Push-ups, Sit-ups and Sprints

When Herschel Walker was asked at the University of Georgia about his weightlifting routine, he had a curious response. He said he had never lifted a weight in his life. For those of you who do not remember Walker, he was an extremely well muscled and fast running back for the Bulldog football team in the early 80’s.

When he was asked how he got so big and fast, he responded “Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints.” He went on to say when he was a scrawny young kid of about ten, he asked a gym coach how to get bigger, stronger and faster and the coach responded with the same answer as above.

What he did not tell the young Walker is how many. So, while watching TV, Walker would do push-ups or sit-ups during the commercials. He said it got to where he was doing about 1,000 of each routine every day. Then, he would go out and do sprints until he dropped.

Walker may have been the finest high school and college football ever to play a down. When I lived in Atlanta, I saw footage of Walker in high school. It is not an exaggeration to say the majority of times he touched the ball, he scored a touchdown, often playing only 1/2 the game as the score was so lopsided. The Hall of Fame quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, said in a guest sports news appearance, wherever Walker decides to go to college, the team will be an “immediate contender for the national title.” Georgia won the national title in Walker’s freshman year and he won the Heisman Trophy for the best collegiate football player.

Walker’s pro career was successful, but he did not stand out as much as he did in high school and college. I think he came up against equally talented athletes, so the margin was smaller. His positives were his strength and speed, but pro football longevity is predicated on elusiveness as well, which he did not need as much in the amateur levels.

Nonetheless, he was a significant player. He was also very humble and polite. Let me leave you with one telling story. After his career was over, a couple was stuck in their car as it was wrecked and rolled over with smoke coming out of the hood. This large African-American man was jogging by, so he immediately went over, realized the dilemma and ripped the door open helping the couple to safety. Then he ran on once he knew they were OK.

He never said a word to anyone what he had done, until a reporter asked him about his role in helping the couple. He shyly admitted he had helped them. He was called Superman by the couple and press.

Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints. We can always better ourselves. I am not saying do 1,000 of each, but a few each day would not hurt. The key metaphor is we have the power to make ourselves better, be it through physical or mental activity. It can be as easy as doing a few push-ups or sit-ups with each commercial.

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The more I practice, the luckier I get

One of the better golfers and competitors of any era was a diminutive man from South Africa named Gary Player. He held his own against the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer winning nine major championships.

During one of his major wins, a reporter asked Player about a lucky shot Player had hit during the round that day. Player responded, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

This straightforward answer applies to many things in life. Whether it is golf, basketball, baseball or another sport the more you practice the luckier you will get. But, it applies to music, art, school and work. The more time you practice, the luckier the outcome.

Golf is as good a metaphor of life as there is. In essence, playing golf is managing your mistakes. By practicing, the mistakes are narrowed. In other words, you can more easily find your golf ball in the realm of play after a shot the more you practice.

Very few golfers practice like Vijay Singh. Singh was a very good player, but made himself a great player through outlasting anyone on the practice tee. Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winning football player made himself bigger and faster by doing over a thousand sit-ups, push-ups and wind sprints each day. That is not a misprint. Larry Bird made himself a better shooter by shooting countless shots  after team practice.

Per Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” The Beatles became better musicians by playing seven sets, six nights a week in Hamburg, Germany. To keep their sanity, The Beatles had to learn and play new songs.  Joe Walsh, who had many hits as an excellent guitarist and member of The Eagles said, the more you play the less awful you become.

So, practice and practice some more. You may get luckier or, at least, become less awful.

Quiet heroes

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the invisible people at work that quietly go about their business and don’t strain their arms patting themselves on the back. It got me thinking about public figures who do their work in a dignified manner, not calling attention unnecessarily to what they do. Permit me to highlight a few.

In tennis, the bad boys of tennis seem to get the notoriety. These are the ones that throw tantrums, racquets, and verbal abuses of line judges. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe could be quite the jerks on the tennis court and no one should emulate that part of their game. On the better side, Arthur Ashe was a class act as well as being an excellent player. The same could be said for Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer who seem to go about their business in a professional manner. These last four each have had more success, but they also achieved it without being a jerk on the court.

In football, it seems a player needs to draw attention to each good play they make, yet seem to be silent when they screw up. It need not be that way. Herschel Walker may have been the most gifted college athlete to ever play and was a very good pro player. Yet, when he made it to the end zone, he acted like he had been there before. He was not big into histrionics as it was not his nature. I also recall the time he was out jogging and he came upon a couple who had wrecked their car and the doors were jammed. Walker came up and after learning of their dilemma, ripped the door off the hinges, so they could get out. Once he confirmed they were alright and the police were on their way, off he went. He never made a big deal of it until a reporter later got the story and confirmed its truth.

In baseball, many know the Jackie Robinson story as the first African-American major league player and, if you don’t, please check out the movie “42” which came out last year. And, many may also know the name Hank Aaron, who before the steroid era allowed another player to pass his record, he had hit more home runs than any other player, including Babe Ruth. But, as the African-American Aaron was chasing Ruth’s record, the death threats mounted. It was similar to Robinson’s plight in 1947. Aaron always carried himself with a quiet grace and dignity. He did not brag much about his prowess and the tremendous Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, seemed to get more notoriety. But, in the end, neither Mays or Mantle could come close to Aaron’s records.

In politics, the narcissistic group tends to draw attention to themselves. The first rule of being a Governor or Mayor is to show up whenever there is a business opening, relocation or groundbreaking, even if you have little to do with the event occurring. But, the people who come to mind that served with quiet grace include folks like President Jimmy Carter, Senator Bob Dole, Ambassador Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State and General Colin Powell, NC Governor Jim Martin and new Senator Elizabeth Warren to name only a few. None of these folks are without faults, but they seemed to go about their business in a very gracious and professional manner.

I mention these stories, not to say you have to be less exuberant. You do not get to the positions these people have held without being confident. As a former manager of people, I have witnessed and shared with others, the more arrogant you are, the less team-oriented you are, the more difficult to tolerate you are, then you better be that much better. Because if you are not, most people will not tolerate your BS too long. Steve Jobs could be one of the biggest jerks around, but he was tolerated as he was showing people a new path forward. Yet, many chose not to work with him. The ones who had success seemed to have experience in “handling” his moods and condescension.

You can be quite accomplished in your endeavors without being a jerk. The people I mentioned are all very talented and successful people. So, my suggestion is to be confident, but work well others and share credit. Be a class act and good things will happen. And, per an earlier blog post, do not mistake kindness for weakness.