Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Apple a Day

It probably comes as no surprise that I am crazy about physical activity. Doing something active each day has been a part of my life since before I can remember. I grew up in a neighborhood where all the yards and houses were connected so my friend Cary and I used to be busy running around playing in the neighborhood all day long. We played hard climbing trees, jumping in the river and running through the woods. I ended up busting my head open one day and Cary fell and broke her kneecap another time. Neither of those injuries stopped us. I was at it the next day with a bandaged head and stitches above my eye (check out my left eye next time you see me, the scar is still there) and Cary was an extremely fast runner with her cast on. She just changed her gait a bit---imagine someone running with a straight leg and swinging it out to the side. I remember when our parents would call us to come in the evening we would responds by 1-ignoring their calls, 2-asking for "10 more minutes" or 3-yelling back "it's not that dark yet."

Cary and I both swam when we were younger. As we got older I stuck with swimming and she got more serious about running. We both kept at it through and college. Cary now lives in Portland and is a marathoner. She has qualified for the Boston marathon several times and helps out her running club pacing people at local races like the Portland marathon. Physical activity has shaped who we are as people and taught us a lot throughout our lives. I was lucky enough to be able to have dinner with Cary when I was in Portland for my grandmother's 100th birthday. It was awesome to catch up and reminisce about our fun back in Albion, Michigan.

Cary and I. We don't look any older than we used too!

Since sport has shaped my life so much I tend to get frustrated when parents and children push it aside and/or do not see the value of being on a team and staying physically active. I am a swim coach and recently several of my swimmers have not been showing up to practice much (or at all) because of massive amounts of homework. I believe that education is important but I think that people are missing the value of what sports can teach their kids. Plus, it is extremely important in teaching them about maintaining their health as they get older! Have you seen people who have not kept physically fit? They age pretty quickly!

There needs to be balance in everyone's life. School, sport and social time with friends are all keys to having fun and learning as you get older. I don't think teachers should be assigning so much homework that all the kid can do everyday is go to school and then head home for 4-6 hours of homework a night. I remember hearing from some extended family members that their kids had to quit this sport or that sport because they needed more time to study so they could take more AP classes so they got into the "right" college or university. This leads into the whole debate of what is really defined as success? My senior year in high school the teachers were selecting the students who would be a part of the National Honor Society upon graduation. One of the teachers approached me and said that if I wanted to be a part of the NHS I would need to increase the number of "activities" on my resume. I remember telling her (probably with some attitude, I could be that way) that if I thought it was stupid that she wanted me to do several activities half-assed vs. one activity (swimming) at a very high level. I told her I was not adding activities just for the sake of being in the NHS. I did swimming and I did it better than anyone ever had at our school. If that was not enough to be in the NHS then I did not give a sh** or want to be in it (more attitude from me).

To be totally honest, some of my family members probably question what the hell I am doing with triathlon. They might believe I should be working at a more stable "job" and adding a lot more cash to my 401k. I did that for a long time. I worked 60-80 hours some weeks at a law firm as a paralegal. It was challenging and the lessons I learned in college about working with others, balancing tasks and being organized helped me do a good job but ultimately, it was not what made me happy. I was lucky enough to get a chance to coach at UIC and have more time for triathlon training. I also was able to work with swimmers and make an impact on some of their lives like my swim coaches did for me.

As a college coach my swimmers will probably tell you that I challenged them and did not take a lot of crap. However, I respected their lives outside of the pool and placed value on their education and social life. They are in college and they should be having fun with their friends. At the same time, when they walked onto the pool deck for workout I expected them to be "all in." I am no dummy---I know what a Saturday morning training session is like after a raucous Friday night, but if you are in he water you better be ready to go--I don't really care if you need to puke in the gutter. You get the WORK DONE.

I hope my few swimmers with a lot of homework find their way back to the pool and I want their parents see the value in what swimming (or any other sport) can offer their child. Their parents did get an earful, in a politically correct way, and I hope they hear what I am saying. As a former swimmer and triathlete I think I can be a good example of where sport can take you. It can be unexpected and down a road you never thought you would be on but isn't that what makes life exciting?

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