Tag Archives: champions

Remembering Payne Stewart, our friendship, and our magazine

(Part One of a special three-part series)

2014-06-08 09.04.43

It takes quite a story to bring me to tears – especially a sports story. Yet, I sat on my couch the other day, eyes wet as I read the anchor piece in Sports Illustrated: a reminiscence of the 1999 U.S. Open, one of the greatest golf competitions ever. It also recalled one of the greatest writing experiences of my career, as the editor-ghostwriter of Payne Stewart’s Guide to Golf.

The Open had every twist and turn of high drama on center stage: old vs. young. Comeback after comeback. Riveting clutch shots. Agonizing misses. A man honoring his father on Father’s Day. Another about to become one — and prepared to fly cross-country when his wife went into labor, even if he was winning.2014-06-08 09.03.24

Most of all, it had my friend and client, Payne Stewart. With a tough par putt on 16, a birdie on 17, and an 18-foot putt on the final hole on the notorious Pinehurst No. 2 course, Payne exorcised naysayers who said he would never win another major, lifted his eyes to the heavens, and gave his late father, Bill, quite the Father’s Day present. “People are telling me it was the best Open finish of the century, one of the greatest Opens, those kinds of things, but I never thought about how this would go down,” he told me later. “I thought about getting the job done. Once the job’s done, then you reflect on it and think, ‘Wow, those last three holes were pretty special.’”

It became even moreso. In an act of greatest sportsmanship, Payne interrupted his celebration on the 18th green to cup the face of runner-up Phil Mickelson, and say, “There’s nothing like being a father.”

The next night, Mickelson and his wife, Amy, gave birth to their daughter, Amanda.

Those who follow sports (and many who don’t) know what happened next. At the height of his life – with family, friends, golf, priorities, and happiness perfectly aligned, a great place to be at age 42 – Payne was killed in an October 1999 plane crash when the cabin depressurized.

The next day, I was a call-in guest on The Jim Rome Show. Other media called for comments. It was hard to fathom. Watching your friend lose his life in slo-mo on CNN live, with F-16 fighter jets flanking the doomed plane on its ghost flight into a South Dakota field, was surreal enough.

A few days later, 4,000 people turned out for his funeral. More than 125 members of the PGA Tour flew from the TOUR Championship to Orlando and entered the church in single file, led by Tiger Woods. That reminded me of something Payne told me after the U.S. Open, which was reprised in the Sports Illustrated article:

“I’m on the putting green with Tiger, and he says, ‘You know, when I start designing courses, I’m going to make them 9,000 yards so you old guys can’t reach the greens.’”

Payne drew out a long pause, the Southern storyteller lining up his salvo. “I said, ‘Yeah, Tiger, but if it’s the U.S. Open, you still have to hit it in the fairway.”

At the funeral, Payne’s best friend, Paul Azinger, turned tears to cheers when he donned a derby cap, rolled up his slacks, and delivered the eulogy just as Payne would have played it – in plus-fours.

To say Payne died atop the world is not a cheap sentiment, nor a churlish reference to mid-air depressurization. He was riding high, with more to come; a week later, he would have been named U.S. Ryder Cup captain, the ultimate peer-to-peer honor.

 

I spent the last four years of Payne’s life working with him, playing golf with him, falling prey to his wicked southern-fried pranks, and watching him rise from the ash heap of “what might have beens” to again become a champion.

We became good friends through Payne Stewart’s Guide to Golf. He took me to Florida’s finest golf courses, where I hacked along while he, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Azinger and others fired irons and woods like snipers. He hosted me in his palatial Villa Serena home, gave me great putting and chipping tips, and talked story. Most of all, he shared a personality bubbling with a champion’s intensity, quick wit, occasional fiery temper, and penchant for finding fun. His devotion to his wife, Tracey, and children, Aaron and Chelsea, was absolute: Payne almost missed the tragic flight because he made Chelsea her coveted pancakes before leaving for The TOUR Championship.

Some moments that will remain with me forever:

• One day in 1997,  8-year-old Aaron came into the house with a busted lip from skateboarding. “Why can’t you like something normal, like soccer or baseball?” Payne asked him.

“Because skateboarding and surfing are fun. Plus, the top surfer, (world champion) Kelly Slater, makes more than you.”

Payne turned to me, laughing. “The things kids say. No way a surfer makes more than me.”

“Hate to tell you this, Payne, but based on 1996 winnings, Aaron’s right,” I said.

The beauty of this story: After Payne died, my friend Mitch Varnes and I sprung a surprise for Aaron – a fishing and surfing trip with his idol, Kelly Slater.

• Payne took more friendly fire when the family sat to discuss his 1997 playing schedule. They compared vacation plans, school sports schedules and the events Payne wanted, or needed, to play. “I think I’m going to bump it up this year,” he told the family, “maybe play 26 or 27 events.”

“Well, Dad, if you’d win, you wouldn’t have to play so much,” his son chimed in.

Interestingly, Payne began winning again in 1997 – a trajectory that only a plane crash could halt.

• We were playing Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s course, during a break in Payne’s 1999 schedule. I was in a group with Payne, teenaged 1998 British Open runner-up Justin Rose, head pro Dave Rose, and John Lodge, bass player for the Moody Blues. I split the fairway off the first tee, and opened birdie-par to lead after two holes.

Payne turned to the others. “I’ll be damned, boys,” he drawled, his voice dripping with his native Ozark accent. “I brought along a ringer. My apologies.”

Thanks, Payne. Needless to say, the wheels fell off and it became a long, painful visit to alligator swamps and cypress woods for me.

•  About two months before Payne died, I found him in a quiet, reflective mood as I walked into his house. “What’s going on?”

“I’m blown away right now.”

He and Tracey were selling Villa Serena to move to nearby Isleworth, a golf-oriented community. They’d received a call to view the house; the party was eminently qualified to handle its steep price tag. “I kept asking them to tell me who the person was, but they wouldn’t.” Payne’s wry smile was gone. “I wasn’t about to let anyone in my house unless I knew who they were, but they told me, ‘Don’t worry; he’s qualified.’”

The next day, the prospective buyer arrived. It was Michael Jackson. Oh boy … the Poster Child of Bizarre meets the Red, White & Blue Father of the Year. “Now that would be the last person I’d let into my house,” Payne said, “but after he walked around for a minute, he asked me to sit down with him.”

Cue up the magic: for the next hour, Jackson asked Payne about parenting. He’d heard that Payne was a wonderful father, and wanted his advice on raising kids. “That’s the only reason why he came to view the house,” Payne said. “Just to sit and talk. It sure changed my tune about him.”

 

I could go on and on. The wonderful Sports Illustrated article triggered so many memories, but more importantly, recalled one of sports’ greatest personalities and events. The PGA Tour will gather this week at Pinehurst No. 2 for the first U.S. Open held there since Payne’s victory, and NBC will certainly trot out a tribute piece.

I’m going to remember my friend as well. The next two Word Journeys blogs will re-run “A Champion’s Journey,” the last piece I wrote on Payne. It was my best. It first published in Payne Stewart’s Guide to Golf in September 1999, a month before I lost a friend and the sports world lost one of its finest people.

(Part One of “A Champion’s Journey” will run on Wednesday. June 11. Part two will run on Friday, June 13.)

 

 

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Two Weeks of Creative Madness … And a Lot of Fun

The Memorial Day Weekend is finally here! One more day of yet another crazy cycle of writing, editing and consulting, and then it’s up the coast to Ventura to run in the Mountains to Beaches Half-Marathon – my favorite distance. This is a lick-your-chops race – slight net downhill, mostly flat, starts at 6 a.m., weather 55 degrees and low clouds, finishes on the beach promenade … everyone out there who races knows the right word for these conditions: Perfect.

But now, a recap of the past two weeks, which will also serve as a commercial for the incredible authors with whom I have the pleasure of working (this work is labor intensive, but is it ever fun!):

Ray Manzarek performing in Milan, 2012

Ray Manzarek performing in Milan, 2012

• First of all, thanks for the music to Ray Manzarek and Trevor Bolder, both of whom passed away from cancer this week. I am a huge Doors fan, and have been since “Light My Fire” first hit radio in 1967. Their music and Jim Morrison’s poetry influenced me greatly, and Manzarek paved the way for rock keyboardists everywhere. He also produced the “Los Angeles” album for X, whose bass player/singer, John Doe, was featured in the spring issue of The Hummingbird Review. Meanwhile, Bolder was the bass player on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album, and, for the past 30 years, with Uriah Heep. My friend Robert Munger and I saw Trevor play with Uriah Heep two summers ago. I mean, we saw him. We stood five feet away and had low-tone deafness for a couple days as a result. The great rock band in heaven just became stronger.

• Just got added to the faculty of the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which will be held June 14-16 at L.A. Valley la writers conferenceCollege. It will feature workshops and panels for four levels of writers – aspiring, active, professional, and screenplay. A half dozen literary agents, editors and plenty of writers will be on hand for this informational and networking fiesta. I’ll be sitting on panels for Ghostwriting, Beyond the First Draft, and Rewriting. Will be selling my books Shades of Green, The Write Time, The Champion’s Way, and the latest edition of The Hummingbird Review as well. Really stoked to be part of this conference. If you’re not busy, do come up – prices are very reasonable, and the schedule of events is awesome.

• Speaking of which, I’ll have two new books coming out this summer through Tuscany Publishing: The Best of Word Journeys Blogs, Vol. 1; and my newest poetry-essay collection, Backroad Melodies. Will keep you posted.

clay-marzo-011609• I’ve reached terms with Houghton Mifflin on Just Add Water, a combination memoir/biography of freestyle surfing great Clay Marzo and his life with Asperger syndrome. The book is tentatively scheduled for a Summer 2014 release, and offers a deep profile from inside the skin of Asperger, and how Clay has become one of the very best surfers in the world. Fun “creation” story to this one: my good friend, Mitch Varnes, ran the idea of this biography by me a few months ago. It sounded like a sure winner. It was. The last time Mitch and I brainstormed a publication, in 1993, we emerged with One Giant Leap for Mankind, the 25th anniversary tribute to the Apollo 11 mission and all the astronauts on the Apollo missions. There’s a lesson here: need to connect with Mitch on book ideas more than once every 20 years!

• I’m assisting musician-producer Stevie Salas with his memoir, When We Were The Boys, remembering his days as lead 376462_204666292995418_1130802602_nguitarist on Rod Stewart’s Out of Order Tour – and how they shaped and influenced his remarkable 25-year career that followed. I first knew Stevie in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, when he played for one of North San Diego County’s hottest cover bands, This Kids. Now, he plays and hangs with the stars (wait: Stevie is a star), having just spent a few days with his boys, the Rolling Stones, while in Southern California. Stevie’s collaborations include work with: Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Daughtry, Terence Trent d’Arby, Bootsy Collins, Miles Davis, Sass Jordan, Bernard Fowler, Glenn Hughes, Matt Sorum … if you know pop and rock music, you know these names. While backstage with the Stones, Stevie dished up a special request for me – a photo of he and Stones backing singer Lisa Fischer, one of the most powerful and sultry singers anywhere. Stevie is not only a great songwriter who has sold more than 2 million solo albums, but a lively prose writer, too, as you will see next year. I’m licking my chops over working on this book, which is about to be shopped by my agent, Dana Newman.

lynne-portrait-for proposal• Just finished editing Home Free, which will be one of the most highly anticipated and well-marketed travel narratives of 2014. It is also one of my favorite editing jobs ever. Author Lynne Martin is going to win over the world with her book, in which she shares she and her husband Tim’s hopscotch life in various global destinations, with all the sights, sounds and travel tidbits you’d expect in a good travel story. However, there’s more: her personality. Get ready to buckle your seat belt for a full-on, humor-filled romp, mixed with outstanding travel writing and enough tense, serious moments to remind us that Lynne and Tim are making their homes in these places, not just going in and out as tourists. Sourcebooks has moved up the release date to April 1, 2014, to capitalize on media coverage and national talk shows – on which Lynne will surely shine.

• Also wrapped the first issue of Innovation & Technology Today, an edgy, front-line digital magazine on the latest technological additions to our world, and the people envisioning and creating these products and services. We focused on smart homes for this issue, while our summer issue will be right up my alley – sports & medical technology. Besides editing the magazine, I also write the Education column – another pet topic. Digital magazines are a blast, for many reasons … that will be the subject of a future blog. The issue will be available through Zinio and Apple digital newsstands June 5.

• Keeping this busy month of words going, also just finished working on Gary Deason’s fine novel, The Columbian Prophecy, which answers the question: what would happen if an extreme, crazed cell of the Catholic Church tied Columbus’ voyages to America to the re-discovery of the Garden of Eden – and determined that to be the End of Days and their time to take over? This is a great story that interweaves Columbian history as you haven’t seen it before, the battles indigenous South American peoples have faced for 500+ years, and the trouble a father and his two daughters get into for stumbling onto the hornets’ nest occupied by these crazed monks. Enough said. Deason is working on agent representation now, so you’ll see this book in the not-too-distant future.

'A Taste of Eternity' author Martha Halda

‘A Taste of Eternity’ author Martha Halda

• Finally, it seems the author interviews on this blog are proving to be a big hit. My recent interviews with Losing My Religion author Jide Familoni, It’s Monday Only In Your Mind author Michael Cupo, A Taste of Eternity author (and my sweetheart) Martha Halda, and Island Fever and Storm Chasers author Stephen Gladish resulted in the greatest number of daily reads in the 5 ½-year history of this blog. (Side note: Storm Chasers was set in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley; how apropo is that novel today??) So, to follow: Guests in June will include David Abrams, author of the bestselling novel Fobbit; 2013 International Book Award recipient Matthew Pallamary; Sword & Satchel trilogy author Claudette Marco; and Australian therapist Leo Willcocks, author of De-Stress to Impress, one of the most in-depth and proactive books on dealing with and rising above stress I’ve ever seen (and I’ve read a lot of them).

So that’s the past two weeks. I wish you all a fun Memorial Day weekend, remember what we’re celebrating and who we’re honoring, and make it a point to write or do something creative. Outside as well as inside. The next two-week cycle starts Tuesday …

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On Dharma Bums, Eternity, Legacies & Champions: Publishing Highlights of 2012

Happy New Year!

Time to clean off the desk after a busy, eventful 2012…

Headshot- for proposalFirst of all, a big congratulations to my sweetheart, Martha Halda, whose memoir, A Taste of Eternity, is now at book proposal and agent stage.

Martha first thought of writing this book while recovering from a horrendous 1999 car accident in which she was pronounced clinically dead three times — and had a profound Near Death Experience that has defined her physical and spiritual life since.  To give you an idea of how far she has come from that accident? After her family was initially told she would be an invalid for the rest of her life, she went on to complete the 2002 Dublin Marathon, and lives a healthy, robust life today.

Now, she’s written the first three chapters of A Taste of Eternity, and looking forward to a 2013 publish date. Martha has also started a blog, in which she’ll share a few stories from the book and how her daily life continues to be touched by those precious minutes she spent directly in God’s hands.

• • •

Between Christmas and New Year’s, I picked up a very interesting project: to write a Cliff Notes-type “specimen” for Barnes & Noble.  The book in question? One of my all-time favorite novels, The Dharma Bums. Once again, interest in the Beat generation and author Jack Kerouac is flying through the roof, this time because of the December 21 film release of On The Road, Kerouac’s breakthrough novel. When Kristen Stewart is one of the three lead actors (she plays Marylou), the movie figures to draw attention for younger moviegoers. Many will likely turn to the rich soil of Beat literature, which continues to speak to the young, disenfranchised, soul and purpose seekers.

However, The Dharma Bums project excites me for another reason. In the decade since the last time I read the 1958 autobiographical novel about Kerouac’s the dharma bumsawakening to nature and Buddhism, I’ve gotten to know the real-life Japhy Ryder, the novel’s protagonist. With this book, Kerouac turned mountain man-Buddhist-poet-conversationalist extraordinaire Gary Snyder into a cultural hero and the leader of the “rucksack revolution”, a good 15 years before Gary won the Pulitzer Prize for Turtle Island.  What amazes me is how little Kerouac deviated from Gary’s voice and character in what was supposed to be a fictional character. Every time I read Japhy Ryder’s dialogue, I could hear Gary expounding on something or another during the many times we would get together in Northern California. The actions, the convictions, the interests, the profound knowledge and wisdom … all Gary. And to think: he was only 25 when he and Kerouac had the experiences that formed the backbone of The Dharma Bums.

Ever read a novel where you personally know the protagonist? I hadn’t, either. It certainly creates a different experience, one that I hope will add reading insight for the Barnes & Noble customers who pick up this treatment later in 2013.

• • •

photoAlso on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and newsstands throughout the country, is The Legacy Series Magazine. I was privileged to help conceptualize this magazine, as well as edit it. We began with a tribute to the late Steve Jobs and his enormous legacy to businesses and consumers (besides masterminding Apple products, he facilitated change or the creation of eight industries). Then we talked to some of the most visionary people and leading innovators in technology today, including Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank co-star Mark Cuban, GE Senior VP Beth Comstock, bestselling author Ken Segall, Zinio Executive VP Jeanniey Mullen, Chris Voss of The Chris Voss Show, Ask.com co-founder (and my old high school friend) David Warthen, and iPhone Film Fest winner Craig Perkins.

We also wrote compelling features on the present and future courses of social media, filmmaking, technology, publishing, crowdfunding, music, green technology and cloud computing. All of these pieces brought out what I love most about fine magazine journalism: Great interviews, great insights, explanation of new concepts, and the writers’ distinct abilities to inject their personal experience and the stories of others into the material they were covering. You want to know what’s coming next in these areas? Get the mag.

The Legacy Series Magazine will be featured at MacWorld/iWorld in San Francisco in three weeks. We have a major announcement pending on possible multiple issues, but we will always produce the large annual publication in the fall.

• • •

TCW_r2_ecover-loresI also had the privilege of serving as co-author to Dr. Steve Victorson in The Champion’s Way. Steve and I spent three years gathering materials and writing this book, which revolves entirely around groundbreaking research Steve did in the late 1990s for his doctoral dissertation at Boston University. In that research, he interviewed more than 40 national, world and Olympic ski champions and top performers, and found 11 distinct characteristics in common between champions. These 11 characteristics are not found in any other books on the subject.

We put Steve’s findings to the test with champions in all sports — and they rang true, in every case. Thus, The Champion’s Way’s 200 pages explore the inner and outer qualities of champions, look at nearly 100 repeat winners in 15 different sports, and point out specific ways in which all of us can develop, sharpen and refine our own latent championship qualities. Besides plenty of great sports anecdotes, the lasting value of The Champion’s Way is how the 11 common characteristics can create top performance in our lives, no matter our vocation, sport or interest.

The Champion’s Way is available through bookstores nationwide, and in both print and Kindle form on Amazon.com.

 

 

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What Was Behind Lance Armstrong Probe?

To purchase The Champion’s Wayby Steve Victorson, Ed.D and Robert Yehling

Like many others, I was surprised  to see Lance Armstrong give up his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which has spent the past 13 years on a vendetta against him — a vendetta unlike any leveled against an athlete in the history of sport. Even late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti’s pursuit of Pete Rose for his gambling activities (which proved to be well-founded) pales in comparison to what Armstrong has endured.

I’m sad, but not surprised, that as soon as Armstrong decided he had no need to prove he was innocent (the USADA’s backdoor strategy after 13 years of investigations, plus a federal investigation, showed nothing), the USADA did what anyone on a vendetta would do — moved to strip away everything, from the right to race to his seven Tour deFrance titles to his dignity. No hearing, no trial, no evidence, no nothing. Guilty, no matter what. Isn’t this America?

Did Armstrong engage in blood doping and other use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs? I don’t know. It would be foolish to believe he didn’t check it out early in his career. Nearly everyone who accused him is either banned from cycling or retired so they didn’t have to face the music. In fact, their whole complaint against Lance contains as much caterwauling as anything else. Essentially, they’re saying, “We doped up and he still beat the hell out of us. That’s not possible. He must have been using.” That’s the story thread the USADA ran with, folks.

Here’s where I question this whole process: where’s the evidence? There is none. It would have come out by now. Other investigators produced physical evidence against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, yet neither was directly proven to have used performance enhancing drugs. As for Lance, he passed more than 500 doping tests — including 29 administered directly by the USADA. So right now, he is being hung for unsubstantiated charges from former cheating rivals (all beaten repeatedly by Lance), and purported physical evidence that has never been produced. They say they have evidence of doping in 1999? Show it then!

I knew Lance mainly during his formative years, first as American’s youngest professional triathlete and then as an up-and-coming cyclist, and I saw a man committed to winning. We had good conversations about the path to becoming a winner, then a champion, whether he was recovering from a closed-course triathlon in the late 1980s or getting ready for the Tour DuPont, a great American cycling tour that took place (and he won) in the mid-1990s. He talked about winning, thought about winning, and put his cards on the table and said, “Beat me if you can.”

A lot of European riders, press and officials considered this to be brash and arrogant behavior. You know, “the ugly American.” I saw it all the time in the German papers (I was living there at the time). Translation? They didn’t want an American riding in to dominate their sport — but he did, like no other. Nor did the USADA want to see this particular athlete transcend his sport, become the face of the sport. But he did.

Along the way, there are a lot of pissed off cyclists who would have been known as champions if Armstrong didn’t relegate their peak years to support team riding. Here are a couple of names you’ve heard if you’ve followed this story: Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis. You want the deeper reasons behind this 13-year witch hunt that has, at times, involved vanquished competitors, race and agency officials who like the status quo, the French media and former teammates? It smacks of jealousy to me. Build a hero up; tear a hero down. It’s the way of this world, unfortunately.

I remember standing near the base of val d’Isere during the 2000 Tour deFrance, watching the move Armstrong put on the 1998 TDF champion, Jan Ullrich of Germany. Ullrich was the superior technical rider, and also was in better condition. However, Lance knew that Ullrich was not nearly as tough mentally. Armstrong spent most of the race feigning stomach illness, hoping Ullrich would ease up if his only true rival was sick on the course. When he got to the base of val d’Isere, a non-category (extreme) climb, Lance caught up to Ullrich, pushed ahead of him and gave him that stare: “I got you. Catch me if you can.” That was it for Ullrich.

While many people lauded Armstrong’s brilliant rope-a-dope strategy, others blasted him for his “cowboy behavior,” that he somehow stooped beneath proper sportsmanlike comportment by giving Ullrich “the stare”. Come to think of it, after this day, the agencies and media began their lynchfest.

They haven’t stopped yet. Funny: I thought we wanted our champions to win in their own clean ways, to do what it takes, and to celebrate their accomplishments. An athlete comes along who’s a little more brash than others, with a personality and a mission much bigger than his sport, who beats the pants off of the very best in his sport … and this happens.

Armstrong committed himself the right way: by working harder than everyone else, putting himself through threshholds of pain few of us could withstand, learning his sport inside and out, and focusing on one thing — first place. My co-author, Steve Victorson, and I wrote a book that details the inner workings of athletes like Lance — The Champion’s Way. In our model of what constitutes a champion, Armstrong rises to the very top in all the key categories. He’s in a very small circle of men and women you can rightfully call, “The Greatest In Their Sport’s History.”

Which pisses off the establishment of that sport.

Oh yeah … along the way, he somehow survived mestastatic testicular cancer that would have ended the lives of most other people. He’d take a brutal chemo treatment, slip out of the hospital, crawl onto his bike and pedal 20 miles. His reasoning? If he’s going to be sick, might as well maintain some muscle tone and focus on cycling along the way. That sound like a drug cheat to you? It only made Armstrong an even more perfect machine to tackle the Tour de France, shedding unnecessary weight and driving an already iron-tough athlete into the stratosphere of mental toughness.

Then, if you listen to the USADA, so “obsessed” was Armstrong with himself and his legacy — and completely self-absorbed to the point of cheating repeatedly, so they say — that he started Livestrong, an organization that has become a beacon of light to 28 million people who suffer from cancer. So many more people recognize Lance as a cancer survivor who fights for the cause that, the day after Lance gave up this ridiculous tug-of-war with the USADA, online donations increased 35-fold from normal weekdays.

My final question: Why stick it to Lance 18 months after he retired from cycling? That answer is easiest of all: the USADA waited until the spotlight was turned off, and the public response wouldn’t be so boisterious. Or so they thought. Instead of nailing him during his career — like reputable agencies do all the time in other sports, including cycling — they had to wait until it was all over.

Why? Because they never had anything in the first place. And they have no problem sullying the legacy of a man who, quite simply, rose above the sport they try to insulate like it’s their private cigar club.

 

Lance Armstrong will always be a hero to millions of cyclists and sports fans, but more importantly, to tens of millions of cancer patients past, present and future. Compared to that, the USADA is a mosquito — and that’s what CEO Travis Lygart and his precedessor, former Armstrong pursuer Dick Pound, hate the most.

 

 

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The Champion’s Way As Coaches, Educators, and Role Models

On Friday, opening day of the London Summer Olympics, I began what I hope will be a long run of speaking engagements for The Champion’s Way, the book that I co-wrote with swim fitness expert and former U.S. Ski Team conditioning coach Dr. Steve Victorson.  I spoke at a Lion’s Club luncheon in Union County, where I coached cross-country for three seasons with success athletically and academically, as our boys and girls honors students regularly qualified for individual and team bids to the state championships.

I began by reviewing the central tenets of The Champion’s Way – the 11 distinctive characteristics common to all great champions, and how they apply to any and every endeavor in life once we recognize our inherent potential. However, given recent events at Penn State, and the complete perversion of an influential adult’s role in a young person’s life that occurred under the long shadow of the football program for many years, my talk turned to a simple question: what more can we do, as educators, coaches, community and business leaders, parents and caring adults, to bring out the best in young people and also to bolster their self-esteem and focus on excellence?

The answer to this question begins by understanding the relationship between athletics, academics, the community and the student-athlete – and the responsibility coaches, educators and adult citizens have to students, both in shepherding them toward adulthood and in helping them identify their potential greatness. In my opinion, our responsibility begins with two questions: What can I do to bring out the best in this young man or woman – whatever that latent talent might be? And how can I integrate my life experience, victories achieved and lessons learned with the sport or curriculum at hand in a way that impassions and motivates one to strive for excellence, whether at sports, music, art, mathematics or small engine repair?

Everyone is potentially great at something. What is it? That’s the 64-million dollar question. It wracks many of us throughout our adult lives as we seek greater meaning and purpose. What is that special niche, whether God-given or self-developed, where we can make a unique imprint on the world and benefit others the most? Here’s a follow-up: who showed you how to identify latent potential in yourself, and develop it with a focused eye on excellence? Chances are, the face of an old teacher, coach, pastor, parent or other concerned adult will pop up in your mind. It’s a question that smart parents, educators, counselors and coaches help their children, students and athletes ask and answer.

It’s one thing to ask a young person what inspires and motivates them. It’s another to help them develop that latent skill, talent or passion. That’s where our other responsibility comes in: commitment to drawing out that ability. And showing young people how to translate that focus, drive, perseverance, skill and effort to every activity in their lives.

For my part, I always try to recognize the first flash of potential. It might come as an accident; it might only last 30 seconds. However, if I’m doing my job, if I’m truly committed to helping a boy or girl identify, understand and commit themselves to excellence, then it is my duty to recognize the first signs. I’ve seen some wonderfully revelatory moments on the sports field and in the classroom. As the young people involved know, off we went to the races from that moment forward, whether it was running intervals to increase speed or learning to write strong personal narrative.

Want to make a difference in a young person’s life in an unforgettable way? Be the one who recognizes the inherent greatness and potential within them, and shows them ways to develop it. Be the one whose mantra for all young people is, “To facilitate a lifelong love of learning,” or “To facilitate a drive to be the best, to put 110% effort and purpose into every activity.”

This is the sweet spot of coaching or educating. It is also what we are supposed to do as guides to help our young people prepare for purpose-filled adulthood. When we can approach students or athletes like this, committing ourselves solely to helping them develop their fullest talent and skills, then we, too, are bringing excellence to our jobs.

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The Champion’s Way: A Look Into the Book

Welcome to the countdown to the greatest sports spectacle — the Summer Olympic Games. My four-year wait is finally over; how about yours? The fact that the Olympics only take place every four years adds to the sense of anticipation, as does the intrigue over whether Michael Phelps will become the all-time leader in Olympic medals won (he has 16, the record is 18, he’s entered in 7 events, he’s got world-best times in 3 of them … you do the math).

For me, this Olympic season is particularly special: the book that former US Ski Team Conditioning Coach Dr. Steve Victorson and I wrote, The Champion’s Way, will be available through bookstores and online booksellers nationally on August 1 — just as the London Olympics are revving up. The official web page for the book will be online Monday, July 16.

The Champion’s Way is a perfect companion read for aficionados of Olympics and championship-level performances in general. It looks at the qualities, attitudes and approaches that people make to win, win often, and win repeatedly at the highest level of their sport or profession. That’s how Dr. Victorson defines a champion: win, and win repeatedly.

“Winning requires absolute and 100% attention to every step along the path and all details,” Victorson says. “Every human being only has a finite amount of energy that can be focused on a given task. Following and staying on the champion’s path requires all of that energy.”

I will write more blogs on the core contents of The Champion’s Way, but I’d like to open by giving you some of the back story of the book — always a great way to develop greater context and perspective as you read.

We spent three years going to great lengths to present this book. Dr. Victorson interviewed more than 50 Olympic gold medalists and World Cup ski champions, and I interviewed and pulled materials from past interviews of another dozen world champions or world record-holders. Both of us have coached champions, so we added that perspective as well. We also peppered the book with more than 100 anecdotal stories – some well-known, others not – to illustrate championship performances and how the athletes arrived at them. A couple of quick examples from the book:

• Nearly all of the champions decided early in their lives to make winning the only thing that mattered (a central quality of champions). They focused their lives entirely on that pursuit — cutting away any outside activities and even people that could distract them.

• Once on top, every repeat champion changed his or her game to remain on top, knowing that the competition would adjust and catch up. For example, Tiger Woods has altered his swing four times since busting onto the PGA TOUR in 1996 — and here he is, in mid-2012, the #2 PGA event winner of all time, with 74 victories. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk invented more than 90 maneuvers, which kept him at the helm of his sport well into his 30s (skateboarders usually peak in their mid-20s). I can remember Tony walking into the newspaper offices of The Blade-Tribune (now North County Times) 30 years ago, alongside old brother (and then reporter Steve Hawk), a skateboard always in his hand. Another we cited, Hall of Fame pitcher and World Series ring holder Dennis Eckersley, followed a career-threatening surgery with a champion’s decision: switching from a starting pitcher to a reliever. And two-time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive 400-meter hurdle races over a nine-year period — a record that, in my book, outmatches Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. DiMaggio’s mark took place during the 1941 regular season. Every one of Moses’ races was pressure packed. How did he do it? He made minute adjustments after every race, and coupled them with arduous training.

•  Champions in sports, business and life have this in common: they work harder, train harder and study their profession more than their peers. Does it surprise you that Albert Pujols, Bill Rodgers, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm and Serena Williams are authorities on the histories of their sports? It shouldn’t. They studied what it took to become great — and that means studying the past champions of their field. You study champions or people at the very top, and you study the most important history of any endeavor.

In the book, Dr. Victorson breaks out 11 specific qualities of a champion. You can adapt these to your craft, profession, business, sport or other pursuit at which you want to excel:

  1. Growing up in an environment favorable to the sport.
  2. Commitment to the sport.
  3. Naturally competitive.
  4. Winning equals first place.
  5. Losing is a learning experience.
  6. Success equals winning.
  7. No Heroes and Idols.
  8. Support of Friends, Family, Coaches, etc.
  9. Luck
  10. Knowing Self
  11. Right Equipment

These qualities form the core of . In the next blog, we will look into them a little more closely, and share a few tidbits from the book.

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A Busy Summer of Writing Arrives

A few writing and book topics on a very hot Summer Solstice:

I love writing in summer. The longer daylight hours, warmer weather, presence of trees and plants everywhere, and completion of a college year seem to conspire to throw this writer’s creativity into high gear.

This summer is especially prodigious. In six weeks, on August 1, Dr. Steve Victorson and I will celebrate the publication of our book, The Champion’s Way. Developed from Steve’s doctoral dissertation at Boston University, The Champion’s Way has been a dream project as a book writer, editor, former sportswriter and coach: a look at the 11 distinctive qualities that champions master over all others. However, we make this discussion engaging, with more than 50 interviews with various Olympic and World Champions, along with dozens of other sports anecdotes. Anyone can become a champion of themselves in life, business, the arts, education or sports. That’s our core message — master the 11 qualities.

We spent more than three years writing and rewriting this book. What is especially endearing is that the book is releasing during the first days of the London Summer Olympics — a perfect companion read to see how these great athletes tick.

The Champion’s Way will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks on Amazon.com. The official website will be up by July 10. Meantime, visit our Facebook page.

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The other book I’ve been writing for years, Voice Lessons, is also finished. Am now conducting the final polishing edit after ten years, three complete rewrites, and a restructuring of the plot after it almost sold to Dutton in 2003. The novel is a father-daughter-daughter relationship piece set against the backdrop of a legendary music group that reunites after many years. The main protagonist, music legend Tom Timoreaux, heads out for a long-awaited reunion tour with his band, The Fever, and hires his daughter, Christine, as a backup vocalist. In the course of the book, she becomes a superstar. I won’t spoil the surprises and emotional content of the book, but I will add that the book also provides a panoramic backdrop of the last century of American music, and how the rock and roll pioneers not only drew from many influences, but lived and breathed music in ways that would be really refreshing to see from more of today’s stars.

The book’s official website – with “backstage” passes, Fever “tour schedules,” lyrics to the 80 original songs I wrote for my characters, and much more to entertain music fans everywhere — will be available for viewing in August, and publication is scheduled for Spring 2013.

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Also releasing in Spring 2013, Backroad Melodies, my fifth collection of poetry and essays. This will be my first released poetry collection since The River-Fed Stone in 2008, and it will feature 50 new poems plus 10 essays — including a multi-paneled tribute to my friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, drawn from our many discussions, good times and readings.

One of my personal favorites from this collection is the essay, “For The Lifelong Love Of Learning,” in which I share my own personal experiences with students and faculty through Education for Life, one of the best and most principled systems ever created to inspire, motivate and inform students on what ultimately matters in their intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical development.

We’ll keep you posted on Backroad Melodies. Look for preordering and other information by Holiday 2012.

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Not to be outdone, we will begin our new e-book line in Fall 2012 with The Best of The Word Journeys Blog, featuring the most popular and commented-upon pieces from the first 100 postings of this blog. Several of the blogs went viral, owing to the beauty of social media, and several others ended up in unexpected places (such as Christian Science Monitor’s Culture Cafe), with unexpected readers — back stories that I share in the run-ups to the pieces.

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I’m also working on a very special and unique project, The Legacy Series: Innovations and Technology, with my associate, Lisa Maine, and my friends and colleagues at Innovative Properties Worldwide in Denver. This special publication, which will be available over the holidays as a print magazine, e-book, mobile App and iPad publication, focuses on what we need greatly in this country economically: more innovation, vision and complete commitment to the business models revealing themselves for today and tomorrow. We launched this publication as a tribute to the memory and contributions of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. We depart from Jobs’ enormous impact as an inventor, visionary and businessman to look at the seven industries that Apple products either created or infused, as well as developments in a wide variety of areas.

One of my favorite jobs when developing and editing a specialty publication like The Legacy Series is the interviewing process. During this time, I love hearing the visions, ideas and strategies of forward-thinking CEOs, who have one eye on their bottom lines and the other on tomorrow’s marketplace. You’ll hear from plenty of CEOs throughout the publication.

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The end of summer brings with it one of my favorite writing conferences at which to present: The Southern California Writers Conference. This conference has been partially or wholly responsible for more than $3 million in publishing deals for first-time authors. In the past two years, it also has established the reputation as one of the best conference resources for up-to-the-minute developments in the ever-accelerating digital book world, and what it requires of authors. I will be presenting two workshops, with topics to be drawn from: editing your own manuscripts; writing your book’s business plan; repurposing content for print and online use; and/or a creative writing intensive.

The SCWC features top editors, publishers and agents, all of whom are looking for great books and authors. The workshops are first-class, and we have read-and-critique group sessions that are second to none … including the infamous Rogue Read & Critiques, which start at 9 p.m. and end at … well, the record is 6:45 a.m.

Be sure to click onto the SCWC’s website and register now if you plan to attend. It’s well worth every penny.

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Like I said, summer is a great time to breathe deeply, expand the mind into the warm, open air, and see what comes back creatively.  Enjoy your writing and reading … and most of all, the sun and warmth.

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