1972 was a simpler time. Technology was still in its infancy. Digital Watches were just being introduced. The first scientific hand-held calculator (HP-35) introduced (price $395), and Atari kicked off the first generation of video game with the release of "PONG". HBO was just launched in US as the first subscription cable service. There were just a few fast food restaurants in our community.
Most kids then played outside all day. When school was released, I ran home with the motivation of beating the bus riders. I rode my bike all over the neighborhood and throughout the town. We played football in the vacant lot. There were only three TV stations and cartoons played on Saturday mornings. Besides that, nothing else was that interesting, so TV was a less important part of my life.
I grew up in the Kansas City area. My mother put me in a lot of different sports as I grew up, but at 10 years old, in the summer of 72, I preferred the refreshing cool swim practices versus standing in the hot sun in the outfield.
1972 was also the first time I remember watching the Olympics. What caught my attention at that time was a swimmer named Mark Spitz. It was a big story and the family gathered around the TV to watch his events. I was new to the sport and his achievements were both inspiring and motivating to me. This was the first time I had seen medals awarded and learned the significance of each color.
I had a poster of Mark with his seven medals on my closet. (above) I can remember below it said "7 gold medals, 7 world records" and it listed each one. I examined the medals closely on the poster and can remember that I wanted one.
The last swim meet of the summer was an invitational, and I had heard that they were awarding medals to the top three in each event, just like the Olympics. My best event was breaststroke. I was in one of the slower heats so I knew that I would have to swim fast to beat the kids in the later, faster heats. I was a boy on a mission. I wanted a gold medal.
I still remember that race vividly. It was only 25 yards and I stood on the blocks gazing at the end of that pool. I knew I had to swim fast. When the gun went off, I hit the water and stroked as fast as my gangly 10 year old body would take me. I won the heat. I remember, after finishing, looking around and the rest of the kids were still swimming a quarter of a pool length behind me. I had given my best effort.
When the results were published, my name was at the top of the list. I had won the gold. It was only about the size of a quarter on a red, white, and blue ribbon, but I was so proud of it. I was probably just as talented as the rest of the kids there but I guess I just wanted it more. I learned early, that motivation plays such a big part in success. I willed myself to win that medal. I have won many medals since then but none of those wins were as special as that one.
Since that time I have continued with some form of a fitness program and it has just become a part of my life. One of my former training partners called me a "Lifer."That poster, and what Mark Spitz did in the Olympics in 1972 were instrumental to my development and current lifestyle.
Fast forward to today, 2008. There are over a 100-cable television channels. I don’t see any kids today outside playing or riding bikes. I suppose, now, they are inside playing Madden football rather than playing it in the vacant lot. I heard the other day that based on the current trends, everyone in the US will be obese in 30 years. I don’t see that happening.
I have my kids in athletics, and it is a requirement in our family. I don’t care if they win or lose. I don’t push them. If they want to win, it has to be self driven. I just want them to develop the "fitness" lifestyle. I want them to be healthy and be "Lifers"
Michael Phelps did something special in Beijing by winning eight gold medals. Mark Spitz described his 100 fly win as "epic." I don’t remember an age group swimmer in my local meets being as dominant as Phelps was in these Olympics. It was truly amazing. Talent combined with motivation is an awesome thing.
I wonder if it is possible today, with the current trends, to motivate today’s youth to swim and develop lifetime fitness habits. I hope Phelps efforts have motivated today’s youngsters away from their virtual sports worlds and into real world sports and a quest for their own medals.