond and for a while I did. By sprint #9 I was done. I couldn’t actually lift my hamstrings and did sort of standing dead lift jumps and then as I tried to sprint I was kicking myself sloppily after a few steps. I broke off and stood to the side as the coaches prodded me, shouting. I said nothing – I couldn’t even begin to describe what was going on in my body – but it had entered that deep down bone ebb – I knew I was hurt but I didn’t know exactly how or why.

 

I winced and hobbled back to the bus, and then did the same wobbling act to get to dinner with an excruciating effort only exceeded by the walk back to the dorms. After dinner everyone went out to the hot tubs and I desperately wanted to go, but I couldn’t seem to straighten out my legs without incredible pain, so I stayed in bed.

 

Things got worse.

 

The next 24 hours reigns unique in my life. It is the one and only full day that I’ve ever been truly bedridden. For more than 24 hours I never left my bed. I was on the top bunk and I couldn’t bend my legs. I had bleeding wooden joints. Even slight movements had me gasping and sweating in place. My abdominals didn’t fare much better – from the jumps – and I couldn’t sit up. Top it off with an extraordinarily sore chest and biceps (I couldn’t straighten my arms), and the unraveling was complete – I couldn’t move.

 

That day, as everyone packed up in the morning for practice, I asked my roommates Brendan Eppert and Dave Besteman to give me a couple plastic cups of water and then I lay back down – and didn’t move for an entire day.

 

It wasn’t until late the following evening that biological needs drove me from my bed. I had to have Dave and Brendan lift me down, sweating in pain, after I swung my legs over the edge. It took me several days to recover and rejoin the team. In the meantime, my confidence started to waver

 

Results of Test #1, Hard Training:  FAILURE

 

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

 

Next up Test #2: VO2 Max w/ Lance Armstrong

 

A Lucky Club: "Olympic Alumnus"

Last week I enjoyed another “Life of Riley” moment. As a member of the athlete council for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee (which I earned through doing nothing other than being a former Olympian) I was invited to be a “principal for the day” for a school the Chicago area. At first I balked as it meant taking a full vacation day during a very busy time at work – but eventually Diane Simpson one of the leaders of the athlete council talked me into it.

 

I am glad I made the time.

 

For about 3 hours that morning my feet squeaked through the shiny white tile floors and peeling paint on the cinder block hallways of the Betsy Ross elementary school in the heart of the south side of Chicago at 59th and Wabash.  Christine Kijowski. the P. E. teacher walked me from room to room and was a study in grace.Per their instructions I wore my Olympic warmups, and then covered my bets in order to entertain the kids and brought props – the silver medal from the ’94 games, the shiny gaudy gold Olympic ring, the 18” blade and carbon fiber boot of my speed skate, and best of all (when I was allowed to light it) the still-working torch from the 1996 Atlanta Games torch run.

 

Kids love fire. So do I.

 

Let’s be clear. I’m a white guy. I sometimes forget this as I don’t really think about race or ethnicity very much, but in the 6 classrooms I visited there were only African American children – not a single other ethnicity represented. Whatever I was supposed to think about that I failed, as usual, to do so. They were just kids, sitting at the same uncomfortable wooden desks as I did at their age with remarkable discipline that dissolved and reformed quickly with a teacher’s voice. So I spoke loud to cut through the chatter, asked names, and mostly handed them stuff to look at – they liked to see and handle stuff. Were they any different than kids in any other school? No.

 

And it was fun – they asked lots of questions, some of which I couldn’t answer, and politely handed around and returned my ring, medal, skate, and torch. The most rewarding moment of the whole morning was when I spoke to the entire preschool of about 80 kids sitting in a circle (after they read me poetry and sang songs in honor of my visit) and they then swarmed me to give me group and individual hugs, hugs and more hugs. Damn little knee biters nearly took me down – I loved it.

 

I then proceeded into the city up Indiana and then Michigan Avenue to the Hilton Towers where a “Principal for the Day” luncheon was held for all the other volunteers and athletes. Special guests were Mayor Daley and Brian Clay – the Olympic gold medalist in decathalon from the Beijing games just a few months back.

 

I wandered into the huge ballroom and had no idea where to sit. Just then Diane intercepted me and ushered me to one of the athlete’s tables. I sat down and recognized a face across from me – none other than John Vandevelde – the father of this year’s 4th place finisher in the Tour de France. We had met earlier this summer. I said hello and shook hands and then let my eyes drift to the person in between us. I stopped cold.  You’re… You’re Christian. (Christian Vandevelde his son – 4th in the tour de France this year – another super-stud.) I smoothed out my words and held out my hand. He was funny and gracious and we talked quite a bit over the next hour before he left to get ready for the AC/DC concert to be held that night.

Christian Vandevelde & his dad

 

We also talked about my former nemesis Jamie Carney – I described some of our old antics and a recent event where I had seen Jamie after 20 years this summer at Downer’s Grove. I laughed and recalled how the old tension still seemed to be there. Christian laughed too and said – yeah, that’s Jamie – he’s never going to change. He then referenced Jaime's name change a while back to "J-Me" but referred to him as "Jay-dash-me" and I howled in laughter. He then said, "my Dad can’t stand him." I understood.

Chicago Mayor Daley

 

Rewind: a while back I had received this email. It was regarding a different event than the one described above, but it does capture the lucky club I’ve found myself a member of. It is from the "Godfather of Michigan Cycling" Ray Dybowski - a friend, Wolverine teammate, and fellow disciple of the Walden school. More accurately Ray is the heir apparent to the Walden coaching legacy:

 

From: rd311@chrysler.com [mailto:rd311@chrysler.com] Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 1:17 PM To: Coyle, John Subject: [WSCRacing] TBAM: Week of 09/08/2008

 

John,

  

In my searches of your blog, I found an article about you being invited to a gathering and were told "there would be other fellow Olympians there." This line stuck in my thoughts.

 

Of course there is the fact that even though I spent time at the OTC (Olympic Training Center), I am not a fellow Olympian. It made me think of all the people that go to the Olympics and miss a medal by the greatest and smallest of margins but are still fellow Olympians and the few that rise to achieve a medal and the incredible odds of it happening.

 

I think about Lance and his great abilities never accomplishing that goal and Michael Phillips almost making it look easy. The athletes with confidence that show up expecting to and do win and the underdogs unexpectedly standing on the podium and better yet to listen to their National Anthem.

 

I think about Mike Walden and his almost 'shoot from the hip' style and the successes a number of his athletes enjoyed, and those that dreamed and strived for it........ All those great athletes around the world with talents and abilities but would'a, should'a, could'a and never made it and wonder why. And the Kacey’s and Luke’s that have a chance and are trying to learn how to get there.

 

Also, the fact that being a part of this (Olympic) club, that has probably close to the same chances of as winning the lottery, yet does happen to people from all social structures around the world.  

 

So the question is; What does it take for an athlete to become a fellow Olympian?

 

Kindest Regards,

 

Ray Dybowski

 

 

Well Ray, that’s quite a question. One deserving of a rich response, so I'll post the long answer of what I think it takes – it will probably take me 4 or maybe 5 posts… starting next week. My honest belief is that Walden Principle #1 is the reason that some join "the club" and others don’t – "Race Your Strengths, Train Your Weaknesses."

More to come next week,

-John