I didn’t write a Thanksgiving-themed blog this past November. I was with my bobsled teammates in Canada preparing for a race weekend. The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation doesn’t acknowledge the American holiday with a break in the international competition schedule so we had a regular day of practice. And, other than a chicken, potato, and green bean casserole dinner cooked mostly by my teammate, Emily Azevedo, and calling home to talk to mom and dad, Thanksgiving pretty much passed me by. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t spent time being grateful for a number of opportunities and people in my life now that 2012 has turned into 2013. As I think back about what shaped my path to becoming an Olympic champion bobsledder, I have to start with my coaches.
Every kid needs a mentor and someone that can have a positive influence on his or her interests as they grow up. For example, these mentors may be in farming by sharing interest through 4-H or FFA with a young one. For me, it was through sports. I played every sport as a kid from grade school through high school. I was rarely inside. I was always being active in something.
My favorite sport depended on the time of year; baseball in the summer, football in the fall, basketball in the winter, etc. Throughout all of my athletic adventures as a kid, I had great coaches. These coaches taught me everything a coach is supposed to teach an athlete. I learned how to play fair, work hard, share, never give up, and be a good sport. They taught me commitment, sportsmanship, dedication, and teamwork. All of things were a side effect that came along with FUN. I played with some pretty good athletes for a small, central-Nebraska town and we won more times than we lost but looking back, my coaches provided me with some tools that didn’t come from winning or losing. Even now, I still remember how to run the flex full-court offense in basketball and a 5-2 monster, cover-2 defense in football. But those were a means to an end. In the end, I became a better person because of my coaches.
They had abilities to see the big picture and know that life is bigger than sports even though my life at the time seemed to revolve around sports. When we lost because of an umpire’s call in Little League, my coach displayed and enforced sportsmanship by shaking the ump’s hand after the game. When I received a 15-yard penalty in a football game for unsportsmanlike conduct, my coach immediately taught me a lesson in humility and fairness by benching me the rest of the game after getting a well-deserved earful. When my basketball team shot 18% from the free-throw line in a JV game, my coach taught us commitment, concentration, and dedication by keeping us in the gym for an hour after the varsity game that night to shoot free-throws.
It makes me sad to hear that, because of funding, many sports programs are being cut and many kids won’t learn the same lessons that I learned from my great youth coaches. So, in this post-holiday season, I want to say thank you to all my coaches. At some point in time, through baseball, basketball, football, and track,(with the risk of forgetting someone), I referred to each of the following people as “Coach”: Terry Chadek, Gerald Humlicek, Kevin Lyons, Bob Zelasney, Rick Chochon, Rich Gillespie, Jim Kamrath, Steve Cherry, Ron Glatter, Craig Rose, Sandy Voss, Darrol Gray, Todd Bollig, Joe Dey, Jerry Lentfer, Toby Watts, Mike Boss, Tim Hopwood, Doug Zoerb, and Jerry Vrbka.