Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Making a difference

What do you call a socially inept, insecure, weak, timid, athletically disinclined individual?  Dork, nerd (as in socially inept,) geek, dweeb?  Perhaps any or all apply at various times.  What ever, I admit that that was me from 0 to 8.  Not that a complete transformation occurred on my eighth birthday.  By no means, but the road to change was embarked on and I have quite a few people to thank for that.

“People who grew up in difficult circumstances and yet are successful have one thing in common; at a critical juncture in their adolescence, they had a positive relationship with a caring adult.”  Former US President Clinton

The road to success is rarely smooth and straight.  More often than not a mentor or mentors intersect our path and one way or another smooth out the rough patches and guide us through the twists and turns of life's byways.
Uncle ED was the first person I remember who took an interest in pulling me out of myself for no ulterior motive or benefit to himself.  He saw in me more than I saw in myself.  He believed that sports, baseball in particular, were a great asset to helping a boy into adulthood.  He refused to accept that I had little athletic ability.  He drafted me to the little league baseball team that he coached, and played me at every position.  I responded by playing horribly, proving myself right.  Every game, I played every inning, struck out every at bat.  I was rewarded with constructive pointers on how to improve my catching, throwing and batting. The other players on the team were very supportive; probably because my uncle was the coach.  But even with that, they invited me to play catch in the park and to participate in pick-up games in the neighborhood.  Pretty soon I got the hang of it; after three years, in my last year of little league, we won the championship.  The following year, when I had to move up to junior league because of age, I was one of the first players drafted.  In high school I was captain of our varsity baseball team and had aspirations of going on to play professional ball.
Uncle Ed died when I was 12.  He never got to see the finished product of his efforts to turn a wuss into a star baseball player.
It wasn't a complete transformation for me, but it was a solid foundation to build on. 
In freshman year of high school I again reverted to my wimpy, insecure self.  Classmates (mentors aren't always elders) who had played summer baseball with me, encouraged me to try out for football and wrestling my sophomore year. 
Two new mentors entered into my life at this point. Both Bill Plimpton ( social studies teacher and varsity football coach,) and Ted "Bear" Stratford (biology teacher and football coach,) had witnessed my penchant to defend my insecurities with fist-fights, and welcome me when I tried out for the team. I had no innate talent for either football or wrestling, but I had tons of gumption and determination.  They applauded my strengths and rarely if ever pointed out negatives.  I gave them 100% and in time earned the position of captain on both the wrestling and varsity football teams.  Following up on their ground work after they left our school was Bill Powers, (head football coach my senior year,)  who was a fount of encouragement and praise.  He wrote in my senior yearbook; "one of the finest athletes I've ever coached.
While these gentleman and the sports programs were instrumental in guiding this juvenile delinquency bound boy to the more acceptable path, they were not alone. Other teachers who encouraged, and praised me throughout my high school days were part of my transformation also; Miss Murphy, Soph. English, Mrs. Blake, Typing, Mrs. Getman, French, Mr. McNally, algebra, Mr. Seymore, Principle, And Mrs. Robie, vocal music.
I'm grateful for the encouragers and praisers in my life; they've taught me that self confidence, hard work and determination are the key drivers to success and to pay them back through the "pay-it-forward" method.
When people ask me why I run and exercise at 68 years of age I tell them: to beat back the niggling gremlins of insecurity, and self-doubt that roam in the recesses of my mind looking for an opportunity to pounce.


Blogger Lee said...

A thought-provoking post, Rel; a very good post; and one upon which I will have to give a great deal of thought.

5:48 PM  
Blogger rel said...

Thanks for taking the time to read it Lee.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Robyn Lee said...

I'm not now and never have been athletic, Rel, nor was I at all interested in sport when I was young. My preference was, and still, is for books, although I do exercise these days by way of walking, yoga and Tai chi.

It was fascinating to read about the mentors you had through life. There are some amazing people in this world and you were fortunate to meet several of them.

A thought provoking post, Rel, and worth reading. Thank you.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Helena said...

What a touching story, Rel. You're right about mentors not needing to be older than oneself. I longed for my mum to appreciate my creative side - my skills coming from her - but it was my older brother Thomas who nurtured that side of things.

6:29 PM  

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