February 29, 2012

Dick Fosbury Finds A New Way to Soar

I wanted to tell you about a kid named Dick Fosbury who literally revolutionized the sport of High Jumping.  He couldn’t do it the way they taught him to do it, so he invented a way he could do it, and now everyone does it his way.  

Dick was a tall kid and average in every way.  He wanted to be good at something so he could get a scholarship and go to college to get an engineering degree.  He tried Football, but he was just average and only succeeded in getting his front teeth knocked out.  He tried Basketball, and at 6’4” he should have been great, but there were already several great players on his High School team.  They could dunk and he couldn’t, so he just sat on the bench.  He tried other sports, but finally settled on Track and Field.  His coach thought his height would give him an advantage in the High Jump, but in every other event, he was just average as usual.

As Dick tried to follow his coach’s instructions to perform the high jump using the ‘Western Roll’ style, (and Dick was trying to follow the instructions), he just couldn’t do it.  He was tall and lanky, uncoordinated and the several different motions required were beyond his capabilities.  He was still jumping at the 5’4” height he had reached in 9th grade using the ‘Scissors’ style!  On the long bus ride heading to another Track meet, he decided he’d try one more time and if he couldn’t get it, he’d switch sports again.  But he would do whatever it took to reach something higher.

Fortunately, the schools had begun changing out the surfaces behind the high jump pits.  We are used to seeing the 3 foot tall fluffy pads that are in use now.  Back when Dick was jumping, the landing area was sand and wood chips at ground level.  The Western Roll and the other styles forced the jumper to land on his feet or face serious injury.  Arriving at this Rotary meet in Grand Pass Oregon, he saw that they had a high fluffy pad.  Desperate as he was to see improvement, Dick knew he wouldn’t hurt himself trying something new.

His first jump, using the more familiar Scissors technique, netted 5’4”, the standard he was trying to best or quit.  It wasn’t enough.  His next jump, he leaned further back, adjusting his body to try to better his jump.  It looked a bit odd, but he cleared two more inches.  On his third jump, he leaned even further back and made 5’8”.  

When he took his next jump, the bar was set at 5’10”, and he really wanted to make that height.  This time he let his instincts take his body adjustments further and when he jumped, he somehow was flat on his back now, totally out of form and yet he made it!  He landed on his back and the coaches erupted.  Was this legal?  Was it safe?  Was it even allowed?  It wasn’t the Scissor or the Western Roll or any other traditional style he was doing!  He had improved his jump by a half a foot in just 4 jumps, and everyone was paying attention.  (Most improvements in the sport are noted in fractions of an inch sometimes over the course of a whole year!)

Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated wrote, “When Fosbury jumped 5'10" at that rotary meet at Grants Pass in 1963, he was in a back layout position, his shoulders going even farther back in reaction to his lifting hips. It was on-site engineering, his body and mind working together, making reflexive adjustments with only one goal, getting over the bar. In an act of spontaneity, or maybe rebellion, he created a style unto itself.”  

Dicks coach was amazed, and not unwilling to let Dick do it his way after seeing his remarkable improvement.  He gave Dick complete freedom to experiment and the next year, Dick’s Junior year, he cleared 6’3”.  By his senior year, Dick could reach 6’5 ½”, well higher than his teammates.  It was still a local phenomenon, and Dick helped teach some of his teammates how he was doing it.  That was hard to do, since he was really making it up as he went along.  

At one of his Senior meets, a reporter noticed his strange form.  He said it looked like a fish flopping onto a boat.  His article gave the new style it’s name, the Fosbury Flop.  (Some said he looked like he was having a seizure midair, or falling from a tall building.) People still laughed at it, yet his jumps were much higher now.  Dick had a high jump style named after him, but colleges were not calling in droves.  After all, he really just wanted to get a scholarship to college somehow.  Fortunately, the local university, Oregon State got him a small scholarship and Dick gratefully accepted.

Dicks new college coach insisted that he go back to the Straddle (a combination of the Western Roll and the Scissor).  Dick, always good at following directions, did that.  But his jumps went back to his previous low levels.  At meets, sometimes Dick would revert back to his trademark jump and his heights would jump too.  In his Sophomore year, at a meet in Fresno, he reached 6’10” using the Flop.  His coach finally relented, seeing that he had actually set an Oregon State University record.  He pulled him aside and said, “Dick, I’m not exactly sure what you are doing, but it’s working for you.  So go ahead with it.”  Finally Dick had support and backing to keep refining this new technique.

Track meet promoters started calling Dick and asking him to perform at their meets with the headline about his new style.  Some headlines noted that he was a physics student refining a new technique.  It drew more crowds and gave Dick more opportunities to refine his form.  In his Junior year, he cleared 7 feet.  Now he was jumping at the heights of the Olympic class athletes!  In fact, he became the most consistent 7 foot jumper in the sport.  After reaching 7’2”, someone asked him if he would be interested in competing in the Olympics.  Dick was stunned!  He had never imagined anything like that, and here he was, using his own strange and comical technique, successful enough to consider Olympics!

Dick trained for and qualified for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City with a jump of 7’3”.  There, the long process of eliminating the weaker jumpers demanded that they start the bar at 6’6”.  The audience continued to laugh when they saw Dick flop over the bar in his strange new style.  By the time they reached 7’, only 5 jumpers remained.  Three were American and two were Soviet, and as this was during the Cold War, they were arch enemies.  The audience began to be won over by Dick and cheer for him instead of laugh.  After four hours of competition, with the sun setting, after two misses at the 7’4 1/4”, Dick ran toward the bar just as the Marathoners were entering the stadium.  Normally, the audience would begin cheering madly to see the racers finish this long race.  But they were already on their feet cheering, watching Dick make his last attempt at a new Olympic record.  Dick cleared the bar, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.  He had set an Olympic Record, earned a Gold Medal, all using a style he himself invented and fine-tuned.   

No coach gave him any pointers; no other athletes showed him the form.   Finally his style was recognized as the improvement over the older styles as it was.  Even so, for several more years there were skeptics.  One coach warned that this technique would wipe out an entire generation of high jumpers because they would all break their necks.  After the games, one reporter wrote,
When he did it tonight, Fosbury gave the world a spectacular display. The people at Oregon State are studying hundreds of films of their flying civil engineer in action, but so far nobody has figured out a way to duplicate his style. It is totally unlike the scissorkick, the Western roll, the Eastern cutoff and other techniques. Even Fearless Fosbury is amazed. ‘Sometimes I see movies,’ he says, ‘and I really wonder how I do it.’  However, Fosbury foresees the day when boys all over America will be soaring over bars upside-down. ‘I think quite a few kids will begin trying it my way now,’ he said. ‘I don't guarantee results, and I don't recommend my style to anyone. All I say is if a kid can't straddle, he can try it my way.’”

Indeed, in the next ten years, the Fosbury Flop became the common High Jumping style.  No World Records have been set since 1980 using any other technique.  Dick truly changed this sport completely!  He developed a new style by listening to his body and working with his knowledge and interest in Physics and Engineering.  He ignored the laughter of critics and did what worked for him with his abilities and limitations. 

We can do the same with our challenges and abilities, we just need to think outside of the box.   

To read more, see:
“Fearless Fosbury Flops to Glory” by Joseph Durso, October 20, 1968, New York Times, found at http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/sports/year_in_sports/10.20.html

This day in History, Oct 20, 1968: “Fosbury flops to an Olympic record” at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fosbury-flops-to-an-olympic-record

September 14, 2009, Sports Illustrated, “The Revolutionary:  As a gawky teenager in the 1960’s, Dick Fosbury just wanted to find something he was really good at.  Little did he know he would become an Olympic Champion and turn a sport literally upside down” by RICHARD HOFFER found at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1160029/1/index.htm

Cornell University’s analyzes why his technique works using Physics at http://thevirtuosi.blogspot.com/2011/08/physics-in-sports-fosbury-flop.html

Watch Dick perform his flop on U-Tube by searching ‘fosbury flop' in your search.

February 21, 2012

Abraham Lincoln's Humble Start Led to an Important Finish

Today I want to talk about another President in continued celebration of President's day.  This time, I have to share things I admire about President Abraham Lincoln.  He was truly a self-made man who chose to make a difference in the world based on his life experiences.  
Abe grew up in several small towns because his family had to move due to title disputes.  When one buys property, one secures a 'title' showing that the land is theirs.  If there is a question about the boundaries or the origin of the claim, one would have to go to court and defend their position.  Abe's father was involved in several of these disputes because Kentucky was poorly surveyed and the boundaries were always in question.  They lived at Sinking Spring Farm in Kentucky, then Knob Creek Farm in Kentucky, having left each because of title disputes that nearly bankrupted the family.  Tired of the title problems, Abe's dad moved them to Indiana because the land had been surveyed by the Federal Government.  Perhaps here they could set down roots.  
When asked later about these moves, Abe said that these moves were due to their disagreement with slavery and title disputes.  Living in Kentucky, Abe had seen the trafficking of slaves fairly often.  His family was opposed to the practice, so much so that they stopped attending a church because they disagreed with their views about slavery.  The constant litigation gave Abe ample opportunity to visit the courthouse and watch proceedings in his father's cases and in the other cases of the day.
Indiana brought its own trials.  Abe's mother died when he was nine, and his father remarried.  Fortunately, his step-mother loved Abe like her own son.  She helped Abe learn by reading books on whatever subjects interested Abe.  He only had about 18 months of formal teaching, gaining his education by studying books.  He mastered the Bible, Aesop's fables, Shakespeare, poetry, English and American History by reading books on these subjects. 
When Abe was in his early 20's, the family moved again due to title disputes, this time to New Salem, Illinois.  Abe took a job as a clerk in a store and did some trade in New Orleans, where he again witnessed the worst scenes that the slave trade could offer, probably cementing his distaste.  He gained respect as a clerk and as business stagnated, took the job of Postmaster.  He took a side job as a surveyor, teaching himself the art of surveying by studying books. 
Abe owed money for some of his business ventures and wasn't making enough money to pay his bills, so he decided to run for public office.  He lost his first election.  He decided to become a lawyer.
He could not afford to attend law school, so again he taught himself the law.  He read many books and became versant in the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence.  He noticed in attending so many court sessions as a boy that lawyers often referred to these works.  He applied for a license and became a practicing lawyer in 1836 at the age of 27.  He set up a practice in Springfield Illinois the following year. Then he ran for public office again, winning a seat in the legislature for steady income.  Soon, he set his sights on the Presidency.
Although Abe had attended church as a boy, he never subscribed to any particular religion, defining himself more by his 'self made man' status than any other.  He wasn't raised to believe in God and Jesus as strongly as George Washington was.  But events began to change this.  After winning the election to become the President of the United States of America, the Civil War was threatening.  Many Southern states had already seceded from the Union before he had even been inaugurated.  And his son Willie died.  Mary Todd Lincoln, his wife, said that Abe became more religious as time went on, relying increasingly on Heavenly Father to help him face his challenges.  Abe himself said, ""I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." 
Abe worried terribly that the Civil War would indeed split up the United States of the Union wasn't successful, and he prayed earnestly to end the conflict.  After the successful battle at Gettysburg, he said, "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Abe gave full credit to Heavenly Father that the war was finally turning around.  This statement began the first celebration of our current day Thanksgiving celebration, although we usually think of the Pilgrims and Mayflower when we celebrate. 
Not only did Abe institute Thanksgiving Day, but he also added the words "In God We Trust" to US coins, a practice that continues to this day.  And he also added the phrase 'under God' to his Gettysburg Address when speaking of our freedoms, which became part of the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.  A  minister once told Lincoln he "hoped the Lord is on our side," the president replied, "I am not at all concerned about that.... But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."
We celebrate Abe Lincoln's birth because he was the right President to get us through the Civil War.  He believed that all men were created as equals and hated the practice of Slavery.  He was prepared to become president by his early exposure to law and the courts and his penchant for learning.  Although he was a self-made man, he came to rely on Heavenly Father's aid and gave Him credit for America's successes. 
He will always be known as the man who freed the slaves.  As a young boy, did he even imagine that he would have this dramatic impact on his country?  He did amazing things with very humble beginnings, relying on Heavenly Father.  We can do amazing things using the same formula too.

February 13, 2012

George Washington Sought Divine Help and Received it

With President's day coming up, I thought I'd write today about George Washington, the first President of the United States of America.  He was a remarkable man.  He was a man of God, which helped him be successful in his endeavors.  Some say that God protected him through a number of miracles.  It's fitting that we honor him on President's Day.
Young George was taught to believe in God and to rely on Him.  He was often seen praying for help when he needed it, even as a young boy.  When he was General George Washington leading the Continental Army and helping the American colonies to become free of British rule, he prayed often.  He would retreat to his tent to pray for guidance and sometimes he would go into the woods to pray. 
Several miracles show that Heavenly Father heard his prayers and answered them with help from above.  I want to share a couple of them with you.  The first happened when the British had cornered and trapped the army in New York.  They were stuck on Long Island and all ways to retreat were blocked except for the East River.  Going that way was risky because they'd be out in the open and easily shot one by one in the boats.  The first miracle is that the British didn't come in and kill them all while they were trapped for 2 days.  The British had 32,000 soldiers; Washington had only 8,000.  No one knows why the British delayed.  The delay allowed Washington to gather up all of the boats in the area and plan an escape.  At 8 pm on August 29, 1776 Washington started sending boats out onto the East river with soldiers aboard.  It was raining heavily and winds were strong.  The bad weather kept the British from attacking and rendered all boat travel impossible, except for row boats.  Slowly but surely, boat after boat rowed away into the darkness filled with our soldiers.  To speed things up, at 11 pm, the wind died down and the waters calmed, allowing more boats to fill up and row away.  They rowed back and forth all night long but the evacuation wasn't finished when the sun began to rise the next morning.  Many soldiers remained.  Would they get away?  Slowly a fog arose, so thick that one could barely see anything a few feet away.  The soldiers kept rowing away until all had been evacuated under the cover of darkness, then blinding fog. 
A nosy British sympathizer saw the evacuation and wrote a note to the British army.  Miraculously the note was held up by German soldiers fighting for Britain who couldn't read English.  When the British got the note, checked to see if it was true, they found Long Island empty and the last rowboats in the distance, out of harms way.  It was the most amazing retreat in American history!  Eight thousand men slipped past all blockades. 
Another miracle was when Washington crossed the Delaware and conquered the British in a surprise attack Christmas day 1776.  Washington was again completely outnumbered.  He knew he didn't have a chance against the Germans fighting for Britain in normal circumstances, but thought that a surprise might do it.  After praying for success, the army of 2400 soldiers began crossing the Delaware river.  It was dangerously icy with chunks of ice threatening to break the overloaded boats.  The weather was awful; it was raining, then sleeting. One soldier described it as a hurricane.  The other groups had called it off, but Washington's army pressed on.  At 4 am, the whole army was ashore and they had yet to march 9 miles to get to the British soldiers.  The storm hadn't let up, yet Washington's army nearly ran the distance, racing to their foe.  When they arrived around 8 am, they found the exhausted Germans asleep and easily overwhelmed them.  One thousand British soldiers were captured, 83 wounded and 22 killed.  Of Washington's' army, only 3 deaths and 6 injuries were reported.  "It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world," British historian George Trevelyan wrote. This and another victory at Princeton a few weeks later became the turning points of the Revolutionary war.  
At one point over the next winter, his army was hungry.  They had run out of food and were facing starvation.  George prayed for help and suddenly the nearby Schuylkill river began to seemingly boil.  The soldiers found that large amounts of fish were migrating upstream surprisingly early in the year.  So many fish were in the river that they were clogging it!  Soldiers simply reached in and plucked fish from the water.  The army was saved, starvation averted. 
Earlier in his life, George was shot at many times and never wounded.  He wrote to his brother, who had heard incorrectly that George was dead the following:  "As I have heard since my arrival at this place, a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first and of assuring you that I have not as yet composed the latter. But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!"  This event occurred in 1755, many years prior to Washington's pivotal involvement in the Revolutionary War.  Heavenly Father protected him because he had important things to do.  In fact, Washington was never wounded in all of the battles in which he fought.  It was almost like Samuel the Lamanite of The Book of Mormon!
George Washington was successful as a General because he relied on Heavenly Father for help.  He reminds me of Captain Moroni of The Book of Mormon.  We would be wise to ask for help from our loving Heavenly Father when we are outnumbered and fighting for a good cause. 

For more information, see:

February 6, 2012

Ronald Reagan Made a Lasting Impact on America

Today would be Ronald Reagan's 101st birthday if he were still alive!  I wanted to share my admiration for him today to celebrate.  

Ron was born in a small Illinois town to very ordinary people.  He grew up believing in God and the goodness of people.  Although it was unusual for the era, Ron didn't think that people of other races were different, so he treated them the same.  When still a boy in the segregated 1920's, he overheard some African American's being denied a place to stay at a local Inn.  He invited them home, where his mother fed them and allowed them to stay the night as their guests, even serving them breakfast the next morning.  Ron grew up and got a job as a lifeguard, counting 77 rescues as tick-marks on an old wooden paddle.  

Ron excelled in sports and as a leader, becoming a member of the football team, the captain of the swim team and the Class president of Eureka College in Illinois.  He also loved storytelling and acting.  And he followed Politics.  His idol was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When he graduated from Eureka College with a degree in Economics and Sociology, he auditioned for several jobs as a radio announcer.  He was offered a job at the University of Iowa to broadcast their football games live.  He did such a good job of giving the blow-by-blow descriptions of the plays that he was hired by the Chicago Cubs to broadcast their games live.  While in Los Angeles for a game, he took a screen test and was hired by Warner Brothers as an Actor.  He began his career, hoping to be a movie star.

Within 2 years, he had appeared in 19 movies, although it took a few more for him to become recognized for any acting talent.  Just as he was becoming a star, after completing a movie called "Kings Row," World War 2 broke out.  He enlisted, but because of near-sightedness, he was assigned to make training movies for the troops who were deployed out in the field. 
He had always been involved in politics, but more so after the war ended.  He began to support candidates and make patriotic speeches in their behalf.  He made such a stirring speech for Barry Goldwater, a conservative Presidential candidate, that it's still discussed today.  His speech, titled "Time for Choosing," is full of Ron's personal beliefs in America and hope for its future.  Many hailed this speech as the one that launched Ron's own political career.
Ron ran for Governor of California in 1967 and won.  He served as Governor for several years, then set his sights on the Presidency of the United States.  After unsuccessfully running in 1976, he won in 1980.  Just as he was giving his acceptance speech, American hostages were released after over a year of captivity, beginning his first term as President a great start.  

I loved how he made us feel great about our future as Americans and his belief in individual heroes.  In his first State of the Union address (Jan 26, 1982) he described the challenges the nation was facing, the things he was doing to help fix them and everyday heroes.  He described how an ordinary citizen saved a passenger of a downed airplane, then said, "And then there are countless quiet, everyday heroes of American life; parents who sacrifice long and hard so their children will know a better life than they've known; church and civic volunteers who help to feed, clothe, nurse and teach the needy; millions who've made our nation, and our nation's destiny, so very special; unsung heroes who may not have realized their own dreams themselves but then who reinvest those dreams in their children.  Don't let anyone tell that America's best days are behind her, that the American spirit has been vanquished. We've seen it triumph too often in our lives to stop believing in it now."  I love that optimism!

Similarly, on the anniversary of D-day (the turning point of World War 2) in 1984, Ron said, "You all knew that some things are worth dying for.  One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man."  It was clear that he loved America and he would do anything to preserve it and prosper it.  

Ron served 2 terms, or 8 years as President of the United States of America.  While President, he accomplished some really great things.  Most important is that he was instrumental in getting the Soviet Union and East Germany to tear down the Berlin wall imprisoning their own citizens in Communism.  Previous Presidents had tried for years and failed to accomplish this.   To do this, Ron built up American's armaments and threatened to use them against the countries involved.  Then he started negotiating with the Leaders of the Soviet Union and East Germany.  He begged them to tear down the wall.  Later, he said, "When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat."  Perhaps he was drawing on his degree in Sociology in how he handled this threat.  I remember when the wall came down.  It was amazing.  I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.  I remember fasting with the body of the Church for it.  Ron was instrumental in making it happen, with God's help!  

The other big thing that Ron did was to apply a new approach to the American economy which became known as "Reaganomics."  His degree in Economics was coming into play.  He lowered taxes, with the idea that business would use the extra money to hire more workers, produce more and then be more successful, eventually paying more taxes because they were more profitable.  It worked!  America, which had been in a serious recession, rebounded and prospered.  When he left public office, he said, "I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you."

Now Ron is remembered by Scholars as the President that made the greatest contributions to America since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ron's personal hero!  Ron was just an ordinary kid from an unremarkable family, but he believed in God and had an optimistic view of America.  People laughed at the idea of a movie star being President of the United States.  But he did a wonderful job as such.  He made me proud to be an American.  

He once said, "My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose - somehow we win out."  He proved that by making something great out of his ordinary life.  We can do the same. 

To learn more about Ronald Reagan, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Reagan and How to Raise an American by Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston. 
Read the First State of the Union Address January 26, 1982 at http://www.juntosociety.com/hist_speeches/rr1sou.html
For many more great quotes, some of them really funny, see http://history1900s.about.com/od/ronaldreagan/a/Reagan-Quotes.htm