Thursday, September 19, 2019

Blessing Fall Athletes: An Opportunity for Joy

In class, I asked my seniors if they were familiar with the theme song to 1981 Academy Award winning film, "Chariots of Fire." I went so far as to try to hum it out for them, only to encounter a sea of blank stares. However, much to my delight, this iconic melody was used to welcome runners, water polo, football, volleyball and field hockey players, golfers, coaches and administrators together for the blessing of Fall athletes. Over 100 athletes and their coaches, school administrators and teachers gathered at the statue of the Holy Family which stands at the heart of St. Francis' campus for this seasonal ritual. This simple time together proved to be grace. 
After welcoming us to this prayerful gathering, a teacher/campus minister/cross country coach called everyone listen to the words of St. Paul. 
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
The celebrant spoke about the music that gathered us together. He reminded us of Eric Liddell, the subject of Chariots of Fire's great message. 
I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.
He asked us to glorify God through using our gifts and talents. He reminded us that we too can feel the Spirit—feel God's pleasure in our own sport. He called us to remember those people who make our participation in sports possible; we prayed for health and well being. We offered prayers of gratitude for the gift of sport, teammates and coaches. The gathering concluded with the ancient ritual of anointing with oil. Powerful to see so many young people seeking this blessing.
After WCAL Match #1. Ocean Course: Olympic Club
I moved to the side and stood with my captain. Slowly but surely other players from the girls' golf team matriculated to where we were standing. One freshman, who arrived late asked if she could leave her clubs with us as she wanted this blessing. This simple time and space afforded for something I was not expecting: joy.

We joked that she should take her clubs with her in order to get those blessed. A player quipped, "You mean a spiritual exorcism?!" I followed by offering a terrible pun. "I have a friend refers to her clubs as "weapons of grass destruction." "Oh I get it coach..." they said...though not convincingly. (I suppose that term is a little funnier to those of lived through the first and second Bush administrations). One girl picked up the putter from this bag to check it out. Another pulled a hybrid and started practicing her swing, all while getting input on both her swing plane and the her grip from a teammate. I entertained a conversation on using a utility wedge for the bump and run. Another girl started riffling through the bag looking for golf balls. I said that was ok so long as she planned to use them to juggle. One girl took my words literally and showed us all how she could juggle three golf balls in two hands or two golf balls with one hand. The Dean of students walked over and said "no I mean juggle the ball like Tiger Woods." I have a feeling if you had looked at our team from a distance you would have seen what I felt. Joy. A gift of the Holy Spirit. A gift made possible by the Spirit we called on to bless us. 
I can't say I find joy every day with my athletes. We all have our moments. There is a lot of time together and we're asked to do some tedious and hard things. But I do believe the Spirit bears fruit. The result of hard work, giving your best, sharing yourself, using your gifts and talents in a common endeavor? It's not that complicated. It doesn't cost much, if anything. It isn't prepackaged or planned. No, it's organic. It's palpable. It's shared, not divided. It is joy. Thank you, Lord for that gift.

Photo Credits

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Returning to Notre Dame: A Spiritual, Intellectual and Emotional Journey

Returning from Notre Dame after the home opener in football, I couldn't help but notice everyone posted much more than similar. near obligatory photos. Yes, we shared images of our view of the field—inside the stadium, the Dome in its golden glory and the early autumn skyline framing Touch Down Jesus. Beyond these iconic memories, however, I noticed my friends and classmates describe time on campus in a similar way. To some, it is their "happy place." Most reference it as "home." A friend told me it is my "spiritual homeland." I agree. Why?  To visit Notre Dame is to be nourished spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally—even 23 years after graduation. I hope others find that in their respective alma mater. I can however only speak to my experience. Here's how.
Spiritually: In spite of the fact it feels like a near pilgrimage to get to campus, the opportunity to return is always a gift. For the second year in a row, I returned in June (yay summer!) for the 2019 Play Like a Champion Conference. When I returned to the Bay Area, my real home I felt a little unsettled . My visit seemed incomplete. During morning prayer that week I realized why. I understood what was missing. I did not get a chance to pray at the Grotto.

The Grotto Beautification Project that began on June 3, 2019  made this sacred space inaccessible for several weeks. This prayerful place was fenced in for improvement to the main staircase and the installation of natural stone pavers/ new memorial benches. The necessary work of summer, however, reminded me that spiritual significance of the Grotto should never be taken for granted.

The Grotto is the spiritual center of campus. Students, faculty, alumni and visitors from far and wide go there to pray, light a candle, and lift their minds and hearts to God. Miracles happen at the Grotto. Prayers are answered. Peace comes closer. 

The reason I returned to campus mid-September is because I am now a regional representative for ND Women Connect and our annual meeting took place in the days prior to the New Mexico Game. Following one of our primary initiatives, "Campus to Career" the other leaders were piling in a car to return to our hotel. I said I was going to walk back; I wanted to visit the Grotto. Another woman asked if she could join me. There was nothing extraordinary or surprising about the fact the two of us, who just met the day before would opt to walk to this holy space, late at night. And what a sight to behold—the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on a warm September evening—replete with the glory of lightning. My trip may have been complete in that moment.
love this student artwork inside Duncan Center
Intellectually: A friend of mine teaches "Ethics in Sports" in the Mendozza College of Business. Reading his course syllabus alone offered enough intellectual nourishment for a week. I encourage my students to pay attention to the details; occasionally I follow my own advice and fortunately, I noticed that I would be on campus the same day he was hosting a guest speaker—an alum who worked in MLB. The good professor did the right thing and asked his guest if he was ok with a Sports and Spirituality teacher sitting in on the session (NB: this is a good rule to follow). 

The generosity of this speaker is not to be underestimated. Not only did he welcome me into the conversation, he shared his professional story with candor, humility and grace. Out of respect to the professor and the speaker, I will follow the shared understanding that "what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas" and keep the details private. What I would like to express however, it my sheer admiration for this speaker to impart the life lessons he did.

His journey from Notre Dame to MLB was compelling, his work ethic inspiring. Unfortunately, he made some bad choices and didn't get good advice. For the students to hear a message of this nature, one that is not your canned or rah! rah! Go Irish/We Got this!/You Can Do Anything/We are ND was jarring, important, essential and what an authentic education ought to provide. I am confident those students will not forget this class, the speaker, their professor and the importance of ethics in all of it.

Before class, I inquired about the demographics of the class—males and females, athletes and non-athletes. People ask me this same question all the time. The professor said he had a few basketball and football players as well as other athletes. He did not offer names or give specifics. Much to my delight, the quarterback walked in early for class and an outstanding wide receiver sat next to me. One day before the home opener and student athletes are doing what they are supposed to be doing: going to class. They are just like everybody else. I knew this, because I too was once a student who had class with high profile athletes; I just needed the reminder. Oh and it didn't stop me from saying "Good luck tomorrow, Clay."
Best small world story ever: Classmates in both preschool and at ND.
Emotionally: Returning to Notre Dame is a spiritual shot in the arm for countless reasons. Yes, this shot is spiritually and intellectually fortified but its emotional charge is strong. Why? I have always believed and still do: the best part of Notre Dame is the people.

To return to campus is to encounter old friends and new ones. Once it's out on social media that you are at ND, classmates and alumni can't help but chime in. "I am here too!" or "Call Me!." "We are tailgating in the South Lot, Pole 2." 

I make a point to meet up with beloved friends who work on campus. Football weekends must exhaust them, but they are forever generous in making a connection work.

This year, I had the blessed opportunity to meet 12 other outstanding women who also serve on the ND Women Connect alumnae board. We had 2.5 very full days of meetings and it was inspiring for me to learn about their unique stories, their ND experience, how their gifts and talents have been of use in their local chapters and what we can offer for our regions for the benefit of current female students—future alumna et al.

Leaving Notre Dame—that home away from home—is always bittersweet. I know however, I will be back...and when I return to this spiritual homeland Cheering Her Name, it will be with family and friends, old and new, ready for the opportunity to make new spiritual, intellectual and emotional memories—of the heart.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"The Why" Question: Thank you Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff and Gary Woodland

I have received some form of the video clip featuring Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff's emotional post-match interview at the 2019 U.S. Open from no fewer than ten people. Whether my friends follow tennis or not, this exchange has the sports world buzzing. The question is "Why?" 
  • Are we starved for examples of good sportsmanship? 
  • Do we need a reminder that though talent and hype, poise and pressure lead us to see otherwise, Coco is just a 15-year old girl...and that is how a teenager in this situation really can and should act? 
  • Or as Serena and Venus Williams approach 40, are we looking...prepared....and now ready to embrace the next generation of female tennis players? 
What is your response? Why was this moment meaningful to you? Was it?

This Fall, I have given three different talks to groups of coaches, athletic directors, and parents and though the communities are different, the question I emphasize is not. I call it "The Why" Question. 
I started thinking intentionally about "The Why" when Gary Woodland won the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach. After receiving his trophy, he placed a FaceTime call to Amy Bockerstette—a young woman he met at the 2019 Waste Management Open. Woodland hosted Bockerstette, the first person with Down syndrome to earn an athletic college scholarship, on the 16th hole and her unforgettable par was captured on video. It has since become the most widely viewed video of all time released by the PGA.

A friend asked me why he did that. At first, I thought his question was a ridiculous one. I said, "What do you mean—Why did he do that? It's the right thing to do? Why wouldn't he?" And then I realized, his question was a good question. Why DID Woodlawn make the effort, place the call and include one of his biggest fans in one of the biggest moments in his life. 
Fortunately, someone thought to ask.

This experience prompted me to think about "The Why." I want to know WHY my golfers golf. I think the should know why I coach, and—if they are interested—also why I play golf. 

Asking our athletes about "The Why" is a great way to start the season. 

I am at a new school and working with a new team. On the first day of practice I shared with my team why I coach. I have asked the captains to prepare a reflection on why they play golf and play for St. Francis High School. Over the course of the season, I will be giving other girls a chance to share their own thoughts on "The Why." 

I sincerely believe this might be one of the more important AND interesting things that we do. Why? Because the responses are revelatory, unique, surprising and inspiring. Some struggle to articulate "The Why" and that's ok. Quite often we do what we do without reflection or intention. Inviting a young person to consider his or her "Why" is an exercise in self-knowledge, wisdom and...dare I say it: gratitude.
I loved reading Osaka's WHY for including Coco into the interview. Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post captures it well. 
“No, I mean, it was kind of instinct because when I shook her hand I saw she was kind of tearing up a little, then it reminded me how young she is,” Osaka said. She said she figured that “normal people don’t watch the press conferences unless they’re fan-fans,” and so, “I was thinking it would be nice for her to address the people who watched her play.” And: “For me, I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head high and not walk off sad.” And: “I feel like the amount of media on her now is kind of insane, so I just want her to take care of herself.”
Osaka's WHY reveals that, even in a moment of sheer triumph—she won the match handily in straight sets (6-3, 6-0)—she is not unaware or unable to see her opponent for who she is: young, overwhelmed by the pressure and disappointed. Furthermore and perhaps without knowing it, in seeing Coco she was able to see herself—who she once was and has been. Anytime we get a glimpse of that, we win....

I invite you to spend some time this season / this year considering "The Why" question. Ask others to do the same. Share your responses...and pass it on. Why not.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Joy Does Not Come on Demand: Reflections on "Blinded by the Light"

It’s not an unfair to ask if a movie is worth seeing in the theater. My once-typical response, alluding to my desire for the “communal experience” of viewing a film on a big screen feels like a near plea-bargain today. In recent times, I've found myself in a theater with two other people, maybe a dog. No loud laughter from this party of three…er, 3.5. Furthermore, so many of us have screens that are big enough.and couches just as comfortable that paying $14 for a quasi-matinee seems wrong. So when my friend Patty, with whom I saw Springsteen at Madison Square Garden in June 2000 asked me if “Blinded by the Light” was worth seeing in person (she’s on board with the Boss), I was ready to give an honest response.
For those that love music, and in particular rock ’n’ roll, the answer is unequivocally, “yes”—but for the sheer joy of hearing the Boss’ music in surround/ in stereo, the way created it to be played and understood. The delight of hearing the drums from the back of the theater in response to the introductory notes of the piano as played on “Darkness of the Edge of Town,” or that unclean yet vibrant energy that overtakes my entire being when I hear “Hungry Heart”… watch that in my living room or my laptop would work, but I would be depriving myself of something so much more.  

I think I want joy on demand…but that’s not how it works. Joy comes in the showing up, in the listening, in the paying attention to details, in knowing something so well—you can’t help but say it….Keep pushing till it’s understood, till these Badlands start treating us good.
There are enough movie reviews and good movie reviewers out there, that I'll leave that task to the experts (I prefer to read those with a Catholic lens; America magazine's Kerry Weber writes a thoughtful piece here). However, I would like to offer one insight that I would be in my hypothetical review.
Whenever I tell someone about my love for Springsteen, I get asked the same question, "Are you from New Jersey?" Although I understand the presumption, I have always felt this question is short-sighted. Coming from the Garden State doesn't automatically make one a Boss fan and if you take a look at any single one of his album tours, one can't help but take note of his global appeal. "Blinded by the Light" rests on this truth. Springsteen's music and his message are larger than yes, what exit you take off the turnpike and sometimes, life itself. But how is that true? Why should I believe that a Pakistani teenage boy living in Luton, England would identify with a musician and singer who has written all of his own music about a particular time and place. New York Times columnist David Brooks has offers an answer that resonates with me, and emerges in the film.

In "The Second Mountain," Brooks writes, 
I watched him perform to sixty-five thousand screaming young fans in Madrid. Their T-shirts celebrated all the local central Jersey places that pop up in Springsteen songs and lore—Highway 9, the Stone Pony, Greasy Lake. It turns out he didn't really have to go out and find his fans. If he built a landscape about his own particular home, they would come to him. It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of the particular. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific imaginative landscape, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up on the far-flung networks of eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft commitments or none at all.
Sounds little bit like the premise of "Field of Dreams" a movie about Fathers and Sons, the visible and the invisible, and the broken, timeless, sometimes boring but often beautiful national past time of a country that connects different people from different places.

Perhaps what a young man growing up in Freehold, NJ experiences really isn't that different than one from Luton....or dare I say Walnut Creek. Maybe we just like the music itself. One thing I know for sure, it's brought more joy than a person has a right to have and hold. I've said it once, I'll say it till the end, thank you Bruce....and thank you Lord for the gift of music.
My second favorite show of all time...The River Sessions Tour: 3/13/16

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Grind is Real: Why I Love the US Open

I love The United States Open Tennis Championship for many reasons—its rock 'n' roll style—loud colors and louder fans, I think it's crazy cool to watch a match at 10:00 p.m. my time, knowing it's 1:00 a.m. in New York. I swear I've been able to see the heat and humidity the athletes battle. It's a grind.
The Grind is real. And, I don't use that word lightly. In no way do I want to romanticize the feeling, the implications and the reality of the day to day task of getting up, going to work, work ing hard only to do it again the next day. As a teacher I would be dishonest if I told you my job was always a grind.....but at the beginning of the year it certainly is...and right now I'm in the middle of it. Believe it or not—watching the US Open helps. 

The US Open affords me a few hours each night, to see great athletes grinding it out in matches that take three, four even five hours to complete. I can't get enough of their athleticism. I envy their sweat. I love their mojo. At the end of a long day of teaching and coaching, I relish the opportunity to just sit on my couch and watch two other people working exponentially harder than I ever will. 

Tennis players will tell you, "In tennis, there is no team. The team is you." But, if you watch enough tennis at the Open, you'l start to see that might not be entirely true. In between points, the camera will focus on a group sitting together in support of one of the players. Sometimes it's just one or two people—parents, a coach, or a significant other. Other times it's a near box of seats (Serena) filled by family, friends, hitting partner, coach, physio, etc. 
S. Williams defeated Sharapova 6-1, 6-1. Did the match last but one hour?
Teaching isn't much different. Though we are solo in the classroom and are charged with the task to lead the way/meet the objective, behind the scenes, the support we get makes is vital. During my planning period or at lunch the conversations I have with my colleagues remind me that I am not alone. We share the grind....and they still find ways and moments to extend real kindness. So many have been generous with their desire to help. They sincerely want to know how I'm doing. Today, the President of the school where I teach, St Francis High School, asked me about my commute. Talk about a grind. He followed up our conversation with the question  "Do you need anything?" What a shot in the arm our brief exchange was for me. I didn't really have an answer, but I do know to be seen and heard makes a huge difference, most especially during grinding season.

The need to be seen and heard is why Noah Rubin, a professional tennis player decided to create "Behind the Racket." The USTA's website describes it well.
Rubin created the “Behind the Racquet” account on Instagram to give players an outlet to discuss their thoughts, insecurities and struggles, while simultaneously affording fans an opportunity to learn more about the person, not just the player.
The premise seems straightforward at its core: Have the players pose in exactly the same way, holding their racquets out in front of them, left hand on top of the right, so that their faces are centered behind the racquets. Then have the players discuss something meaningful to them and their journeys as tennis players.
I learned about his creation through the CBS Sunday Morning News Story entitled "The grind of a tennis player's life on tour." I strongly encourage you to watch it. Rubin speaks honestly about his struggle to make it on the tour; it is the profile of a professional athlete we don't always hear or see. But it concludes with emphasis on his project—one that aims to  build community through sharing oneself with others. Though it's not the only way to live, it might be the best way to do so.

Lastly I invite you to watch the 139th US Open. You'll see great athletes and outstanding competition—grinding it out—over Labor Day weekend where I hope you have earned a much deserved break.

Photo Credits

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Persevere: "Every Day"

Though many presiders at Mass "mail in" the final blessing, one priest at my parish always sends us away with a charge to do more than "go forth and announce the Gospel." He takes a line from one of the readings and reminds us of our call, a task or opportunity, and an invitation to live more like Christ. 

Last week he urged us to "persevere in running the race." He raised his arms as a sign of encouragement.  His smile reminded me of the ones I once saw from spectators along the marathon course. However, one need not be a runner to understand the the message from the second reading, St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews. American life today is a race. We long to step off of the treadmill, and occasionally we do. For many, summer offers that welcome respite, but the race continues, the miles are many. The reminder to persevere is not in vain. Nor is the rest of the message: to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. 

The life of legacy of Joy Johnson captured in the "30 for 30" Short entitled "Every Day" is a story of a woman who persevered and kept her eyes on Christ. Among the many races she ran, she completed her 25th New York City marathon the day before she died, at the young age of 86.  New York Times' "The Life they Lived" honored Johnson with a profile piece entitled "A Marathoner Till the End." Is says
Running is a sport that rewards constancy, in both pace and attitude, which may explain why Joy Johnson was so good at it. As a senior citizen, she ran an average of three marathons a year, buttressed by dozens of shorter races, always with a bow in her hair.   
Though she had made a career teaching high-school physical education in Northern California, she herself didn't have an exercise regimen. Until one day in 1985, when she and her husband were newly retired and their four children all grown, Johnson, who was 59, took a three-mile walk and found it energizing. Soon she tried jogging and enjoyed that even more. Within a few years, she was going for regular 12-mile runs and became a fixture at local road races. 
From there on out, she awoke at 4 a.m. and fixed herself some coffee and a bowl of oatmeal, taking time to read the Bible before heading out to the nearby track at Willow Glen High School, the same place where she once taught. 
Born on Christmas Day, Johnson was often asked not why she took up running but why she stayed. Why run everyday? Her answers were simple every time: Running made her happy. It helped her sleep well at night. In "Every Day" she states "Each run I took, every single day was guaranteed to be different. All those days began with the most beautiful thing in the world: POSSIBILITY. It sounds simple, I know. But trust me—it's the very best part of being alive....never knowing what the next step will bring."
Her outlook gives me hope. I want to persevere. I am willing to run the race, replete with the possibility is affords. Let us keep our eyes on Christ, and pray to run with others, who have hearts and mind's like Joy's. 

In memory of this inspiring life, I invite you to pray the words that Joy Johnson did—every Day from Isaiah 40: 31
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings;They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.
Photo Credits
Dynamic Catholic
Lives they Lived

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Life Lessons from Loopers

I love golf for a variety of reasons.It gets me out of doors, to some of the most beautiful
places on the planet. It allows me to compete on an equal playing field against men and women, boys and girls of all ages. Because of golf, I now speak another language. Ask any golfer the meaning of terms like birdie, bogey and eagle, par, and putt and we will translate. History, aesthetics and the attributes of golf account for a lot to love but one component I value, is the simple fact that golf is the only sport in the world where an assistant, a coach, an ally, a therapist and maybe even a family member—definitely a friend—is allowed on the field of play with the athlete: that person is the caddie.

It might seem strange to love golf because of the caddie. After all, fans aren't watching a person carry a bag, they want to see how far and how accurately their favorite player can hit the ball. However, as shared in the documentary Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk a professional caddie noted, "we live in a world that’s all about “what’s someone doing for me.” It’s humbling to be in a profession that is the complete opposite of that. It’s what can I do for YOU." I can't help but see that when I watch golf. I love the perspective this game offers—it's one I need to remember—and I think it spawns questions to consider.

How easy is it for us to recognize, value and appreciate those people who stand in the service of others? in service to me? Who are the men and women who do their job with humility, day in and day out.... Who are the people that find success in another person's success and "take satisfaction in seeing someone do something very very hard." A caddie does this—the nature of the job won't allow otherwise. When a player wins, a caddie wins. A caddie has the silent hand at play in every players' success.

Loopers, the documentary demonstrates this truth through the up close and personal profiles of several golfing "teams." 
Centuries old and enjoyed by tens of millions of people worldwide, golf is seen by many as more than a sport. Yet what do we know about the other person on the course? The man or woman behind the player carrying the bag. In a narrative never before covered in any feature length documentary, Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk explores the incredible personal bond that a golfer and a caddie develop through hours of time together. 
It is often said that a good caddie does three things: show up, keep up and shut up. But a great caddie wears many hats. They’re the player’s psychologist, mother/father figure, technical advisor and confidante. The film unveils the working dynamic between famous partnerships like the heartfelt story of Tom Watson’s and caddie Bruce Edwards. Conversely, it delves into the making of a caddie’s career with stories like Greg Puga — a young Bel Air Caddie from East Los Angeles who fought his way to Augusta to play in the Masters as a Mid-Amateur Champ. Whether familiar or new, these are stories that will make you re-think the way you look at Golf, and especially the job of the Caddie. 
Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk is a visual tour de force shot on the iconic courses of Pebble Beach, Augusta National, St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Prestwick, Ballybunion, and Lahinch. Crafted in the spirit of documentaries like “20 feet from Stardom”, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “Step into Liquid”, the film is a must-watch documentary of the game of golf as you’ve never seen it before.
I had a chance to watch this movie on United airlines. I would like to thank the friendly skies for this video treat. Films, like this made the 12 hour direct flight home from Munich less taxing. I hope more folks than just frequent flyers will check this out—the beauty of golf, its history and its characters is included.

And so is the theme. The role of the caddie, used at the highest level of golf, is a reminder the team is never just you. Even in an individual sport, a golfer never takes a long walk alone. Our lives are no different.

Photo Credits
Nick and Fanny