Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Fan of a Different Color

Being an athlete resembles a lot of what being an ancient gladiator used to be minus the slavery and life or death situations of course. What I mean is, like some gladiators, athletes volunteer to compete for the honor and glory that comes with winning and also for the enjoyment of sports fans everywhere. While the competitors and the stakes have changed quite a bit, the fans haven’t changed much at all. Fans worldwide are still known for going crazy in the stands but also going above and beyond when it comes to supporting their team. So it’s no wonder why an athlete would be willing to put their reputation and their body on the line for the admiration received from fans. However at the end of the day the greatest fans we all share are our best friends and family.
            In Japan, fans go berserk over baseball.  The longest game ever played in Japan was between the Chiba Lotte Marines and Chunichi Dragons, which lasted 5 hours and 43 minutes. That’s almost 6 hours of fans cheering and slamming plastic clapping sticks together. Once the game had ended the fans even stuck around for the post game interview with the MVPs instead of booking it for the parking lot.
            Just about anywhere you find soccer you’ll find football hooligans. A hooligan is someone who belongs to a firm or type of fan-based gang that supports a soccer team by any means necessary. Firms have been known to riot when things don’t go well for their team. In some instances stadium walls have collapsed, cops have had to use tear gas and water cannons on the rioters and people have been killed.
            American NBA and NFL fans alike are perhaps best known for their painted faces, intense headgear (ranging from a ten inch afro to a giant cheese slice) and willingness to camp outside a stadium for days just to get choice seats.
            So sure, fans that are willing to listen to you for half of their waking day are great. Fans willing to die or face Mother Nature’s harshest weather just to support you are pretty great also. But the greatest fans of all are the ones who remember when you cried after Mufasa was trampled by that stampede of wildebeest. The fans that took you out for pizza even when you didn’t win. The fans you called at 3 a.m. for anything, whether it was motivation, consoling or a bailout. Our best friends and families have been the rowdiest bunch of hooligans we’ve had the honor of growing up with. So here is to the fans that will still think we are heroes, win or lose. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Second Best Still Beats the Rest

Now that summer is almost here, many of us Islanders are bracing ourselves for impact with summer 2012. Whether that means signing up for summer sessions, packing for internships or taking that dive into the “real world” by graduating, we will all be competing for a top spot somewhere. I myself will be trading my sandals and shorts for hiking boots and subzero pants for an internship in Alaska. However this wasn’t the only internship I had applied for in the Great White North or in the World for that matter. The whole process made me wonder just when do you decide to throw in the towel?
            My favorite example has to be Olympic figure skater, Michelle Kwan. She began seriously training when she was eight years old with her sister. By the time Kwan was ten she had financially crippled her family in order to pay for skating coaches and rink time. At the age of 13 Kwan competed as an alternate in the 94’ Winter Olympics taking home 8th place. Then competed in 98’ Winter Olympics only to be awarded the silver. Finally when all of America thought the 02’ Winter Olympics would be her year, Kwan is robbed and settles with the bronze. By the time the 06’ Olympics rolled around Kwan faced one set back after another and ultimately said “Joi gin” (goodbye in Cantonese) to life at the Olympic level.
            Before you stop reading and start assuming I left you with a terrible underdog story think of it like this, Kwan not only made several multi-million dollar endorsement deals in the years she spent figure skating but also got the opportunity to travel around the world, appear in several movies and TV series (like the Simpsons) and she’s also probably the only figure skater you can name (if you can name others you probably aren’t from South Texas).
            But perhaps a simpler tale of relentless underdogs would be that of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, Notre Dame’s 1975 defensive end. After two years at a private college trying to prove he was fighting Irish material, Rudy was accepted on his fourth try in 1974. Another grueling year later he makes the practice squad and literally the last opportunity he would ever get to play for Notre Dame is given to him his senior year the final play against Georgia Tech where he manages to sack the quarterback and is to this day only one of two players to ever be carried off the Notre Dame football field.
            So you see Islanders, it’s not always whether you are the “best” or finish in first place that counts, sometimes it’s all about who’s going to remember you when you aren’t on top. What stories will people tell when you aren’t around? If this is your last play, you better make it count. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don't Stress Success

In life we are always competing for something always striving to be the best, to be first. Some want to be the first to start a trend, others want to make the best grades and some of us just want to show the world we made it through college without needing to be institutionalized. However when it comes to sports competitions the athlete always has a set of rules when going up against their competitors. So I wonder, in the competition known as college life, are there any rules when it comes to being successful?
Student-athletes make sacrifices to play their sport. They abide by rules, give up their free time for practice and games, forgo time with friends, miss out on school breaks, and sometimes miss class due to their athletic schedules all in hopes of being a top competitor. To gain the privilege of being a student-athlete, they must follow rules and regulations because once that athletic uniform is worn they not only represent themselves but their team, their sport and their school.
I was surfing the Internet at the usual ungodly wee hours of the morning and stumbled upon a video of Arnold Schwarzenegger during his Mr. Universe years. I’d like to share Schwarzenegger’s six rules for success. 1. Trust yourself no matter what anyone else thinks. 2. Break the rules, not the law. It is impossible to be a maverick if you don’t think outside the box. 3. Don’t be afraid to fail; you can’t be paralyzed by fear because you have to push yourself. 4. Don’t listen to the naysayers, people are always going to say you can’t but those people don’t matter. 5. Work your butt off. You sleep 6 hours a day, that gives you 18 hours left and if you sleep longer than 6 hours, I’d recommend sleeping faster. There is always someone getting better or smarter out there, remember that. 6. A very important rule, give back. Whatever path you take in life you must remember to give something back to your community, your successors and your country.
Now that we are in college the guidelines that govern our lives are completely up to us. You aren’t always going to win but that doesn’t mean you aren’t always going to learn something. Now is the time to do something just to say you did it and I’m not talking about breaking the law either.
It took my entire adolescent life to realize there is no such thing as “the best” there is only current record holders. With that in mind begin writing your rules for success today. My first rule to surviving college and beyond is simple- breath. 

Lead Me to Fresh Water and I Will Drink

After reading book one of the Hunger Games, it’s evident that a good mentor can make the difference between life and death. The story is about a sort of battle royal that occurs each year for the enjoyment of a country. As children are chosen for these murder Olympics they are allowed mentoring from a past survivor, from their district, for the games. Unfortunately the protagonist’s mentor is a lousy drunk. That’s how life goes though, sometimes you’ll get a mentor that teaches you to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and sometimes you’ll get a mentor who shows you everything not to be.
One of my favorite relationships between mentor and mentee is the one shared between Bob Bowman and Michael Phelps. Bowman has been sculpting Phelps into a world-champion gold medalist since he was 11 years old. Videos of training sessions I’ve seen with the two show Bowman being paternal, adversarial, and an inspirational friend to Phelps.  In a 2008 interview with ESPN Bowman said, “I like to keep the pressure up, when someone is that good you have to push them, not until they break just until they are giving you their best.”
Of course some leaders look to achieve a goal and lose sight of the mentees they are supposed to help reach that goal. In 1992 Hollywood gave us The Mighty Ducks. Hot shot lawyer Gordon Bombay is sentenced to community service in coaching one of the worst little league hockey teams ever. Bombay finally realizes he needs to earn the respect of the team and learns how to reach the kids on their own level. Bombay shows taking on a leadership role, like mentor, requires not only time but also dedication. The whole point is to teach your successor to one day be as good as, if not better than, you.
Seeing as we are all trying to grow up we no longer look for paternal mentors and those of us not involved in sports aren’t looking for someone to be adversarial about how we live our lives but what we are all looking for in a leader and mentor is inspiration. A breath of fresh air when our collegiate lives become stagnant. When the long hours put into physically challenging our bodies no longer seems to be paying off we need motivation. When all the hours spent studying and reading and writing have our brains the consistency of Play-Doh we need inspiration. When every good idea we have has been shot down and no one seems to be listening we need consolation. They say, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” but a great leader knows the path you lead the horse must leave it so thirsty it wouldn’t think twice about taking a drink of whatever is presented.