Swimming with The BUMS

At the ripe old age of 24, I competed in what I thought would be my very last swim meet, because, after all, I became a “working professional” with some very long and crazy hours in the cable and broadcasting industry. I trained almost every morning before I went into work with some very nice “older” people at an area high school pool. Eighty year-old Morey and his wife Shirley would show up faithfully at 6 a.m. and get their 20-minute swim in, while I would turn into a whitewater monster that no one wanted to be near.  I swam in the “last” Masters meet in Buffalo, New York, and placed fairly well in my age group and headed 2 1/2 hours home with my medals, enjoying my youth of the mid-1980s…

Fast forward, 33 years later, and here I am, back in the pool, only after after work, marriage, dogs, kids, and travel consumed me, but very happily I must say. My time in the pool has provided me with a comforting solace, given me mental and physical strength, and allowed me to be my “young” self without delving too much into my past and attempting to re-live my 20-something years.

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But there’s always been the itch to compete.  To feed that swim ego once again. To go against someone and beat them while experiencing that immense high one feels from winning, or at least placing in my age group. Well, along came that itch, and it wasn’t too long ago when I received an email that a large statewide Masters swim meet was coming soon to somewhat nearby Binghamton, New York. Too enticing not to pass up, I registered and quickly entered my old high school and collegiate events, including my “signature” event, the 500 Freestyle.  Seed times needed to submitted as well, so I had a huge reality check when I realized I could no longer break 1-minute in the 100 Freestyle. But I’m 57, not 24. My “new” 100 Free time is the approximate time I swam in a pool recently, not going all out, but a baseline with which I could try to beat in this meet of the ages.

This was definitely a venture into new territory. I really won’t know a soul who will be there, as I’m back to “Independent” status, just like I was right out of college.  No team, no “Swimmers Sisterhood of the Traveling Goggles”….just…little…old…me.

My biggest fear about the meet? My goggles will fall off when I dive in. A nightmare.

Most of my events were freestyle, but just for “fun” I signed up for the 100 Individual Medley, aka the “IM” (25 yards each of Fly, Back, Breast, Free).  I did some IM practice turns recently and I believe all I did was provide many laughs for the lifeguards.

Then came time for the meet at Binghamton University.  I walked in (very early!) to the women’s locker room and was warmly greeted by one of the BUMS, that is, Binghamton University Masters Swimming.  I felt immediately at ease.  No butterflies, no apprehension about driving south for an hour and a half at 6 a.m.  One of the women, whom I’m certain was in an upper age group from me, acted as if I was her long lost cousin and escorted me to the beautiful pool I hadn’t seen in years.  Crystal clear water, bright lights above and below, and a separate diving well, one couldn’t ask for a better place to reconnect with competitive swimming.

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There were BUMS everywhere – BUMS in green coats, green hats, green sweatshirts and BUMS in green swimsuits.  I had recently purchased a black suit with green trim to honor my alma mater, Oswego State University (and wore a gold cap the first day), but I was happy about the color choice because I also felt a sense of “BUM belonging” –  like I was one of them. 

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My first events came and went, the 100 and 500 Free.  I won both events in my age group which came as a total surprise – but most important – my Goggles stayed on! I also survived the 500, and a nice BUM counted my laps, just they way I like it.  My husband quickly captured my 100 Free time on the scoreboard (Lane 5), and this will give me incentive to break that time with more training (and perhaps a few less lbs?!).

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Some of the BUMS congratulated me on my way back to my bleacher-based campground, which was unexpected, yet so very nice. My husband, camping with me for that first day, was quite impressed with the organization, dedication and friendliness of the BUMS.  I had to remember this wasn’t a bunch of over-competitive college kids (although…I must tell you… the 30-something men had some serious races going on that day!).

Day 2 left me truly alone, as my husband remained home since it was going to be a longer day with 3 events spread throughout. But I wasn’t alone, I was in BUMS Country! Meeting many more BUMS and other swimmers along the way, I ended up breaking a 25 year-old meet record in the 200 Free, one of the highlights of the weekend.

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My itch had been satisfied, and I will DEFINITELY take advantage of the next exciting season of Masters swim meets, well, just as long as I can hang out with those BUMS again.

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The Love of Spectators

Most of the recent conversations and/or text messages I’ve had with my siblings and friends lately are about their upcoming journeys to watch their child compete in high school, prep school or – in most cases – college sports events.

Just log onto Facebook, Instagram or any other social media site and see the many destinations in the country your social media friends are heading to – simply to see their kid spike a volleyball, slam dunk a basketball, or snipe a goalie.

It’s quite apparent that college spectator sports have evolved into a huge, huge business. Take Syracuse University and the construction of the Carrier Dome, likely one of the greatest happenings to the city of 250,000 in 30 years. People come from all parts of Central New York and beyond to watch S.U. football, basketball, lacrosse, and a myriad of local, state and regional games and tournaments hosted there.

Let’s not forget other events in “The Dome,” like the big- name concerts (Paul McCartney for one), Big Truck racing, and the annual New York State Field Band competition each fall, packing in thousands of spectators to see the fanfare and performances of high school marching bands from Buffalo to Long Island (The band kids will say, “what’s the football team doing on OUR marching band field?” but that’s another story, another time…).

One can get spoiled by watching football in an enclosed stadium like The Dome. This stems from a girl who grew up in a household with a father who was a die-hard Colgate University football fan (and a proud alumna who played both football – and – OUTDOOR hockey there). Week after week in September and October, we’d prepare food and beverages, then over-pack the car for pre-game tailgating. My mother, Jackie, was on board for the social aspect of it all, catching up with her “bestie” named Pat. Together, Pat ‘n’ Jax would chat, nosh on deviled eggs, and most often, huddle (and cleverly remain) inside the warm, running car while my father and I would venture over to the wooden bleachers to view the football game.

But just like the U.S. Postal Service, it was in “Rain, sleet or snow.” It was what Colgate Football was all about. Outside!

To take the chill out of the afternoon and to and pass the time, Dad explained to me what football downs were, demonstrated penalty signals and taught me the various plays of football, which, surprisingly for a young girl, I found far more interesting than my mother’s conversations. Mother Jackie would hob-nob with Bestie Pat when the next fashion show was, who got divorced, or who the new family was joining “The Club” this year (yawn).

This experience with my dad set the stage for my future as a Hockey-Lacrosse-Marching Band-Swimming-Cross Country and Golf Spectator. There is nothing better than watching your child focus on a sport they love to play, or seeing the end result of a unique skill they’ve worked on for months. My daughter gave age-group swimming a try for a year or so, but matriculated into performing arts. She spent 4 years with color guard in the state champion high school marching band (4 in a row!). So much fun to experience, and we truly admired her athletic-looking spins and dance moves, all while tossing and twirling a series of large, colorful flags.

My husband was an athlete, in marching band, has always been an avid sports spectator, but he also loves a good Broadway show or concert. Together, we have just about seen it all. We are on our way South to watch our son play in a college golf tournament, the first time in awhile – now that the weather permits and we have the time. We rarely got to see him play golf in high school as it was just one of those sports where parents and friends simply didn’t attend. Luckily, he played in some Junior Golf tournaments which took us to some beautiful courses in some wonderful cities and areas during those high school years (Toronto, Hilton Head Island, and PGA National in Florida to name a few!).

Watching someone play golf is not the most exciting thing to do, unless you’re a golfer – or your child plays golf. But seeing him crush the ball off the tee box and have it land 275-300 yards smack in the middle of the fairway will take your breath away. Watch him sink a 20-foot putt to save par can bring tears to your eyes.

So, fellow Spectator Parents, stand on those sidelines and savor the minutes your child is “out there.”

Take some video after the coach puts him on the field and he immediately scores a goal past the top goalie in the conference.

Enjoy the outdoor spring blossoms while driving to the golf course, and relish in the 18,000 steps you walked on the course during his 36-round day (in the rain, and fighting the wind).

Cheer loud and proud from the stands while she performs a volleyball “kill.”

Or – remain quiet while he does a double somersault with a full twist off the 3-meter board.

These are among the best of times for us, yet they come and go so quickly. Sure, it’s an expense, and it will always be a way for colleges to make a profit, yet it reminds me of those creative Master Card commercials from a few years ago…

Airfare: $850

Rental car: $275

Hotel: $400

College regalia (including 2 badly-needed umbrellas): $165

—Watching your college golfer son chip in for Eagle: PRICELESS

That’s what being a spectator is all about….love.

The Depth of It All

I’m off the deep end, watch me dive in

I’ll never meet the ground

Crash through the surface

Where they can’t hurt us

We’re far from the shallow now

             “Shallow” by Lady Gaga

As we head south to our bi-annual sanctuary of Hilton Head Island, I can’t wait until I reunite with the Atlantic Ocean. While it’s too cold to swim, visiting an ocean or walking the beach brings me an inner peace and comfort which many studies suggest is good for you mentally.

No surprise there.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I would love to really explore the depths of the Atlantic ocean, or any ocean, but right now, I just don’t have the nerve to take SCUBA classes. I’m not exactly claustrophobic, but I must admit, I don’t like super-deep water. Perhaps it’s the intense pressure and pain my 12 year-old ears experienced since I twisted, flipped, and cannon-balled from the club pool board into the 12-foot “deep” end.

Ouch.

Instead, we’ve snorkeled just off the bleached sands of The Cayman Islands, where there’s a real-life paradise of tropical fish, colorful coral, and, if you plan ahead, stingrays. A trip to Stingray City is well worth the time (and a slight expense) to frolic in knee to chest-deep water with the enormous, mystical creatures, who look like they can simply fly out of the aqua waters and into the sky.

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Photo by Will Wu on Pexels.com

Chest-high water is great, but diving “deep” with a snorkel is just…well… painful! I’m hoping to combat that with my next physical – and numerous questions – to my family physician (who seems to want to retire to some beautiful blue waters himself someday).

To combat that deep-water fix I long for, there are some great aquariums to visit in our wonderful country. One of them is The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s vast aquarium to view all walks – or swims – of ocean life and to learn about our amazing oceans – and a lot of fun to experience at feeding time. Divers venture into the tank in to hand out krill and chum to the fish – and the sharks. Talk about fearless – and probably the best job ever if you have no fear.

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Photo by Valdemaras D. on Pexels.com

My husband’s friend has been after me to try SCUBA to really get deep and see what lies beneath the ocean.  It scares me, but I’m not dissing it just yet.  Bob is a HUGE – I mean HUUUGE — SCUBA guy, and has has sent me postcards, brochures with gorgeous pictures and incentives to give it a whirl (or dive). About a year ago, left me a message on our office answering machine (yes, we still have one of those)…

“Hi I’m calling for Misses Caroline Stanistreet, this is Bob from down South…and you are prepared to go on a great adventure with the underwater world and it could be super cool…and…oh, gosh, if you get inspired, give me a holler, we would love to have you down in Key Largo and the North Florida Keys…give me a call…”

I haven’t erased this message yet.  Nor do I plan to.  Bob’s cheerful voice is my little reminder that anything is possible.  And between Bob’s postcards and my upcoming Masters swim meet (the first one I was going to do was cancelled), maybe I’ll get the mojo to give SCUBA – and the depths – a try. Stay tuned!

Hats Off…to Swim Caps

While at swim team practice at our club pool during summers of the 1970s, the girls were expected to wear swim caps. The rules were clear:

“SWIM CAPS MUST BE WORN IF HAIR IS SHOULDER LENGTH OR LONGER”

Seriously, folks, everyone in the 1970s had long hair, even the boys, but somehow, they escaped the horror of wearing the thick, white, rubbery beast.  It felt like a helmet, enveloped the head since it was simply too large for most young girls (one size fits all!!).  Thankfully, there were no chin straps, or large flowers throughout to make things worse.

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There’s been an on-again, off-again love affair with wearing a swim cap.  Rarely used during my high school and collegiate competitive swimming days, my hair fell victim to the “chlorine invasion.”   Hairdressers could tell immediately who was a swimmer by the golden-sheened strands, the disintegrating ends, and, for the poor blond-haired kids,  that unmistakeable green tinge.

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Anti-chlorine shampoos weren’t invented then, in fact, my swim club teammates thought it would be cool to use the hair lightening product known as “Sun-In” on their hair to really “blond it up” after swim practices.  Why? Because being blond was THE THING back then when it came to popularity (and probably still is).   Trouble is, many of the kids were brunettes, and this early version of Sun-In turned their hair orange.  Some of our teammates looked like a bunch of cute, brassy-haired children from Ireland.

One of my college teammates was a faithful cap wearer, and her hair, for the most part, stayed “normal” looking where the rest of us could pull our wet hair in different directions and it would stay. (Oh, the fun we had on Halloween…).

Today’s caps are superior to the boxy caps of old. Thinner, quite colorful, and shaped more like someone’s head, they aren’t as cumbersome and odd-looking, not to mention they look pretty cool when worn with mirrored goggles.

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As my very first Masters swim meet in “a few” years approaches, I get to choose one of many of my new, updated caps to don.  I cannot wait!  However, my biggest fear is of this meet is not the huffing and puffing I’ll do after the 500 Free, but that my goggles will fall off after I dive in, so I’m considering wearing a cap over my goggle straps – and another cap underneath.

Kind of like a goggle sandwich.

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There is a great deal of gratitude I feel towards today’s swim caps, and wearing a contemporary, well-fitting cap at this meet will boost my confidence like never before.

Stay tuned to see how I survived my first meet in 33 years…it should be interesting and fun!!

 

 

 

Memorabilia…One Step (and Wall) at a Time

As someone who seems prone to remembering the past, I really had a tough time with a recent family “challenge.” It was actually a request from my stepdaughter, who asked us that she, her husband, their rambunctious 2 year-old, and her in-laws from Texas stay with us for a few days over Christmas.

No big deal, right? You haven’t surveyed our 2nd floor accommodations recently.

You see, the room the in-laws were to stay in for the 2018 version of the Griswold Old-Fashioned Family Christmas was declared the “room of all trades” over the past several years. There’s extra bedding, an interesting collection of clothing – like the old, long dresses from my late mother (some I just can’t part with), various toys and furniture – like the large rocking chair with which I put 50,000 miles on with by rocking 2 babies just 51 weeks apart. I first had the task of removing most of the stuff from the room to prep it for painting…the first paint job in over 20 years.

Step 1 (aka Stuff Removal) most items were tossed, stored elsewhere, or donated. So here’s hoping…just like the song that starts with “out there, somewhere…” some little girl is cuddling with a barely used Build-A-Bear horsie, and a young boy is wearing a virtually unworn hunter green wool sweater to keep him warm this winter.

This room took care of my son for a long time until he moved into the room next door with the convenient adjacent bathroom for his teenage years. For his elementary and adolescent duration, every effort was made to keep that first room updated with his many interests. First, we bargained for a yard-sale metal bed, painted it green and yellow and called it the “Tractor Bed.” John Deere pictures hung on the walls and matching pillows complimented the bedding – with tractors on it.

Next came his love for hockey, and most other sports. So, the trusty metal bed accepted a fresh coat of navy paint with some NHL magnets on the headboard. The walls were a bleak shade of off-white, so a wide, all-sports themed border was wrapped around the entire perimeter. This was a very wide border with thick glue. Really thick and really old glue.

So removing this once-cute border was a task. All the advice I received on border removal, not to mention all the chemicals (and patience in the world) finally paid off. I peeled away the memories, one shred at a time, but had some nice company from the sweet-faced, wooden bear we had custom made for our son years ago. After Mr. Bear “helped” me with that border project, I had to relocate him to my son’s current room, and the two were gleefully reunited when he came home for Christmas.

Step 2 (aka Border Patrol) – complete! There were many toys and games I remember buying for our son, but apparently we purchased some sort of pellet rifle for him. So, upon close inspection of the walls, there were little 1/4″ round dimples on some, if not all, of the walls. My kid must be an expert marksman given the amount of dimples we had to spackle, although I don’t believe he will ever consider a career as a hitman.

Since this room had high, vaulted ceilings, there is a large covered top to the closet. After getting the nerve to scale the tall ladder to clear cobwebs on top of the closet, there rested a arrangement of little yellow pellets, a t-shirt, the blister-pack case the rifle came in, an old fleece blanket, and…what I believe was a discarded brown bag lunch from 5th grade. And he’s a Junior in college now.

Eew is right.

Step 3, which will be called “D & C” (aka Discard and Clean) is done, Hallelujah! This led us to the large, white cabinet which had been taking up a lot of space in the center of the room this whole time. Originally, it was to be installed in my daughter’s room, but, well, her room is rather small, and….to use a polite word my mother taught me – unkempt. It was suggested by my husband that it would be a better fit as a window seat, and he was so so right. One less item to deal with, and it is a perfect motif for this Southern-style Cape Cod home we own.

With Step 4 (aka Southern Charm) done, it was finally time to paint. We picked a shade of gold, and while I started the cutting in, I decided that I will recruit my son to help me with the rolling. After all, at 6’1″ he can stand on the tall ladder and paint to the top of the vaulted ceiling – and more important – around the Coca-Cola basketball hoop that he won in a hockey tournament raffle. That’s there just in case the in-laws want to play a quick game of Horse. That’s the one item that will remain until he decides to take it with him someday.

And I’m O.K. with that.

Surprise of the week – while I was away picking up my son from college, my sweet, wonderful, and very thoughtful husband hired a friend to paint – professionally – the now proclaimed “Griswold Gold Guest room.”

Best. Gift. Ever.

Although my son got “off the hook” from helping me with the paint, perhaps we can all revisit his former room, play some one-on-one, or just sit at the window seat and take in the memories of his childhood.

Mentally Tough Stuff (Lesson #1)

Did you ever sit in front of the TV, dumbfounded, after watching a pro golfer like Tiger Woods sink a lengthy putt and ask yourself, “How does he do that?”

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Or in 2016, do you recall seeing Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps blow everyone out of the water in the 200 meter Individual Medley in Rio de Janeiro?

Whether it’s completing The Tour de France or running a marathon, these athletes certainly have “the right stuff” when it comes to mental fortitude. It’s truly a gift that some people possess, many of whom are professional athletes.  This topic seems to surface a lot, so here are some questions to ponder, and perhaps answer:

How does a person acquire mental toughness?

Is it something you’re born with?

Does it take a serious life event or life experience to “toughen you up” mentally?

During my college swim meets, I would’ve loved to gulp down a can of spinach like Popeye did and kick all the “Female Bluto’s” rear ends in the grueling 500-yard Freestyle.  Unfortunately – there is no magic potion out there to mentally endure an athletic event – let alone life in general.

So, after consulting with some athletes, both young – and a little bit older – to get their broad perspectives, read these inspiring words which come from a golf pro, a female cyclist and a swimmer-turned-triathlete:

John Clare is a young PGA professional whom I’ve followed for many years, in fact, since he was on the Boys Golf team at West Genesee High School.  He shared his thoughts on how he deals with the constant mental challenges that golf throws his way:

     “Mental fortitude to me, not only as a professional golfer but as a person, is something in my opinion that I have developed over time. Though my professional career at this point has been relatively short, I have been lucky to have had both great successes and monumental failures.

      I look at it as a two-way street. What I may have succeeded in as far as golf has helped me develop mental strength that translates into my personal life. The same is true, however, when failure happens.  However, there is no doubt that I have been able to compartmentalize more memories of failure while staring down success because the best test of a person’s mental strength is not how fast they can forget, but more-so, knowing exactly where they went wrong – and still finding the courage to run towards that fear of failure until they have succeeded.” – John Clare

John Clare

Another perspective on mental fortitude comes from a great friend whom I’ve known since Girl Scouts (yes, Girl Scouts). She was not an athlete growing up, as she spent her high school years as a talented musician – and an extremely smart student.  It wasn’t until her freshman year in college that she began competitive sports, first with rowing on Syracuse University’s crew team, and eventually becoming an Elite Masters cyclist in her fifties.  Be it her husband, coach or trainer, Susan (Church) Andersson feels fortunate to be surrounded by the support and guidance to develop her mental toughness:

     “I have learned so much about myself through this odyssey. I know that I do best when I am given a task to execute. Thus, my coach and my personal trainer are essential to my success. I simply would not push myself this hard, and if I did I would probably injure myself. I am very competitive, but I really think that I do not have that extra “something” that makes me push beyond whatever limits I may think I have during an event. I think this extra “something” is what differentiates great athletes.

I think of it as a killer instinct. It’s the ability to put aside pain and discomfort and everything the body is saying and focus on the event and the outcome. I do not seem to have that, although I have had events where my focus on the result during the event transcended the pain. I think my mental toughness comes from my bias toward following rules. I will generally do my workouts as planned. Sometimes, if I’m super tired, I will not complete my workout as planned. I don’t like that.

Susan Andersson

     That being said, I do absolutely think you can increase your mental toughness. I think that because I’m competitive, I benchmark a lot and I want to beat the benchmark. I will race people at the airport (they are unaware of this!). I will walk as fast as I can with whatever I’m dragging/carrying to see if I can pass the folks on moving walkways or escalators; I will race my husband if we are both driving somewhere (not by going too fast, but by taking a better route). I think this mindset helps me push through stuff, and has made me faster.”       –Susan Andersson

My last “Mental Toughness Motivator” is Fred Dever.  Now in his early fifties, Fred was a D-1 collegiate swimmer (Marist) who embraced his physical talent – and mental skills – and evolved into a U.S.-ranked triathlete – and has run in 4 Boston Marathons:

     I believe “Mental Toughness-Mental Fortitude” is learned behavior that comes from a combination of natural instinct, coaching and the athlete’s environment.  I do not believe one’s ability to build strong mental capacity is limited due to past history, however, early athletic experiences do set the stage for sustained mental strength.

      I want to start with giving folks who are in a “Funk” in terms of athletic performance, inspiration!  Mental toughness is something that you one must believe in, visualize, and make certain you have people who can lift your mental strength around you.  Finding inner peace, making competition fun again can increase your mental fortitude.   Often, dips in mental strength come from long periods of sustained top athletic competition that always focuses on “Winning” – getting the best score, or beating a time.  This is unrealistic – and can be taxing.

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As a lifelong competitive swimmer and now multi-sport athlete, I have grappled with sustaining my mental fortitude.  I generally visualize past positive results, remember the folks who helped push me along the way, and position myself to find ONE good thing I can take away from an event or competition. The “fun” element of the sport must be brought into the fold, this is often the toughest task as mental toughness slumps can make competition all business.

       My personal mental toughness was developed early as a young age group swimmer. Growing up in Central New York, I was fortunate to have coaches, family and friends who believed in me. I also looked at the kids who seemed to have natural skill or body types as beatable.  I never subscribed to the analytics of athletics such as “he or she is a natural.”   I have seen too many “Dark Horses” excel.

     I believe everyone has Mental Toughness and Fortitude –  the trick is to make certain you nurture it!” 

– Fred Dever

Questions answered?

This is a great mix of wisdom from people who’ve “been there, done that,” and want to continue to stay competitive in their sports.  My takeaway from all three of these athletes is that everyone, EVERYONE has Mental Fortitude – one just needs the courage to stick with it, don’t quit, learn from mistakes, and if you need help, reach out to those who can encourage you to keep going in a positive direction.

Life Coach – 3 Real Definitions

Life Coach – You’ve probably heard the term used by people from all walks of life in the past few years.  One definition states that a Life Coach is “someone that looks to empower others by helping them make, meet and exceed goals in both their personal and professional lives.”

And – for 8 months of online classes (and probably a large sum of hard-earned money) YOU TOO can become a “certified” Life Coach!

Oh, please

It was fodder for laughs on the now-cancelled “Roseanne” sitcom, after Roseanne’s sister Jackie announced to the family she was a Life Coach.  There is even an International Life Coach Federation, and maybe Jackie was even a fictitious member – but we will never know unless The Conners really, truly rise soon from the TV sitcom ashes, will we?

Now, there are those life coaches, then there are LIFE COACHES…the real ones.  Three of these amazing people come to mind immediately, and their experiences and qualifications are remarkable.

The first life coach who immediately comes to mind is Mike Messere,West Genesee High School Boys Emeritus Varsity Lacrosse Coach.  Google his name and you’ll find page after page of interviews, stories, and statistics of the winningest high school coach in the United States.  For 50 years he helped develop young boys into men, whether they liked it or not, with his classic boot camp-style of discipline, holding practices for hours on end (including the famous “Snickers Bar” practice), having his players walk in line, side by side, on and off the field, riding in hot school buses to games (sometimes for hours on end) with no talking unless they won.

His lifetime statistics speak volumes:

834-84 Win-Loss record, 15 NY State Championships, 33 Sectional titles, 11 undefeated seasons.

ABOVE: West Genesee Boys Lacrosse team at the 2015 State Championships, complete with “special” haircuts – a tradition ONLY when they earned a trip to States.

Not everyone agreed with Messere’s coaching rules, style, or mission statement, especially toward the end of his 43-year lacrosse career, but just ask any former player what they think of Coach Messere – and how he inspired them through his philosophy of hard work – and you’ll find guys who are now living successful careers in various fields, be it a physician, attorney, or one of the throngs of high school and college lacrosse coaches nationwide.  They say it’s all thanks to Coach Messere.

Coach Mike Messere

The second REAL life coach is a man I had the privilege to finally meet at a recent book signing in Oswego, NY whose name is Gordon “Pete” Sears. I met him because I contributed to a book called “My Kids Play Hockey” by Christie Casciano Burns.* This book reads kind of like a “Chicken Soup for the hockey parents soul” – style, and a great guide for the newbie parents who don’t know where to turn and how to start their kids on the youth hockey route.  Sears’ friend, Bill Cahill, another contributor to Christie’s book, wrote a chapter on this legendary athlete, coach and mentor to him and many others.  This description of Pete Sears is too good not to share, so with Bill’s blessing, below is an excerpt from his chapter titled “Life, Luck & Mentors:”

Life is complicated; it’s full of highs and lows and can be difficult to navigate regardless of your age. If you’re very lucky you may meet someone that becomes a friend and mentor, someone to help you navigate life. I’m one of those lucky people, growing up in Oswego NY in the 1970’s and 80’s, I had many great teachers and coaches. When I started playing hockey as a 7 year old in 1973 (I had big plans to be the next Bobby Orr), I had heard that there was this guy who played goalie at our local college Oswego State, and that he was on the Olympic Team the previous year. A few years later after pursuing a pro career, this guy decided to make Oswego his home and started coaching in the Oswego Minor Hockey Association. Little did I know at the time that this guy, Gordon “Pete” Sears would become one of my teachers, one of my coaches, one of my best friends and a person that would profoundly influence my life on a number of levels.

Although he was a multi-sport athlete in high school and college, Pete talked about hockey players like we/they were from a different planet. He always talked about how you can give a hockey player any task in life and they will figure out a way to get it done. All these years later I feel that he was right, hockey people seem to have a certain grit or toughness that you don’t see in most civilians. It is certainly something I’ve tried to pass on to the players I have coached over the years, and currently the young ladies (which include my daughter Monica) on the 19u team that I coach today. I have Pete to thank for that mindset and I hope to instill in them the confidence that he gave to me and so many others.

(Pictured left to right-Pete Sears, book contributor Bill Cahill, author Christie Casciano Burns, and another contributor 🙂 )

My favorite passage from Bill:

Pete’s biggest point of emphasis was always preparation, mental and physical. He has a list of several hundred “mind vitamins” many of which we have committed to memory, but one of his favorites is; “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Some of these sayings can be found posted in my classroom today. To Peter, these sayings are not just catchy phrases, but a way of life. He is the least hypocritical person I have ever met, he walks the talk. How many human beings do we encounter in life that make you want to be a better human being? My friend Pete Sears is one of those people.

Bill’s perspective on Pete Sears practically mimics my own coach and mentor, the third person in my Life Coach trilogy, but she is definitely not least!

Grace Mowatt Burritt, Emeritus Oswego State Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach, has held a myriad of roles for myself and other female collegiate swimmers for decades.  She has not been just a successful college swim coach, but Grace has been a surrogate parent (the “mom” for the hundreds of student swimmers who came to Oswego from out of town), that “fun aunt” you may have never had but always wanted, a fierce golf partner (I confess to using Grace as a “ringer” during ladies’ member-guest tournaments), a source of information of the goings on in Oswego during my reporting years, and the most important quality, a friend who has listened to me via phone, text, email or in person.

(Grace on the right at her 29th birthday surprise party in 2017)

Grace has always kept herself well-informed about current events, and has her own successful athletic history, another factor to her vitality and spirit.  She is a big reason I began swimming again…it’s given me a reinvigorated mind – and quite simply, there is just nothing like it.  I suppose it’s why old hockey players want to keep on skating, or why runners keep running (I am not one of them).

To those of you who have your own special – and real – Life Coach, you are truly blessed.

*Just a Note:  Forgive the shameless plug, but “My Kids Play Hockey” is now available at Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, NY (buy local!!) and also on Amazon.com

Workout Etiquette

My mother taught a “social graces” course to young girls which was called “White Gloves and Party Manners” many years ago.

Aside from learning proper grooming and dressing, how to correctly arrange place settings, and using the gentile way to stand up, curtsy, and greet people, the emphasis was on good old-fashioned etiquette.

“How do you do?”

“May I please…?”

“Thank you very much.”

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Pretty basic, but a wonderful experience for these girls back in the late sixties and seventies.  Today, and very sadly, good manners, common courtesy and kindness are becoming a thing of the past. The “me” generation (is that the X, Y, or Z generation? It’s hard to remember) is even rubbing off on some of our middle age brethren, which is even more disheartening.

I miss friendly greetings, the basic “please and thank yous” – even when in a grocery store or a clothing shop.  How did our culture get so rude?

As for etiquette at the gym – as Tony Soprano said often, “Fuggetaboutit.”  Zero politeness.  I understand that people are there to do their thing, but when walking in there, I feel I get stared down as if people are asking themselves “what the heck are you doing in MY gym?”   There are rules posted in gyms, which most people have the decency to follow (wipe down the equipment after use), but some are “machine hogs,” completely oblivious to the next person who wants to use the free weights, the stretching mats or the few best ellipticals the gym offers.

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Then there’s the person talking on their cell phone – loudly- while next to you on the treadmill.  Seriously? Not everyone there is cordial, friendly, or even civil, but maybe they don’t want to be there in the first place and would rather be home watching Netflix with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.  This is why I choose to hit the Cycle Room when the spin classes are over, keeping those lights off and having that time to myself.

Lap pool etiquette rules are similar to those in the gym, with a large sign requesting various courtesies when using the competition pool.  Eight lanes are open for most of the day, opening at 5:30 a.m. (Nope, NOT FOR ME!), then closing at 1 p.m., then reopening at 3:00 p.m., but most lanes at that afternoon time are reserved for high school team practice. You’d think that showing up at 12:30 p.m. would be a great time to take a half-hour swim. Your thought process says well, frankly, everyone probably swam in the early or mid-morning, and it’s a school day and work day, so it won’t be busy. Right?

Wrong. So very wrong.

At a recent visit, all 8 lanes had a swimmer, and 4 out of 8 lanes were “doubled up,” meaning 2 swimmers were swimming side by side, also known as splitting the lane. Circle swimming is listed on the rules sign, but that’s really for a team. That involves swimming up one side, turning at the end then swimming down the other side in a counter-clockwise, and rather long circle. Not good (or safe) for the mix of fast and slow swimmers who are there to do some laps and those who don’t swim competitively.

I planted my towel against the wall at the deep end, and surveyed the situation. If a lane was free, I would normally dive in from the deep end and kick on my back until I was able to touch the shallow end, put my cap and goggles on, and proceed to swim.  If all lanes are “taken,” out of courtesy, I’ll walk from the deep end around to the shallow end and sit on one side of the lane with my feet dangling in the water until the person in the lane notices and moves to one side.

That didn’t happen today. Even after I used my best White Gloves and Party Manners ammunition.

“How do you do?”  Ignored.

“Excuse me – please, may I share the lane with you?”  Ignored.  And ignored again.

Middle-aged men (some who think they are still high school swimmers) pretended I wasn’t there, and didn’t move over. Maybe they had water in their ears and foggy goggles.  If you recall the scene from the musical Chicago where the poor, confused husband of Roxy Hart sings “Mr. Cellophane,” well, there I was, starring in the water-based revival, with a rubber cap on my head. Then, I looked 3 lanes down and saw one of “The Regulars.” They’re the folks you see just about every time you go, even though your own workout time varies.

water swimming competition pool
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve never wanted to swim with one particular “Regular” man, because rather than swimming strokes in the water, he gently floats along…kind of like a jellyfish does in the ocean.  I’m afraid I’d wash him over to the next lane or he’d start to sink. But, somehow, this older gent saw me, and immediately moved over to one side of the lane.  Slipping into the shallow end so as not to create splashing or whitewater, I gingerly started breaststroke. Then I practically hugged the lane lines while swimming freestyle, nicking my fingers occasionally on the hard plastic rings, because disturbing this nice man was the last thing I wanted to do.

Then he vanished! I was scared initially, but after swimming closer I noticed he had moved over to the next lane of the pool that is closer to the stairs. I stopped next to him and started to apologize if I’d startled him, and he was kind and gracious, assuring me he was just finishing up. Then with his European accent, he told me he was 91 years old, swims 3 times per week for 20 minutes at a time and that he and his “young wife” (she’s 86) were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary today.

Reaching over the lane line to shake this gentleman’s hand, whose name is Marcel, I congratulated him on his anniversary and for swimming as often as he does.  While I wanted to curtsy, that would’ve been just wrong in a pool, but I thanked him for being so kind and courteous.  It warmed my heart to spend a little time with him, and because of Marcel, I was able to enjoy the rest of my swim and not dwell on the oblivious “others.”

So, in these not-so-friendly times, please try to be kind and gracious wherever you are, just like my mother taught those young girls so very long ago.  Maybe I can teach a course called “White Swim Cap & Pool Manners?”

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Rear Veranda

If you’re old enough to remember the classic film “Rear Window” starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr, perhaps you will understand the title of this new post. We are currently stranded in our beachfront condo due to a day full of thunderstorms, just like Stewart’s wheelchair-bound character L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries was stranded in his apartment due to wearing a cast from hip to toe.

Thankfully, there are no murders going on in Hilton Head, but in this Oceanside building resides quite a cast of characters we have observed – and listened to – who are just as quirky and eccentric as Stella, Lars Thorwald and Miss Lonelyhearts.

While sitting on the rear veranda, facing the ocean and witnessing the Atlantic’s fierce skies, the thrill of hearing the “surrounding cast” is addicting…

Below us is Unit 8104, which features an elderly couple who are currently solving most, if not all, of our world’s problems. Let’s call them Ralph & Alice.  Fix the environment? On it. Politics? Alice sounds like a Democrat and Ralph is very likely a Republican, so their martial longevity must be explained by nothing more than true love. The most pressing issue of the day is what to have for dinner, and grilling outside in a thunderstorm is NOT happening, so perhaps it’s Chinese Take Out Night for Ralph & Alice, giving them more time to figure out how they alone can defeat Isis, or determine if North Korea will ever reduce its stockpile of missiles.

Above us are the people in Unit 8304, also known as Wonder Mom and Kids. Packing EVERYTHING – toys, baby bottles, towels, beach chairs, umbrella, and snacks in a double stroller (baby included) and escorted by an adventurous toddler, undaunted Wonder Mom heads to the beach – with the sound of thunder!!! Yes, real thunder! Lightning too!! We sit, dumbfounded, at how Wonder Mom is able to push the heavy stroller onto the beach, single-handedly, and enjoy her children’s company during a storm. Then it started raining rather hard (never mind the thunder and lightning still going on), so out of fear of melting, she re-packs and swiftly retreats with children in tow. Amazing.

(If you look closely above, there she is in the literally thunderous, death-defying retreat)

Our neighbors to the right are in 8203, which was our original unit 20 years ago. We sold that condo to a couple for a larger one, which has 3 bedrooms and no neighbors to the left, making for a slightly more serene setting. This couple, I will refer to as Mr. & Mrs. Foster Budlight.  Whenever they chat, or whenever they don’t, the sound of clinking beer bottles fill the air. We cannot see The Budlights while sitting on the veranda, but they seem to toast to just about everything you can think of:

“Honey, the news is on!” (Clink)

“My swimsuit is still wet!” (Clink)

“Look, a bird just flew by!” (Clink)

“What time is it?” “It’s Happy Hour!” (Clink, Clink)

After the rain stopped, we took our evening beach walk, and saw Mr. and Mrs. Budlight sitting on the beach, bottles in hand, although they had enough beach etiquette to use coozies. Clink. We sat on the large storage box that holds the overpriced rental umbrellas and old wooden beach chairs, and observed our neighbors. Mrs. Budlight slowly stood up, stumbled a bit and folded her chair. Sadly, she couldn’t quite make the long walk back toward our building to return it to the racks, so it was leaned rather crookedly against a post stuck in the sand. Clink.

She mumbled something to us, and wobbled over to Mr. Budlight where they proceeded to take their version of a Beach Walk…but just for fun, let’s call it a Beach Weave. It’s been kind of quiet since that evening, so one wonders if they ever made it back to Unit 8203.

There are 20 condos that face the ocean, each with its own big, boisterous family, young couple, or lonely widow, and each with their own scenes from their lives. Our condo certainly has its unique collection of visitors from 20 years of ownership and we wouldn’t trade the memories for anything. Boogie boarding, jellyfish stings, pizza ‘n’ pitch night (I still can’t play it well), ice cream trips, sunburns, cocktails and juice boxes, drying beach towels, bad joke telling, you name it, we’ve experienced it. If L.B. Jeffries was a guest here, I wonder what he would’ve thought of our neighbors, and if he’d figure out the many mysteries of the condo…

Risking It

Timing is everything, really it is. Just one week ago, a woman was tragically killed by an alligator while walking her dog near a lagoon in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. And here I am, waiting at the airport, on my way to Hilton Head. No, I don’t go near lagoons, nor have I in the 20 years we’ve been vacationing there, but that uneasy feeling was with me all week. You know, that feeling of “what if….?” And a friend who has lived down there for years we spend time with when visiting gives us our annual reminder about the shark-infested waters just off the South Carolina coast (thanks, old friend).

So – do I cower in fear of alligators and sharks (and the occasional jellyfish)? Stay home and miss the great world out there? Heck, no! Life is full of risks, and while some aren’t worth taking (for me, skydiving is a pretty good example), other risks may be worth stepping out of your norm and living life to its fullest. I’ve jumped off cliffs into dark water, flown in helicopters, gone white river rafting, and skied down a black diamond mountain trail that I had no business skiing down. Memorable, of course, and stuck in my middle-aged brain for good. Perhaps the sheer vividness of each jump, splash and tumble created a bright green check mark in my mental diary of life.

There are people we all know who’ve certainly taken much greater risks. One brave man who first comes to mind, fought in the terrible war over in Afghanistan, was shot and seriously wounded, yet recovered, and has a happy marriage, a child and a sweet golden retriever.

Another definite risk-taker flew those insanely fast F-15 fighter jets. When he wasn’t swirling and spinning up in the air at 10 bazillion miles per hour, he would be out at all hours on the lake at his family’s summer camp, waterskiing……barefoot.

Then, there are the other risk-takers, people who haven’t repelled off cliffs or faced the enemy in a foreign country. One woman has faced death, square on, as she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer years ago. Her recent risk was to use an experimental cancer treatment, and happily, is now facing remission. Her risk was unimaginable, but she took it, and has won her battle. She still has those “bad days” from the side effects and recovery of the treatment, but they pale in comparison to the quality of life she previously endured. A different type of risk-taker for sure, but she is a warrior and truly a hero in the hearts of her family and friends.

That kind of risk makes one appreciate life, and all the gifts God has given us. We take risks daily, just by hopping in the car and driving to work, or slicing vegetables with a very sharp knife (yes, well, that is another story at another time).

Whatever risk you choose, face it with positivity, embrace the experience and cherish the memory. Those sharks and ‘gators will probably never see the whites of my eyes when I land in Hilton Head, but there will be some type of risky adventure to create when we are down there. So stay tuned!