Archive for November, 2015

When It’s Courageous Just to Show Up

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Jim Eicher (right) on Royals opening day

People with disabilities are some of the most self-aware people you will ever meet. We know that our disability makes many people uncomfortable, and we understand why. You want to be sensitive, but not obtuse, and accommodating, but not patronizing. Again, we understand that, and wish it weren’t that way, but we don’t fault you. We’re uncomfortable too.

This discomfort drives many disabled people underground. It’s easier for us to stay in our comfort zones and avoid that awkwardness. It takes real courage to put our disabilities on display, and one of the most courageous people I’ve seen in a while is Michael J. Fox.

Fox was recently on the Jimmy Kimmel Show talking about Back to the Future, a 1985 movie in which he starred, and its predictions for 2015.  Thirty years ago, the writers of that movie predicted that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series in 2015, and we would have hover boards and self-tying shoes. The recent attention focused on that movie, because of its predictions, brought Michael J. Fox back into the spotlight.

In the mid-1980s and for several years after that, there were few actors as charismatic as Michael J. Fox. He was the star of the television series Family Ties and movies such as The Secret of My Success and Doc Hollywood, in addition to Back to the Future. In almost every role he played, he was cast as a bright, quick-witted life of the party. The interviews and appearances he did back then showed that his personality matched his stage presence. Then, Parkinson’s disease began to take its toll.

Parkinson’s affects Fox’s speech, movements and facial expressions – all of which create charisma. He is as sharp as ever, but it’s now very difficult for him to express himself in the ways he once did. Yet, there he was, in front of not only a live studio audience, but a television audience as well. He knows what Parkinson’s looks like on him, but instead of hiding in shame, he performed on a popular late-night talk show, and the audience loved him.

How often do we let our fears of outside perceptions rob us of rewarding experiences like this? We don’t like to let others see our weaknesses, which are only a small part of who we are, so we hide. When we hide, we not only rob ourselves of rewarding experiences, we rob the world of experiencing us.

My friend Jim Eicher was a courageous person too. Jim died earlier this year of complications from his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma, just short of his 50th birthday and 10th wedding anniversary. Jim was an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful man who eventually married his high school sweetheart and became a caring father to her children. He was also a life-long fan of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. He religiously followed that team, even when they were MLB basement dwellers.

In April of this year, he attended the Royal’s Opening Day game with some friends. By this time, he was struggling tremendously with his health. He had lost part of his lungs to the disease, and the treatment he endured for more than 20 years had taken its toll on the rest of his body. He pulled an oxygen tank with him to his seat in Kauffman Stadium, but he was there to cheer on the team that nearly won the World Series the year before. A month later, he collapsed and died in front of a jewelry store on his way to pick up an anniversary present for his wife. (read that incredible story here) Six months later, the Royals won the World Series.

Jim could have watched that April game on television, and Michael J. Fox could have passed on the opportunity to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, but they didn’t. They didn’t let weakness rob them of life. We should all be as courageous.

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Eight Reasons Why Your Kid Should Wrestle

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In the next few months, many children will have the opportunity to participate in wrestling for the first time. Just like the kids, many parents will embrace the opportunity, while others will resist. Because of the timely life lessons wrestling teaches children, I urge everyone to seriously consider trying the sport, if only for one season.

Usually, those who resist wrestling are unfamiliar with the sport. Wrestling can be an intimidating sport, but it’s also one with great potential to develop young adults, both physically and mentally.

My own son resisted until seventh grade. “I don’t want to roll around with a bunch of sweaty guys,” he told me, echoing the popular mantra of basketball players everywhere. My wife, with her medical background, wasn’t very supportive either, citing the skin rashes she saw wrestlers bring to her clinic. I had wrestled in high school – I wasn’t very good, but I wrestled – and I knew what it could teach kids, so I persisted until both agreed to a one-year trial season.

That was four seasons ago – two in junior high, one on the junior varsity team and last year’s varsity season. In that time, he’s experienced extreme highs and extreme lows. There were times that he enjoyed wrestling almost as much as football, and there were times that he talked about quitting. There were dominating wins and puzzling losses, weeks when nothing could go wrong and weeks when everything went wrong. More important than all of that are the lessons that have helped him develop into the young man he is today.

  1. There is no entitlement in wrestling. It doesn’t matter where you are ranked or whether or not your coach likes you, your value as a wrestler depends on your most recent performance on the mat. Last year, I watched a wrestler, who spent most of the season ranked #2, lose two tough matches in the district tournament and fail to qualify for the state tournament. He was a senior who had placed at the state tournament the previous year, but that and his ranking didn’t matter – only what happened on the mat. In a matter of minutes, his season was over. In wrestling, you must constantly earn what you get.
  2. Wrestling teaches toughness. I got my first bloody nose in youth boxing at the age of 7, and never forgot it. At first, I wanted to cry and get out of the ring, but something deep inside me brought me back to the fight. Too many kids make it through childhood without a bloody nose. In wrestling, we have “blood time.” Wrestlers get their mouths smashed, their noses bloodied, their eyes blackened and their joints twisted. Wrestling teaches athletes how to work through pain and discomfort. Wrestling teaches toughness.
  3. Wrestling teaches discipline. Because they have to make weight and need to be in superb shape to succeed, successful wrestlers maintain their bodies like finely tuned machines. Even away from practice and competition, they can’t forget that they are wrestlers. When their friends are feasting on fast food and sodas or staying up too late, wrestlers have to make decisions that will help them on the mat. They know that slipping on discipline will have negative consequences on the mat.
  4. Wrestling instills confidence. It takes courage to walk out onto the mat. Once you overcome the fear of competition and the loneliness of being on the mat, everything else in life seems easier. Famous collegiate and Olympic wrestler Dan Gable says that 80% of wrestling matches are decided before the first whistle blows. “One competitor already knows he’s going to win, and the other knows he’s going to lose before either steps onto the mat,” he says. Once wrestlers develop confidence, they learn how to use it to give themselves a competitive edge.
  5. Wrestling teaches self-reliance. Too many kids look outward for blame when they experience failure. When you are on the mat, no one is going to come save you. You have to decide how hard you are going to fight to win. If you fail, you have no one else to blame. You can’t blame your teammates, your coach’s play-calling or officiating. You win or lose on your own.
  6. Wrestlers don’t go pro. Yes, I know that professional wrestling still exists, but very few wrestlers have professional aspirations. Contrast that with other popular sports. Many basketball, baseball and football players believe that they are going to make millions in professional sports, so much so that they plan for it at the expense of education and other preparation. Wrestlers are under no such illusions. They compete for the sake of competition, not fame or money.
  7. Wrestlers come in all shapes and sizes. Height and weight are large factors for success in several popular sports, like basketball and football, but they don’t mean much in wrestling. Wrestling is a sport where small kids or heavy, but relatively short kids can be extremely successful. Where else can a scrawny 106-pound or short 250-pound kid win a state championship?
  8. Wrestlers learn to respect their opponents. There is a lot of down time at wrestling events, and many wrestlers will compete against each other multiples times in one season. In that down time, they get to know each other, and will even cheer each other on. Not all of them are friends, but they all know what goes into a wrestling season, and they respect each other because of that shared sacrifice.

Even if your child never wins a match, he’ll learn a lot about himself and how he fits into the world. While it’s true the other sports can teach most of these lessons, the intensity of a wrestling season is hard to match. When you sign your child up for a wrestling season, you give them a competitive edge that will help them succeed in life. Don’t miss that opportunity.

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