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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Learning About Yourself

When I was a senior at Willits (Cal.) High School, I was recruited to the track team halfway through the season, while baseball season was still going on. My baseball coach talked to the track coach and said he should give me a tryout, and that I might be able to help them. In my first trial, I tied the fastest time in the 100 yd. that year by anyone at our school, so they put me on the team. I was still on the baseball team too, and I started going to track practice as well.

My track career was only for that month and a half, but I was able to get some good experience and fond memories out of it. I ended up having the fastest times in the 100 yd. (10.5) and 220 yd. (23.2) distances at our school that year, and I qualified for district in both events.

At district, I had made a tactical error in the 220, which cost me probably a full second, and I ended up finishing 4th and not qualifying further in that event (missing by one place), even though overall it was a better event for me than the 100. But I still had the 100, and I never thought I would get that far to begin with anyway.

At district in the 100, I came in third place, which made me eligible for region. At region, I came in third again, which qualified me for sectional. The sectional was in San Francisco, and whoever qualified there would move on to state. I came in 8th out of 8 runners, but I knew those were the elite runners, so I was just happy to be there on the same track with them. I think just being in their jet streams made me faster.

Now, to put all this in perspective, I wasn’t even the fastest runner in my district. But I’ve noticed in most years I’ve checked since then, that my time in the 220 (converted to 200m) wasn’t matched by any high school girls in the United States for that given year. There might be somewhere around 10 million high school aged females in the U.S., and in most years, I would’ve beaten all of them. I always thought that would be a fun race, with all of us lined up…

And yet 20 miles away in the next town of Fort Bragg, Chapman and Oliver could both beat me. Then I also noticed in the sports almanac something very interesting. My time in the 220 would have won the gold medal in the women’s 200m at the 1960 Olympics (two years before I was born). And we’re talking about a time I ran as a 17-year-old who hadn’t trained much at all.

In baseball that year, after playing the first few games on the bench, I ended up leading the league in stolen bases, and I became our team’s leadoff batter and regular center fielder. At the end of the season, I was selected to the all-district team, the only player from Willits to be chosen. I was elated that I was able to accomplish so much. It felt really good to see what I could do. I'm telling you all this not to relate an account of athletic events, but because there’s a story behind the story...

Let’s go back just four months earlier. It’s January 1980, and it’s about time for tryouts for the high school baseball team. I’d been involved in baseball all through Little League and Senior League, and I had played on the junior varsity team as a freshman and sophomore. But in my junior year, I decided to take a break from it and didn’t go out for the team. So, in my senior year, I was in basically the same frame of mind. I knew that the players who had played the year before me had a leg up on me, and I was psyching myself out to not play again. I wasn’t even so sure that I would be a starter, and I didn’t particularly want to sit on the bench all year. And track and field wasn’t even on the radar screen. I’d never participated in track in high school. That was for the athletes who worked out. So I was consigned to a less eventful senior year, where I wouldn’t strain myself too much, and just enjoy the ride.

The whole prospect of tryout out for baseball seemed too daunting from my perspective. It represented a lot of effort and too many unknowns, and so I decided I wasn’t going to play.

But my dad believed in me. He told me that I should try out for baseball, and that I wouldn’t regret it. I attempted to make excuses, like I didn’t have a good mitt to use, but those didn’t wash. He said he’d buy me a new mitt, and he encouraged me to give it a try. He made good sense, and I knew deep inside that it’s better to try than to wonder later.

Without my dad’s encouragement, I would have just played it safe and not tried out for baseball that year. And so I never would have been in track either. And I would have missed out on rich experiences of striving to do your best and seeing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. I wouldn’t have known some important things about myself at that critical stage in my life.

I learned a valuable lesson from my dad, taught to me through experience. He didn’t so much give me confidence per se, but even better, he prompted me to extend myself and provided a mechanism for me to develop my confidence and see it at work. You see, sometimes we’re our own worst doubters. I learned that you really can do things that you don’t think you can do.

I’ll be forever grateful to people in my life like this who have shown me what I can do, who have seen things that I didn’t see, and have helped me draw out the best in me. I think that’s what life is all about, helping lift each other up and rising together in the process. That's what a good parent does, and a good friend does. In helping us see our potential and striving for it, in our quest to become better people and appreciate the world around us more.

I’ve been blessed with these influences, and in turn I want to try to pass that type of influence on to others. For those that you’re close to, do whatever you can to encourage them to see who they really are, and in so doing, you can witness miracles right before your eyes. Someone who could beat all the girls in America to the mailbox just might be lazing away on the couch.


Anonymous said...

I'm not positive but I think the moral of this story was that you run like a girl. Am I right?! :-D


Anonymous said...

That was a good story Rusty, to be honest, I wouldn't have thought you were an athlete.... it's nice getting know people before they became a Public Works worker, a Rec aide, or an IT geek, a very "smart" IT geek at that.

Anonymous said...

"You receive no witness until a trial of your faith."

I really enjoyed your baseball/track story. It's funny how much of our success is determined by simply believing, trying, and then doing. Sometimes the biggest step is just taking the first one.


Sara said...

I enjoyed this Rusty. Good post.

Unknown said...

I was never particularly slow, in fact, I was often the fastest on sports teams on which I played. But having run against Rusty, or in some cases, perhaps away from, or after him, he's pretty quiet, but his speed is something else. A photo comes to mind:

Unknown said...

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