Month: June 2017

Luck Can Change

It was highly unlikely anyone would have ever heard of this man. He wasn’t born into a famous family. His beginnings offered no hint of greatness. By the nature of how the world operates, he should have lived his life in obscurity, his existence forgotten long ago.

This man was born in 1887 and was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma. Evidently, being born a Native American in the 19th century was by no means a promise of a privileged life. And he was beset by tragedies while still young: his twin brother Charlie died of pneumonia at the age of nine. The twins were attending the Sac and Fox Indian Agency School in Stroud, Oklahoma at the time, and Charlie had helped him get through school. After his brother’s death, he kept running away so his father had to put him into the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas. Both his parents died when he was in his teens.

As you can see, this young boy did not have much of a chance in life. After all these tragedies and setbacks, he could have just given up.

But he didn’t. He persevered. And eventually, his luck changed.

In 1904, at the age of sixteen, he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This school was funded by the federal government and served as an Indian boarding school. One of the school’s coaches happened to be Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, a football coach who years later would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Warner recognized this young man’s athletic talents, but since he only weighed 155 pounds, the coach feared he would be too easily tackled. Instead Warner steered him toward track and field. But this young man finally convinced Warner to allow him to serve as a substitute football player. Warner would write that he “ran around past and through them not once, but twice.”

In 1911, under Coach Warner’s direction, this young man played as a running back, a defensive back, a placekicker, and a punter. He scored all his team’s points in a pivotal match against Harvard, beating them 18-15. At the time Harvard was one of the best teams in the beginning years of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In 1912, Carlisle Indian Industrial School won the national collegiate championship largely due to his efforts: he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points for the team. He earned the All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912.

But this young man wasn’t finished yet.

In the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he won gold medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon. He also placed fourth in the high jump final and seventh in the long jump. Incredibly, the day he won his medals someone had stolen his shoes so he had to compete with shoes he found in a garbage bin.

Impressive, huh? But that’s not all.

After coming home from the Olympics, he competed in the Amateur Athletic Union’s All-Around Championship in Queens, New York. This competition consisted of ten events. This Native American born into poverty won seven events and placed second in the other three. Martin Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, had previously set the record for this All-Around Championship by scoring a total of 7,385 points in 1909. This young man broke his record by scoring 7,476 points. Sheridan watched him break his record and had this to say about him: “He is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today.”

So who was this man who suffered so many setbacks and tragedies early in his life and went on to accomplish so much?

He was none other than Jim Thorpe. He is remembered as being “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Many of us feel stymied and frustrated. We weren’t born into a prominent family or wealth, which gives one an edge to achieve great things. We feel life refuses to give us a chance. In those low moments, remember Jim Thorpe—a shining example that luck can change.

Information taken from Wikipedia.

A Lesson in Persistence

Sports teaches us many lessons about life, yet it is only a microcosm of what we ordinary people have to endure in our lives.

What comes to mind as I write this article is the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 4th game of the NBA World Championship of 2017 that took place only a few weeks ago.

The finals were not looking good for the Cavaliers. Not good at all. They were down zero to three games to the Golden State Warriors and it looked as if they were might as well throw in the towel.

With the deck stacked against them, no one would blame them for going into game 4 with only a half-hearted effort. Their chances of winning the championship were just about nil. I myself didn’t think the game was even worth watching. I compared them to sheep awaiting the slaughter.

But then magic happened.

Instead of entering the game with fear and trepidation, they approached with strength and determination.

“We have championship DNA,” Lebron James, the Cavaliers’ star player and acknowledged leader of the team, was quoted.

Indeed they did. The Cavaliers set the Finals record for points scored in the first quarter (49) and the first half (86). James broke the record set by Magic Johnson by achieving his ninth triple-double. For the entire game, the three best players, James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, scored a combined 94 points.

It was a magical, meaningful moment. Despite the 0-3 deficit against the Warriors, the Cavaliers played like champions and won 137-116 in game 4.

However, their good fortune would not last. In game 5, playing in Golden State, the Warriors defeated them 129-120 for the 2017 NBA Championship.

Giving up is easy. Persistence is not. Despite all the hurdles placed before them, win or lose, they fought a good fight.

Then again, most of us are not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We don’t make millions of dollars a year. We don’t rise to the level of playing for the National Basketball Association or any other top tier organization. We face more hardships than they do on an everyday basis such as paying our bills on time and hoping there’s enough left over to enjoy life. Despite our will and hard work, we seem to only make progress in much smaller increments and no matter how much we dream, work, and plan, we keep coming up short and disappointed.

Our will to forge ahead actually shows more strength and determination than earning millions as a world-class basketball player because we carry on despite the lack of reaching those career heights and the lucrative salary that would allow us to live out our dream life.

Lebron and the Cavaliers are not the only ones with championship DNA. We the ordinary people who get used to having our hearts broken every day and feeling we are falling further and further down the abyss are the true champions while we wait for some magic to happen in our own lives.

Where Has Our Humanity Gone?

Forty years ago this was a very different America. It used to be when an employee faithfully worked hard for a company for twenty-five years or more, a retirement party would be thrown in recognition of the employee’s efforts and contributions. Sometimes, the officers of the company rewarded this individual with an expensive watch or other gift as a form of appreciation and a fond farewell. The employee would then retire with dignity and satisfaction.

Those days are fading. Instead, a disturbing trend has taken over America that affects morale and destabilizes society. More and more, older employees that are only a few years shy of retirement are being let go. No party. No appreciation. Often, they are escorted out the door. And that’s just the beginning of the turmoil these individuals face.

Many still have mortgages, children in school, and other major expenses. They eventually lose their health care benefits, which often makes proper medical care unaffordable. Unemployment is a fraction of their previous salary and only lasts for so long. Thus, loss of income from employment can put these older employees and their families in financial straits. Unfortunately, that’s not all.

Many companies advertising open positions often subtly or not-so-subtly practice age discrimination. “You’re overqualified,” interviewers tell them when they apply for a comparable job. Of course, what they are really saying is they don’t want to pay older and experienced people what they’re worth. As a result, older workers looking for a new position face substantial hurdles added to the difficulty of finding a good-paying job. Often older workers settle for minimum wage jobs when their unemployment runs out just so they can pay their bills.

And lest we forget, the psychological effects of workers losing their jobs, particularly when they expected they would be working for the same company until retirement, are often profound: depression, feelings of failure, and lack of direction now that they don’t have somewhere to go every day. Arguably, people are the healthiest if they feel they are productive, making contributions to society, and providing for themselves and their loved ones. Added to that, those reentering the labor market after twenty-five years or so encounter an entirely changed job market and application process, which only heightens their stress.

These “forced retirements” destabilize not only the older workers’ lives but also those closest to them. They have to scale back their lifestyle and now struggle with paying their bills. Some lose their homes and must find a less expensive place to live. Their families or significant others must endure these cutbacks, college plans can be derailed, they must dig into their nest egg, and they’ll have less funds for their future plans when they thought they were going to retire.

Who benefits from letting older workers go? Companies may enjoy more profits in the short term: younger workers expect lower salaries. For instance, the pay scale of recently graduated teachers are half that of much more experienced educators. However, resentment for these inhumane practices will linger and putting older workers in financial straits will likely lead to serious repercussions to the nation’s economy in the long-term. In other words, greedy behavior may lead to benefits in the short run but will eventually backfire on them.

Manchester

On May 22nd, a terrorist attack destroyed innocent lives and shattered their families. In the guise of religion, ISIS struck again, killing 22 innocent people, many of them children. I don’t understand how these destructive acts further their cause. It certainly doesn’t generate sympathy or understanding for these militants. I can only hope that justice will prevail sooner rather than later. In the meantime, what arises out of the ashes are heroes and villains. The heroes are our beacons of light and inspiration—they restore our faith in humanity and inspire us to keep working for a better future. The villains, on the other hand, demonstrate the long, long journey we have to go until evil is defeated. We saw both aspects in the suicide bombing after the Ariana Grande concert. The following are those participants thus far.

Heroes

We can never say homeless people have nothing to offer. Or a conscience. Upon hearing the massive explosions, Steve Jones, sleeping near the Manchester Arena, awoke with a start and helped rescue children, pulling nails out of their bodies. He and a friend also came to the aid of a woman who would have bled to death without their assistance.

Chris Parker, another homeless man, had intended to beg for money that evening. He rushed to assist victims. He comforted a girl who lost her legs and then cradled a woman until she died.

Paula Robinson was at the Victoria Train Station near the Manchester Arena when the bomb exploded. When she saw two young children saying “Where is my dad, get my dad,” Paula rushed over to them and told them she would take them away. As more children were running out of the arena, she directed them to run to the nearby Holiday Inn. Paula ended up leading about 50 children to safety.

Kim Dick and her husband Phil were waiting in the foyer for their family after the concert was over when the bomb went off. She took care of a 14 year-old girl who was fleeing the scene. She was covered in blood, her hair was burnt, and blood was oozing out of her mouth. Kim held her and stopped the blood spurting out of her legs and shoulder. The girl was hospitalized and fortunately survived, thanks to Kim Dick’s quick thinking.

Kelly Brewster made the ultimate sacrifice: she shielded her sister and niece when the bomb went off as they were leaving the arena. Her sister and niece suffered multiple injuries but will survive because Kelly protected them. She was an office worker who only the day before had put down a deposit on a house she was supposed to share with her boyfriend.

Villains

Very often there are evil perpetrators along with those shining lights of bravery. The one who decided his life objective was to bring tragedy and destruction to the world was a 22 year-old man named Salman Ramadan Abedi. He was a British Muslim whose parents came from Libya. Instead of contemplating a productive life now that he was living in a free country, Abedi embraced Islamic extremism. He studied business management at Manchester College but dropped out. Police believe he used his student loans, which are funded by taxpayers, to travel overseas and learn bomb-making.

This is what investigators have learned so far. It is certain more people were involved in this terrorist plot, their names most likely will be identified as more evidence comes to light.

Many times acts of evil bring out the best in humanity. Nevertheless, the 22 killed and the 116 injured have caused devastation for years to come. While we wish this evil did not exist, at the very least it gives us a clear perspective of who are the heroes and who are the villains.

Note: After I finished writing this piece, it happened again: On Saturday, June 3rd, three Muslim terrorists in a van ran over and knifed people before being shot dead by police. Seven were killed and 48 injured. When will it finally end?

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