Saturday, January 31, 2015

Personal Statement: One Medal—The People, Experiences and Events Behind It

I was recently asked to complete a statement entitled "Personal History." Here is the prompt:
What has helped to make you the person you are? This may include a description of the people, experiences, events, etc. that have had an impact upon you. You may describe anything from your earliest memories to events that occurred yesterday. Space is not limited.
I thought to myself, "you're joking, right?" That is a task that, although important, relevant and poignant would require a response that would fill as many pages as my age. I immediately thought of what Mark Twain once wrote: I wanted to write you a short letter, but I didn’t have the time.

Anyone can write a lot and wax poetic, but it to say what you want and to say it succinctly is no easy task. Brevity requires great effort. Precision demands practice. But the truth of the matter is that I am in some sort of "writing shape." So here is my response, which true to Twain, took some time to keep brief.  I offer mine only because it might get you to think of your own....enjoy

Personal Statement:
There is a piece of jewelry that I wear that reveals quite a bit about the people, experiences and events that have shaped my life. It is a small gold medal, about the size of a fifty-cent piece from 1920. On the back is engraved: Irish Athletic Championship, 880 yards, 1920. M. J. Naughton.

My mother gave me that medal for my 35th birthday. She didn’t have to do that, but of course she did. That’s my mom, and Michael John Naughton was her father.

My grandpa died in April 1981, months before the release of the film “Chariots of Fire.” Had he lived to see the film, perhaps we would know more about his life; regardless, I wear his medal today to honor his legacy.

The fact that I am the grandchild of immigrants is an important and special part of my identity. While I know all about my grandmother’s childhood, her experiences and her family—in fact, I have visited them four times—I know very little about my grandfather’s. When he left Ireland, he left everything. He talked very little about “the who, what, and the why.” The “what” I want to know about is his experience of running. Did he love it? Did he run against Liddell? Did he run in the US? on Ocean Beach where I do? 

My grandfather always looked at runners with an understanding that comes with experience. He knew good form, he understood how a runner must push through the pain, and he even knew what it took to win and how to do that. But he never revealed “how” he knew that. We never knew that he was a successful runner until his death. My mom and her sister found his medals—evidence of his feats in his sock drawer.

His successful ventures encouraged my older brother, younger sister and I to run too. I joined the cross country and track team in grade school and have run ever since. Running has cultivated and sustained more friendships than I can name. The seniors on varsity track in high school were my mentors and wonderful role models. I had no idea that my cousin looked up to me in a way that inspired her to also run “three marathons before thirty.” She now has many more; I'm so proud of her! I have coached girls cross country at St Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco for 10 years. Running has kept my physical and mental health in check. In her book The Spirituality of Sport, Susan Saint Sing writes “When I run...the body and the spirit become one.  Running becomes prayer and praise and applause for me and my Creator. When I run, I am filled with confidence and the faith that word contains.  I can face unanswerable questions, certain that there are answers.”  I agree. I thank my Grandfather for encouraging me to consider the gift that is running.

But the story doesn’t end here. I have taught in the Religious Studies department at SI for the past 12 years. The courses I teach feature a “person of conscience” and an “inspiring life. That person is the Scottish missionary and Olympic champion runner, Eric Liddell. He is one of my spiritual heroes. His words ”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” inspired a new outlook on all that I do. His words helped me understand spirituality in a way I never had before. They have underscored the class that I created and the blog that I write: Sports and Spirituality.

My grandfather probably ran against Eric Liddell. When we speak about reuniting with loved ones in eternal life, I think of what it will be like for me to ask them about running and who bested whom. It can be difficult to look forward to life after death, but in this case, it's not.

My dad has always said my maternal grandparents were “underrated.” I grew up 25 miles east of San Francisco where they lived (and where I live today), so I was able to see them regularly. My grandmother made it possible for my siblings and me to attend Catholic schools. She extended her love for her culture to us; I competed in Irish dancing for many years. One is rich when they have family, friends and faith. To have that in with a cultural twist is that much sweeter!

I love it when people ask me about the medal that I wear. I wear it when I give talks about “Sports and Spirituality,” I wear it on the first day of class and tell them about how it all came to be. Heck, maybe it will be the "something old" that every bride wears with something new, borrowed and blue. It says more about the people, experiences and events that have shaped my life that anyone would ever know.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Numbers in Sports: 77 Year Old Woman Lifts 215 Lbs.

Sports Illustrated knows numbers. They should for they are inextricably linked to sport. Numbers define time—minutes, seconds, halves and quarters. They indicate the score, the number of time outs remaining and our place in the standings. They are used for statistics, streaks and records. For example 409 has great significance for Penn State fans. In the article "It's Complicated," Tim Layden discloses that the settlement in a lawsuit between the NCAA and the State of Pennsylvania pushed Coach Joe Paterno's win total back to its original and mighty impressive total. I'm sure Duke fans are anxious to see how SI will recognize Coach K's 1000th win and since Warriors fans are still talking about Klay Thompson's 37 points, the most points in any quarter for an NBA basketball quarter, I'm game for more on that too.

Indeed numbers have power. How much is Coach Jim Harbaugh making at University of Michigan? They challenge for us: What did you say par was on this hole? Where am I on the depth chart? They also have sentimental value. Anyone who knows me knows why I love the #22 and #44..and now #13. They can reveal quite a bit about a person and a program. For example, in SI's "Go Figure" I read:
161-2: Score of a girls' high school basketball game won by Arroyo Valley High of San Bernadino, Calif., over Bloomington High on January 5, leading to Arroyo coach Michael Anderson's being suspended for two games. Arroyo led 104-1 at half time.
Other than wondering about his IQ, I asked myself: Are there only 5 girls on his team? I'm having a tough time understanding why any coach would run up the score like that.

Beneath that post, I read:
$792,845.68: Total cost of an eight-day exhibition trip to the Bahamas last August for Kentucky basketball players, coaches staff and 57 boosters. Among the individual costs was a $23,855.50 reception dinner.
Those numbers bring an interesting angle to the conversation: Should college athletes get paid? If so, how much?
Watch all 105 pounds of this little lady deadlifting 215 lbs in the video below #Inspiration
But one number that is a source of pain and pride, relevance and yet insignificance is our age. For many people age is "just a number." For some it's a reason to celebrate; Do you remember your 21st birthday?  And for others it's a goal: I hope to make it to my 100th birthday. I want that letter from the President of the United States! And as I was reminded by this 77 year old woman who dead lifts 215 pounds (yes, you read that correctly) age should never be an excuse.

Willie Murphy said "I never use the words I can't. I only use the words I'll try. That's the way I've always lived my life. I will try to do my best everyday." No wonder she's the feature of "USA TODAY'S Inspiration Nation."

And from the interview we learn that the mentality Ms Murphy carries isn't limited to just the weight room. How great is her comment: "I can pick up my grandkids, but most importantly, I can carry my own groceries!" Who isn't saying "Go Granny Go!" after seeing that?!

I have long been an advocate for lifting weights. Although power-lifting is its own genre, strength training offers much more than physical well-being. And as listed in the article "Total Recall," it offers much more.
Turns out strength training does wonders for body and mind. According to new research from GA Tech, just one 20-minute bout of resistance training can enhance memory by 10%. Stress hormones released during these exercises may stimulate the amygdala, a region of the brain that plays a role in memory, explains Lisa Weinberg, lead author of the study. So next time you are prepping for a big meeting, take a break for a round of bicep curls or squats. You’ll remember to thank us later.
I hope to! And with the example of a woman like Willie Murphy, I know I have the ability to shovel my own snow at any age. I also have an inspiring example of someone who exercises an important motto: I'll try. I will work at a goal little by little everyday.  Thank you Willie Murphy—all 105 pounds of you!

Photo Credits

Willie Murphy

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Standing on Squared Up Shoulders: Klay Thompson

Golden State Warriors' shooting guard Klay Thompson knows a thing or two about shoulders. When he was asked how he scored 37 points in the 126-101 win over the Sacramento Kings, he didn't say a lot, except for "I always square up my shoulders to get a good shot." Thompson, who was nine for nine at the 3-point line and thirteen for thirteen on shots taken, stands on some tall shoulders. His father, Mychal Thompson was the first foreign born player to be drafted as the number one pick in the NBA. And both father and son know that their success can be attributed to the same man, a man whose shoulders are very broad, a man who made many sacrifices, a man no longer with us but still living in two dreams that came true: Mr. DeWitt Thompson.
Before two famous foreign born players, Hakeem Olajuwon & Yao Ming,
Mychal Thompson was the #1 pick in the NBA Draft.
Learning about the Thompson family history in "Klay Revealed" raised important questions for me. I thought about the simplicity, trust, and humility of DeWitt Thompson and wondered: What if parents stopped making sacrifices for their children? What if parents determined that their own wants and needs were more important than those of their kids? What would the world look like?

I ask these questions because I don't think we should ever take for granted that people will do so. You could make an argument that we are programmed to care for our young—Is it in our DNA? I hope so. But to the hard work, the vision that looks out rather than in, the risks and demands of truly putting others before ourselves may also work against some of us. St. Augustine said that "Grace builds on nature." If we have prioritized our own needs and wants—for reasons of pride and ego, self-preservation, bad example and/or pleasure, it can be very tough to change our ways, especially when it gets interrupted 24/7 by someone who expects nothing less.

Okay...that's a little heavy. 

The good news is that some good deeds do go unpunished! When the Lakers won the NBA Championship in 1987, Mychal honored his father by giving him his ring. DeWitt wore that every day until he died in 2013, at 94 years of age. And upon revisiting the Thompson family roots in Nassau, Bahamas, Klay said "I feel a sense of gratitude toward my grandfather that I have never felt before. I realize now that so much of my success is owed to him." His dad, Mychal responded by hugging Klay and his younger brother Trayce as they stood over DeWitt's grave. He added, "You guys wouldn’t be where you are today. He let me go to the US to pursue my dream. Goodbye, Grandpa. We love you and we miss you. We always think about you."

Gratitude begets gratitude. In Klay's appreciation for his grandfather, he also recognizes the gift of his own father. In talking about Mychal a two-time NBA champion, Klay said "Some people say he was lucky, but I think he was brave. He set out on an unknown journey to become a great basketball player. His journey proves one thing. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, but where you are going and when you get there, it’s never by yourself.
We are all witnesses
Klay's right. His teammates understood that something very special was happening during the third quarter. Realizing he was in the "flow channel," they wanted to get him the ball. Draymond Green laughed as he said, "I almost turned over the ball a couple times trying to get the ball to Klay." He added, "I'm honored to be out there on the floor, just to witness that." Basketball fans and Warriors fans, in particular, are honored to witness that too. Please know who had a hand in making it all possible...

Photo Credits
Father and Son

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Ultimate Story of Teamwork: American Sniper

Bradley Cooper never got to meet Chris Kyle but
they did talk on the phone once. He says he never
thought it would be the last time he talked to him
Last night I saw "American Sniper" a film directed by Clint Eastwood and nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. I am walking around today a little shell shocked. Is it possible to have PTSD from a movie? Indeed, the (positive) review by David Denby of The New Yorker resonates with me. He said it is  "Both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior's skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery." It's worth learning about the life of Chris Kyle and honoring his legacy from this movie or his autobiography.

In my attempt to process what I learned and what I saw, I'd like to reflect on three ideas or themes that relate to Sports and Spirituality. With this posting and tribute to Chris Kyle, I hope you will pray for our veterans, their families, and for peace in our world. 

1. The notion of teamwork.
Chris Kyle was a member of the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) Team. Even though he is known as "the Legend" the movie demonstrates his role as a member of a much larger team. I gained a better insight into the varied roles of each SEAL team member. While a sharp shooter may have "sex appeal"—I stood in awe of the talents and abilities of many others. 

I once read that the only people who really understand Navy SEALs are other Navy SEALs. The closest of teammates can understand this sentiment. However, this story draws us in to a team that is fighting for something much larger than themselves. It doesn't get much more real than men and women who are literally putting their lives on the line to defend and protect freedom. Their raison d'ĂȘtre does much more than bring them together as teammates. It makes them a "band of brothers." It shapes their modus operandum. That M.O. is fascinating to me. 
It was fascinating to me that whenever Kyle was in sniper mode, he took his helmet off and wore his ball cap backwards...
Of critical importance to that M.O. is that a they never leave a fellow SEAL alone. Never. Not to injury, death, or the dire, impending and real need to escape getting killed. And when death comes, and it does, a SEAL team member returns with the body in its casket to the United States. 

"American Sniper" reveals what we already know—the toll of losing a "teammate" weighs heavily on these men. In one scene, a veteran approaches Kyle in a store and thanks him for saving his life. Kyle asked him if he "lost some friends." He needs to know because it fuels him to worker that much harder for the cause.

"American Sniper" features Chris Kyle's four tours of duty in Iraq; it is impossible not to feel the tension and his blood pressure rising with each one. His devotion to his work—his squadron is so strong, that it presents a challenge to his marriage and his family. Sometimes, teams do that. They are not totally altruistic in and of themselves. As Ron Rolheiser said, "every choice is 1,000 renunciations." (The Holy Longing) The choice to serve the Navy SEALs isn't without a cost. But it becomes his calling; one he must pursue for as long as he is able. When he finally realizes that he must return home, Kyle struggles with the notion that "he quit." That sentiment fuels his desire to work with other veterans, an effort that ultimately led to his tragic and untimely death. Which leads to my thoughts on...

2. His memorial service.
The only real footage "American Sniper" includes is of the Memorial Service that was held at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kyle's coffin was draped in the American flag and placed over the star. He was a devout Christian, but this service did not take place in a church. Maybe one for close family and friends did, but this larger service allowed over 7,000 people to pay their respects and share their grief. Where people come together to honor a person's life is not what it important, it's that they do. 
This is not something to ever take for granted. Going to a funeral is not easy; they can be exhausting and emotionally draining. But I always remind myself when I face the temptation to stay home or do something different What if no one came? I truly believe that pain shared is pain divided. And to see the he outpouring of patriotism, gratitude, love and respect by fellow veterans and ordinary Americans who lined the freeways as his coffin traveled to Arlington cemetery at our Nation's capital nearly leaves you speechless. It's incredible.

3. Shooting as an Olympic Sport.
Chris Kyle is
credited with the most confirmed kills (160) in American military history (allegedly he had 255). As "American Sniper" unfolds, the bounty on Chris Kyle increases. So does his desire to take down the expert insurgent sniper "Mustafa." The enemy is known as an Olympic gold medalist, not from Iraq, but Syria. While watching, I asked myself Is shooting really an Olympic sport?" I am here to tell you it is; Men's shooting is includes nine different competitions and women's shooting has six. 

Would Chris Kyle have been an Olympic gold medalist? If you have seen the movie, you can answer this question. His success was contingent on an important distinction.

In conclusion, "American Sniper" raised a whole lot of questions for me. I walked around today thinking of just how much different my job day to day living is incredibly different from those who serve in the armed forces. I believe it is a calling, one that men and women must answer. But too often, it is at a great price. The world isn't an easy place, but it humbles me to know there are people like Chris Kyle who in their hearts want to share their gifts and talents to make it better for me and for his "teammates." 

I am haunted by his words; "I'm willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took. The thing that...haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save."

Chris Kyle, you have saved more than you will ever know.

Photo Credits
Sniper Mode

Prayers for the Family

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sports and Spirituality Walk Onto a Basketball Court....Grace in the Tenderloin

For those who don't understand the symbiosis that is Sports and Spirituality, I would like to offer this example: the San Francisco Examiner's photo of the week. This image, taken the week of December 14 features a student who attends DeMarillac Academy, the tuition free Catholic school in the Tenderloin. 
I love this image for a number of reasons. For one, it does not reflect what most people associate with the "TL." If asked to describe this neighborhood, children, vibrant colors and play aren't the first words that come to mind. Unfortunately, the harsh realities of homelessness, addiction and bad luck do.

Here we see a young boy, on a court that has been newly remodeled inside Boedekker Park. Named for the founder of St. Anthony Dining Room, is a welcome place for anyone in the neighborhood. Like St Anthony's (which has also been newly remodeled!) this park signifies to me that not all hope is lost. It also indicates to me that the legacy of Fr. Alfred Boedekker, OFM lives on. He responded to the needs of his community. People are often surprised that the Tenderloin is a home to so many children. On this basketball court, children who might be hungry for play and/or the freedoms of childhood find a spiritual home. Not a bad legacy.

My student Kyle, wrote about Fr. Boedekker for an assignment entitled "People of Conscience." You can learn more about this Franciscan Friar here.

Father Alfred Boedekker lived in San Francisco during the early twentieth century, and he saw the hardships many people went through in his community. He decided to take action and do something to help hundreds of people improve the quality of their lives.

He established the Saint Anthony Dining Room and the Saint Anthony Free Medical Clinic. By creating these two establishments, he provided free meals and medical care for people who were struggling financially.

Even today, Boedekker is celebrated for his selfless efforts to help those in need and better his community. He has had a sculpture in the Tenderloin recreation center dedicated to him as a tribute to his accomplishments.
Serving those in the TL since 1950...& not just on Turkey Day

I chose to research Father Boedekker because I remember hearing his name from my Sophomore Retreat. He lived an honorable life helping those in his community, especially people in the Tenderloin. Boedekker's selflessness is something that I would like to imitate in my life. It is very difficult to commit your life to the betterment of others because our natural instinct is to care for ourselves. However, Boedekker overcame this and dedicated his life in the Tenderloin and at St. Boniface to helping others.

Without his works of charity, there would be many people living in poverty struggling to get back on their feet and live better lives. This is what I especially admire about him: he helped hundreds of people, many of whom he never met or received a "thank you", for the most selfless reasons.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Athlete Who Plays with Heart: Draymond Green

Sports allow us to integrate mind, body and heart. I'm having a hard time thinking of other activities that provide such a "holistic look at life." Most of our day is occupied by the mind and/or the heart. But according to Rev. Dr. Michael Tino the connection of all three is "a spiritual gift." And no where am I more reminded of this gift than at a Golden State Warriors game. While most NBA fans would think I might speak about Stephen Curry, who at 6'3" and 185 lbs. defies the physical odds of who (and what) he goes up against, a recent Grantland piece revealed to me who Coach Steve Kerr considers the "heart and soul" of the team: Draymond Green. Oh and he's a beast too.
If hands could talk, Draymond would never be silent
Overall, I agree with Tino. In the article "March Madness" he writes, "too often in our culture, we are asked to separate the physical, the mental and the spiritual—as if our bodies and consciousness could be artificially split into pieces. But the connection between body and spirit in sports is strong. The grace, strength, and endurance that athletes exhibit on a regular basis—sometimes seemingly without effort—remind us that our bodies, whatever shape they are in, are beautiful and wondrous creations."
Things I will never be able to do: Climb Mr. Everest,
become a meter maid, & this...
Indeed he physicality of sport is on display and leaves us in awe. It's hard not to be wowed by a one-armed slam dunk, the hang time of a volleyball player or the skater who lands a triple axel. We can easily name the athletes who are pure physical specimens. And who doesn't love to see their power unleashed? Especially when I know they complete tasks that I  will never do (or should even try doing). But, as much as we love to see our favorite athletes e.g. Bo Jackson display their giftedness, I think it's high time we also give praise to those who have a great sports IQ and play with a whole lot of heart.

As we were discussing these qualities in Sports and Spirituality, I honed in on emotion. I was curious to know what athletes do my students believe play with a lot of heart. Much to my delight a slew of hands shot up. So I played up the question. I said "Who is that athlete? Who is that player that you know brings all of their emotion to the game? He or she not only wears their heart on their sleeve, they give so much during the game that you might wonder: Did they leave it there? 

I looked one senior in particular. I have never seen a smile that big. His eyes were laser focused on me. He was sitting on the edge of his seat. He couldn't wait to share his response. He made it impossible NOT to call on him.

Who was it? "Draymond Green," he said. I looked at Jake and I realized that while it may seem these two share absolutely nothing in common. Green is a 6'7" 225 lb African-American small forward from Michigan and Jake is maybe 5'9,"—an Irish guy from the Sunset, the two have the same smile. It's a great one. I wondered if he ever thought about that.

When Draymond contributes at any point in the game, he flashes a huge smile. When he earned his first triple-double against the Raptors, he must have given high fives to the entire fan base sitting court side. Today, my students couldn't wait to tell me "Draymond got another technical last night Ms Stricherz." I love that they want to share this with me. The only thing I can say in response? "I know, I'm not surprised. When you play with heart, the emotions run strong."

But the beauty of this example, is that Green is also known for his incredible basketball IQ. As mentioned in the article Spartan Warrior Draymond Green is the Most Improved Player in the NBA and He's Just Getting Started, "his former coaches all fawn over his intelligence.Tom Izzo said in 2012 that Green was “smart like [Shane] Battier, where what he lacks maybe in defensive ability as far as quickness, he makes up for as far as brains.” And as mentioned in the article, he is working out harder than ever before—something that did not come easily to him, I find that in the Warriors #23 we have the integration of all three qualities that arete demands.

So, let us praise those athletes who play with great heart, learn from those who have a great IQ and appreciate those who have raw talent and ability. And for those who are blessed with the integration of all three, I stand in awe before you.

Photo Credits

Typical Night at Oracle