Saturday, January 27, 2024

An Inside Look at Aryna Sabalenka's Personal Training: It's Not Complicated

Congratulations to Aryna Sabalenka, winner of the 2024 Australian Open. Coming into Melbourne as the defending champion and number two woman in the world, this is Aryna's second Grand Slam title. I describe her as one of my favorite players and I know others feel the same way. One reason might stem from her favorable profile in the Netflix series "Breaking Point." And the release of Season 2, Episode 1: The Curse offers a lesson for any and everyone. No tennis shoes required.

Season 2 begins with the first major of the year—the Australian Open 2023. Going into that tourney, Aryna had been a Grand Slam semi-finalist five times and a finalist once. Winning is hard enough. Carrying the desire she to prove her father right is a whole lot more. 

Sergey Sabalenka passed away suddenly in November 2019 at the age of 43. He told Aryna that she would win a Grand Slam before she was 25. Aryna, the eldest of two girls said, “I’m just trying to fight because my dad wanted me to be No.1. I’m doing it for him so that’s what is helping me to be strong right now."

Aryna turned 25 on May 5, 2023. The Aussie Open was the last Grand Slam event before that milestone birthday. Aryna fulfilled his prophesy when she defeated Donna Vekić 6-3, 6-2.  For Aryna, seeing her family name on the trophy and wall of fame was the honor she sought. Mission accomplished.

Start at minute 30:30 to 31:44 of Breaking Point.

In addition to intense training, continued high level competition, stretching and massage, Aryna's personal trainer Jason Stacy noted "we started working on her breathing. Breath control is emotional control. If you can just take a second, you lower your heart rate by how you're breathing, think more clearly, make better decisions." 

This practice, this focus is so simple. To me, it is so obvious, and yet it's such an important reminder. Time and again, I realize that what we need to do to stay healthy, focused, and on point really isn't that complex. My sense is that an entire market exists based on wanting it to be—but it's not.

Look to great athletes and listen to them for reassurance. For example, when asked: What do you think people would find most surprising about your wellness routine? Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs said, "No surprises, the rules are the same for everyone – eat well, sleep well, hydrate, stay active, remain positive and driven." Only thing worth adding might be to focus on breathing.

The word spirituality comes from the Latin, spiritus or breath. We have it in us to develop a healthy spirituality, which can lead to a living faith. A starting point is to bring intentionality—practice and purpose to our breathing. 

A warm congratulations to Aryna Sabalenka! I would love to hear how your practice of breath control paved the way for another Grand Slam title. Here's to many more.

photo credits
Aryna and her Dad
Number One

Sunday, January 21, 2024

23 and Me: How and Why We Wear a Sports Jersey

One of my favorite scenes in "Silver Linings Playbook" is when the main character Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, asks his therapist for wardrobe advice. Thanks to IMDB, the conversation is here. 

Pat: Hey, my friend Ronnie is having this party on Sunday night and it's like a real hoity-toity thing. And his wife Veronica is a real stickler for... I don't know. My mom got this Gap outfit she wants me to wear, but I want to wear a jersey that my brother Jake got me from the Eagles.

Dr. Cliff Patel: Which jersey?

Pat: DeSean Jackson.

Dr. Cliff Patel: DeSean Jackson is the man.

Pat: Well, that settles that.

Choosing what to wear is one question, but when it comes to donning a sports jersey—deciding who to wear is another. And, as a sports fan, I think it is one that deserves careful consideration. Here's how. Here's why.

On Saturday, January 20 the San Francisco 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional playoff game. Instead of joining friends at a local bar or my golf club. I caught all I could at my parish crab feed. I knew the dress code varied—semi-casual to slightly dressy—but I felt the time was now. Move over DeSean Jackson, it was time for #23, Christian McCaffrey.

I received my first and only football jersey this Christmas from my brother. When he asked what I would like for Christmas I suggested a couple of options related to the Niners. I thought he would opt old school, but instead he went big. So big, that I brought his gift with me to school to show my students. I was nervous and I was excited. As I unfolded the red and white, several of them said "that's sick." Read: awesome. Thank you, Mark!

I don't have it in me to wear clothing or gear of a team that I cannot stand behind. I won't wear anything with the name of a another school; I know who I am and I know who to whom I am loyal. For example, last weekend when I traveled to Duke University, I enjoyed my time in their bookstore but no purchase was made. One might want to get a hat or a shirt as a way to remember their trip—I get that, but it's not my style. Therefore, wearing something as official and specific as a player's jersey means a lot to me. 

I wrestled with several options, before I committed to the CMC jersey. I like so many of the players—past and present. I thought Should I go with a legend? or a player with a connection to Notre Dame? Am I partial to offense? Why not go defense?! I took my time and thought about who I want to represent. I asked myself, Who can I stand behind?

In short, I love McCaffrey's game. I don't know how the man makes so much happen on the field. His scoring, rushing, defensive and receiving stats are off the charts. His athleticism is unparalleled. I am in awe of the ways he breaks the tackles and gets open, how he gets back up time and again keeps moving. While I'm not a Stanford fan, I do appreciate what one of his former college coaches said about him. "Christian does the small things incredibly well. It's no surprise to me how all of that adds up. His game is the way it is because of his incredible attention to detail." I love his insight and admire his observation. From that point on, I decided: No DNA required, it's 23 and me.

After mass today, I saw the head chef and leader of the St. Vincent de Paul men's club crab feed. I thanked him for a great meal and another wonderful gathering. He said "I loved your McCaffrey jersey." An alum of St. Ignatius, I told I brought it to school and showed my class. He replied, "it is sick. It's awesome. Let's go Niners."

Photo Credits
Pat Solitano

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Arthur Ashe Stands on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

The third Monday in January, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., is the only federal holiday designated by Congress as a national day of service. In other words, Americans are encouraged to observe the holiday by making a positive impact on their community and live a faith that does justice. I always say it is "not a day off, it is a day on." It is a day to do—to give, to live the message of Dr. King and more. This year, I traveled to Richmond, VA to see the statue of the late tennis great, Arthur Ashe in appreciation for how he used his platform to share messages much like MLK's.

One of my favorite quotes from King speaks to his belief in service. He said,

Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

I believe when we lovingly and  generously give our time and talents in service to others we become so much more. I do not think King was overly idealistic about the power of service. An author, orator, leader and community organizer, Dr King  remains an American hero because he gave his life in loving service to others. But he wasn't the only one to weigh in on service and its importance. 

Arthur Ashe said, 
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Perhaps he was speaking about King, but I also believe Ashe was speaking from the heart. The namesake of the main stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center, fortunately there is no shortage of information about his life. But for the purpose of this blog, however, I would like to share the story of the statue that stands in his honor in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

In 1996, the city of Richmond posthumously honored Ashe's life with a statue by sculptor Paul DiPasquale on Monument Avenue, a street that had been traditionally reserved for statues of key figures of the Confederacy. This decision led to some controversy in a city that was once the capital of the Confederate States during the American Civil War. However, the video short Arthur Ashe Statue Sets Precedent for Monument Avenue, explains how and explains why.

In 1992, Arthur Ashe publicly announced that he contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, He began working to educate others about HIV and AIDS, a disease that at that time was laden with social stigma. For DiPasquale, that heroism "created in my mind what looked like a social need to recognize this native son of Richmond, and of Virginia, born and raised here, who was an international star and world champion, three times over."

The sculptor admits "Monument Avenue didn't seem to fit." However, in talking to Ashe about this statue and what it should include in his mind "the question changed from Why put Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue? to Why shouldn't we put Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue to honor this man? And update Monument Avenue?"

Twenty eight years later, all of the Confederate statues and their pedestals have been taken down and removed from Monument Avenue. The events surrounding the murder of George Floyd prompted this change. 

DiPasquale adds "Monument Avenue is a long avenue. There is plenty of room for other heroes—but Arthur Ashe still stands on Monument Avenue." 

I traveled to North Carolina over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend to visit one of my closest friends, who moved to Raleigh and to meet up with two former students who are members of the Duke men's basketball team in Durham. Realizing I wasn't all that far from Washington, DC I asked my brother, sister-in-law and nieces to meet me in Richmond, VA.

When I was considering what we could do or see in Richmond, all I knew was that I wanted to see the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue. Visiting that space provided me with an opportunity to recognize this great American. My brother informed me that when he died, his body was laid in state at the Governor's Mansion, located in Richmond, VA. According to, "He was the first person to lie in state at the mansion since the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson in 1863." Even in death, Arthur Ashe emerges a sober but true hero.

I returned to school the day after what would have been Dr. King's 95th birthday, eager to teach my students about Arthur Ashe—the story of his statue and how he lived out a message that resonated with MLK. I would like to know why he requested that his shoe laces be untied. I'm glad he played a game that I love. I remember those press conferences and his grace.

Maybe true heroes demonstrate grace like that of Richmond's own...

Photo Credits
Ashe at Wimbledon

Sunday, January 7, 2024

To Call Them Cheaters is Just Too Easy: Michigan Football and Integrity

I think of myself as a positive person. I try to see the good in people, places, institutions and organizations and give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I have entered into new(ish) territory. I find myself actively, passionately rooting against a team: the University of Michigan Wolverines. Their entry into the College Football national championship has raised many questions for me. What's it like as an alumni of the school to cheer for a team like this one? How do you defend your alma mater? What do you think of Coach Harbaugh? For those who are Michigan fans: What's it like to stand behind a team that has a foundation of sand? And for me and others who share my misgivings: Is it wrong to cheer against a team (even when it doesn't affect your own?) And why should I even care?

From an early age I have had it out for USC and for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I never wanted to see their success, and on occasion I've delighted in their demise, but this one feels different. I feel my blood begin to boil. I went so low as to cheer for Alabama. I fear the worst on Monday, January 8 but hope for the best (the University of Washington story is so good). What gives?

Notre Dame and Michigan are natural, long time rivals. I learned the alternative lyrics to their fight song within two weeks of my freshman year. The home opener that Fall day, September 3 1992 resulted in a tie (17-17). While I never wanted a "Muck Fichigan" shirt—that's definitely not my style—I saw plenty of them. I don't think I have ever rooted FOR them but certainly not actively against them.I  know I am not alone. Ohio State, Michigan State, Central Michigan—any Big 10 school football fans share my sentiment. Here's why.

To refer to Michigan as a bunch of cheaters is easy. To me, however that label is short sighted. What grates me about this team is their utter and total lack of integrity. As written in The Sporting News

the 2023 season for Harbaugh and the Wolverines has now been marred by an investigation into sign-stealing allegations, a scandal that follows closely on the heels of another of alleged recruiting violations and lying to the NCAA during its investigation. His program has also come under further scrutiny when former quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss was fired after the 2022 season amid an investigation into computer access crimes.

They have violated sportsmanship rules, NCAA rules, and privacy rules. Their actions have led to a four game suspension for the head coach and the firing of others. At what point is enough, enough? or too much?!

There isn't a program out beyond reproach, but this one—
has yet to take responsibility for their actions. Were it my alma mater, I would keep a very low profile. I wonder, if they raise the championship trophy on Monday, how many people will see its tarnish? Will you?

Integrity is a catch-all virtue. It combines honesty with bearing responsibility. It builds trust and leads to human flourishing. Integrity is compromised when the truth is hidden. Since the beginning, Harbaugh has denied knowledge of the sign-stealing scheme and said he never instructed staff members to break NCAA rules. A friend said "he reminds me of 45...always feels he's picked on and is never responsible for his actions." Ouch. I wonder how things might be different, if Harbaugh admitted otherwise. He still hasn't, but recourse was taken. As written on ESPN,

"This is not a sanction of Coach Harbaugh," Petitti wrote. "It is a sanction against the University that, under the extraordinary circumstances presented by this offensive conduct, best fits the violation because: (1) it preserves the ability of the University's football student-athletes to continue competing; and (2) it recognizes that the Head Coach embodies the University for purposes of its football program."

Everywhere he goes, Harbaugh has taken programs from the red to the black. He works incredibly hard, he demands a lot of himself and his players. With Harbaugh, there is no confusion—he wants to win. It's his job to win. The perpetuation of offenses however sends the message: winning is the ONLY thing. It's not a matter of why you win or how you win, it's "Just Win Baby!" (FWIW: I would love to see Jim Harbaugh as the head coach of the Raiders—a team that thrives on disfunction). Thoughts?

If I went to Michigan, I honestly do not know how I could—in good conscience be excited about this team. I've asked people who I respect and trust to answer this question. I ask it from a place of curiosity and not judgment. I have yet to hear a principled response, most Wolverines waffle. They've lived with Harbaugh for eight years now. They've beaten Ohio State, too (I get it).

I'm not throwing stones.This is not newish territory for me. Super Bowl XLVII, featured my San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens. A life long Niners fan (thanks Dad), I actually felt dirty—a moral slime—cheering for my team. This team was undeniably physical, but they played dirty...tons of penalties...a whole lot of very late hits. Losing in the Harbaugh Bowl was disappointing, but not in the way it could have been had I loved this team.The elder brother, John Harbaugh and the Ravens beat Jim Harbaugh and the Niners 34-31. Seems that the better Harbaugh won. (This team also didn't have a series of league offenses that went unaccounted for or left fans scratching their heads. That was one year later when Niner LB Aldon Smith was arrested for a DUI and played a game a few days later....Harbaugh explained why he allowed Smith to play. I did not support that decision. Niners lost and Smith went into rehab that week. I supported that one).

There could be a rematch of the Ravens and Niners in the 2024 Super Bowl. I will be thrilled if my team plays in it. They aren't perfect but I can say as a fan, they've made my job a whole lot easier. We fans hold our own responsibility and this game has brought that task into a new light.

Good luck to the University of Washington, Huskies. 

Photo Credits
Michigan vs.