Opinion

Don’t Whine, Do Hard Things, Eat a Live Frog in the Morning, and Pass the Torch

There was no whining allowed when I was growing up. At first, I did not understand why this was so. Many years later I came to understand. My father had served in World War II. He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He survived.

He served in Korea. He survived but at great cost. While traveling in a jeep, his right leg was on the running board. After a mortar attack, it was no more. He returned home severely injured missing his right leg at mid-thigh.

Rarely did he talk about the two wars. He almost never complained about his situation, but you know it was a source of regrets and what ifs. There was no whining or “woe is me” at our house. You couldn’t use an injury or bad circumstances as an excuse. It just wasn’t done.

I never heard my father say, “Look at me, I only have one leg. What are you complaining about?” It was more by example. He golfed, walking the course. Belonged to a bowling league. Swam and dove off the diving board at the community pool. Poured concrete for a sidewalk, steps, and patio.

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After my mother’s death at 94 in August 2016, my two sons and I were going through a box of photographs after her memorial service in Houston, when we came across a photo of my father with the “Cole Family.” This is the first time I had learned that my father had been in foster care for some years. His name appears on a 1930 Census form as being with the Coles. He would have been 12-years-old.

My father is on the right in the back row.

Nothing was ever said about these “lost years.” When my oldest son was doing research for Italian citizenship, he had found the census record. He let the De Mare (our real name) side of the family know about some of our family’s history. He found out from one of my cousins that her dad, my father’s younger brother, was also in foster care during this time.

Those were hard economic times. My father had 10 brothers and sisters.

We live in a culture where it’s easy to whine in the face of the slightest hardship. If something doesn’t go right, many people give up. For some, there is no desire to take the hard path, to choose to do hard things. Of course, it’s not everyone, but there’s enough of them that they get a great deal of attention. We’re made to believe that society is at fault for their hardships. I’m sorry, but I’m not moved by any of it.

I am moved and inspired by people who do hard things and do them well, who grind it out even though there is no immediate reward. There are people who labor all their life at a job or a field of study and get no public recognition. They grew up understanding that you just gotta do what you gotta do. You do what needs to be done.

I have been following track and field for more than 55 years. It was my ticket to college. The sport had a profound effect on my life; it taught me some great lessons that have transferred into how I grew up and live my life.

No one pushed me to train for the sport. I learned all I could about throwing the shot put and weight training in the few periodicals I could get my hands on. Keep in mind that this was long before the internet where you can find thousands of videos of every sport, even in slow motion. There were no coaches. No weight rooms. No available specialized trainers. You were on your own. I made the best of it because there was no whining and doing hard things was natural and expected.

It was demanding work, from early morning to evening. Twice-a-day workouts with heavy weights and practice sessions with the shot put. There were no indoor training facilities. I would throw in the middle of winter in the parking lot of where I went to high school in the slush and snow. I’d keep the car running and use the heater to warm my hands. It’s just what had to be done to succeed.

Mark Twain’s saying comes to mind: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Do the hard things first. The accomplishments and success will follow, no matter what it is. Will there be failures and disappointments? You can count on them. It’s what you do with them that matters.

When I was in high school, I met Ron (Roman) Semkiw when he was 12 and I was 16. Ron and I lived on the same street. He was enormously strong and fast. I introduced him to weight training and the shot put and discus. I had set up a weight room in my very small basement and a shot-put circle in my back yard.

Our high school did not have a weight room. The coaches were not interested in weight training. (That’s a story in itself. I may tell it one day.)

Ron broke all the records I had set in Pennsylvania and became one of the few high school throwers to throw 70 feet and the first thrower to hit 70-feet in high school with the 12-pound shot and 70 feet with the 16. His Junior College Record from 1974 still stands. He was Pennsylvania state champ for three years and national champ in 1972. His Pennsylvania record stood for 45 years until last year (2016) when Jordan Geist broke it.

Jordan and Ron became friends as Ron cheered him on with great enthusiasm and support. Phil Grove has been following Jordan’s career and has done a wonderful job of cataloging Jordan’s progress with photos and articles. For those who are interested, here’s the link to Part I of his article about Jordan and Ron. Like Ron, Jordan is a three-time Pennsylvania state champ, record holder, and national champ. His throws rank him third-best ever with the 12 pound and best ever with the 16 pound.

Jordan Geist and Ron Semkiw

It’s not enough to do hard things and accomplish hard tasks. They must be passed on by example and taking an interest in ways to pass the torch to future generations. You don’t have to be an athlete. It doesn’t matter what the task is. Work to be good and even great at something. And even if you don’t accomplish “great things” as the world evaluates greatness, there is always greatness of character that knows no bounds.

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