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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Frank Shorter's Wisdom

A little over a week ago I had the pleasure of attending my daughter's graduation from Northfield Mount Hermon School. Having been a runner for nearly forty years, I was naturally excited to hear Frank Shorter's commencement address. Shorter is an alumnus of the school, and the winner of two Olympic marathon medals: gold in 1972 and silver in 1976. I was not disappointed.

In a good natured and folksy way, Shorter shared the ups and downs of his journey to the Olympics and beyond, graciously giving credit to individuals who served as mentors and guides along the way, and making us laugh at some of his high school hijinks.

He touched on his difficult childhood and how it left indelible marks on him. One of the more noticeable marks is how he carries his arms when running, with his left arm close to his side and his right arm swinging freely. To get away from his abusive home, he regularly ran to school. This, of course, was in the days before school children carried their books in backpacks and so he carried his books in his left arm, close to his side.

Though Shorter's advice was directed at the graduating students, his messages resonated with me, and, I suspect, many of the other family members, friends and faculty in the audience. He shared with us his thoughts as he stood on the starting line of the 1972 Olympic marathon in Munich, Germany. He told us that he made a conscious decision not to think about the terrorists who, only days before, had attacked the games and taken Israeli athletes hostage. Even though the marathon, by its nature, was the least secure venue, he believed that thinking about the terrorists would mean that they had won.

As Frank Shorter stood at that starting line in Munich he also chose not to think about any "what ifs?," such as "What if I didn't train enough?" Instead he just told himself, "Let's see." In other words, don't undermine your efforts with self doubt. Better just get on with it, do the best you can, and see what comes of it. I can confirm that this attitude really does help in running. My very best races were run with exactly that mind set.

Of course, Shorter wasn't really talking about running when he told this story. He was talking about every endeavor one might undertake throughout a lifetime. That's a point worth remembering every day.

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