August 29, 2012

Olympian Calvin Stamp Shares Key to Jamaican Success

Scott and I met some Olympic athletes over the weekend at a Hall of Fame event!  I found them inspiring and yet down-to-earth at the same time.  They were happy to give us autographs and visit with us.  Today I wanted to share what one of them taught us as we spoke with him about reaching the level of Olympian.

Calvin Stamp hails from Jamaica.  He competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the 1988 Seoul Oympics as a super-heavyweight weight lifter.  The photo is from the 1988 Seoul Olympics.  Calvin didn’t win any medals in either Olympics, but he won his freedom from poverty and want.  Becoming an Olympic athlete in a third-world country like Jamaica is a ticket out of poverty.

It wasn’t for lack of trying.  Cal trained hard and did his best, earning the Olympic rank of 9th in 1984 and 11th in 1988.  As shown in the photo, only a handful of athletes qualified for the Olympics from Jamaica in 1988.  It took a great deal of determination and effort to do so.

Today, Jamaican sprinters are still known for their hard work and determination.  Although there are only 3 modern tracks on which to train in Jamaica, the country produces some amazing sprinters.  The kids run on dirt tracks unless they are near the national stadium or near one of the two universities with paved tracks.  The best known Jamaican sprinter today is Usain Bolt.  He won 3 Gold medals in the recent 2012 London Olympics, repeating his 2008 Beijing Olympics performance.    

When asked why Jamaica produces so many great sprinters, Cal answered, “Desire.  For kids looking for a way up, athletics is one way to go.   There is nowhere for the people to go but up.  The kids are hungry to succeed.  When they train, they work hard and won’t quit until they are told to go home.  Once home, they keep training.  For example, Johann Blake did 500 sit ups and then 500 push ups when he got home.”

Cal, now a coach, contrasted that attitude with the common attitude among his athletes here in Georgia.  He said, “The kids here are more interested in when practice will be over to know when they can go home.”  That sounds familiar…

Perhaps that attitude is what separates the Olympians from the rest of us.  Do we train harder than required by our coaches?  Do we do all that is asked of us and more?  Or do we just do the minimum and head home.

This formula for success applies to other endeavors too, like school.  If we do more than expected in our class projects or homework, it will enable us to learn more and get better grades.  

It was good to talk to Cal and find out what makes the Jamaican team so hard to beat.  I started running again on Monday.  I will try not to count the minutes until I am done but do my best and run strong.  And I will look for ways to improve my stamina even after I’ve finished.  

“Calvin Stamp.”  Sports Reference:  Olympic Sports n. pag. web. 27 Aug 2012.
“Calvin Stamp.”  facebook n. pag. web. 27 Aug 2012.
Johnson, Scott.  "What I learned from Calvin Stamp."  Unpublished Interview 25 Aug 2012: oral.

August 21, 2012

First Eagle Scout Arthur Eldred Sets a Great Example

Arthur Eldred in 1912, after receiving his Eagle Scout Award and the BSA Honor Medal for saving a life.
This  month marks 100 years of Eagle Scouts!  One hundred years ago on August 1, 1912, the first Eagle Board of Review was held for the first Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America organization.  Scoutmaster Joe Curran wrote a speech about the first Eagle Scout for his son’s Eagle Court of Honor.  It's so well-written, I didn't want to summarize or change anything.  Use this link to access it:

The first American Eagle Scout Arthur Eldred set a great example for all of the millions of Eagle Scouts to follow.  My husband and two older sons have earned this honor.  I hope my two remaining sons will work hard to also earn it so they can be a part of this honorable group.  And further, I hope all Eagle Scouts will continue the tradition of greatness that Arthur Eldred started.

Sources and more resources:
Curran, Joe.  “The First Eagle Scout.”  Found on August 21, 2012 at

Conkey, Don.  “America’s Eagles Doing Good for Community.”  Cherokee Tribune, August 16, 2012, found on August 21, 2012 at article, “Ten Things to Know about Eagle Scouts” found on August 21, 2012 at

Wikipedia:  Arthur Rose Eldred, found on August 21, 2012 at

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, found on August 21, 2012 at

August 16, 2012

Musings about underperformance... and setting appropriate athletic goals

Yesterday I had my yearly physical.  I came away feeling very blessed for this healthy body.  Not that I'm in shape-- I clearly can improve there.  In fact, I got the doctor's clearance to do just that.  I was told I can do anything I want to get in shape!  My doctor even gave her approval for the way I am trying to eat-- mostly vegetables, no dairy, little meat, whole grains and beans.  She encouraged me to add eggs for protein, since I don't have any cholesterol issues. 

After watching two weeks of ultra performers in the Olympics-- toned healthy individuals doing amazing things with their fit bodies-- I want to improve.  I'm tired of underperforming physically.  I know that it's crazy to compare myself with an Olympic athlete, one who spends all day training.  I am raising a family and supporting a very busy husband.  I won't be able to take too much time away from those core roles.  I suppose I could, but the cost to the family is too high.

When I think of this choice-- to limit the time I spend on physical exercise-- I think I am being cautious about upsetting the balance in our home.  But am I?  Am I really modeling ‘underperforming’ with that as an excuse?  Could I step up my exercise and still perform my role as wife and mother?  Probably…

I get upset when I see the potential in my children, and I know they aren’t even trying to reach it.  I have musically gifted children who won’t practice the piano.  Years of piano lessons haven’t produced the performances I know are possible because the kids underperform.  Is it that they can’t really see themselves as a great musician?  They can’t see themselves performing a hymn in Sacrament meeting at church?  Or is it that they are content in the mediocrity?  Is it the delusion that one day they will wake up and just ‘know’ how to play the piano perfectly?  

Then I think of my underperformance in exercise and see a correlation.  Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to run.  In High School I was on the swim team and tried out for the Volleyball team (just missed the last cut.)  I have never enjoyed running.  But my daughter told me she and her husband were going to train for a local 5k race and asked if I would consider running in it.  I mentioned it to my husband and he immediately started training.  As a former High School Cross Country runner, he knew exactly what to do.  I was at a loss—even if I wanted to, would I hurt myself trying?

I was already doing the Core Performance  program, a Jack LaLanne style program of stretching and weight training.  My husband and I had worked up to level 3.  It was helping with flexibility, balance and muscle tone, but needed cardio training to complete it.  

My husband told me to just run a mile and see how it felt, and how long it took.  That was even too much to ask me to do.  Instead, I ran one minute, then walked one minute.  I did this for 10 minutes the first day and I didn’t die!  It seems like such a small thing, but it was ALL that I felt confident enough to do.  Every day I lengthened out the time I walked/ran until I was at it for 20 minutes, then I started to run for 2 minutes to each one minute of walking.

As my confidence grew, I ran more and more until I was running a mile without stopping.  Over the next few months, winter settled in.  I had to overcome the fears that winter brought.  I was afraid to run when the weather was too cold, so I wouldn’t run if it was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside.  That seems silly to some, but I was unsure of my abilities in the cold.  That slowed my training some, but didn’t stop it.  

As spring rolled in, my efforts increased again and I ran my first 3 miles just a month or two before the scheduled 5k race.  My husband and I ran the 5k together, with really slow times, just to finish.  Our goal was to keep running and finish, which we did.  Over the next few years I shaved ten minutes off of that first 5k time running the same race.  It was great to set goals and reach them.  I was never fast enough to brag on my time—I can’t even remember it.  But it was the best I had ever done.  One year I won second place for women in my age bracket.  That felt great!  I had won a medal!  I guess I was finally really a runner…

Running took so much effort, though.  I had to either skip breakfast or wait too long into my day (when my food would be digested) to start.  I hated the sick feeling I got when I ran with food in my stomach.  I didn’t want to get up super early either, since I had a schedule with kids in the morning that went from 7 am to about 9 am.  So it was either to run at 6 am in the dark or 9 am, when exercising starts crowding my day.  Eventually, I let it go.  I stopped running about 3 years ago.  

Oh, I used the reasoning that running is hard on my knees.  We had moved to a hilly neighborhood and I didn’t think like running uphill, and running downhill hurt.  I told people that I just didn’t like to run really, I tried it and I didn’t really like it.  Why do something every day that you don’t like to do?  We even got a high-quality treadmill, which I didn’t like.  I felt woozy when I tried to walk on the ground again afterward.  

It didn’t help that there was some envy going on too.  I hated to watch my husband, who started running at the same time I did, lose 50 pounds by just running.  He didn’t change anything about his diet, he just added running like I did.  I didn’t lose even one pound!  That was disappointing.  I really only had about 10 pounds to lose.  I know I toned up and built muscle.  I felt great and can’t say I suffered any health problems because I was running.  And there was a certain pride when I would casually say to people, ‘Well, after my run, if I hurry, I can meet you by 10…”  Here I was in my mid forties and I was a runner!  It did feel good.

So to be completely honest, I think I ran for the wrong reasons.  I ran to lose weight.  There were other reasons:  I wanted to try something new.  But when I didn't lose weight, I became discouraged.  I knew I needed to bring it up a notch to move forward but I hadn't lost weight.  I ignored how good I felt and how healthy I had become.  I expected to look like an Olympic athlete without putting in the effort that they did.  If I expected to really slim down and be THAT fit, I needed to do much more than run 3 days a week 2 -3 miles each time, alternated with Core Performance training.  That’s less than 10 miles a week of running, not nearly enough to master something.  I was modeling underperformance!  I was doing 'just enough' to qualify as a runner, not enough to really succeed.  Just like my kids, who do 'just enough' to keep the piano teacher from dropping them from lessons, but not enough to really master the piano.

Now that I have a clean bill of health and can do anything I want, physically, what should I do?  Do I continue to walk 7 miles 3 days a week with a friend?  Do I start running again after taking about 3 years off?  I clearly need to make it a priority and set reasonable goals this time.  Perhaps my current good health has it’s roots in my past running experiences… and that weight loss should not even be on the table.  How can I model proper performance this time?

Next year I turn 50—and I need to conquer something.  I feel blessed to know that my body can do anything with training.  My husband wanted to conquer Half Dome at Yosemite-- three weeks ago we climbed it together.  He has offered to support me this year when I turn 50 in conquering something.  I just need to decide what it is… then really perform in my training.  Then it will be FUN!
I am going to go lift some weights.  Let the training begin!

August 15, 2012

Cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti Rides to Change Attitudes About Rwanda

Today I read in the Wall Street Journal about an athlete that didn’t win a gold medal in the recent London Olympics.  In fact, he didn’t even place.  He would have loved to win a medal, but was really there to compete as the first athlete to ever represent his country in cycling at the Olympics—and thus give his nation of Rwanda hope.  

When I think of Rwanda, I think of genocide.  Adrien Niyonshuti wants to change that.  He survived the genocide of Rwanda in 1994.  He lost most of his family in the killings that many liken to the Nazi regime in number and brutality.  He was just 9 years old, too young to be able to understand why people would kill their fellow countrymen so brutally.  Actually, it’s hard for most of us to understand as well.

It was years of hatred between the Tutsi and the Hutus that led to the genocide.  Although they are nearly identical looking, speak the same languages, are nearly all Christian, they have been two distinct groups for centuries.  They have even been counted on census records separately.  The Tutsi generally kept cattle; the Hutu were farmers.  That created a class distinction where the Tutsi were wealthier.  The Hutu outnumbered the Tutsi and had control of the government.  In 1972, the Hutu turned on the Tutsi, killing between 80,000 and 200,000 of the Tutsi.  

Hutu began killing the Tutsi again in 1994 after the Hutu President of Rwanda and the Hutu President of Birundi were both killed.  The plane they were in was shot down.  Although no link to Tutsi was ever found, the Hutu turned on the Tutsi again.  Over the course of 100 brutal days, Hutus killed between 800,000 to one million Tutsi in Rwanda.  Conservative estimates put that around 20% of the population!

Adrien and his family lived in a small hut when the horrors began.  Adrien said, “Mum and my father came and called me. ‘The people are now coming to our place! We have to move now!’ We went into the bush. We stayed there for a week, and then heard the news that the killing is coming to the bush. We went further. If you are not running, they kill you. Like that. My father said I have to leave and go to another place. This scar on my leg is from that day.”  Six of his brothers were killed that day, but Adrien and his parents somehow survived.  Adrien said, “The most important lesson that I have learned early in my life, is that life is never only about oneself.  Everything you do and say has an effect on the people around you. Having lost most of my family I fully realize that I have a huge responsibility to help support the remaining members of my family.”

Rwandan people get around on wooden bicycles.  They are completely wooden; seats, frames, even wheels.  They are heavy and sturdy to carry the cargo to and from the marketplace.  It makes sense that this culture would produce excellent cyclists.  Adrien found that he forgot the horrors of the genocide when he was biking.  It became an escape, a refuge, and Adrien discovered he excelled at it.

After winning a local competition on a borrowed bike, Adrien was discovered by American Cyclist Tom Ritchey.  Through Ritchey, Adrien and other Rwandan’s formed a cycling team, received racing bikes and gear.  Through team travels, Adrien experienced many new things, like seeing the ocean or visiting an aquarium for the first time.  At hotel rooms, he discovered hot running water and beds so comfortable, he didn’t want to mess them up, so he slept on the floor.  Adrien kept training and qualified for the 2012 London Olympic Games in the mountain bike competition.  In the opening ceremonies just a few weeks ago, Adrien was honored to carry Rwanda’s flag.  

After the horrors of the killings, a new government was formed in Rwanda which stopped identifying people as either Tutsi or Hutu and brought peace among the people.  Citizens are hopeful that they can maintain a stable government and rise as a strong united nation.  And they want to put the brutal past behind them.  

No wonder Adrien is hailed as a hero.  He is giving a new meaning to the country of Rwanda.  Instead of first remembering the horrific genocide that occurred there, hopefully the world will think of Adrien Niyonshuti, the courageous survivor turned Olympic mountain bike racer. 
Adrien came in 39th in his Olympic race competing against the best bikers in the world.  But at least he finished.  After the race he said, “It was really hard.  I feel … broken.  I think it’s a good experience for me, and very good for my country.”  

Adrien is an ambassador for peace now.  He said, “Sometimes I dream about my family. I think it’s not only me; a lot of people in Rwanda dream about that, especially during April (the month the killings took place.) We have whole days to remember about that time and what happened. But now people have to work together, and not be separate.”  Adrian wants people to think of Rwanda as a country with a bright future.  Because of his hard work and determination as a cyclist, he’s helping make that happen.
Our lives aren’t just about ourselves.  Like Adrien, we can make a big difference in the lives of others, especially our family members.  

“Adrien Nyonshuti:  Hero of African Cycling”  14 Sept 2010:  n. pag. Web. 14 Aug 2012.
Gay, Jason.  “A Long, Amazing Ride to the Olympics.”  Wall Street Journal 13 Aug 2012:B10.  Print.
Johnson, Brigette.  “Why is there conflict between Tutsis and Hutus?” n. pag. Web. 14 Aug 2012.
Powers, Angus.  “The Survivor:  After Living Through the Rwandan Genocide, Adrien Niyonshuti is now the No 1 Mountain Biker on the Biggest Cycling Team in Africa and Will be, Without Doubt, the Most  Extraordinary Athlete at the 2012 Olympic Games.”  Sports Illustrated  April 2011:90-97.  Print.
“Rwanda.”  Wikipedia Web.  14 Aug 2012.

August 7, 2012

Oksana Chusovitina Kept Competing to Save Her Son

Our Olympic intake is going to be a challenge now that school has started.  We watched it constantly all last week.  It’s so wonderful to watch excellence unfold on screen, seemingly effortlessly.  Those athletes make hard maneuvers look easy!  I’m sure it’s not that what they are doing is easy, but that they have practiced so long and hard that it is easier for them to do than the average person.  Now we will have to go to bed on time and miss so many performances.

I wanted to tell a cool story today of an Olympic athlete who saved a life.  That qualifies her as an Olympic Hero!  Her name is Oksana Chusovitina.  She saved the life of her son by competing in the Olympic games!  

That sounds really strange but it’s true.  Oksana started competing in gymnastics in her native United Socialist Soviet Republic, or USSR, when she was a young girl.  She was a key member of the Soviet team, winning every event except one in the 1990 World Sports Fair in Japan.  Her first Olympics were the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, where she won a gold medal in the team competition.  

After the Olympics ended, she returned home to Uzbekistan, her home country.  The USSR had disbanded and each of her teammates would now compete for their individual countries.  The gymnastic equipment that Uzbekistan furnished for the gold-medal athlete was old and often unsafe.  Oksana persisted, preparing world-class routines anyway.  She competed in her second Olympic games at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, this time for the country of Uzbekistan.  

Competing in two Olympics usually heralds the end of a gymnast’s career.  Oksana was 21 years old, considered by most coaches ‘too old’ to perform at champion levels.  Plus Oksana married a fellow Olympic athlete—a wrestler—in 1997.  They welcomed a baby boy Alisher into their family in 1999.  

Something drove Oksana to continue to compete in her sport.  Going back into the gym, she spent the 9 months following Alisher’s birth preparing for the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney.  She qualified to make the team, but didn’t medal in the Olympics.  That she made the Uzbekistani team is pretty impressive in itself, after having just become a mother!

When Alisher was just 3 years old, he was diagnosed with Leukemia.  This was a huge blow to Oksana, who knew that the Uzbekistani medical system couldn’t treat him adequately to save his life.  They just didn’t have the medical facilities or technology to cure him.  She looked for help as she toured with her Uzbekistani gymnastic team, eventually finding allies in Germany.  A couple, Shanna and Peter Bruggeman, coaches of the Cologne German team, offered to help.  Fundraisers within the international gymnastic community chipped in to help pay for Alisher’s treatment. Oksana and her family moved to Cologne, Germany and Alisher began receiving treatments there.

Gratefully, Oksana trained with her new teammates and coaches on the Cologne German gymnastic team.  She put her gymnast prize money toward Alisher’s treatments.  But she continued to represent the country of Uzbekistan at international competitions, due to residency rules.  In 2003 she won Gold at the World Championships in Anaheim on the vault.  That was amazing because by now she was just shy of 30 years old! 

In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Oksana again competed for the country of Uzbekistan.  She was the strongest member of the Uzbekistani team, earning more than 70 medals in the various international competitions in which she competed.  But now her heart was intertwined with Germany.  She longed to compete for the country that was helping cure her son.  Oksana kept competing, paying the bills and hoping for a chance to pay back Germany by representing them in an Olympics.

After establishing her residency in Germany, Oksana was able to compete for Germany in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  She won the Silver medal in the Vault, bringing honor to her adopted country, although she was now an ancient 33 years old!  “I don’t know how to thank everyone for all their help,” she said, tearfully. “Now Alisher is in school and he is doing fine, but we couldn’t have done that alone. I compete for those people.”

After considering retirement, Oksana reversed course and again made the German Olympic team to compete in the 2012 Olympic games going on right now in London.  On Sunday, she came in 5th in the vault, at the age of 37 in her 6th appearance in the Olympics! 

One author wrote, “How she is still vaulting so well after so many years of competition is particularly amazing when you consider all the impact that happens to the body in an elite vault. To complete a double-twisting Yurchenko, Chusovitina must sprint down the runway, do a roundoff onto the spring board, a back handspring onto the vault, then twist twice in the air while completing a flip. My knees, shoulders and ankles ache just thinking about it, and I'm four years her junior.”  And that doesn’t even capture the impact on the body upon landing!

Oksana stayed with gymnastics so long to save her son.  She needed the funding from prize money to support his treatment, so she had to stay competitively sharp in her sport too.  When others would have quit because that brutal training was too hard, Oksana kept at it.  She’s excelled in the sport for so long that gymnastic moves are named after her.  Gymnasts around the world admire her for her tenacity and multiple decade’s long consistent excellence.  

I love this story because it shows so plainly how much mothers love their kids.  Most 37 year old women don’t wear leotards in public, forget doing somersaults and crazy acrobatics in them.  But Oksana kept competing to save her son.  Hopefully she can now take a break and coach instead!


“Oksana Chusovitina.”  Wikipedia Web.  6 Aug 2012.
“Last call? 37-year-old Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Germany Prepping for Sixth Olympics.” Washington  26 July 2012: n. page. Web. 6 Aug 2012.
Macur, Juliet.  “At 33, Gymnast Repays Help for Her Ill Son With a Silver.” New York  17 Aug 2008: n. pag. Web.  6 Aug 2012. 
Hendricks, Maggie.  “Inspirational Moment:  Oksana Chusovitina Takes 5th in Final Vault.”  Yahoo Sports Fourth Place Medal 5 Aug 2012:  n. pag. Web. 6 Aug 2012.