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Posts Tagged ‘Williams College’

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.


Sunday musings 8/30/15

Sunday musings…

1) Summer rain. Out my back window I look our upon two guys riding jet skis in the rain.

They might get wet.

2) PC. My alma mater, in what seems to be a trend, is calling the students beginning their college journey “First Years” instead of “Freshmen”. WTF.

I am now officially part of a small but hopefully growing rebellion against ludicrous speech.

3) Easy. Easy? No, it isn’t easy. It’s never easy. Simple, perhaps, but never easy.

Trust me.

4) Victory. “You know, in the old, old days there was no World Series, no real championship. For most teams, the idea of winning was finished by July. So what was there to care about? Each series, each game. Day by day. The rest of it, the big dream [of victory] was not their business. It’s a better way to live.” -Cubs fan.

A number of folks in the CrossFit community have recently weighed in with thoughts on the essential tension between training and competing. Some have a standing of sorts, and others just have a keyboard. It’s a topic I’ve pondered and one I’ve certainly discussed, here and elsewhere.

As is so often the case I’ve struggled to find a fitting vocabulary, one with terms that more adequately express both the issue and my viewpoint. Freddy Comacho, Master’s athlete and OG with chops, recently offered his take and in so doing shared with all of us a very nice diad: training v. testing. My anonymous Cubs fan above (a vet, incidentally), adds a little poetry to Freddy’s prose.

One of Coach’s many strokes of brilliance is the concept of measurement. You know, observable, measurable, repeatable. We measure our results pretty much every day. For most of us, indeed for most of the rest of the exercise and athletic world, measurement is the stuff of competition. We keep score so that we can declare a winner. Winning begets a champion.

Herein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of Coach’s creation: measurement in itself does not necessarily denote competition. At least not one in which we make a conscious decision to push on to some sort of concrete thing we might call “ultimate victory”. The training/testing conceptualization is very helpful.

If I give you notice that you will participate in a task, one in which all of the variables are known to you beforehand, a reasonable person will go about preparing for that task by mastering the specific skills necessary (practice), and acquiring capacity in the specific areas of fitness required to express those skills (training). A very nice example of a program set up to accomplish this is CrossFit Football. All of the domains in the competition are known beforehand, and the fitness program is targeted at those to the effective exclusion of others. A classic marathon program is another very good example.

A training program without metrics is one that is unlikely to succeed. Measuring in training allows one to assess micro-trends of the program. One accepts discomfort in training, but at the same time one is mindful of the need to avoid true injury while doing so. Testing, on the other hand, is different. By definition testing requires the exploration of limits. The limit of strength or endurance. The point at which technique fails for whatever reason. Testing identifies the macro-trend: am I/is my program succeeding? One must necessarily push beyond discomfort, push on to some version of victory.

It’s here where the wisdom of my Cubs fan is evident. One must be ever mindful of our place in the standings. There are meaningful games to be played for all of us, even those “playing” on a team that has been mathematically eliminated by July 4th. “Each series, each game. Day by day.” This is us. For the most part we are the people Coach was thinking about when he went all mad scientist on fitness. Freddy (and Chyna) can indeed dream “the big dream”, but for the rest of us it’s really “[d]ay by day”.

We measure, as Coach has taught us, because it improves our training. We should be looking for a trend toward IWCABTMD in the measurement of our training, but in doing so we should be testing our limits, pushing to those points closer to failure, a bit more infrequently and more cautiously perhaps. We have much to gain by focusing on the daily training, caring about each at bat or each game rather than the overall standings or a championship. To be in the game, to choose to be measured, to care about each individual game no matter where you stand is a concrete victory itself.

My Cubs fan, the Iraq war vet: “It’s a better way to live.”

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 30, 2015 7:05 AM

You Can’t Do Everything

The image is as clear in my mind as if it happened last weekend. There I am sitting at the kitchen table, the catalogue of courses and extracurricular offerings at the college I was about to attend open before me, my Dad reading a magazine nearby. Having long ago decided on a pre-med curriculum my classes were for all intents pre-chosen.

What amazed was all of the non-academic offerings. There was literally everything you could think of. I checked off water polo, the outing club, and some other exotic activity I can’t remember now. Oh yeah…did I mention that I was a recruited football player and that I would start my college career a week early when I reported for camp?

Dad looked up from whatever it was he was reading and chuckled. “You can’t do everything. You’ll have to choose.” Pretty simple, but awfully powerful. Once upstream choices are made the universe of downstream possibilities is changed, so part of Dad’s advice was to prioritize which choices you make when. In my excitement at the discovery of all the options available at my tiny little college I’d forgotten about higher priority choices I’d already made: be pre-med and play football. My world like yours and everyone else’s would be bound 24/7/365. Goodbye water polo. So long Outing Club. I’d be lucky to find time for a beer.

It’s like that in CrossFit, too. CrossFit is fun. Getting better at stuff is fun. Stronger, faster, leaner…all fun. There are all kinds of cool things to get good at, too. I mean, the snatch? Right? What’s cooler than a silky smooth snatch?! You know the answer to that one: a really BIG silky smooth snatch! Heck, one-armed KB snatches aren’t even the coolest thing you can do with a KB. Don’t even get me started about C&J, Turkish Get-ups, Pose running, all that awesome mobility stuff Kel talks about, and come on, there’s something called Virtual Shoveling. All of the CrossFit FB pages, Youtube channels and Instagram stuff is exactly like that catalogue on my kitchen table so many years ago.

In my mind I see my Dad nodding, see the wry smile on his face. You can’t do it all. You’ll have to choose. Everyone has to make choices. Listen to Rich Froning on Julie Foucher’s inaugural podcast talking about choices this year. Heck, go back a couple of years and read what Julie wrote on her blog about CrossFit and school. There are important choices you’ll have to make upstream from your CrossFit choices, and those upstream decisions will alter the menu for your CrossFit choices.

Need a job? Hopefully you have one then. Best not only show up to work but also be at your best when you do. You might need to consider some of your CrossFit choices in light of how they might affect you on the job. Got a family? Hopefully your family life is happy, makes you happy. Best show up and be your best there, too. Sure, being a better version of you through the work you do in the Box might make you better at home, unless getting fitter means not being at home.

In the gym it’s more of the same. The snatch is really cool and all, but is it deserving of the amount of attention and time we devote to it at the expense of say a better, safer kipping pull-up? You’ve decided to do CrossFit and there are simply some things that you have to do well before you move get a big snatch. Become CrossFit fit, for example.

Once you’ve made other, bigger choices (job, family, etc.) how much CrossFit you can do might be less than the amount that would allow you to expand much beyond core CrossFit. The WOD. Maybe a little supplemental strength work. Skill work that makes you better at common movements. Mobility in an effort to injury-proof yourself (so you can be your best at work and at home). If you live in SoCal I understand how irresistible the whole virtual shoveling thing is, but maybe a better back squat might be in order first.

CrossFit is no different than my old-fashioned college catalogue; it’s different only in degree for athletes seeking fitness and those seeking fame and fortune. In a universe bounded 24/7/365 you can’t do everything.

You’ll have to choose.


Posted by bingo at July 19, 2015 12:06 PM

March Madness: Real Sportsmen and Women

I, like some 6 or 7 million like souls, spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday in front of a screen watching college athletes play their games. Unlike, oh, 6.9995 million or so, I spent a couple of hours NOT watching semi-professional basketball players because I tuned in to the DIII hockey quarter-finals between Amherst College and Norwich University. A thriller, Amherst won after pulling their goalie with 45 seconds remaining and scoring the tying goal not once, not twice, but THREE times before pulling it out in OT. Every senior on both senior-laden teams played his last meaningful hockey game; no pro sports for the DIII stars.

It would have been fitting if the mid-ice circle had been filled with the empty skates of the just-retired.

What does this have to do with CrossFit? Heck, what does this have to do with anything? By and large NCAA Division III athletes play for nothing other than a love for their game. It’s no different in any sport than it is in basketball or hockey. There are no athletic scholarships in DIII (although being an athlete may help get you in to school), and with a couple of unique situations (squash?), the DIII athlete is competing right where he or she belongs. The biggest fish in the DIII pond is no more than a minnow in the Division I sea.

Yet they play. It matters. Each athlete in each sport cares just as much as any of the semi-pros in Div. I. You don’t read or hear heartwarming stories about extraordinary academic outliers (Aaron Craft, OSU ’14) at the DIII level because that’s the norm. It’s play, though it matters while one is playing. There’s a team to be on and teammates to depend on, who depend on you. Shared suffering toward a common goal is no different at Amherst or Norwich as it would be at Washington or Wisconsin. The lessons are the same and ring as true whether played out in front of 30,000 strangers or 300 people on a first-name basis.

I used to miss being on a team. Used to miss the locker room. Even missed teammates I didn’t particularly care for on a personal level because, well, we were teammates and we had common foes and a common goal. Ask my wife, Beth: nothing really filled that hole, nothing really replaced what it was and who I was when I last walked off the field, my spikes figuratively laying empty on the 50 yard line. I accomplished all that I reasonably could–there is no market for a short, light, slow cornerback who is a slave to gravity.

Time and distance have pushed the memories and the longing to the margins. Since discovering CrossFit once again I have a sense of shared suffering in the pursuit of a goal. Do I have a team? Sort of. It’s kinda big and the locker room is different, for sure. I do have a sense of team, though, especially during our own CrossFit version of March Madness. For all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the Open it really is the one time we all come together on our particular fields of play. Like any group of men or women on any NCAA team, drawn far and wide from circumstances vastly different or eerily similar, for 5 weeks that which we share is more powerful than any of our differences.

33 years removed from my last game, that has been enough.


Musings at Christmas on Connecting

‘Tis the season. Home for the  Holidays and all that. Gatherings of all sorts, at home and away, as we make and re-make our connections in one of the best parts of the Christmas Holiday season. We send out a couple hundred Christmas cards every year, and I never tire of seeing the cards from friends and family as they pile up on our “card tree” on the counter. Those annoying notes and letters that accompany the cards? The family pictures? Love ’em! In Gladwell’s universe my wife and I are “Super-Connectors”; this year I’ve been thinking about how we all connect in our modern world.

1) Twitter. Has there ever been a better example of the power of community interacting with the power of a technology than CrossFit HQ weblebrity  Pat Sherwood, his “Go South” adventure, and Twitter? Calamity or comedic pratfall, there to pick up the pieces were CrossFitters who have never set foot on U.S. soil, let alone Santa Cruz, all connected to Pat via Twitter. That was fun.

Twitter is “instant on/always on”. Kinda like a 140 character postcard from anywhere and everywhere, we take the pulse of our world (and others take our pulse for us). I’ve only made a couple of connections here, but I’m learning.

3) Facebook. Gotta admit, my entry into the world of FB was initially a rather cynical attempt to grow the business at my day job. That lasted precisely one day. That’s how long it took my Facebook page to be discovered by one of my CrossFit friends from the days when CrossFit.com had 1000 comments.

Boy, did THAT work out well for me!

There are all kinds of folks over there on FB who have read something of mine, or who know someone who did. I treasure each one of them. The really cool connections though, are the ones where FB has allowed us to grow what was probably just a handshake at the CrossFit Games or a quick hello at some event, and keep expanding something that would very likely be a nice little friendship if it weren’t for the hundreds of miles between us. Here’s hoping I get to shake a bunch of new hands, for real, in 2014.

4) Email. About 2 years ago I was invited to join this incredible email thread comprised of men like me who had spent some time at a particular tiny college in New England. The tactic used by the guy who launched the thread some 10+ years ago was quite simple: wish one of the guys a Happy Birthday and tell a story about his days in college or shortly thereafter.

Sometimes even tell a true story!

I’d call it a low-rent Facebook for old guys but for two important points: there are no pictures (I have no idea what 95% of the guys look like now), and it is quite private (we all know how that privacy thing is working over in Zuckerburgville, eh?). Not a lot of places for any of us to work through stuff with people who get you at whatever stage of life you might be in at the moment.

I’m connected there.

5) Hugs. ‘Tis the Christmas season in the Christian world. If ever there’s a time we seek to connect this is it. Planes, trains, and automobiles–or if you are Pat Sherwood a motorcycle–we move Heaven and Earth to get ourselves together. Not Facebook or Twitter or Email together, either. Nope, real live, honest to goodness, reach out and touch connecting.

I like to think of it as “hugging distance”.

On Christmas Day I will be in an airport, alone, heading to my ancestral home. Back to the primordial bed. I will leave my little, growing family in order to be with my parents in time for Christmas dinner. My siblings and I have hosted our folks in turn, each of us having the privilege of their presence every 4 years. Now unable to travel, in order for my Mom and Dad to connect, we four must go to them.

If you are very observant you might have noticed a couple of connections missing from my list above. Postal service and phone calls are how the extended Clan White has always communicated. Once upon a time Gram sent each of us a postcard every day. That’s every single day. Four of us. We called and talked on the phone, all of us. We still call and we still talk (you young’uns might have a fleeting knowledge of what that green “call” button on your texting instrument is there for) even though Gram and Gramp don’t really do the cell phone thing.  But the postcards have stopped.

Aged and bent, very nearly (but not yet quite) broken, my parents’ lives have shrunken to the point where nearly all that is left is that most intimate of connections, the one that can only be made by walking through the front door.

This is not one of those wistful “oh I wish” or “oh if only I had” posts. Our lives proceed as they will. As they have. As Rafiki would say “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.”  We connect and we disconnect. Sometimes quite deliberately, on purpose, and sometimes quite simply by accident. At any one time, though, we are connected to some someones, and our connections might still include a Mom and a Dad. Anyone who’s been here awhile and read any of my nonsense might remember my post around this time last year; it seemed quite unlikely that I would have another year with my Dad.  I travel on Christmas this year with one part sorrow at the leaving, and two parts surprise and joy at the destination. Against all odds I still have that front door to open, with TWO parents on the other side waiting.

One more time, to my great surprise and delight, “[W]e’re gonna get together then, Dad. We’re gonna have a good time, then.”

Merry Christmas.


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 thebrandXmethod.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!