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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Williams’

The Solo System: Friendship and their Orbits

Friend: a person who has a strong liking for and trust in a another person. –Miriam-Webster’s

This weekend my wife and I will visit my closest (non-family) friend. Friendship has been on my mind of late. Truth be told, some version of that sentence accurately describes some part of my day pretty much every day, just a bit more so of late. You can never have enough friends and all. True enough that, but one should reflect a bit on what it is that constitutes friendship, and what it means to be a friend.

Once upon a time in college I embarked on an adventure, a hitchhiking journey to meet up with mates from college, eventually landing on the beach in North Carolina. My Dad was dead set against it. It was time for me to go to work for the summer, and quite honestly the itinerary was more than a little “skinny” on details.

Me: “But Dad, these guys are my friends!”

Dad: “Probably not. In 10 years you may not even know a single phone number for one person who was there. You are lucky if you have a single friend in the world.”

Man, I hated him for that. I left angry and returned triumphant (God watches over fools and Irishmen). Sure enough, only one among that group remains, and he only a warm afterthought. My Dad, of course, was spot on.

Each of us lives in a galaxy of people who swirl around us as if we were a pre-Galilean Earth. Think Brian Regan’s famous “Science Fair” bit: “The big yellow one is [me].” This very center of this solo system is made up of our friends, however few. They are close enough to touch, always in view. Surrounding this inner circle is a slightly larger one filled with friendly acquaintances, people who may once have been friends or may yet become friends, but at present a group of people we are genuinely happy to see but don’t necessarily go out of our way to do so. Next is that mass of people we’ve met, a group not notable for anything; we don’t think of them at all. There are enemies, too, but for now let’s leave them be. All of this floats in a universe of beings we’ve yet to, or will never meet.

What is it that moves one from the orbit of friendly acquaintances into that innermost sphere of friends? The mechanics of it are really quite banal: shared experiences, a kind of proximity (geographic or in our modern world electronic), enough values held in common that you can forgive those that are different. It’s subtle, the difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend. Heck, you may have some friendly acquaintances who like you, like who you are just as much as your friend. Maybe more. The difference, I think, is not so much in the liking as it is in the trusting and the caring.

Your friend cares about you. Cares what you think. He pauses before he acts or speaks and takes a moment to think about you before he does either. Someone with whom you are friendly might meet you halfway on something, but your friend will go way beyond that toward you because he cares a bit more about what you think than maybe even what he might. While your friendly acquaintance will likely never hurt you your friend will protect you from hurt. Might even take the hit for you and suffer so that you might not.

Because of this you trust your friend in a way that you trust no one other than your closest family. In a sense you’ve pre-forgiven him because you know…you just know…that he not only will he not hurt you, but he will be ever vigilant against doing so even by accident. My Dad was right. You don’t get very many of these. Indeed, most are fortunate to get one at a time.

Your little solo system is ever-changing; people move in and out of orbits, sometimes inward and sadly occasionally out. People grow differently. They change or they move. The work of friendship is hard because it requires looking outward at the same time you allow another to look in. It’s a high wire/high risk enterprise, being someone’s friend. In many ways it’s as if your very soul is in the harness, and your friend is on belay. And in your hand you hold the rope that allow’s YOUR friend’s soul to soar.

Right beside yours.

Yours ever in friendship,

Careless Joy

Quiet house. Quiet lake. Quiet mind? Not so much.

When you are riding high, hitting all of your numbers, looking out over a quiet lake as far as the eye can see and embarking on another stretch of smooth sailing, are you the type that rides the crest of that wave with the carefree joy it deserves? Or are you rather the sort that cannot shake the awareness that below your tranquil waters there lies a hidden reef that portends despair should you happen upon it? The question is more than just the old “are you an optimist or a pessimist” saw, I think. At its core lies one of the keys to happiness: can you live in a happy moment without simultaneously giving space to another darker, sadder moment?

During the dance are you always on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop?

None among us lives a life filled with only joy and happiness. Indeed, there are those whose lives are a proverbial slog from one tragic moment to another. Blessedly, in our developed world, these “treadmills of tragedy” are actually quite rare. Likely as rare as the Unicorn lives filled with nothing but rainbows and Skittles. No, for most of us it’s simply a question of degree leavened by, I dunno, attitude I guess. Do we approach the smorgasbord of our lives as ones of “quiet desperation” as so many novelists propose, or do we rather travel in a state of “careless joy”?

Beth and I are hosted friends this weekend at Casa Blanco, the invitation having come spontaneously months prior and quite amazingly accepted and consummated. The one, a classmate from college, I’ve known for 40 years. The other is my classmate’s relatively new love. How they’ve arrived together at Casa Blanco is quite fascinating. One has lived a life which from the outside seems to have been charmed beyond belief, while the other has struggled mightily to overcome significant childhood traumas. One looks back and muses on choices made and how things might have turned out if present day insights might have been available when earlier crossroads were encountered, while the other has doggedly worked through each treacherous road into and out of those crossroads.

What they have in common, at least this weekend, is the apparent ability to live fully within the joy of whatever moment they are experiencing right now, without allowing the intrusion of the “other shoe”. I am quite sure that each has some something that weighs on the balance toward the negative side of the ledger, but for the life of me I haven’t seen it. Pollyanna or a gift? I’m going with “gift” and furthermore I’m going with being able to watch this couple give themselves completely to each moment we’ve shared as one of the most meaningful “hostess” gifts Beth and I have ever received.

Those couple of things in my life (or yours, or my friends’) that are sitting there ruining your winning streak? That other shoe you just know will drop at an inopportune moment? Meh, they aren’t going away regardless of how you decide to engage with the joyful steps in your life, on your journey. Right now there’s a workout to plan and a lake to jump into. Bacon’s on the griddle while I watch the chickadees eat breakfast. Tapping or shuffling, the sound of the shoes is that of happy dancing, and I am taking my cue from our guests and simply listening.

That other shoe will drop whenever but I’ll likely not notice.  I’ll be too busy dancing to worry about it.

A 35th Reunion: Sunday musings 6/11/17

Sunday musings…

1) Tech. There are no longer any toll booths on the Mass Pike. Big Brother simply knows you were there.

2) NoNo. Meeting up with ages-old friends in our mid-50′s the topic of what children will call grandparents came up. The best one? “NoNo”. Can’t you just see how this one happens? That Mom who had all kinds of rules when you were a kid following behind the toddlers and telling them “no, no” every time they pick something up?

Not a one of us had the guts to let that one stand, but every single one of us thought about it.

3) Name. What’s in a name, eh? I met the husband of a long-time ago friend this weekend for the first time. (As an aside, we would be friends who saw each other all the time if we lived closer). The last name was different from my friend’s maiden name, but something was just a little bit more than different. After looking and looking I finally asked. Turns out these two wonderful people just couldn’t bear to give up their family names, but at the same time they wanted a shared last name for their own family.

No hyphens for them; they just put their names together and started with a new, shared name. How lovely.

4) Beginning. Beth and I are cruising along the highway on our way to my primordial home. We just spent the weekend in the company of many of my college classmates at a 35th college reunion. Such a funny tradition, coming together every 5 years to remember times so long past in a place that pretends it is always and ever as it was when we were there (my alma mater is 224 years old). A part of you kind of expects that you and everyone else will be just like you were when you showed up for Freshman Days, your role and your place as immutable as it is when you go to a family reunion.

And you arrive and realize that neither you nor any of your classmates bear more than a passing resemblance to the children who were emptied out of the family wagon 39 years earlier.

5 years ago I was doing just exactly what I’m about now, writing about my Reunion. My abiding sense that day was of opportunity missed (there were a bunch of folks I really met for the first time at my 30th who I wished I’d known in school). This year? It’s funny, really. Along with fantastic, ridiculous and over-the-top success and prosperity, the most interesting among us were those whose victories were balanced by challenges that maybe didn’t turn out so well. There was a certain humility that I don’t remember from years past which came out as we talked about our marriages, our children, and for some of us our grandchildren. It was very nice, actually, openly and honestly sharing those kinds of things with peers who we would have felt too competitive towards in years past to take that kind of chance.

Leaving reunions has always felt like so many Brigadoon moments: always the same. Nothing new. No growth and no change. It’s different this year, for whatever reason. Driving away this time actually feels like a new beginning. Weird, huh? We are even taking a new route “home”. Off I go as if I’ve graduated once again, this time with a recalibrated sense of who I’ve become and where my friends and I fit together at the start of the rest of our lives. Reunions are meant to turn our view back, but it’s forward I look with a new appreciation for where I am rather than where I (and my classmates) used to be. Forward, consciously choosing those friendship opportunities not to miss this time around.

Some of us take a bit longer to finish college I guess.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Nothing Left to Lose

“When he lost his life, it was all he had left to lose.” –Lynard Skynard

Catching up on newspapers piled up while I was away last night I happened upon an article written by David Gregory, former moderator of “Meet the Press”. Mr. Gregory was on a bit of a spiritual quest, one that coincided with some turmoil in his professional life. As part of this journey he spent some time with an Erica Brown, a Jewish educator. After listening to his professional laments she offered this stunner: who would you be if you lost it all?

Stopped me right in my tracks, that one did.

Think about that for a minute. How the question was phrased and what she was asking. Not “what would you do?” or “how would you handle it?” but “who would you be?” The implication is that who you are at any given moment is only one version of who you might be capable of being given different circumstances, however wonderful or unpleasant. It dovetails very nicely, indeed, with my recent fascination with the multiverse, the quantum physics derived concept that there is an infinite number of versions of our universe in existence at any given moment.

Spend a few more minutes thinking about what it means to lose it all. For Mr. Gregory it meant losing his dream job, a job in which who he was became inextricably linked to what he did. I get that, but Mr. Gregory is still able to seek employment as a journalist, still able to work in his field. What if you could no longer do that? Say you’re a doctor and you lose either the ability or the right to practice medicine? Think “The Fugitive”. Trust me, doctors are way more wrapped up in the “what I do is who I am” thing than journalists. Just thinking about that–being prevented from being a doctor– makes me sick to my stomach. Imagine if you couldn’t work at all. Couldn’t support yourself or your loved ones and had to depend on others. That’s starting to close in a little bit more on “losing it all” I think. Who would you be then?

There’s no way of knowing if Ms. Brown meant to go this deeply, but in the developed world we live pretty well;  there’s actually a boatload of stuff we take for granted that could be lost. What if you lost your freedom? You are incarcerated, or in some way someone gains so much leverage over you that you must do their every biding. Who would you be, what part of who you have the capability of being would come to the fore if you were no longer free? Joe Coughlin, the central character in a Dennis Lehane novel I just finished compromised his father’s position as a police captain in order to buy favor and therefore survive in prison. In so doing he lost his freedom forever, even after leaving prison. He became a man without a moral compass, ruining and even taking lives in pursuit of other men’s goals.

But even at that, Coughlin hadn’t yet lost everything. What brought him to that precipice was the loss of his people. You’ve watched “Law and Order” I’m sure. I don’t remember many individual episodes of any series I ever watch, but one “Law and Order” dealing with loss comes to mind. The detectives discover a man in an institution who is mute, nearly catatonic. They need his testimony; he is the only witness to a heinous crime. In order to gain access to his memory they obtain a court order to treat him for his depression. His recovery is miraculous, and initially he is grateful for his awakening, grateful to meet distant relatives who are delighted for the return of an uncle they’d lost. All well and good until it is time to testify and we learn that he lost his job, his ability to work, and his entire immediate family in that heinous crime. Awakening means remembering that he has truly lost it all.

Who would you be if you lost it all? This poor man had nothing, and he discovered that without his people he was no one. Who would you be? His answer was “no one at all”. He refused treatment and slid back inward to nothing.

There’s a point here. A couple of them, actually. The first is that each one of us has much, much more of pretty much everything than we realize. Most of what we might lose is not really all that close to any type of “everything”, and that should inform how we view what we do have and what we are willing to do to keep it. Who would you be BEFORE losing something in order to not actually lose it? To know this is to know what we are willing to do if we need to fight not to lose everything. It’s a little closer to knowing who we really are, now.

Read this backwards from here. It hurts to lose stuff. It’s hard to get by with less money if you’ve tasted more, especially if you think you’ve become someone else because of that stuff. It’s worse if you kinda like that someone; losing the kind of job Mr. Gregory had stings. Time and again, though, we see that true loss is less easily quantified than a spreadsheet or income statement or title. To lose your people is to truly lose everything. No amount of fight is too great to not have to learn who you would be after this type of loss. Losing your freedom makes it easier to lose your people. Someone else plots your every course. Who you are needs to be someone who does as much as humanly possible to remain free.

Mr. Gregory seems to have made this leap. In the end his job was simply what he did at the time for work. Losing it actually brought his spiritual quest home, to his people. That’s the other point, right? It’s your people. You’ve not lost everything if you’ve not lost your people. Know who your people are and hold them close. Cherish and nurture them. Do it out loud and without either fear or shame.

Do whatever it takes to never have to learn who you would be if you did, truly, lose everything.

A Struggle Just to be Average

Lake Wobegone, where every child is above average. Remember that? It’s a joke, of course, but it’s funnier if you have even the tiniest bit of comfort with numbers, statistics, and probabilities. Every parent wishes for that, right? To have raised a child who rose even just a little bit above.

What does it mean to be average? It begins with the cohort, the population you are evaluating, and the particular variable that is to be measured. The average Division 3 cornerback is a decidedly different specimen than the average guy playing on Sunday. The average working vocabulary in a room filled with Pulitzer Prize winners is quite a bit different than that of, say, the Green Bay Packers booster club luncheon yesterday. On the other hand, the average VO2 max in those latter two groups is likely pretty similar.

Along with average comes a range in any curve. Some groups are tightly bunched around the mean, the average; being average is an expectation. On the line at Ford your performance has to be average at worst. If you are above or below the average in any other group it probably is helpful to know how big the range of differences is in that group. For example, if we are measuring 400M run times at the Olympics there’s a pretty skinny range beyond which below or above average makes you stick out, good and bad.

Average does not necessarily mean mediocre.

I got to thinking about this yesterday when I heard from a bunch of my college buddies sending along birthday wishes. In my life there have been two places where I’ve been average: Williams College and CrossFit. Both here in the CrossFit world and in my college years at Williams it has taken everything that I have just to be in the middle of the pack. This is a double-edged sword. It’s humbling to have to literally give it your all just to hit the mean. However, placed into a group or given a task in which you have the potential to excel, to bust the curve if you will, the experience of having to work so hard just to be middling should drive you to do the same when you have a chance to be the best.

My Mom and Dad did, indeed, raise kids who were above average. It appears that Beth and I may have done so, too. If we are lucky, the Man Cub and his cousins will follow suit. The only way I will know is because I had the privilege of struggling to be average in the company of two very extraordinary groups of people.

My classmates and teammates at Williams, and my fellow CrossFitters.

 

Erase the Past? Shame for a Collective Past? Calling Out Williams College

My alma mater, like so many of its ilk, is at present engulfed in a paroxysm of guilt over centuries of success. It, like its brethren institutions, is consumed by the frail sensitivities of the micro-aggrieved. The administration is overwhelmed by the manufactured obligation to prevent even the slightest of emotional discomfort in a single one of its young charges. The most recent “trigger” is a decades old mural of Col. Ephraim Williams and a Mohawk Chief. As we know this is but a mirror of what is happening in our society at large, so fearful are we supposed to be of hurting someone’s feelings, so badly are we to feel if we are–gasp!–successful. Williams College is being asked to rid itself of any historical figure or image that raises a discordant note in our modern societal symphony. While it, and its students and faculty, profess to want honest, open, inclusive dialogue on topics that have the offended seeking a sponsored safe place, they have pre-judged this and other issues while seeking to nullify the contributions of large parts of the College’s community based on gender and race.

I call bullshit, and I’m neither sorry nor ashamed to do so.

Let’s take two of the issues raised by the Williams administration, similar to those at Amherst College (spawned, incidentally, from Williams in 1846), Princeton, and elsewhere: the attempt to cleanse the campus of any references to historical figures or events that do not fit in our modern philosophical canon, and the notion that some monolithic groups are somehow not entitled to success, not worthy to have their opinions noted, and that they must somehow atone for a sort of sin of being.

The first, that history that does not jive with present sensibilities should be expunged, should be such a revolting concept that it is beyond amazing that it is even considered. We may rightly recoil from any modern version of conquest that necessarily includes the subjugation or destruction of the vanquished, but we simply cannot escape the fact that our country as it is today was built upon just such a campaign. It was called “Manifest Destiny”, and you can probably only find mention of it now in used history texts pre-1970 on Amazon.com.  How can we learn from history if history is varnished to remove the stains of lessons we ought not learn again? Is there not a profound lesson for today’s leaders in the devastation wreaked upon the Mohawks of New England by Lord Jeffrey Amherst when he “gifted” them with smallpox infected blankets?

There appears to be no evaluation of the net contribution of historical figures, only room for condemnation of their very real faults. Woodrow Wilson was an unrepentant racist, and yet it is the height of intellectual dishonesty to disregard his monumental contributions to not only Princeton but to his country in spite this. Removing his name from Princeton for his racial views is as silly as renaming Amherst College because of Lord Jeff’s actions in a declared war, and almost as silly as renaming the eponymous town in which Amherst resides. We study the flaws of historical figures so that our contemporary leaders might be equally profound but less flawed. Historically significant individuals such as Woodrow Wilson, and historical images such as the meeting between a Mohawk Chief and Ephraim Williams hanging in the Williams’ college pub, should be pushed front and center for just such historical consideration. They shouldn’t be shunned or covered in sheets.

As far as the second goes, that large groups of Americans need to somehow overcome some sort of “original sin” that makes their success illegitimate and nullifies any opinion they might hold, well, perhaps we should take a look back at the evolution of that group a bit before we decide to lay on a mandatory guilt tax. It turns out that “white males” is not such a monolithic, homogenous group at all. Done any reading on the Irish in the Northeast in the 1800′s through the late 1960′s? Funny though, although certainly not a people of color, there didn’t seem to be a whole heck of a lot of privilege coming the way of the Irish in their first 100 or so years on our shores. Not only was it tough to get a job if you were Irish, there were neighborhoods that were off limits and colleges that all but had a “No Irish Need Apply” sign on the front door. In the 1930′s, 40′s and 50′s lunch in the White house in Waltham, MA was more often than not a “wish sandwich”: two pieces of Wonder Bread and you “wished” you had some meat to put in the middle. White privilege? Hardly. My father was the first member of his family to go to college, the only member until my generation came along. Dad was the first to “shower before work”, the first to make a living with his mind rather than his hands. His generation lived as what we would now call “working poor”. No privilege to be found there.

How, then, am I supposed to feel guilt about my own success, built as it is on the foundation of one man’s climb? Despite his success my father faced subtle but real discrimination throughout his entire working life. Richard White was blackballed for his entire career from a number of business associations because he was Irish Catholic, discrimination that affected his livelihood. Why is the fact that the discrimination that my father faced through the 1990′s is now nearly gone, that for a single generation white Irish males do not feel the sting of discrimination somehow now my shame to carry? There is a danger in the broad-brush approach to assigning anything to a group as superficially defined as Irish. Or even white. Or male. The fact that the Irish in America no longer fear discrimination is a victory to be savored by Americans of all colors, a badge of honor for our society. It is not some sort of scarlet letter, not a collective shame or sin for which the Irish are now inherently guilty, a stain that nullifies my very right to opine or renders illegitimate the success of the men in my generation.

The fact that we no longer see prejudice agains the Irish does not in any way diminish the fact of the existence of discrimination against other groups. Discrimination is real and exists today. There is a larger point, however. Without historical context we risk applying the same type of unacceptable bias and prejudice to any group whatsoever–in this case white males– to whatever bias and prejudice we are attempting to prevent. The notion that I have no standing in the conversation about cultural issues at my Alma Mater is just such an example. It is this backward-looking effort to somehow atone for historical wrongs, and the energy expended in the effort, that so hinders our more laudable goal of removing all barriers placed in front of any group defined by how they look, or where they came from, or who their parents are, or where and how or if they worship. The feel-good notion that we can somehow make the forward-going efforts easier by cleansing our environment of the mention of past wrongs, misdeeds, or unsavory beliefs is at best naive and at worst an Orwellian trap that should be inconceivable in our country as a whole, let alone on any college campus. To compound this wrong-headed approach by questioning the legitimacy of the successes of any group simply by dint of their existence is not worthy of those who claim the high moral ground on behalf of those who may truly suffer real discrimination today.

Neither erase nor forget a difficult past. Do punish present day acts of real discrimination or moral decrepitude, but do not shield the young from the discomfort created by history and historical remnants of either. Hold them up to the bright light of the day and learn from them lest we see their faults and failures repeated. Cherish and champion the successes of any and all. Forgive a past over which your peers had no influence and move forward together.

 

Musings on Small Time Sports and CrossFit

It’s opening weekend for the NFL, the closest thing we have in the U.S. to a collective religion. The U.S. Tennis Open has finals in women’s today and men’s tomorrow night (shame on them for putting that on a school night). MLB is lurching toward the playoffs (with both Pittsburgh and Cleveland still in the hunt!). And major college football is in week 2, still in its version of the silly season.

What’s the connection? All of these, including D1 football, are examples of big-time sports. Sport as business. The only difference between them is that in football they don’t pay the minor leaguers, the college athletes. And please, spare me any sanctimonious drivel about getting an education for free–nothing is free. D1 football is a job, no less than AAA baseball or Junior A hockey. The difference is that every other sport openly pays its minor leaguers, while Big Time college football continues to wallow in the cynical swamp of exploitation of its athletes. The same is true, of course, of Big Time college basketball.

There is an antidote for this. It’s called Small Time. That should probably be all lower case, too. Should be “small time”. Sport for the sake of sport. Putting in the time in practice to play the games because the games are fun. They are meaningful as an end in themselves, not as a means to some end of the rainbow pot of gold end. All of the stuff that the fat cat moneybags trot out as justification for athletic programs in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac10, ACC etc.–alumni loyalty, creation of a communal atmosphere, a reason to return to Alma Mater–that’s all there is in “small time” sports.

I played a couple of sports at the D III level. Pretty pitiful lacrosse player and golfer relative to my teammates, relatively OK football player. Not a one of us made a pro roster. Indeed, not a single athlete from any team sport in the entire NESCAC (comprising some 10 or so small schools in New England) in that era played a single minute as a pro in anything. As a group we all went on to do rather pedestrian things like become teachers and cops and doctors and lawyers and bankers and…well, you get the idea.

Were our games any less meaningful than last night’s ND/Michigan game? I’m certainly biased, but how can the answer be anything other than ‘no’? We sweated and suffered and sacrificed our time for the joy of playing the games. Our schoolmates came to watch us play. Alums followed the teams whether or not they played on them. Follow them still. The games and the teams keep Alma Mater connected, provide a little line that ties us to our school in a way that is no different than the pull of Ohio State.

There is a purity in the “small time” that should shame the shamans of the Big Time, so sullied are they by the continual necessity to pretend that the Big Time is nothing more than the “small time”, only bigger. It just isn’t so. There is an honesty in the “small time” that is simply absent in the Big Time. The very best D III teams, the ones that win championships, still send only a trivial number of players to the pros in any sport, and therefore have as little relationship to A-level baseball as do those teams that never see an NCAA D III playoff game.

What does this have to do with CrossFit? Fair question; like anything else written on Sunday the answer may be ‘nothing’! But I do see more than a little similarity between CrossFit as The Sport of Fitness and college athletics. What I see is that same honesty present in the “small time” college athletics, though, even at the highest levels of our sport. There’s money to be made at the top, but there is no subterfuge, no obfuscation or deceit: if you are really good you can make money doing CrossFit. Period. Not being able to make money at it does not exclude anyone else. Period.

Very few people make a living from CrossFit, as competitors or trainers or trainers-of-trainers. The ratio of participants to pros is rather similar to any professional sport you wish to use as an example. Like “small time” college sports we have all manner of competitions we can enter as CrossFitters; if you enjoy the games and you wish to compete, the games are there for you to play and for everyone else who wishes to watch.

Unlike the Big Time, in the “small time” the games are simply part of who you are, not why you are.

 

Williams College 30th Reunion: Friendships Found

It’s been 30 years since I left the Purple Valley and Williams College. How fun it was to spend the weekend surrounded by my fellow Ephs.

I learned a little bit about my younger self this weekend and in doing so gained a tiny bit of insight into the maturing adult I am striving to become. I graduated from college 30 years ago along with around 400 classmates. 100 or so of us returned for our Reunion weekend. You would think that in a class that small each of us would at least be on a “hi, how are you” first name basis with everyone who was there, right?

Not even close. There were folks there who I’m quite sure I never even saw in 4 years of college. Never, as in not a single time. Even more than that, there was a measurable number of really nice people with whom I had zero interaction after freshman year. How could that have been? I was a pretty social character in college. You’re shocked, I know. What’s up with that?

At a time and an age where it should be all about expansion, expanding one’s mind, experiences, circles of acquaintances and friends, quite the opposite was happening at Williams when it came to the people part of the equation. And it wasn’t just me, either; this mini-epiphany was shared almost universally at breakfast the last morning by all present.

There seem to be a couple of teachable moments in this experience, only one of which is for the younger version of me. It’s obvious looking through the retrospectometer that one should harvest as many friendships, plant as many of the seeds of friendship when one is young and still living among other young people. Makes a ton of sense, so much so that it seems almost trite. Yet here were 100 reasonably accomplished adults who’d grown up out of reasonably accomplished youngsters who almost universally let this opportunity slide by. At a minimum, we collectively failed to reap or sow as much friendship as we could have.

And for us now? We who are now 10, 20, (gasp) 30 years removed from those fertile school year fields, what is the lesson for us? Much simpler, I think. You can never have enough friends. Whether across the street and there for a wave with the retrieval of the morning paper, or across a continent and only touched when one sends news and a photo of classmates doing their tiny part to make the world a better place, you can never have enough friends.

Even more, as we learned this weekend, it’s never to late to make a new friend.

 

 

CrossFit And The Athlete I Am Today

Crossfit. Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. At 52 years of age I am nearly the athlete I was in my twenties. How can that be, you might ask? Well, while I am not truly as athletic as I once was, I believe that I am more FIT than I ever have been. This is allowing me to participate in athletic and other physical endeavors that I really have no business thinking about at my age. What kind of athlete might I have been if I trained in my teens and twenties the way I train in my forties?

All sports came easily to me in my youth. Blessed with the genetic gifts of eye-hand coordination, speed, and quickness there was literally no sport that I tried in which I didn’t excel. Couple this with the fact that I was a very early grower (I was the center on my Jr. High JV hoops team) and I was the classic local sports prodigy for that era. In addition to pulling me out of the deep end of the athletic gene pool my parents also provided a home environment that was bathed in competition. Heck, blood might be drawn when my siblings and I tried to make the first mark in a new jar of peanut butter! I was far from special in my family; all four White kids were All-State in something, and my brother might still be the best natural athlete I’ve ever met.

The first time I “peaked” as an athlete was freshman year in High School. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I would never be a better High School athlete than I was that year. I had stopped growing (I was now the point guard on the High School JV hoops team), and I continued to depend solely on my natural ability. I was still skilled, fast, and quick, but I was not terribly FIT. Under-strong. Not a ton of stamina. Typical teen diet. Add in a couple of injuries and a family move and I really didn’t return to that freshman year peak until my senior year.

My next peak as an athlete came in my sophomore year in college. As a freshman Division III tailback I did well enough, but the head coach was rather underwhelmed by my size and suggested a switch to defense. Stung, I set about proving him wrong (credit that family competitive gene) and got stronger, bigger, and tried to get faster (oops…better not get THAT much bigger). For the only time in my athletic career I trained to be a better athlete, a better football player. It helped immensely that my position coach, Dick Farley, turned out to be the best coach I ever had, and that he cared more about results than size. I started a bunch of games as a sophomore and really played rather well.

I then reverted to my tried and true, relying on whatever remained of those original genetic gifts from my parents. I never got better. Not one little bit. Given the opportunity to play tons of football over the next two years, to receive the benefit of magnificent coaching and possibly become a player to remember, I coasted. In the end I was nothing but a middle of the Bell Curve DIII cornerback, an average  Division III athlete. I wasn’t fit enough to do the work necessary to continue to get better and along the way I let both myself (and my teammates) and Coach Farley down.

If only I knew then what I know now. If only I had then what I have now. Bored and lonely in the gym, watching the ever outward creep of my waistline and the ever upward creep of my cholesterol, I stumbled upon Crossfit in the periodical Men’s Journal in December 2005. As a doctor who made it through Williams College, med school, and a residency I had long since learned that I wasn’t really THAT gifted. Hard work was now an intellectual and life habit, but until I  discovered Crossfit I had yet to do the same thing as an athlete. Whoa! This stuff turns out to be pretty powerful medicine!

“Practice and train the major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses. Master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups. Bike, run, swim, and row hard and fast. Mix these elements in as many combinations as creativety will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts SHORT AND INTENSE. Keep food intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”–Greg Glassman.

On January 1st, 2006 I began the Zone diet and I did my first Crossfit workout, “Angie”. Crossfitters name their benchmark workouts after women. You know…like hurricanes. 100 pull-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups, and 100 air squats. For time. For, like, as fast as you can. Seriously. It took me 45 minutes to complete and it took me 45 minutes to get up off the floor. All 100 of the pull-ups were assisted and 80 of the push-ups were from my knees (word of warning: don’t call ‘em girlie push-ups. Most Crossfit women are scary fit and NEVER do push-ups from their knees).

I was hooked! My fitness went through the roof. My waist size shrank. My cholesterol plummeted. Three days on and one day off for 6 1/2 years and I am as fit as the day I graduated from med school at age 26. World class fitness based on workouts that typically last 20 minutes or less utilizing functional movements performed at high intensity. Competition? Yup. Me vs. me. Every day is a competition in which the opponent is yesterday’s version of Darrell, and victory is achieved if tomorrow’s version is just a little bit better than today’s.

So why now? Why at age 46? I confess that I just don’t know. I was certainly ready for Crossfit at 46, but I would probably have been ready for it at 36, too. I’m just very happy to have found it at all, frankly. Very happy to be more physically fit today than I was yesterday, with the hope that I will be able to continue to say that for years to come. Coach Glassman thinks most athletes can hope for 10 full years of improvement no matter when they start. Man, wouldn’t it be great if he was right and I still had a few years of getting better to look forward to!

Yet I do wonder, every now and again. I can’t help but wonder, what kind of athlete might I have been if I had Crossfit as a young man? If I could have been ready for Crossfit as a young athlete. When I had Dick Farley as a coach.

How many more peaks might I have reached?

The Role Of Adults In Youth Sports III: Fun

Do you remember playing sports when you were a kid? If not, if you are old like me, how about do you remember the last time you drove by a bunch of kids playing some sport or other in the absence of any adults? What I remember about both of those experiences is the sound. It’s a beautiful sound, and it cascades over any and all who are within earshot. It’s the sound of children having FUN!

Somewhere, sometime, there was a very significant change in what it meant to play a sport when you were very young. It used to be, at least when I was a kid, that sports were really just games, and the responsibility for playing a game rested with the kids who are doing the playing.  I distinctly remember neighborhood versus neighborhood baseball games, true nine on nine games played with wooden bats and a hardball, not a batting helmet or adult insight. We could play pickup basketball for literally hours any place we could find a hoop. To find this kind of scene nowadays, at least with children over the age of 10, you have to visit the bleached sand fields of South Africa or the barrios of Rio de Janeiro and watch the bearfoot urchins play their games with whatever they can find that will roll.

Here in America, though, it seems you can’t find any kind of game being played by kids of any age without uniforms, lined fields, and of course, adults. Think about it. When is the last time you drove by an open field and saw 10 kids chasing a soccer ball all by themselves? It couple of kids on a local tennis court whacking a ball back and forth? Or how about this one, a bunch of boys all dirty and muddy playing football without pads? Admit it… you can’t remember EVER seeing that, can you?

As long as we adults are going to be present there is one final role that we must play in youth sports: we must ensure that our children are having FUN! The younger the children involved, the higher priority this becomes. As offensive as it is to hear a parent screaming at his or her child during a high school soccer game, it’s borderline repulsive to hear the same kind of language directed at an eight-year-old.  It’s a game for heaven sakes! These kids are playing! Let’s have a little fun.

I know, I know, this is just one more example of some mamby–pamby,  soft in the middle American parent who doesn’t have the guts to push his kids to excel, right? The only problem with this, of course, is that this description couldn’t be further from the truth. I LOVE to win! I LOVED coaching when I had permission to try to win. Loved it. The whole “everyone plays the same number of minutes”, feel good, raise the self–esteem thing was really hard for me. I certainly got it, and certainly was on board when the children were really young, elementary school or junior high school, but I’m also of the mindset that it’s perfectly okay to try to win once you reach a certain age, probably high school.

But even there these are still kids, and they should still be having fun.

Let me indulge myself (as if this whole blog thing wasn’t self–indulgent enough) and share a couple of memories. There are all kinds of basketball games I remember from when I was a kid, but the one memory that came to me first while thinking about this was one of the very first practices after I made the JV basketball team in high school. We played “dribble tag”, with a towel tucked in our shorts and each of us dribbling a basketball. The object of the game was to pull your teammates towell, knocking him out of the game. Man, I just don’t remember laughing so much, or having so much fun on a basketball court before or since.

My sons each have a memory from junior high school football–the same one, actually just separated by three or four years. We live in Cleveland; in the fall it rains in Cleveland. Every year there is an opportunity for a mud practice, a session where pretty much no useful coaching is possible because it’s raining too hard and the field is too muddy. Cancel practice? Heck no! This is when the boys get to perfect their mudslides, mud dives, and mud flops. At the end of this particular session, and it happens just this way every single year, the young defensive coordinator brings the boys over to the garage and literally hoses them down with the church garden hose. He then piles them into the back of his pickup truck, refusing to allow the parents to befoul their cars with these muddy, wet, sloppy boys, and drives the kids home. The fun of this pracitce is what both of my sons remembered first.

Even playing sports in college it can be fun. I was a cornerback at Williams College. I’ve written before that I was good, but probably not nearly as good as I could have been or should have been because I didn’t work hard enough at the game. I was probably a “middle of the bell curve” defensive back for my day. When I was a junior the other starting cornerback was REALLY good. Despite that, the two of us had a rather poor week of practice one time, and the defensive coordinator, Coach Farley, gleefully pointed this out. “Ack… Look at my cornerbacks. One’s bad and the others worse!” Well, the next day every single defensive back rolled into practice with some sort of denigrating label on his helmet. Stu was “Bad”, I was “Worse”, and we were joined by our teammates “Terrible”, “Awful”, “Putrid”, etc. We got ahold of Coach Farley’s coat and taped “Tremendous” on the back. THAT was fun!

These are games, these sports. Always have been, and it’s really our responsibility to make sure that they always will be. We adults who are involved in youth sports need to make sure that our children are safe, and that they ( and we) take advantage of the life lessons that can be learned while playing sports. We must also accept the responsibility to make playing sports  fun. (If you want a great example of how to make fitness fun take a walk over to www.crossfitkids.com sometime. These folks make WORKING OUT again, fun.)

I think there’s a role for adults in youth sports, I really do. I’m convinced that the role has expanded too much, and the fact that most of us have never seen children playing sports without uniforms, or officials, or coaches is the most damning testimony to this fact. If we are going to be involved it is our responsibility to fully accept our three roles. Keep our children safe. Teach them through the vehicle of sports.

Help them have fun!