On Sunday morning I was at our local high school for a track meet. While I spent a lot of time at the Homestead High School track in Mequon, Wisconsin this year as the throwing coach for the Highlander girl’s track team, Sunday morning was different.
I was a volunteer official for the Wisconsin Senior Olympics track meet. Which means that I marked the discus for senior competitors who ranged in age from 50 up to 93. It was inspirational to see all of the athletes in the second half of their athletic careers.
It was clear they were having a lot of fun, and the community was very supportive. It was also clear that the brighter the spandex the better for the senior crowd. And there was a lot more talk about the medical procedures scheduled or recently performed than at your average high school meet.
However, after the men and women threw I noticed that many of them came out to pick up their discuses and made a point of telling me how poorly they were throwing. They were self-deprecating, and good-natured about it. But I noted how prevalent the today’s-not-my-day response was. I also figured that one of the challenges of being a senior competitor is comparing your 70-year old skills to when you were a 60-year old whippersnapper.
I responded with encouragement. I told them all to make the next one count. And that it only takes one good throw to have a good meet.
Today is my day!
However, there was one woman who stood out. She was the last and oldest woman discus thrower of the day. She was 77 year-old Susan Morris from Sheboygan. During her warmups she told me she was training to break the state age-group record. Which is impressive at an age when many of her contemporaries are just trying not to break a hip.
When Susan threw I was surprised how far the discus flew. Unlike many of the other competitors, she never served up any modesty, and never said the day wasn’t her day. I knew she had the right mindset when she came out to the field to retrieve her discus after her 3rd of 4 throws. I told her she was doing a great job. She took me by surprise when she announced, ‘I’m gonna throw the shit out of my last throw!‘
The 77-year old returned to the ring for her last throw and unleashed her best throw of the day. A personal record. Her best throw ever. Just 4 feet from the state record she’s hunting.
When I talked to Susan after the meet she said that she trains without a coach, and learns how to throw, the way most of the seniors do –by watching discus videos on YouTube.
She asked me if I thought I could help her add 5 more feet to her throw. And I said I expected I could help her add another 10 feet. She jumped up and down, pumped her fists, and eagerly asked how much I charge. I said it depends on how far you throw.
Attitude Is Everything
I know I could help Susan because anyone who says I am going to throw the shit out of my last throw has the right attitude to be successful at whatever she takes on.
We all write our own stories in our heads first. Then we bring that story to life. And if the story you tell is that today is not your day, I am 100% sure today is not your day. But if the story is about how much effort you will put in, and about the great outcome you will make happen, sooner or later, your story will end just the way you scripted it.
Tell a great story about yourself. Then make it come true. Believe in your ability to work hard and perform at your highest level. And when you throw yourself into your work, throw the shit out of it. Just like Susan Morris of Sheboygan, the future Wisconsin state record holder in the discus.
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This spring I took on a fun new challenge. My daughter Ava was a freshman in high school and was very interested in competing in track and field. She is a good runner and jumper, but she was most interested in throwing the discus and the shot put. I expect that had something to do with the fact that I used to throw the disc and shot myself. And that we have a few of each at home.
When Ava was in 7th grade she competed in the sprints and the throws for her middle school team. And because it was a minimal time commitment, I volunteered to help teach the kids some throwing techniques a couple of days a week after work.
But as Ava entered high school I reflected on my own high school experience and recognized that the only reason I was successful was because I had a great high school coach named Jude Dutille. Jude guided me to 2 school records in the shot and discus, 2 New Hampshire state titles, 2 New England championship titles in the discus, and a state record in the discus. What Jude taught me created the amazing opportunity to throw for the University of Wisconsin’s track team. Which was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I debated whether or not I could commit to the demands of coaching at the high school level while leading my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. Ultimately, as with entrepreneurship, I decided that I would rather fail at my attempt than regret not trying. So in April I officially became the throwing coach for the girl’s track team at Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin.
I immediately recognized how little I knew. Because participating in a sport as an athlete and coaching are very different. I tried to learn as much as I could about coaching the throws by reading and watching videos on YouTube. I followed great throwers and coaches on Instagram. And I sought out insights and advice from experts, including my great high school coach, Jude Dutille, and Dave Astrauskas, the throws coach at the University of Wisconsin, who is one of the elite throwing coaches in America.
I enjoyed the experience very much. I had 9 girls on my team. Thanks to Covid-19, only one of them had ever thrown a shot or discus in high school before. So we had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. And while I would love to talk about all of my athletes here I don’t want to violate any coach/athlete confidentiality/anonymity issues. So I will only talk specifically about the athlete I sign the waivers for.
We started the season strong, and Ava won the discus in her very first high school meet. Which I thought was crazy, because I don’t think I won my first meet until my junior year of high school. Then, she went on to win her second meet in the discus too, throwing 12 feet farther than the first meet. And no, I didn’t set up a series of 1-person meets so that she would win, although that sounds like a great idea. (There were 20 throwers in both of the first 2 meets. And I was as surprised she won as anyone.)
The third meet of the season was our conference relay meet. In a relay meet you total the distances of your top 3 throwers’ best throw for a team score. Homestead won the discus and took 3rd in the shot put. And Ava had the second farthest throw in the meet.
But then we began to struggle. And we couldn’t hit the same distances again. The low point was at the conference championships when Ava fouled all 3 of her throws and had no mark at all.
I felt the frustration of being a new and inexperienced coach. I was frequently disappointed that I wasn’t able to help Ava or the other girls more. I saw all of their challenges as my failures to help them with the guidance, feedback, and input they needed. While I have never experienced imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur, I felt it big time as a small-time coach. I felt like I was a phony baloney coach who didn’t have the answers my girls really needed to improve.
But we kept working and things began to improve again for Ava and her teammates. In the last meet that all 9 of my girls competed in, I think that we set 7 personal records in the discus and 7 in the shot to end the season on a high note, like Mariah Carey.
After that, we had a final regular-season varsity meet with all of the teams from our conference again. I had 4 girls competing. And all 4 of them threw their personal best. It was capped off by Ava’s last throw in the discus that not only won the event, but was the farthest throw in the conference all year as we wrapped the regular season. In Ava’s 3 meets with all the teams in our conference she came in 2nd, then dead last, and then first. Which was a great sign of resilience that will serve her well in the future.
The Post (Malone) Season
Last Monday we had our state regional meet, which was a mix of success and disappointment for my girls. The top 4 finishers in the meet move on to sectionals. But in the shot put, my 2 best throwers came in 5th, (just 3 inches shy of qualifying and moving on), and 6th, less than a foot from qualifying. We were close, like Glenn. But just short of our goals.
In the discus, my 2 great senior throwers both threw their best ever, one throwing her personal record by 4 feet! But they finished 6th and 7th, just shy of moving on. Ava was in 3rd place going into the finals. But then got bumped down to 5th when 2 other girls hit big throws in the finals. She then hit the distance she needed on her 5th throw to move back up to 4th place and qualify for the sectional meet.
The Sectional Meet
Thursday night was the sectional meet. Despite starting the season with 9 girls and having 4 in the regional meet, I only had one athlete left. A freshman named Ava, who also happened to be my daughter.
A.C. (short for Ava Claire) was now competing for a chance to go to the Wisconsin State Championship meet. Only the top 3 make it through. And it was obvious that all of the competitors were feeling the pressure. A.C. opened up with a decent throw, but then fouled her next throw. In fact, I saw more fouls per competitor in this competition than I had seen all season as the girls pushed to try to qualify for the state meet.
The finals were intense. Each throw had the potential to re-shuffle the girls. But after the final throws were made and the results were announced, my athlete, my daughter, the reason I got involved in coaching, was in 3rd place. She qualified for the Wisconsin Division 1 state meet as one of only 2 freshmen in the state to make it.
I am looking forward to the state meet next Saturday in La Crosse. A.C. But the win was simply getting to the meet this year. Anything else is a bonus.
At the end of every practice, and after every meet this track season, Ava has come up to me and said, ‘Dad, thank you for coaching.’ She recognizes the commitment of time and energy it takes. And all that I had to do to work my day job at The Weaponry around the coaching by going into the office early and working late into the night.
I have told Ava there is only one reason I am coaching. And that is to steal time with her. Because as a freshman in high school I recognize that I only have 4 years left with her at home. So I am stealing 2 hours of her life every day that was supposed to go to someone else. And while this season she may have won medals, taken first-place finishes, and qualified for the state meet, I was the big winner. Because I took home the most valuable prize of all: irreplaceable time with my daughter.
Remember to volunteer your time and talents to help others whenever you can. Pass along your knowledge. And spend as much time with your kids as you can, while you can.
Happy Father’s Day from one very happy and thankful dad.
My daughter Ava and I went out for a mid-week dinner date on Wednesday night. She had qualified for her sectional track and field meet. Which in Wisconsin is the last step before the state championship meet. If she finished in the top 3 at the sectional meet she would make it to the state meet.
So the night before the meet we decided to go grab her favorite carb-loading meal from MACS Macaroni and Cheese joint. Which, in my opinion, should be the official restaurant chain of Wisconsin.
As we drove we talked about track and field. We talked about her upcoming meet. And we talked about life. Our discussion got deep. Like Johnny Deep. Or Deepak Chopra. During our convo, A.C. (Ava Claire) asked me the following question:
Ava: Dad, what do you think is the greatest pain?
Me: (resisting the urge to say T-Pain…) Physical or emotional?
Ava: That’s exactly what I was thinking!
Me: In entrepreneurship, we say that failure is far better than regret. When I started The Weaponry I wasn’t afraid of failing. I was afraid of getting to the end of my days and having never tried to start my own business.
Ava: I love that.
Remember what Teddy Roosevelt said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to lose. Be afraid of regret. That feeling hurts more. And it lasts forever.
*If you know someone who would benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Wednesday was a big day for me. I didn’t win the lottery. I wasn’t named a Most Beautiful Person. And I wasn’t asked to replace Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Heck, I wasn’t even asked to replace Alex Trebek in the Colonial Penn commercials. It was a big day simply because it was one of the normalest days I have had outside my home in 15 months.
I got my second vaccine shot 2 weeks ago (I’m Team Pfizer, not Hufflepuff or Slytherin). I now feel that I am as protected from the COVID-19 virus as I am going to be. Better yet, I feel as protected as I need to be. So I have started doing regular life stuff again. And I am reminded how much I love regular life stuff.
Wednesday, Normal Wednesday
Wednesday I traveled from Milwaukee to Madison (which is about a 90-minute drive for those of you who are Wisconsin-illiterate). I went to college at The University of Wisconsin in Madison, and I feel as at home in Madtown as I do anywhere on Earth. I was there to see people that I hadn’t seen since before the planet went cuckoo for Covid Puffs.
The Breakfast Club
I started my day at a breakfast meetup with a group of former University of Wisconsin Badger athletes. The last time I saw any of these W Club members in person was March 4th of 2020. The Crew included:
Charlie Wills: The Owner of the Charlie Wills Team -Real Estate Partners (basketball)
Scott Silvestri: VP and General Manager of Learfield’s Badger Sports Properties (swimming)
Derek Steinbach: Director of Development for Wisconsin Athletics (track & field)
Adam Albrecht: Founder and CEO of The Weaponry and Dude Who Writes This Blog (track & field)
Kalvin Barrett: Dane County Sheriff (football (but he will tell you he was a swimmer))
It felt like a reunion. We were hugging and shaking hands and seeing each other’s naked faces. We were sharing stories, smiling, and laughing. And not once did anyone say, ‘You’re on mute.’
This was a group of ballers, that included All-Americans, Final Four participants, school record holders, Big 10 Champions, and Team Captains. But the rockstar of the group was Sheriff Barrett. Other people in the restaurant were asking to take pictures with him and to asked him to stop to talk. It was fun to see.
I asked Kalvin if he no longer likes the Bob Marley song, “I shot the sheriff.” He said that he loves that song and plays it in the office. Which reminded me of Shaq in the Grown Ups 2 clip below.
After breakfast, I visited Dave Astrauskas, the rockstar throwing coach of the University of Wisconsin track and field team. Dave has coached 4 NCAA Champions, 1 NCAA Collegiate Record Holder, 41 NCAA Division I All-Americans, 4 Big Ten Records Holder, 11 Big Ten Champions and Olympic discus thrower Kelsey Card.
Dave has forgotten more about throwing than I will ever know. And of all the people I know Dave is the most likely to set off a spellcheck alarm. #astrauskas
I spent time with Dave for 3 reasons:
Because he is a good human.
To learn from someone who is at the top of their field.
To foster a strong bond between the UW Track & Field program and alumni.
Spending time with Dave was enlightening. He offered me a number of new ways to think about throwing, human performance, coaching, problem solving, the Big Ten Conference, athletic facilities and competition. My time with Dave was a great reminder of how much we can all learn if we ask good questions of experts, listen, and maintain a beginner’s mind.
My lunch meeting was pure joy. I met with my friend-client-superstar, Anne Norman, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer of UW Credit Union. Anne has been a favorite human of mine since we first met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin in 2018. We have been working together weekly ever since. But we have only seen each other in-person once since February of 2020, at our TV commercial shoot with Jonathan Taylor, running back for the Indianapolis Colts.
Anne is a burst of sunshine on any day. Even on the phone or on Zoom. Especially if she is wearing her banana costume. But to be with her in person provides a full week’s worth of Vitamin C in one sitting.
We talked business and branding and teams. We talked about upcoming marketing initiatives. But we could have talked about hang nails, paper cuts and the DMV and I would have enjoyed it. Because spending time with Anne is even more valuable to me now than it was in 2019.
Get vaccinated if you can. See your people in real life. Spending time with great humans is joy fuel. And it is even better now that we have had that ability taken away from us. Today, life isn’t just returning to normal. Life is about to be better than ever. Because we have a newfound appreciation for all of the little things. Like simply being together with other good people. Let us never take that for granted again.
Thank you Charlie, Derek, Scott, Nick, Andy, Dave and Anne for sharing some of your valuable time with me.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I first published this post a few years ago while reflecting on my track & field career. I recently shared the post with some track athletes and coaches who really appreciated the message, especially the Key Takeaway (so you could just jump to that). So I decided to repost it again during the heart of track season.
Pre-Note:Wednesday I was at a track meet and took the cover pic of our family friend Eva Brandenburg hurdling. Eva and my daughter Ava (confusing right?) have played basketball together since 5th grade, and are now having fast starts to their freshman track seasons. Keep an eye out for Eva. She is going to do special things!
Here is the original post, now in an unoriginal post...
I love track and field. I first got involved in the sport as a freshman in high school, mostly because I was terrible at baseball. But also because it was co-ed. And, I thought the fact that it was a no-cut sport significantly improved my chances of actually making the team.
I have competed in a wide variety of track and field events. My resume includes the 100 meters, 400 meters, 1600 meters, high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin, hammer, 35-pound weight, 110-meter hurdles, 4×100 meter relay, 4×400 meter relay, and, yes, even the pole vault (which I approached more like the high jump with a stick).
I have enjoyed every event I have ever competed in (except the 1600 meter run). I love the energy and atmosphere at track meets. But you know when track and field becomes really fun?
The Second Meet.
The second meet is the most important and impactful event in a track athlete’s career. In your first meet, you are just setting a baseline. But once you get to your second meet you walk in with a time, distance, or height to beat. And most of the time, the results in the second meet are a rewarding step forward from the first meet.
In track and field, every result is measured in minutes and seconds, or feet and inches. Which means that your linear progression is clear and quantifiable. Your undeniable improvement in the second meet gets you thinking about the third meet. It makes you think about practicing more, training harder, lifting weights, warming up smarter and getting some better hype music. You start wondering just how much better you can get. The seeds of self-improvement are planted, fertilized and watered in that second meet.
The Broader Lesson
This is not just a track and field thing. This is a life thing. The same principle of self-improvement applies to our careers, our relationships, our responsibilities and our hobbies. Our first attempts simply set a baseline. The second time we do anything we start the improvement process. We recognize that as we pour more energy, time and focus into any activity we get better and better. This is true of presenting a closing argument in court, hiring good employees and folding fitted sheets (although my wife, Dawn is so good at the fitted sheet thing that I focus on the closing arguments in court instead).
Don’t be afraid to try something new because you think you will be bad at it. You will be bad at it. Or at least you will be the worst you will ever be. But that first attempt creates a starting point. The climb from there is both exciting and rewarding. As you improve, remember that first attempt. Recognize how far you have come since you first started. It is one of the most rewarding reflections in life.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Business is the ultimate sport. Not only is it highly competitive, it is played for money. And the better you are at this game the more money you and your teammates make. And while many professional athletes are well paid, it is because someone else is making even more money in business by owning the team or the league the athletes play in.
Sports and Business
Will Jurgensen loves exploring the parallel between sports and business. In fact, he began a podcast called Sport Coats to profile the stories of athletes who applied their approach to athletics to successful business careers. I would have liked to have been in the room when Will realized how perfect the name Sport Coats was for his sports/business podcast. Because I bet that boy celebrated like Ickey Woods.
I recently sat down with Will to talk about my experience as a track and field athlete at The University of Wisconsin. But more importantly, we talked about how I have applied my approach to athletics to my career in advertising. And we talked about how my athletic career prepared me to become an entrepreneur when I launched The Weaponry.
Sound bites from the podcast:
‘I remember early in my career, getting hyper-focused on concepts for a campaign or ideas for a new business pitch. It felt the same as those times when I was in the weight room focusing hard on getting those last few reps. It’s the same thing, it’s the exact same feeling.’
On Transitioning: (Not like Caitlyn Jenner)
‘When you are done with your athletics, a lot of athletes say, “I was lost, I felt like it wasn’t me without sports.” I would say I never felt that at all. As soon as I graduated, I just turned my attention to my career and took the exact same focus and drive, and willingness to put in the energy to be great that I did for my athletics. I put that into my career and it surprises me how few athletes do this, because it is the exact same blueprint for athletic success that drives the rest of the success in your career.’
On Self Improvement:
‘Track and field is a little different than a traditional team sport because it is all you, and it’s so cut and dry. I would put a tape measure out or use a stopwatch to figure out if I was improving and if I was better than other people who have tried this. From that standpoint, I found the challenge of self-improvement to be intoxicating.’
“The structure, the discipline, the focus, the background work that you have to do as an athlete, you know, all the little drills that you do over and over to perfect a piece of what you do, when you do that in your career you become highly specialized. And you become world-class at the smallest things. You add extreme value to organizations that make money off of that kind of work.’
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Ye Can Hear It Here.
You can listen to my interview here at The Sport Coats Podcast. You can also read more of the transcript if you prefer the voice in your head over mine. I listened to the podcast on the podcast app on my iPhone.
I think you will enjoy it, even if you aren’t into sports. It feels like a motivational talk. Will is a great host. And after listening to the episode I understood why people think I am excited about life.
Business is the ultimate competitive sport. It requires discipline, teamwork and strategy. Everything you know about athletic competition, hard work, focus and determination translates directly to business. It is an inherently fun game to play with others. And it is even more fun to win. The money is a bonus. But what a bonus that is.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, or from this podcast, please share it with them.
The long jump is one of my favorite track and field events. Not only is it one of the most entertaining, aside from the 100-meter dash, it is the easiest for a non-participant to relate to.
Real Life Applications
Long jumping may also be one of the most useful skills in track and field. Imagine you are visiting Hawaii on vacation and a crack in the Earth opens up between you and your coconut drink. It would be really useful to be able to jump over the fissure and save your drink. I think that happened to Carl Lewis once.
My Rockstar Jumpers
I was lucky to be a part of the track and field team at the University of Wisconsin. And I had some teammates who were really good at the long jump. Here is a list of the notable Badger long jump marks when I was in school.
Sonya Jenson: 19 feet 11 inches
Heather Hyland: 20 feet 5 inches
Jeremy Fischer: 24 feet 8 inches
Maxwell Seales: 25 feet 2 inches
Reggie Torian: 26 feet 2 inches.
To fully appreciate how good these marks are simply go out in your yard and see how far you can long jump today.
There are 4 things to love about the long jump.
1. The crowd clap. The crowd watching a meet will often start clapping in unison to motive a jumper. The claps get faster and faster as they speed down the runway. I wish someone did this for me at work as I filled out my time sheets.
2. The run: It is fun watching a jumper accelerate towards the takeoff board. It’s kind of like the countdown for a rocket launch.
3. The jump itself: There is something primal and childlike about watching a human fly through the air self-propelled. It is pure fun. It reminds me of my adventures as a kid, jumping over creeks and jumping into piles of hay, hay, hay, like Fat Albert.
4. The landing (or what I would have called the sanding): What goes up must come down. Watching the jumper hit the ground again, usually in a spray of sand, is good dirty fun.
The Part Most People Overlook.
My favorite part of the long jump actually happens before any of that. It happens as a part of the competition day preparation that most people pay no attention to at all.
A long jumper doesn’t just show up at the track, walk onto the runway, and start jumping. Instead, they have to find their starting point. To do that they have to start at the end. They go to the takeoff board, and then work their way back from there to determine where they should actually begin their approach.
Finding The First Step
Some jumpers will stand on the takeoff board itself, with their back to the sandpit, and then run down the track, away from the takeoff point, counting their steps, to find their starting point.
Other jumpers use a tape measure. They set the end of the tape at the takeoff board and unreel it until they get to their preordained measurement. Then they mark that point on the runway as their starting point.
Know Where You Want To End
There is magic in that process that everyone can benefit from. Because the long jumper starts at the end of the run, the most critical point in the process, and then figures out, to the inch, where they need to start to hit that point perfectly. In long jumping, if you step past the board your jump is no good. And every millimeter you are short of the board doesn’t count towards your jump. (Notice how I mixed English and metric measurement systems? That because I am bi-numeric. Which is like being bi-lingual, but not with linguals).
My Entrepreneurial Leap
Before I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I did the same thing long jumpers do. I put myself at the launch, imagining in great detail what my flight would look like once I finally jumped. Then I determined all the of the steps I would need to take in order to launch myself properly.
I figured out how much time it would take me to create everything I needed to create. I put a mark down. Then I started running, accelerating towards the launch point the whole time.
All of my steps have been purposeful to get me the results I am after. It took me 8 months of planning from the time I decided to launch The Weaponry until I was open for business. 3 years later, The Weaponry is a multi-million dollar business and climbing rapidly. Just like I planned.
To achieve great things, start with the end in mind. Then work backwards from there. Because when you know your direction, your steps, and your takeoff point, you’ll go as far as you can possibly go. It’s all in the preparation. So put yourself in the best position to succeed. Start today by focusing on the end first. I’ll be clapping for you the whole way.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
The legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s why it’s so important to spend your time with the best people. This past Friday, during the University of Wisconsin homecoming weekend, I spent 6 hours with an amazing group of former University of Wisconsin varsity athletes. These Badgers are some of the brightest, most driven, most fun, and most successful people I know.
Business Up Front
I kicked off homecoming weekend in Madison with a 2-hour advisory board meeting for the W Letterwinner’s Club. The advisory board is like Noah’s Ark. Because it features two former athletes from every varsity sport.
We meet to discuss how we can help our members develop more meaningful relationships with each other, both personally and professionally. We discuss how we can offer assistance, guidance and mentorship to graduating Badger student athletes. And we explore ways that our network can add value to the mission of the University of Wisconsin and its world class athletic department.
Up In Da Club
The former Badger student athletes on the board are inspiring. They include Big 10 Champions and National Champions. They include All-Americans and professional athletes. They include school record holders and Hall of Famers. They include athletes who made it to the Final 4 and the Frozen 4.
Our youngest members just graduated from Madison. And our most senior members used to get run with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Alan ‘The Horse’ Ameche and Paul Bunyan when he was just a babe himself.
Today these W Letterwinners are crushing it in their post-collegiate careers. They are executives and entrepreneurs. They are administrators, professors and coaches. They are leaders and volunteers. And they are great parents, wives and husbands. Just spending time with these badasses enhances my own false sense of badassery.
Party In The Back
On Friday night, after the work was done, we did what Badgers do. We played. We migrated to the iconic State Street Brats, and joined hundreds of others at the annual Badger Athlete Reunion. We spent the next few hours together, talking, laughing, sharing memories, making new friends, connecting dots, drinking beer and eating brats.
While it certainly looked as if we were having fun, we were doing more than that. We were strengthening our personal bonds. The bonds between former student-athletes who know just how hard it is to live up to the demands of academics and athletics at the Big 10 level. We were strengthening the bonds between Badgers who know that if you can excel in both the classroom and athletic arena at The University of Wisconsin, you have the critical tools and the skills to be successful for the rest of your life.
If you want to be great surround yourself with great people. Find rockstars who inspire you. Spend as much time with those special people as you can. It will make you a better person. I know it will. Because I learned that lesson in Madison as a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.
*If you know someone you think would benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I like to make the most of my business travel. After my work obligations are Sharpied into my calendar, I always fill the open spaces in my schedule with personal activites. That might include eating at an interesting restaurant, exploring, museuming or exercising. But my favorite activity to add to a work trip, by far, is socializing. Sometimes I meet new people. Sometimes I reconnecting with old friends. And sometimes I do both at the same time.
I had to travel to Atlanta this week for a film shoot. Since I had to fly in on Monday I began filling my afternoon with interesting activities. Here is what I did between 12:30 and 6:30pm:
Had lunch with a former client
Had back-to-back-to-back meetings with 3 different freelancers who are currently working with my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.
Met with a college senior to talk to him about his career options after he graduates.
Guest lectured to a college marketing class about creativity and the creative process.
Stuck around 20 minutes after the lecture to talk to a group of 5 students who had more questions.
Drove to my Atlanta neighborhood in East Cobb and talked to my neighbor, Dr. Betty Garrot about my recent trip to India (Betty’s family is from India, and they contacted me when I was in Bangalore).
It was a fun and interesting day. But what I had planned for Monday evening was really special. Last Friday I texted my college teammate Jabari Pride, who lives in Atlanta, and asked him if he would like to get together Monday night. He said yes. So I reached out to another, former University of Wisconsin track athlete, Lenton Herring, who lives in Atlanta, and invited him too. Then I reached out to Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, who was not only up for getting together, she invited us to gather at her home. So we decided to contact a couple more former Badger track athletes to tell them what we were doing.
Just three days later, on a rainy Monday night in Atlanta, these are the Badger track alum who showed up:
Adam Abrecht: Discus and hammer thrower from Norwich Vermont, now living in Milwaukee (but still a proud Atlanta home owner).
Jabari Pride: Sprinter and all-around athlete from Los Angeles, now living in Atlanta.
Lenton Herring: Jumper and sprinter from Gainesville Florida, now living in Atlanta.
Stephanie Herbst-Lucke: Distance runner from Chaska, Minnesota, now living in Atlanta.
Tina Erps-McGee: Sprinter and jumper from Bettendorf Iowa, now living in Atlanta.
Terry Reese: Hurdler from Fort Wayne Indiana, now living in Atlanta.
Scott Jenkins: Distance runner from Kenosha, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
Stephanie (Bassett) Orman: Distance runner from Bloomington, Indiana now living in Atlanta.
Mark Euler: Jumper from Madison, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
Reed Connor: Distance Runner from The Woodlands, Texas, now living in Atlanta.
Socializing not Social Networking
It was an amazing night. I got to see friends and teammates I have known for decades, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I also got to meet three new Badgers. We talked about our families and careers. We shared stories about our days competing for the University of Wisconsin. We talked about our coaches and the things we learned from Ed Nuttycombe, Peter Tegen, Martin Smith, Mark Napier, Scott Bennett, Mick Byrne, Mary Grinaker, Robert Hackett and others.
We talked about how there is no other experience quite like spending your college career in Madison. We talked about the unique people, the unique setting and the unique educational environment. Because of our shared history, the group instantly felt like a community. We traded contact information and made plans to gather again. Just like that, the W Club-Atlanta was born.
Connect In Person
This was a great reminder to make sure you see your people in real life. It is great to keep in touch with each other on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. But people are better in person. We all need to experience real human connections. Those connections are strongest, and most impactful, when we are in a room, talking to each other, face to face.
I encourage you to reach out to your people. Get together with friends from home, from college or camp. Organize a gathering of former co-workers, teammates or roommates. Get together with your neighbors. Or create your own social or professional groups.
At the end of our days, the only thing that will really matter is the relationships we build, and the impact we have on each other. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. I did. And because of it, ten former Badger track athletes are now part of another special community 803 miles from Madison.
*Special thanks to fellow Badger, James Lucke for hosting us and joining us Monday evening! On Wisconsin!
People die every day. This year I lost my friends Kirk McDonald and Kate Gruetzmacher in their early 40’s to brain cancer. I lost my 100-year-old Grammy to, well, being 100. And just before Christmas I lost sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, at 82, to a heart attack.
Dick Enberg was the sportscaster of my youth. He broadcast 8 Super Bowls, the Olympics, The Masters, Wimbledon, Major League Baseball, college basketball and boxing, His catch phrase, Oh My, was simple and powerful. And it followed many of the greatest athletic feats I witnessed as a child.
When I was a senior in college Dick Enberg came to the University of Wisconsin to give a speech at a banquet honoring student-athletes for high academic performance. I was a discus and hammer thrower on the track team and was proud to have been invited to the event. I was also being recognized as one of a dozen student-athletes who had earned a 4.0 GPA the previous semester. But I was most excited that Dick Enberg was going to be speaking.
Three days prior to the event I was informed that the athletic department had also arranged a private luncheon at the stadium the day of the banquet. 17 student-athletes were invited to have lunch with Mr. Enberg and participate in a discussion about issues facing student-athletes. I was one of the lucky few who received an invitation.
I arrived early to the luncheon, as we were requested to do. The athletic staff gave us the game plan and reminded us we were representing both the University and the athletic department. Which I assumed meant don’t talk with your mouth full.
The student athletes waited with great anticipation for Dick to arrive. He was finally escorted into the room and there was a brief introduction. Then an athletic staff member announced, ‘We will let Mr. Enberg go through the food line first, then the students can follow.’
I quickly realized that someone would have to follow Dick. And I thought:
Why not me?
So this discus thrower from little Norwich, Vermont marched over to the banquet table that held the spread of food, grabbed a plate, and stepped in line right behind Dick Enberg, one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. We talked as we walked through the line. And when Dick took his seat, I took the seat right next to him.
The next hour was amazing. We had a great group conversation. Dick showed a genuine interest in our thoughts and perspectives. I talked about the challenges of being an in-season athlete in the spring of my senior year, and not having any time to focus on finding a job and starting my career after graduation.
Dick wisely predicted that the same commitment I had to my athletic and academic success would translate well to my career. He encouraged me to enjoy the rest of my senior year. Which of course, I did.
That evening I attended the banquet with my favorite journalism professor, Roger Rathke, and my aunt, Deanie Sprau, who lived in Madison and was a huge reason I was drawn to The University of Wisconsin.
The banquet was at The Great Hall at the Memorial Union. The room was huge and packed. There were about 500 attendees, including student-athletes, faculty, staff, and family members. It felt like a wedding. Our assigned table was at the center of the large banquet hall.
It was fun to see all of the athletes trade in their athletic department sweatpants and t-shirts for dresses and suits. Everyone was excited to have one of America’s best known sports figures in attendance.
After a warm welcome to the event by the master of ceremonies we were served our meals. Dick Enberg was seated at the head table with Athletic Director, Pat Richter, and other university dignitaries.
In the middle of the meal I saw Dick suddenly stand up and start making his way across the large, packed hall. I presumed he was either going to visit the little broadcasters room, or taking a moment to review his notes one last time before his speech.
All eyes were on Mr. Enberg as he cut across the middle of the room. He was on a path that would take him directly past my table. He got closer and closer to me. When he reached my table he stopped for a brief moment, gave me a big smile, and patted me on the back like we were old friends. Then he continuing on his way and disappeared from the room.
Suddenly, friends from around the Great Hall flocked to my table to find out why, in this room of 500 people, had the guest of honor stopped to say hi to some random, albeit studious, track athlete. My answer was, “Oh, we had lunch together today.” By the looks on their faces, that was an even crazier answer than they were expecting.
The rest of the event was nice. Dick’s speech was great. And I was proud to be part of this large group of high-achieving students who happened to participate in some outramural sports in their free time.
That evening serves as a great reminder of how life works. Your efforts can get you into the room. But it is the relationships that you develop along the way that make you stand out from the crowd.
Dick Enberg was right about my career too. After I graduated my professor Roger Rathke, who was with me at the banquet that night, introduced me to his college buddy from the University of Wisconsin, Paul Counsell. Paul was the CEO of the remarkable advertising agency Cramer Krasselt. I got an informational interview, and was offered a job as a copywriter. And today I own my own agency.
Thank you Dick Enberg. Thank you for the Super Bowls. Thank you for the Olympics. Thank for coming to Madison and having both lunch and dinner with me. And thank you for the wise career advice. Things have worked out just fine for me.