Oct 02 2017

A Fast Track To Owning A Business

Phyllis Francis of Queens started as a distance runner. As her skills evolved, she found her comfort zone at shorter distances. She also became a champion.

Phyllis was a gold medalist in the women’s 1,600-meter relay at the 2016 Olympics. She also captured the 400-meter title and was part of Team USA’s winning 1,600-meter relay at the International Association of Athletics Federation’s World Championships in London earlier this year.

Phyllis became interested in running by following her sister, Claudia, to practice. Claudia was a national champion and All-American at the University of Florida. Phyllis, during her first year at the University of Oregon, started to run the 1,600-meter relay. Her coach saw that she had potential to excel in the race. Then, they made a deal. If she could run a certain time on a relay leg, the coach promised he would help her train to compete in the 400-meter race.

After winning three consecutive Pac-12 championships and a national championship in the 400 with Oregon, Phyllis climbed on the national and world stages. She recently won the U.S. Indoor Championship in the 300-meter run and the outdoor world title in the 400.

The speedster credits Catherine McAuley High School in Brooklyn, which recently closed, with preparing her for life after high school. The involved teachers helped her focus on her school work and her athletics. They prepared her for the world beyond school.

Phyllis plans to compete at the 202 Olympics in Tokyo. At the same time, she is preparing for life after track and field. She is thinking about owning her own business.

Jun 16 2017

On The Way Up Mondo Reaches New Heights

Armand Duplantis is the only high school vaulter to clear 19 feet, and he has done it twice this year. Known as Mondo, he is 17 and a junior at a Louisiana high school. His chosen sport is one in which athletes reach their prime during their late 20s.

Mondo already has outgrown his home training facility. He jumps so high that the padding on the wall near the landing pit does not provide sufficient protection. He now trains at the high school.

Mondo comes from good sports stock. His father was an all-American pole-vaulter who cleared 19 feet as a professional. His mother, a native of Sweden, was a heptathlon athlete and volleyball player. Two older brothers have been a pole-vaulter and a Little League World Series veteran, respectively.

The boys have spent summers in Sweden, where they enjoyed a comfort level with that country’s youth sports program. They hold dual citizenships, and when Mondo competes internationally he represents Sweden.

It all started for Mondo when he climbed a neighbor’s tree while still in diapers. He then used a skateboard to veer off the roof. At a young age, he began vaulting with a broomstick in the living room, using an ottoman for his landing. He was a world age-group champion by seven and he preferred to jump barefoot until he was required to wear spikes. Last year, he vaulted 10 feet in the backyard while launching himself from a hoverboard.

Mondo hopes to vault 19.8 feet-plus later this year, which would be shy of the world record by six inches. He plans to become the best in the world and compete for the gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

His head, and the rest of his body, may be up in the clouds, but Mondo remains close to home base. His father indicated that Mondo is not ready to travel the world to compete in the sport. He may be a fabulous pole-vaulter, but even Mondo knows he still needs a little more formal and life education.

The bar continues to rise for Mondo, but he prefers to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground. That sounds familiar to each of us as we strive to achieve lofty goals in business.

Jun 02 2017

A Sailor’s Olympic Hero

Few have heard about Adolph Kiefer. He passed away last month but he left a considerable mark in competitive swimming and with the U.S. Navy.

Adolph was a celebrated swimming champion who won gold with a world-record time as a teenager at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He reached his peak several years later, and he could have been one of America’s greatest Olympic swimmers. But, World War II took over the world and canceled the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. The war, though, provided Adolph with his greatest satisfaction. His work saved the lives of many U.S. sailors.

Adolph entered the service during 1942 as a naval officer specialist in the physical fitness and swimming division. He quickly was appalled at the number of sailors whose deaths were attributed to drowning. More men died by drowning than gunfire.

With the approval of superiors, Adolph organized swimming and lifesaving instruction for every sailor. No one was permitted to board a ship without taking the 21-hour course. Adolph also helped design lifesaving equipment and created the victory backstroke—with arms extended over the head to form a “V”—that many sailors adopted when they found themselves in the water.

Ironically, Adolph’s career began with a near-drowning accident. He fell into an ice-cold Chicago drainage canal as a child. He did not swim, so he rolled on his back and began kicking his feet until he reached land. Immediately, he enrolled for swimming lessons at the Y.M.C.A. He became devoted to the sport and a champion backstroke swimmer.

A newspaper reporter at the Berlin Olympics wrote that no one who saw him swim could deny that Adolph was the greatest backstroke swimmer. About a decade ago, another sportswriter indicated that Adolph was to the backstroke what Pablo Casals was to the cello.

The cello, as far as I know, never saved a person’s life. The dedication of Adolph Kiefer, however, saved the lives of many American sailors. He faced a challenge as a child and learned from it. His path to fame was blocked by war, but he turned that obstacle into what he cconsidered his “greatest thrill.”

Sep 16 2016

Silver Medal For Bronx Fencer

During the Rio Olympics, we had a couple of fencers who were in position to win unprecedented gold medals. Neither competitor won gold but both got close enough to have the chance to win the top prize.

One was Daryl Homer from The Bronx. He was defeated in sabre by the world’s third-ranked fencer. With a broad smile, he proudly received the silver medal.

Daryl learned about fencing when he was just five years old. He saw the word in the dictionary. Enamored with the description in the book, he begged his mother to allow him try the sport. He soon was under the tutelage of former fencing champion and Olympic bronze medalist Peter Westbrook. Now a business executive, Westbrook also is the founder of a foundation that embraces the sport to enrich the lives of young people from underserved communities in the New York City area.

Daryl emerged as a prized pupil, earning a place on four All-America teams. He also became the first American man to win a medal (silver during 2015) at a world championship event.

At Rio, Daryl won his first three matches by comfortable margins to reach the semifinals. His opponent in that round overcame a seven-point run by Daryl to force a final bout. Daryl then exploded to the center for a touch that placed him in the finals.

After that victory, Daryl told everyone he didn’t have any regrets about his do-or-die strategy that placed him in a position to compete for the gold. His comments were reported by the Associated Press: “I was like…If I lose doing this, I’m going to lose doing this and I don’t care…If you want a medal, you have to do something big for it.”

Sep 02 2016

It Was A Tough Start For One Olympic Champion

U.S. Olympian Simone Biles is on top of the world.Many consider Simone to be the best female gymnast in the world. At age 19, she already is the most decorated gold medalist in world championship gymnastics history. At Rio, Simone collected several additional gold medals.

Hidden behind her success and her beautiful smile is a very different story. Her journey has not been an easy one.

Simone was born to drug-addicted parents and her father abandoned the family. She and her siblings were shuffled between foster homes and Ohio state care. One of those foster homes became a catalyst to Simone’s current success. She often mentions that the home had a trampoline but neither she nor her siblings were allowed to jump on it.

Eventually, when she was six, Simone and her sister were adopted by their grandparents and they moved to Texas. Grandma Nellie then had a talk with Simone and sister Adria. Grandma left it up to the girls if they wanted to call her and her husband “grandma” and “grandpa” or if they wanted to consider them as “mom” and “dad.”

Simone practiced the words while looking into a mirror. She said the words ‘mom” and ‘dad” countless times. Then, she went downstairs to the kitchen, looked up at her grandma and called out.

“Mom?” Nellie quickly responded “Yes! ”

Congratulations to Simone Biles on overcoming childhood challenges and for all the success she has earned at such a young age. She is just getting started!

Sep 16 2015

A Luge Step For One Athlete

The sign appears at the driveway—TEAM SICHLER / ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Inside the house, a flag comforter and matching pillowcase are found in one of the bedrooms. A Team USA flag hangs on a wall, painted by the parents and two children who reside in the home. On another wall is a huge cutout photo of a boy sliding down a track. That boy is Jeffrey Sichler, the U.S. Junior National Team luger. He’s 10 years old.

Jeffrey’s parents were dedicated skiers and triathletes. Mom just missed making the national team. Their training has been placed on hold for their son, who has become obsessed with luge, that ultra-fast sledding on an ice track that seems to garner widespread interest only during the Winter Olympics.

The U.S. has only two luge training tracks. One track is in Utah. The other is in Lake Placid. After working on his skills at lake Placid by sliding on multiple weekends every month last winter, Jeffrey’s talent eventually caught the eye of USA Luge during the spring 2014 national dry land Slider Search in Queens. That event is conducted on wheeled sleds on a concrete course.

More than 730 teens and pre-teens participated in the Slider Search, but only 124, including Jeffrey, were chosen to attend screening camps. Jeffrey then became one of 40 kids to be added to the U.S. team. A total of 95 boys and girls are in the junior program. Jeffrey is slotted at the beginner “D” level. By the time he is 15 or 16, he should be elevated to the “B” level. Winning in international competition warrants promotion to the “A” level.

Jeffrey is attaining 50 miles per hour on his runs that begin partway up the track. That’s more than half the speed of athletes who start at the top. The family is “all in” for this new luger who already has a nickname (“The Jeffinator”) for his go-for-broke style.

The ride won’t come cheap to the Sichler family. The first year will cost about $10,000 and the expense for training and competition will rise annually.

The parents will find the money. They just want Jeffrey to have fun and continue to succeed. They believe that it is healthy to dream, to dream big and to pursue goals while enjoying the ride—even if it is downhill all the way.

- Jim

Nov 18 2012

Stories Behind The Olympic Games

So much has occurred during the last handful of months that the 2012 Summer Olympics already is a distant memory.

The other day, while reading an article about a former Olympian, I decided to take a few moments to think about the countless hours that many of us spent in front of the television just a few months ago. I quickly realized that I actually remembered little about the results. Fresh in my mind, though, was what we learned about our young athletes. Back then, and again now, I was energized by the hard work, the passion and the sacrifices that pushed these young men and women to this highest level of international sports competition.

During the London games, we were bombarded with all the media hype and coverage, Facebook postings, YouTube videos, blogs and countless tweets. Rarely surfacing through all this noise were the insightful comments made by our athletes. Here are just a few of the many that most of us missed. Their words showcase their drive, their commitment to succeed and their gratitude to the people who helped along the way.

  • Kerri Walsh (beach volleyball): “In fifth grade, volleyball was the new sport at my junior high school, and all my best friends were playing. From the first second, I loved it. And I’m thankful I’ve had amazing coaches and parents who were super enthused, right from the start.”
  • Casey Tibbs (paralympic track and field and first amputee to serve as an air crewman in the U.S. Navy): “I lost my leg in 2001. About a year later, in a doctor’s waiting room, I ran across an article about the paralympic games. By the time I finished reading it, I knew this was something I wanted to do. I went to the gym that night and started working out.”
  • Rebecca Soni (swimming and three-time medalist at the 2008 Olympic Games): “I actually started in gymnastics but switched to swimming when I was 10, because that’s what my older sister was doing. I had a choice. Either wait for my sister’s swimming class to end, or start swimming myself. I chose to swim.”
  • Michael Landers (table tennis and youngest U.S. Men’s Singles Champion): “When I was nine, I broke my arm, which ruled out most other sports. But I’d been playing table with my dad since I was two. We found a table tennis club in Queens (New York City), and I started really focusing when I was 12. The great thing is, it’s still fun to me.”

As you can see from these comments, never underestimate the spark that ignites that passion in sports, or even in business. You will be influenced by parents, other relatives and friends, mentors and those you meet briefly along the way. Each encounter will lead you along your path to success, while competition and hard work will help you rack-up positive results. In some instances, you might just get to grab that gold.

Jim