Monday, January 31, 2011

Where do the athletes go...?

As a kid getting into running at about age 14, there was a guy that lived 2 doors down. From what I recall, the single most successful men's post-collegiate runner from my home town. Steve Wagner--from Alpena. He would wake me up in the summer by running past our house on the first of his daily two runs. One around 7 or 7:30 AM, the other around 1:30 or 2 PM. It has been many years but those are the time I recall hearing him run by--I would pop up in bed to try to see if I could catch a glimpse of this speedster before he disappeared. He ran in America's 10K...not sure if they have it still, but supposedly one person from each state was chosen to represent a state to vie for top honors. Some of the times I seem to recall (but can't find anything on the Internet)...was a near 30 minute 10K, as well as a near Olympic Qualifier time for the marathon. That would place him around 2:20-2:25. Again, I do not recall the specifics just only that he went on to do some amazing things. Steve was not the fastest runner from the high school days but certainly was up there during a time of top dogs who now have their pictures hanging in the Walk of Fame just outside the gym doors at Alpena High. Guys like Chad Zielinski, Todd Zielinski and Ed Matash. These are the true all time champs I recall from high school days--to make state championships and have your picture in the Walk of Fame...WOW! On a side note, I debated on Facebook who the top runner in high school was and it came down to Todd Zielinski and Ed Matash. Both ran in slightly different eras. Ed ran when most races were 3.0 miles, Todd ran 5km (3.1 miles). I believe Todd's fastest 5km time in high school was 15:55 where Ed's was 15:32. Different distances and most likely different courses--so I will call it a tie. Just simply because it is too close to call--although Todd went on to college and posted a top 15 in college national championships (NJCAA I think it was called--for junior colleges).

Back to folks contacted me this past weekend to ask if I knew Steve, as they didn't recall much about him. Asking me if I knew of a runner from Alpena or not is like asking the Pope if he is Catholic! They told me of the story and here is the link and ultimately what happened to Steve:  HERE
Sad as it seems I barely recognized the once runner-like person in the photo, although I saw it in his eyes. I used to walk a few doors down to talk to Steve (or Laura or Brian his siblings), mostly Steve though--because he was a runner and I wanted to pick his mind on training. I saw how hard this guy worked to become the runner he once was, now wonder what became of all those that worked so hard to get where they got to. What made them stop? What kept them going--and do they miss it?

Undoubtedly the fastest female runner from the home area is currently Michele Suszek who oddly enough only lives about 20 minutes away from me in Colorado. She is the 12th ranked female marathoner in the USA...and has qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials. While I have not met her personally, except talking on FB or email, I wish her all the best in her efforts.

Of course, there would not be a point of mentioning all this without the name of one person...Jeff Blumenthal. The schmuck (not really--I've always been very thankful for him dragging me into whatever he has any time while growing up)...sat next to me in band class who couldn't quit talking about ski racing (I never heard of Nordic skiing & thought how boring to ride up to the top & jet down the hill at warp speed). Jeff was also one of the top runners in high school in the state during his years of running cross country and indeed went on to race in the state finals--although not quite the caliber of Ed Matash and Todd Zielinski--he was certainly faster than I ever was in high school. Jeff is the knucklehead who dragged me into cross country skiing just before he went on to win NCAA Division II National XC ski Championships. He also went to the Olympic Trials and finished 16th in the 10km skate event and respectable finishes in the other disciplines. I went on to race in college as well as compete in the USA Junior Olympics representing the Midwest region of the USA. Additionally, Jeff dragged me into triathlon as well. Triathlon led me to Colorado seeking better competition in my age group which led me to racing "pro" for one year. Of course, I had a full time job and we all know how pro sports are plagued with doping and performance enhancing drugs so I was already at a double-disadvantage to some of the athletes I started next to. But what kid wouldn't want to say they wouldn't want to play for the Tigers or Yankees if they were in Little League? Racing pro was the equal in triathlon and I met the qualifications so I did. Then I called it "good" and went back to racing amateur, which I still do. But this leads me back to my point and title of where do the athletes go?

I haven't gone anywhere, although my best competitive days may be over--missing three of what should have been my best years to injury starting around 2007. I still strive to be the best I can with the time I have. My friend Jeff (who I credit for dragging me into skiing & triathlon--THANKS JEFF) doesn't really do much in solo sports these days with all the kids he has and following blowing his knee out, thus, ending his ski career many years ago in a ski race. Steve Wagner, if you read the above link--we know what happened to him. Ed, Chad, and Todd...not sure what happened to them either. Although I did get with Todd in Marquette, Michigan when I lived there...he and his family invited me over for Thanksgiving one time and he ran just to stay fit. It was an honor to run with my captain from high school--and certainly one of my personal childhood heroes. Where did they all go, why do they stop and do they miss it?

I know the answer for myself--I have not stopped, never really felt the want or need to. Training/racing certainly is not a priority anymore. The others mentioned in this blog entry have their reasons which are fine...they had talent beyond anything I could ever have been born with. These were national level athletes at one time. It seems that after competing in 10 World Championships (9 Hawaii Ironmans & 1 ITU World Olympic Distance Championships), there was something that just took a little longer to develop. Something that is still there to this day, the answer to "How far do you want to take it?"  The answer has always been the same:  AS FAR AS I POSSIBLY CAN. Longevity in sport, the will to know that just because the other guy may be bigger, faster, or stronger...does not mean that they can't get their asses kicked. I have and am not going anywhere...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Motivation In Athletics

2010 was a fantastic season for the athletes I coached who were with Gemini 85% of the athletes I worked with achieved personal bests in one or more triathlon distances. Starting off this year is an experienced new athlete from New York who has set three personal bests in three races--a pretty fantastic start for one with experience to any degree.

I think there are fewer people in life willing to give you a chance in life, than chances you yourself take in life. Because once you decide to take a chance, there are those not willing to meet your motivation to help you succeed. I personally have run into this and enjoy proving the nay-sayers wrong. This is something I have offered to those who have approached me for my experience in the sport--a chance. The common situation goes something like this...

An athlete approaches me for coaching...if I have room in my roster and if they have some sort of direction they are interested in I will work with them. Usually it is something to the effect of: "I want to qualify for the Ironman in Hawaii." Few understand where they are and where they need to get to in order to achieve such a lofty goal. The years of training it will take is often not realized until after year one of working with them. So many athletes think in just one year they will be racing in Hawaii --but so few are willing to make the sacrifices needed over the long term to get there. The main thing to do as a coach is be positive and reinforce their goals any way possible.

If you are not willing to go the full 100% of the way and dedicate yourself to your goal then there is no point to go any further & that person needs to adjust their goals to something lesser than Hawaii . Maybe to finish an Ironman first should be that goal. The most dedicated athlete I worked with to date took 5 years from an absolute "newbie" in the sport to Hawaii Qualification. During that time, he was loyal and dedicated in a manner that not even I had attained in my race career. Of course the kid had talent upon working with him initially, but he surprised me (and eventually surpassed me) in many races. You never know what sort of sheep is under all that wool until you sheer it off over time.

The most motivated individuals (initially) are usually the ones that fizzle-out early on and eventually drop out of site and out of mind. Often, we never see them finish a single race after they have left My Pride. It is the quiet ones who just do the work and keep the faith and ego at bay--holding onto hope and developing that base, knowledge and earned experience. Never giving way to those who say "Nay" even once. We can all achieve our dreams, we have that ability. But a dream is just that until action is taken. Paying the dues to make it happen is where 99.9% fall short. There are those willing to give the chance, but there are usually those who are not willing to even take that first step towards making it all a reality in the first place. These folks keeping those swirling desires at bay for some reason & hold onto it forever as a dream--and that is how many got started in the sport. My question to them is why is that dream still just a dream?