Sunday, June 30, 2013

30 Things To Try This Summer Meets-->Justice and Spirituality Boost

Summer is a time of relaxation--lazy days and long nights.  But all of that room for rest has never been without competition...and my hunger for it.  From the first place blue, second place red and third place white ribbons at every swim meet, to prizes for hitting targets at tennis camp, growing up,  I welcomed each and every contest--athletic and academic.  I remember with great fondness the summer reading challenge at my local library.  Readers were awarded prizes based on the number of books they completed.  As if they satisfaction of completing a book wasn't enough, I could earn tickets to Oakland A's game or the movies.  I have a feeling we love the summer Olympic Games just a little more than those in the winter....

In the June 2013 issue of "The Olympian" the official publication of the Olympic Club, I came to see that the proverbial carrot and summer competition is still in style.  The "Wellness"section has "30 Things to Try This Summer."  It reads "Calling all kids, parents, families, couples and friends!  You may have seen the Amazing Race on CBS, well, this summer let's have an amazing race of our own with the 30 Things to Try This Summer contest.  The contest provides a list of 30 activities you an do by yourself, with family or friends that aim to get you moving, make an impact and love your food."
Each of the three categories had creative yet challenging activities.  Perhaps you will consider one of the three I am posting from each section, on this blog (and hope to complete myself).  Also, I noticed that one need not stretch to integrate a social justice or spiritual component to the quest.  Therefore, beneath the items created by Olympic Club fitness trainer Carmen Solla are some that may build the common good or benefit the poor.  Think of them as the flax seed that you throw into your Green Monster power shake.  

Love Your Food

  • Watch It: Pick a food documentary i.e. Fast Food Nation, Food, Inc. Supersize Me
  • Breakfast Around the World: Research and explore what others eat around the world; try to make it yourself.
  • Grow: something this summer
Justice Boost
  • The documentary "Food at the Table" uses personal stories to illuminate the plight of the 49 million Americans struggling with food insecurity.  Netflix states "A single mother, a small-town policeman and a farmer are among those for whom putting food on the table is a daily battle."  Pope Benedict XVI wrote that Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty. Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.
 We could all benefit from learning more about our neighbors who go hungry.
  • Although the primary aim of Operation Rice Bowl is to collect money for the poor, a creative component of this Lenten tradition is the education materials that accompany it.  ORB not only challenges Catholics to live in solidarity with those that they will give to, but gives them the tools to do that.  Those online resources feature information about the countries that receive alms and recipes for simple, meatless meals from them.  With the help of Catholic Relief Services' ORB, Breakfast Around the World could be an exercise in solidarity with the poor.
Good Impact Days
  • Volunteer: Officially or unofficially
  • Family Game Night: Three days out of the summer
  • Be Nice: Carry out a random act of kindness
Justice Boost
  • In the same way that running is core to being a runner, helping those in need is core to being a Christian.  Serving the poor, giving your time as a volunteer is exercise for the soul.  Barry and Amber Zito, devout Christians might agree.  From the St. Anthony's Foundation newsletter, I read about #75's ongoing commitment to "Striking Out Hunger"
St. Anthony's Dining Room guests were thrilled to have San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito & wife Amber step up to the plate during meal service a few weeks ago. 

Barry & Amber served trays, bussed tables, chatted with guests, and signed autographs for diners and volunteers. 

Thank you to Barry & Amber for their continued support, and for reminding us that together, we're Giant!

I would have loved volunteering on that special day, but clients at St. Anthony's will tell you there are many special days at the beloved San Francisco soup kitchen.   
To make it even more fun, wear clothing that represents your favorite sports team.  This is an easy way to engage those you serve and serve with in conversation.  It may however, challenge the step to "Be Nice."
Let's Get Moving
  • Try Something New: A game of squash, tennis, handball, soccer, bowling, rock-climbing, dance class, yoga, etc...
  • Take a Hike: Tennessee Valley is a good beginner trail.
  • Workout: 1-3 sets, once a week for three weeks (adjust for level of fitness, age and swap exercises if needed): 5-10 push-ups, 10-20 Body Weight Squats, 5-20 Sit-ups, 5-15  Sky Divers
Spirituality Boost
  • A wonderful component of my Sports and Spirituality class has been exposing my seniors to different spiritual disciplines.  I had four faculty members speak for 5-10 minutes about a spiritual discipline that they practice.  From the rosary and using religious music as prayer to praying the examen via an iPad, each spiritual exercise was as unique as the person speaking.  I was most inspired by Owen, who teaches in the social science department and is the head freshman boys football coach; he uses Tony Dungy's book "The Uncommon Life" for daily prayer.  I encouraged my students to try a new spiritual discipline; I challenged them to employ one on a regular basis. This summer might be the ideal time to take a new one up!
  • I have often said that the many trails in Marin County are unofficially the "Church of Marin."  Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?  Ignatian spirituality challenges Christians to use your imagination and engage it in prayer.  It sounds crazy, but why not take Jesus on a hike with you?  Or bring a friend and talk about your faith life.  The surroundings are the perfect backdrop for addressing His transcendence!

So far, my summer has been packed with the Substantially Catholic conference at Marin Catholic High School, Play Like a Champion and Notre Dame and the JSEA Colloquiam in St. Louis, MO.  I'm ready for those so-called lazy days and long summer nights and seeing what on this list I can accomplish. Let the games begin....

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

US Open 2013: Looking for Grace

Last Thursday I attended the Catholic Professionals breakfast in San Jose where local Mercury sportswriter, Mark Purdy, was the keynote speaker. I loved his stories, dedication to his craft and his personal motto: "opinion on demand." He made me consider as the author of this blog what mine might be. It is: "looking for grace."  
Every sporting event I attend or participate in, I look for it. I wait to discover where grace will show up, when it will unfurl and how it will surprise me, sometimes reluctantly. The 2013 US Open was no exception.  

That being said, there was no reason for me to take any satisfaction in the 32-year old English champion, Justin Rose. None. The script being written for 5-time runner up, Phil Mickelson was just too good. With a one stroke lead going into the final round, grace was about to reign supreme.  

Even Phil must have conceded at some point, that grace was on his side.  How could it not be?  The final round of the 113th United States Open was being held on his 43rd birthday and on Father's day. Mickelson's own father, Phil Senior was at Merion Country Club while his wife Amy and their three daughters were at home in Rancho Santa Fe, CA a place that he decided to return to for 24-hours so he could attend his eldest daughter's eighth grade graduation.  

This was the daughter that was born shortly after the 1999 US Open. Golf fans know about this special young woman, Amanda, as her legend lives large.  Mickelson wore a beeper on the course, claiming that if his wife, Amy went into labor he would leave the tourney to join her at the hospital.  He finished the tourney as runner up to Payne Stewart.  Since then, he has been the runner up five, now six times.

Philly-fans hoped this would be the year. Indeed, grace was on-edge as Mickelson double-bogeyed the third and fifth holes but had everyone believing all was not lost as Lefty nailed an eagle shot on the 10th hole. Hope was alive.

And yet, a telling stat reveals what went wrong. Mickelson had more putts on the day than any other player. 

As Mickelson missed a putt for birdie on 16, Justin Rose was approaching 18.  The writing was on the wall. Every fan knew that Mickelson would need to birdie one of the last two holes, one of which no one in the tourney had done.

I waited to see what Justin Rose would do. I was hoping he would collapse, that he would flank it way left, that his ball would be forever lost in the rough. Instead, he "striped his drive into the fairway, then hit an excellent second shot that trickled through the green." He then nearly holed the chip for birdie, settling for a par that all but sealed his victory. 

He walked toward the iconic wicker basket flag with tears in his eyes. As he looked skyward, I came to learn that he had one coach growing up--his father, Ken, who died of leukemia in 2002. 
As written on ESPN Golf, "I was trying to keep it together, obviously, because I didn't want to be premature. Phil had two holes to play. But that was my time, the clouds had parted, it was kind of ironic. It was just a beautiful evening. And the way it worked out, I felt like I needed to do that." And there we have it, grace showed up. Damn it. Did he have to die of leukemia?  Did this sweet victory in some small way atone for all their family had endured. No. But grace has its own way....

Rose added, "Yes, the look up to the heavens was absolutely for my dad; Father's Day was not lost on me today. You don't have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him and being Father's Day. My dad was the inspiration the whole day."

It's not at every Sunday mass, but whenever we say the Apostles' Creed, I give pause when we say "I believe in the communion of saints." I do. I say it with conviction and reverence for what it is.  I believe in the holy men and women—Saints and saints—who have gone before us.  Death is not an end; it is entry into a new relationship.  Justin Rose's father was still coaching him on Sunday, on Father's Day. He didn't make Justin win, but he was with him—in love—every step of the way.

I looked for grace on Sunday and I found it—reluctantly but beautifully. Don't take grace on a journey. Who knows what you will find. But I will...and I'm considering changing my motto. How is "Grace on demand?"

Photo Credits
Rose points to heaven
Rose prevails
Phillie Eagles
Payne Stewart Embrace

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Did Pope Francis Coach Cross Country?

A very close friend recently shared with me that her daughter has decided to join the middle school cross country team.  In a text message she wrote, "They run in the summer on Friday nights for conditioning.  Any tips coach?" 
There are so many things I love about her message. 

First...that she asked for tips /advice.  Coaching cross country is an art form.  Learning how to be a coach, let alone a good one takes time.  The same is true for becoming a cross country runner.  Because everyone knows how to run, there's a sense that the fittest person with the most stamina wins the race.  They assume the best coach is the one who runs their athletes the hardest; or, the one who is organized and pushes for longer, harder and faster.  The truth of the matter is  there is a method to the madness of running this long distance sport. Runner and athlete should know that humility, respect and optimism are good things to bring to a start line.  
Second...that she will come to the sport by way of summer running.  Every XC coach knows success during the season is contingent on three things: June, July and August. The fact that this middle school program will condition its runners before it puts them to the line in the fall is wonderful.  Conditioning is light and fun, yet challenging and rewarding.  The real workouts will begin when the season does; this will welcome Riley  and other girls into the fold with ease and grace.

Third...that her daughter has decided to participate in a great sport.  Cross country is hard and it's no glory.  It's also intensely team oriented, though individual.  Her daughter is going to learn so much about herself and her friends.  I believe Pope Francis would agree.
On June 7, 2013  NCR reported "Pope Francis ditched a 1,250-word prepared speech to students saying it would be "a tad boring" to read out loud and opted instead to just quickly hit the high points and spend the rest of the time answering people's questions.

In his speech, he told them "the journey of life "is an art" that isn't easy because it requires juggling the need to move forward with the importance of taking time to reflect.

"If we walk too quickly, we'll get tired and won't be able to reach our destination," yet if we stop or take our time, "we won't get there either." Life's journey "is truly the art of looking at the horizon, reflecting on where I want to go, but also putting up with the fatigue from this journey," he said.

"Don't be afraid of failure," he said. The problem with the journey of life and faith isn't falling; it's not getting back up.

"Get right back up immediately and keep going," he said.

Don't embark on this journey alone, either, he said, because that would be "awful and boring." Go as a "community with friends and people who care about you very much because that will help us get to our destination," he said.

I read his words and thought to myself, Did he coach cross country?  
Cross country runners know that you cannot run the first mile too quickly.  If you do, the second and third will be miserable.  Learning how to pace yourself, how to lead and to follow, when to make a move and when to hold steady is running strategy.

XC runners also know how to put up with fatigue from the journey.  "Our sport is your sport's punishment" is a popular adage on cross country t-shirts.  The fatigue is implied!  

Every race has one winner.  Does that mean that every runner who completes the race has failed?  No. Runners strive for a PR for a reason--a "personal record" can help your team win and is the standard by which every runner aims to improve.

Runners fall.  In "Running for Jim" Jennie Callan on the University High School cross country team fell at the beginning of the California state championship meet.  If she had not gotten back up, her team would not have clinched.

Cross country would be awful and boring if it weren't for the stories runners share, the games we have played, the songs we have sung.  Runners get through hard workouts, over steep hills and dusty, dirty trails because of their teammates and coaches--people who care about them, who love them and share something very special--the joy of running.  

Pope Francis is on to something....whether he intended for it to be applied to a sport I've coached for 10 years now, or not.  I hope that Riley and every other young person new to running finds truth in the sport and the pursuit of their very best.

Photo Credits
Pope Francis

Start Line
SI Team: Paul Totah

Monday, June 10, 2013

Running for Jim: Love in Action

This year, my favorite unit to teach in the Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice course was on human sexuality.  That's because a few minor adjustments made the conversations and subject matter--although challenging--much more truthful, open and engaging.  One change was beginning with the classical definition of love.  For juniors in high school, defining love should seem unnecessary, but the world today defines it differently. According to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, to love is "to will the good of another."  Notice it does not say anything about oneself, there are no "I" or "me" statements to be found.
My students read it, but it didn't stick until I gave an example I learned from my sister.  Anne Frank was sent to the concentration camp with her mother Edith and sister Margot.  Edith did not eat so that her two daughters could get enough food.  She willed the good of another--her two daughters.  She loved them to her death...and theirs.  

An example of men and women who love in this way are necessary.  Fortunately, I found an extraordinary one in Jim Tracy, the boys and girls cross country coach at University High School in San Francisco and the subject of a new documentary "Running for Jim."  

Jim's story came to public attention when one of his athletes Holland Reynolds completed the 2010 California state cross country meet in a very dramatic fashion.  She suffered severe dehydration and collapsed but a few feet from the finish line.  Her sheer will to win for her teammates and for her coach, secured University's 8th state championship title.  This documentary chronicles the effect that desire and determination has had on other athletes; Coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants showed it to his team who went on to win SuperBowl.  
But "Running for Jim" also tells the tragic love story of a man and running.  It shares his  upbringing that exposed him to the sport in a unique way, how it shaped his life-the friendships he made, the path is forged in high school, college and beyond and how it was slowly yet surely taken from him by Lou Gehrig's disease.  Well, almost.  

As said in Outside the Lines: The Finish Line, Jim Tracy never married.  His athletes are his children; his team is his family.  This family has not left his side as his illness has progressed nor has his sense of humor and optimistic spirit.  Today, he coaches from a motorized wheelchair.

And you better believe he coaches them.  Several of his runners repeat his motto: 
We train farther than we race, so the race seems short; and we train faster than we race, so the race seems easy. He challenges every athlete with immediate and authentic feedback.  One athletes recalls having a bad race; she said "that might not be one of the best times you've had, but at last you got a good workout."  In that moment, athlete and coach know the truth.  The only thing to do is be honest and stay positive.  Jim does both.

He never boasts about the relationship he has with his runners. He loves them in the way that St. Paul describes in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:14).  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  In a humorous scene  Jim says "I figure they get enough love from their parents and teachers.  So I don't give them much.  Rather, I push them harder."  The audience knows he's lying.  
And we know they love him because as St. Ignatius of Loyola says "love is shown in deeds."  Much to his chagrin, Jim's athletes discover and decide to celebrate his birthday.  They sing to him, bring him a cake and are overjoyed to celebrate a life that is now battling ALS. He doesn't want the attention.  He smiles, gives thanks and says that everyone gets to have his cake and eat it too.  As the scene unfolds, the voice over from Jim reveals a very personal testimony.  "When they achieve what they have set out to do, when they improve, when they realize what their true potential is and when they excel--I feel good."  Even though it's his birthday, nothing in the scene is about Jim.  

His remarks shouldn't be counter-cultural, but they are.  Too often I hear (and it may be true) "When I improve, when I excel...I feel good."  This is valuable and worthy, but that feels much different than what I was looking at and taking in from the movie screen.  I saw a man who has found through his life's work to "will the good of the other."  It doesn't get more loving than that.

John Paul II said time and again "Man finds himself only by making himself a sincere gift to others" (Gaudium et Spes, no. 24).  The world might see all that Jim Tracy has lost with his disease, but to watch this documentary is to know and be a witness to all that he has found...and been given.  All of which has been made possible because of his two great loves: running and his athletes.  I hope you are able to see love made flesh, love in action: "Running with Jim." 

Photo Credits

Presidio Trail

Friday, June 7, 2013

Survive and Advance: Not a Given Part 1

Sitting at the Transition Liturgy--the final all-school mass of the 2012-2013 school year, I looked at the students around me, heaved a huge sigh of relief.  I said a prayer of gratitude and I should have thought to myself--we made it.  Instead, the words that came to mind were "survive and advance."
The sad reality is that the school community of St. Ignatius College Prep completed this year without a tragedy in our student body--one we have been too familiar with in the past 4 years--suicide. In the wake of two student suicides just last year, our goal as a school community was to complete this year without another.   In that moment of reflecting upon the past year, I thought the title of ESPN's 30 for 30 "Survive and Advance" was both curious and sadly appropriate.

Most people know the beloved, late Coach Jim Valvano for his message "Don't give up...Don't ever give up" which today serves as the motto of "The V Foundation for Cancer Research."  What they don't know that he first used this quote publicly not at the 1993 ESPY's but on the court at Reynolds Coliseum to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the 1983 NC State men's basketball national championship team.  This "30 for 30" chronicles their fateful success and the players today recall stories about it.  It earned its title because Jimmy V's message to the Wolverines during the NCAA tourney wasn't "Don't give up..." No, it was something even more direct and simple.  It was "survive and advance."

What kind of coach tells a team to simply survive?  A coach who knows that it's not a given that you will; a coach who believes that you must do all that you can here and now.  Give it all you got.  Surviving means winning the game to stay in the tourney.  Advancing is the result of winning.  You survive, you advance.  Simple as that.  
The goal is to survive until the only place to advance is to a time and place where every player was asked to cut the net down.  Coach Valvano actually had his players practice this ritual.  Watching players climb the ladder and complete this mental exercise was somewhat strange to watch.  I thought Is this presumptuous?  Is it necessary? What kind of coach has his players cut down the net?  Now I know it's one that understands the goal and fruit of his words: "survive and advance" and "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."  And that is victory, triumph and even life itself.

Jimmy V's message is in no way limited to basketball or to sports in general.  
High school is tough.  The academic, social and athletic demands put on young people today are extraordinary.  The physical, emotional and spiritual growth that transpires in just four years time in extraordinary.  For some, these are the "Glory Days" and for others, everyday is a challenge.  It's not a given that you will survive and advance. Yes, this truth is much more obvious in sports than a school year.  Regardless, I don't take either for granted.
One the last day of finals, I had to proctor a freshmen English exam.  Their teacher came in to check on how they were doing.  He then turned to me and asked loud enough for all of them to hear: "What is the best thing about freshmen? They become sophomores!"

I hope they do.  Survive and Advance.

Part II will address the heart of Jimmy V's ESPY speech and how it also relates to this past school year.

Photo Credits
30 for 30 Dreams
First 30 for 30