Competence, Courage, Passion & Perseverance –
By Craig Wilson
As we enter into Midterm week I was reminded by a telephone call of the importance of both preparation & rhetoric in achieving success in the tests that we face in life. Preparation for success is well understood, but what in the world has rhetoric got to do with it? That was a rhetorical question. What I mean by rhetoric is this – the voices(external and internal) have an enormous impact on the success of our endeavors.
The phone call I received was from my old high school cross country & track coach, he also coached debate and was an English teacher. He believed in preparation and being careful what he said to us, and more importantly, what we said to ourselves to achieve the most we could. I was a prime example of what can be accomplished through these efforts.
In 7th grade I was the worst runner on the team, and not by a little. When I would finally struggle back to school from our runs, Coach would be waiting. He’d ask me, “Did you give it your best Wilson?” I would usually answer, “I guess.” He’d say, “Don’t guess, you have to know in your heart you did your best and the rest will take care of itself.” He’d also add, “Keep telling yourself, ‘I’m going out there today and give it my best!'” In time I got better.
By the time I was a sophomore I made varsity on a team that finished 2nd in the state. That spring I was running the mile in a big invite that had all of the suburban schools competing. Mind you the landscape of suburban schools was a little different than today. Eden Prairie was a town of 3,400; Woodbury & Eagan did not exist. But there were about 50 schools entered. I was in 5th place coming down the stretch trying desperately to catch the 3rd & 4th runners. Suddenly, this guy came flying past me in the final yards (yes yards, not meters). Instead of 4th, I ended up 6th and off the podium. Coach came up to me and said, “What did you learn?” Not “How could you let this happen???” or something similar. I said, “I need to work on my kick.” So we set about doing it.
That summer after each run I would jump rope for 20 minutes. 5 minutes on both feet, 5 minutes on my left, five on my right, 5 minutes flat out on both feet. It worked. From that fall forward I was known for my kick. At the regional (regions are now sections) meet for the 2 mile in track my main competitor was a senior from Roseville. At the state cross country meet I had sprinted past him down the stretch, so he was wary of me at the regionals. His strategy was to break contact from me and hope I couldn’t catch him on the last lap. To help encourage him to move it he placed teammates around the track to yell “Wilson’s coming, he’s catching you!” It worked, he got too much separation on me and I couldn’t catch him. Thankfully, the top two finishers qualified for state. But I realized I needed to not allow myself to get behind in the future.
The summer before my senior year I worked on “gutting it out” in the period before the kick. I did this by adding to a technique called Fartlek (don’t laugh, it’s Swedish). This technique starts with jogging, then running, then sprinting, and back to jogging. You repeat the cycle for a period of time, e.g. 30 minutes, without stopping. To this I added running after the sprint to push myself when in the anaerobic state after sprinting. This enabled me to push myself in races when you’re not close enough to the finish to really feel like you can start pushing it. That allowed me to control a race any way I wanted – pacesetting, burning runners off with a half-mile to go, or out sprinting them. I had completed my preparation, now I needed the confidence to put in place in meets. I needed my internal voice to speak CONFIDENCE into me. Success, not failure. Coach did that all the time externally; I needed to do it internally. I needed to prove the football coach wrong – I was no longer the “bridesmaid runner”.
I was running at Princeton, the pre-curser to the Mega Meet today, I was ranked 3rd in the state and my main competitor, Peter, was ranked 4th. Peter and I knew each other well. I had beaten him pretty soundly a week and a half before in Little Falls, but he came back to beat me at Nokomis the next Saturday. It was a windy day, and Peter and I broke out with some other guy early on. We let this guy break the wind for a mile & a half, and then I took over. Running in to the wind with about 3/4 of mile to go I picked up the pace. Soon I could only hear one runner behind. I figured it was Peter, but as we coming to the last quarter some coach I didn’t know was shouting for “Tony” to pass me. He kept shouting “you’re a miler, he’s a two miler, you can beat him!” To finish there was a steep hill followed by a 90 degree turn and a flat 100 yards to the finish line. I had the confidence to tell myself, “let him go. Let him burn out on the hill.” Then, “first step on top of the hill – fire out!” I kept repeating it over and over on the hill. Then when we got to the top, I took off and flew past him. I won by 4 seconds in that last sprint.
One of the parents had an 8 millimeter camera (think Super 8, only earlier). The expressions between Tony and me told the story. I looked like a madman, tendons in my neck sticking out, eyes wild. Tony’s head was down, he had given up. Later Coach said after Tony passed me his coach told him, “Too bad about your guy, he ran a good race, but nobody can beat Tony in a sprint.” Coach just said, “Oh, really?” I asked what he said to the coach after the race. He said, “I didn’t have to say anything, you said all with your spirit!”
I’ve used these lessons time and again in my life – studying for the CPA exam, finishing my master’s, and have passed them on my children. The point is this:
Prepare yourself – then believe in yourself!
This happened a mere 39 years ago. The call from coach brought it all back. Why he called was twofold. First he really cared for all of us and has kept contact throughout our lives. Second, he misses all the interaction he had with us. Now it’s my turn to give to him. I hope I can give back even a portion of what he gave me!
You can do it!
p.s. Tony became my roommate my freshman year in college. He went on to finish 2nd in the 1982 Chicago marathon.