Monday, May 30, 2011

The Two-Sport Athlete: A Dying Breed, Part I

Look at French tennis player Gaël Monfils and what do you see? I see a tall, charismatic athlete who dazzles fan with his style of play. When he goes to the baseline to serve, I see a human spring. At Stade Roland Garros he has command of the crowd—he raises his arms to fire-up his countrymen. He is emotional and incredibly fit. Monfils would never need to ask the question, “have you been to the gun show?” because you see them every time he takes his first serve. His guns are what drive his serve to 125 mph on average. All joking aside, I hope you see what I see—someone who was at one point in time a two-sport athlete.Hungry to know more about a player I always keep a special eye out for, I did what I always do….I went for the quick hit—the Wikipedia entry. Most of what I read did not surprise me—his father was a professional football player (or in the US what we know as soccer). Born in Paris, Monfils is of Caribbean heritage. And then, I confirmed what I surmised. “If he was not a professional tennis player, he would seek to be a pro basketball player.” I stopped reading as I imagined Monfils inside the paint. His footwork on the court would easily transfer to the hardwood. His eye-hand coordination is exceptional. I have no doubt his lengthy arms would clean the glass, his command of his body allow him to set a mean screen and his passion for competition drive him to never let down. I started to think of other players on the tour and their success in other sports—Nadal was a soccer player. Brad Gilbert claims that is he grew up in the US he would be solicited by every high school football coach to become a wide receiver. Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish played on the same high school basketball team. Something tells me they could set and block on the volleyball court as well. Steffi Graf is also an incredible runner (look at those legs) and her husband Andre Agassi may have hated tennis but he loved soccer. As I continued to think about other famous athletes and their gifts I also started to think about a dying breed—the two-sport athlete.Whereas the three-sport athlete is nearly extinct, the two-sport athlete is an endangered species. Unfortunately, the word that characterizes teen sports today is “specialize.” To be competitive in your best sport, athletes are led to believe they must only commit to one sport and when they aren’t playing for their club team, they can play for their high school team (or not!). I believe this is a tragedy for many reasons. 

First, at its best, sports builds community. Different teams attract different mindsets and personalities. Participation in two disciplines is the seedbed for friendships that blossom from a common experience. Because tennis was my first love, I played with my high school team in the fall and ran track in the spring. As a distance runner, I became close to a number of girls who also ran cross country. I still remember that part of me wished that girls' tennis was in the spring so I could have run XC. I remember telling my track teammates/friends that I thought they participated in the tougher fall sport. They didn't disagree. And today, I coach cross country. I tell my own runners upright: I did not run XC... but I certainly came to know and revere many young women who did. 

Second, cross training provides tremendous physical and mental health benefits. Some skills from one sport transfer well to the another. In some cases, participation in one sport may actually enhance the other. For example, during his junior year in St. Ignatius, JV basketball and volleyball coach Kareem Guilbeaux, played on the boys volleyball team for the first time. When the volleyball season ended and he returned to summer league basketball he realized something new. Whereas he once merely rolled the ball in at the rim, he could now easily dunk. Volleyball taught him how to use his body to properly jump. We call those "hops," volleyball players know it's fundamental to the game. 

Third, every sport provides us with its set of challenges and we confront our limitations. The lessons we learn on the field transfer to those off the field. John Paul II said it himself: Sports are the true school of human virtue.

Ultimately, those who can play two sports simply should because they can. If one is endowed with the talent and ability to participate in more than one sport, give thanks! Do so! The fact that we live in a place where we have options and the freedom to choose is also a gift. Many people in the world long to play, and many cannot for a host of reasons—physical limitations, a lack of resources, etc. Others lived in an era when sports were limited by gender and race. This is not the world most of my student athletes are growing up in—and thanks be to God for that! 

Gaël Monfils will play Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. It is sure to be a great match. What is Fed's second sport? Watch him play and you can guess....

Photo Credits

Winning Round 16 at the French
So Athletic!
Roddick & Fish Monfils and Murray

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

37 Million Meals Strong: St. Anthony's Dining Room

Despite the weak economy, I was not surprised to see that every home game this season of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants has sold out. This week, the Giants, who rank third in overall attendance, welcome the team with the worst attendance in Major League baseball—the Florida Marlins. For stats junkies, facts like these and more can me found on the ESPN Major League Baseball report. But MLB isn’t the only organization keeping good records. Across town, St. Anthony’s Dining Room has been keeping count, by hand tally for 60 years of every guest who has walked through its door for a warm, hot meal and their consummate hospitality.

On April 12, 2011 St. Anthony’s served its 37 millionth meal since it began doling out food on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi-- October 4, 1950. On hand to serve meals that day--beside a core army of volunteers--was San Francisco Giants, pitcher Barry Zito. St. Anthony’s website reported that A ‘momentary pause’ in the usual service was made to honor the significant moment with the Giants’ player, celebrating a ‘giant’ contribution to the community.A statistic like “37 million meals served” should be news in and of itself. It’s a sad but impressive fact. And I hate to admit it, but the reason I read the article St. Anthony's milestone: 37 millionth meal by Heather Knight is because I saw a photograph of Barry Zito next to the headline. Part of me wishes that he had not been part of the story, but St. Anthony’s can and will take all the good press it can get. With the mission "to feed, heal, shelter, clothe, lift the spirits of those in need, and create a society in which all persons flourish," St. Anthony Foundation is supported entirely through the generosity of the community; they do not accept government funds. That's correct, Fr. Alfred Boedekker, OFM did not want any financial assistance from the local, state or federal government. Their doors have remained open because of donations of people like you and me.

And every year, the goal of St. Anthony’s is to close its doors. In an ideal world, they would not need to serve anyone; no one would go hungry. The reality however is different. Knight reports, "It will probably hit meal No. 38 million much faster than it would like. Since January alone, the dining room at the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Jones Street has seen a 10% rise in the number of people seeking food, and more than 3,000 now form a line snaking down the block every morning. For many of them, it's the only food they'll eat all day."

While the line or cue may be the face that many San Franciscans first see of St. Anthony’s, the dining room is the entry point for all that the foundation provides—Food to Clothing, a Social Work Center, a tech lab for job searches, a free clinic and more. "And so St. Anthony's is moving forward with a plan for a new 10-story building featuring a remade dining room, a free clothing shop and a center for social work. The top eight floors will house 90 units for low-income seniors, which will be run by Mercy Housing. Construction is set to begin in July 2012, with the building due to open in 2014 (Knight)."

Looking at the architectural designs earlier this evening, I could not help but think of another architectural masterpiece—AT&T Park. I thought of how this cathedral of baseball has transformed the China Basin neighborhood, how it is a source of pride of so many people in San Francisco and how what takes place inside, buoys the spirits of people of every age, race and creed on a regular basis.

It’s safe to say that St. Anthony’s dining room does just that on a much deeper level. As a Catholic it is a source of pride for me. I believe in a faith that does justice. Because of its belief in the inherent dignity of each human person, St. Anthony's buoys the spirits of all guests whether they come for a hot meal or for rehab. St. Anthony’s both the old and the new has transformed the Tenderloin; a neighborhood where human need is great. Please consider giving tor volunteering at St. Anthony's. If you do, you make witness was Zito said, "They're all very grateful and really good-spirited people. I think they are Giants fans, too." And why wouldn't they be...?!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

SFPD Chief of Police Greg Suhr: Invictus

Father Robert Walsh walked into the AP Government class and greeted a special guest speaker, San Francisco’s new Chief of Police, Greg Suhr. Chief Suhr, a 1976 graduate of St. Ignatius smiled at the Father President, and said, “I’m no longer the most important man in the room.” 

Fr. Walsh said, “No, no, no Chief, you are.” I looked at the four stars on the chief’s collar. I thought about the magnitude of his responsibility and all that the patch on his uniform stands for and thought, their joking aside, Father Walsh is right.
Students at Jesuit high schools throughout the country know they are called to be "men and women for and with others.” As we near graduation at SI, we are intentionally holding conversations between seniors and those in our society who are living out the Jesuit motto. His presence and his message served as evidence that this ideal had taken root and flourished in both his personal and professional life.

The young man asked to introduce the chief of police revealed that Chief Suhr is his father’s best friend and his sister’s Godfather. A proud product of Catholic schools, Chief Suhr heard several cheers when said he was a St. Brendan’s Bear. He noted both schools had a tremendous impact on him. “So many people helped me in both communities. I learned when you help people, they give back one-hundred fold. You always get it back.”

He played football at St. Ignatius and stood in the classroom of his former coach. He continued to play football at City College and asked the assembled crowd if anyone in the room plays rugby. (St. Ignatius does not have a rugby team. A small but vocal minority of students play in the Golden Gate Rugby league. Every year, I find out who these kids are because of their love for the sport and their commitment to the league. I’m glad they have it.)

Chief Suhr continued to talk about this rugby team, even though only one person in the room was a rugby player. I can talk about a sport as long as possible, but in all honesty, I wondered where his story was going. Yet, I’m sure many people feel the same way about their vocation—Where is it going? Where are they going?

Suhr said his team, the Castaways, was a band of brothers. This fraternity was so loyal to one another that after a very unlikely win, the team could not celebrate because one teammate was taking the San Francisco Police Academy entrance exam the next day. He needed to be rested and sharp. It was too important to take any risks and yet interestingly enough, this teammate asked Suhr and others if they wanted to take the test, too. Suhr knew a starting police officer made $25,000 a year and figured Why not? He must have done well because he received a call within the year to further the process. We could say the rest is SFPD history….

Chief Suhr’s message was a reminder to the students—do what you love. When you follow your passion, you are your best self. Rugby grounded Suhr in a community that he trusted and supported. Their unsuspecting win and a simple decision for the good of their teammate’s obligation became something they took on as their own. And in doing so, it became the seedbed for much more. It yielded an unlikely result!

One of the more popular movies about rugby is “Invictus.” Its title is from the poem by the English poet, William Ernest Henley. The final stanza reads: 

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
Greg Suhr was captain of the Bayview station and today he is the captain of the SFPD captains—a position rife with city politics. Being that his position is temporary, it is difficult to say he is the master of his fate until the newly elected mayor is in office. If however, he lives by the motto of being a man for and with others, regardless of what will happen, he will remain the captain of his soul…no one can take that away from another person. And you might just figure that out doing something you love to do… playing rugby or working for the SFPD. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Overrated: Sports as a School of Virtue...?

Sports are a real school of true human virtue. –John Paul II

Who am I to disagree with (now) Blessed John Paul II, but have your ever thought we put too much power and pressure on sports as a moral training ground? We hope that our favorite athletes will serve as role models; we want our coaches to teach us skills, devise game plans and assemble a group of athletes that really believes that there is no “I” in team. We want to know that under pressure we will show integrity, exhibit courage and be selfless; we know sports will reveal this. When it comes to athletics, have we become overly concerned with both the inner and outer scorecard? Does it carry more weight than it should?
To a large extent, I hope it does. Pope Benedict the XVI stated Sport possesses considerable educational potential particularly for young people. So, for this reason, sport is of great importance not only when applied to free time but also in the formation of each individual. And yet, I wonder, does everything, including our leisure as sport need to be viewed as a means to an end? I think Patrick Kelly provides an interesting answer.

In his article Experiencing Life’s Flow, Kelly says The word autotelic is derived from the Greek words auto, self, and telos, goal, and suggests that the goal is within the activity itself. In terms of sports, the games would be played for their own sake. This emphasis differs from what is usually set forth as a rationale for the value of sports for young people: that participation in sports will build character or help prepare them for life or for competition in the business world. Some parents and young people also view sports as a way of gaining upward mobility. Usually the emphasis is on some goal outside the activity of sport; little attention, however, is given to the enjoyment of the activity itself.

I know parents who have given their children fencing lessons because the elite sport is popular at many Ivy League colleges. Experience in fencing was a means to an end—a distinctive edge on a college application. Upward mobility in a nutshell. Yet, let's be honest. Most people learn and participate in a sport for the enjoyment of it. I think the movie “Soul Surfer” is an accurate description of autotelos. This movie, still in some theaters is about the life of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack when she was 13 years old. The title is a word play on the term soul surfer, coined in the 1960s to denote someone who surfs purely for pleasure. As Bethany learns to live with one arm, she learns a whole lot about herself as she struggles to determine what is more important—winning or the sport itself. Surfing and surfers are like no other. It’s innately spiritual; they are too.

I believe autotelos could apply to the spiritual life as well. We hope that our commitment to prayer will lead to inner peace, that our prayers will be answered, that we will grow more patient and loving in the process of learning to trust God. And we should. Yet, can we come to recognize that time with God in prayer is gift itself. To simply avail ourselves to God’ presence is to be with the source and center of life. Can we enjoy and appreciate just that? Ultimately, our commitment to deepening one’s relationship to God will bear great fruit. But can we be content with the grace of God in and of itself?

I wish our society shifted its mindset. It’s not easy to do. We love sports because of the clear answers they provide—win or lose, in or out, fair or foul, game on or time out. And we know the spiritual life doesn’t always give us the answers; all too often, the math doesn’t add up. But I do think the grace of a spiritual life is that it helps us live with the questions. And the grace of athletics is we really do have experiences that prove when tested, we can do that. When the questions are too difficult, we don’t face them alone. A team or coach and lift us up, above the hardwood or moral training ground. Take your pick.

Photo Credits
John Paul II hosts a mass for athletes

No "I" in "Team" shirt
Soul Surfer Movie Poster
The real Soul Sufer!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Humanity of Osama bin Laden

Since April, my seniors have been “mailing it in.” Senioritis has run rampant and they are not apologizing for it. Despite the articles they are not reading, I have noticed they are completely engaged with one of two things: sports and this past week, the death of Osama bin Laden. 

 The World Series Champion San Francisco Giants who have continued to occupy our hearts and imagination received little if any airtime air time when compared to details of the compound in Abbottabad and the plight of the Navy SEALS in pursuit of “Geronimo.” 

 Although I don’t appreciate the fact that some students haven’t opened a book in weeks, I must admit, I understand their intrigue. The technology used by the CIA, the plot, the leads, the intense firefight--Senioritis be gone! In the spirit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” I picked up both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal with the hope I would uncover something that I could integrate into the curriculum. As I devoured one piece after another, I thought to myself “what do I know about bin Laden?” I suppose if pressed, I could have told you the Muslim leader of Al Quaida was born in Saudi Arabia, his father was extremely wealthy, both father and son had several wives. 

I read Born Into Privilege, Bin Laden Became the Face Global Terror, as though I were trying to put pieces together—to make sense of a man who was wanted “Dead or Alive for $25 million (in 2006)” His father was never part of his life, his parents divorced when he was two, he attended the most prestigious private schools, he renounced a great percentage of his inheritance…. And then I read the teenage bin Laden was tall, almost gangly, and was often picked as a forward on his school soccer team for his superior ability to head the ball in. I stopped. This line glared at me. 

Bin Laden was an athlete. Certainly, he wasn’t the first evil villain to be a renowned sportsman. Fidel Castro was a pitcher scouted for U.S. baseball teams. Yet, to realize this man was someone talented in something so familiar to me, something that I see unites young people, which I can relate to made him--if just for that moment--very human. And that was uncomfortable. 

In the poem “To Create An Enemy” Sam Keen writes Obscure the individuality of each face. Erase all hints of the myriad loves, hopes and fears that play through the kaleidoscope of every finite heart.” With bin Laden, this was incredibly easy to do. To me, his culture and faith were totally other, his appearance and his ideas are so foreign, too extreme. It’s easy to think of a man like bin Laden as anything but a human being with the capacity for evil we all possess. To erase his hopes and dreams in light of the terror his choices invoked is simple. And yet, I know that is what a Christian must never do—forget, forsake or deny the humanity of each and every person. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Moms and Running: Two Great Assets

Watching the PBS video “Buffet and Gates Go Back to School” I was struck by Warren Buffet’s advice “The most important investment you can make is in yourself." In light of Mother’s Day, his words seem out of context. Mothers make tremendous sacrifices for their children; they are paragons of unselfishness. Any mother with young children knows it can be very difficult to invest in oneself. And yet, I think he’s right. He added, “The best asset is your own self.” How does this claim hold true on a day like Mother’s Day? I think running gives an answer.One of my more interesting side jobs was to serve as a “wrangler” at the 2009 Nike Women’s Marathon. It was my responsibility to make sure that the race winner knew where to go upon completing her 26.2-mile victory. She couldn’t leave my sight; I had to “wrangle” her to the awards stand, away from the press and the crowd as needed. This job meant that I stood and waited at the finish line for over an hour. In that time of anticipation, I was a witness to some remarkable feats and legendary people. Distance running greats Joan Benoit and Kara Goucher, both sponsored by Nike waited beside me to congratulate the winner. I was struck by how tiny Benoit was. I thought this woman who is all of “a buck five” on the scale won the first Olympic gold medal for the women’s marathon in 1984?! Kara Goucher could not have been more regal, articulate and beautiful. What great role models for young women. The winner of the women’s half marathon was too.Carrie Dimoff of Portland, OR won the 13.1 journey without any competition in a time of 1:25:26. She was congratulated and interviewed at the finish. She wasn’t even winded. She was smiling from ear to ear and laughing (must have been that runner’s high). She commented on her tactics for running well and when asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” she responded, “Yes, I’d like to dedicate this race to my son. He was born in May and we’ve been running together a lot. He got me here.” 

 I did the math. This woman had endured pregnancy and labor just five months earlier. And now she won the world’s largest all-women’s marathon and half marathon. 
Moms are so inspiring. So is running. To run is to invest in oneself—both physically and mentally. Running may be hard on the knees, but it good for the heart, weight management, bone density and all around endorphin release. When solo, running clears my mind. I am able to reflect on my day or work through problems, I think of lesson plans, and I dream. 

The mental health benefits are also social benefits. Running side by side with a friend is a gift. Perhaps it’s because you're both looking ahead but it seems to me that when I run with a friend, the most intimate of topics are revealed. It's funny, I don’t know how many times I have said “those 5 miles just flew by.” And running with a group can be silly or it can be silent. 
Although it’s rare, I love when I join a small pack of girls on my team and we complete a challenging run without words; all we hear are our footsteps and our breathing.

I’m glad so many moms who are both every day runners and serious competitors are investing in themselves. And these moms are easy to find. For example, in 2007 British runner Paula Radcliffe won the New York Marathon less than 10 months after giving birth. 2008 Olympian Kara Goucher competed in the 2011 Boston Marathon, where she ran a personal best for a fifth place finish in the women's division; she gave birth to her son Colt in September 2010. On the other end of the spectrum, at the age of 60 my beloved Aunt Wendy competed in her first marathon in Eugene in 2010. 

She was supported by her daughter, my cousin Amy who ran the last 6 miles with her (and this is after Amy, a great athlete, completed the half marathon), her husband/my uncle Jay and her eldest daughter/my cousin Jodi and me at the finish. To see my Aunt Wendy complete the 26.2 journey on Hayward Field smiling, exuberant and healthy was a privilege. It was an inspiring, humbling, awesome feat! Because of my health, it also was my last official race. I could not have asked for a better one, I wouldn’t go out any other way. I cherish memories from that race and that day.On this Mother’s Day, I have been thinking about the significance of the example our mother’s give us. I think when a mom is a runner, she gives a great example to her children of self-discipline and the importance of physical fitness, challenging oneself, reaching goals and having fun. Personally, I believe mothers are the best examples of God's love here on earth (not all, but a whole lot!). They feed and nurture us from the very moment of our being. They possess a healing power like no other. They are our cheerleaders and a model of selflessness. I hope on this day and many others we can give our moms more time and encouragement to invest in themselves. For when they do-- be it in running, their friendships and so forth, we all benefit. We may be our own best asset, but I think my mom is too.

Mother's Day Prayer by Gaynell Bordes Cronin
I love you, Mom.
I love your aliveness, your joy in living, your understanding, your giving.
And what I love best of all is that you love me.
God of all Mothers, thank you for my mom! 
—From the book Friend Jesus: Prayers for Children

Photo Credits
Aunt Wendy, Amy and I/Wendy at the finish taken by Jodi Herchold! Goucher, Benoit and Nike Women's Winner Paula Radcliffe