Enduring to the end…even when things get difficult

President Spencer W. Kimball once said: “There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, ‘Give me this mountain, give me these challenges.”

In my 59 years on the planet, I do not ever remember having this state of mind. Yet, I have learned that overcoming challenges and mountains are a good part of why we have been sent to have this mortal experience.

Mortal life is filled with countless challenges and experiences which can either strengthen us or cause us to step back and not rise to the occasion. Many of my most difficult challenges have caused me to have my best opportunities of personal and spiritual growth. Forty years ago I was found in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah diligently studying for the time I would spend serving as a missionary in the Guatemala City Mission. I was studying a language which I had found to be most difficult in high school: Spanish! I had been a most shy and reserved individual up to that point, yet I was to spend two years serving people in a language which was not my natural tongue and having to speak with people…something which had previously cause me much anxiety.

My time as a missionary in Guatemala was the most difficult time of my life to that point, yet at the same time it was the most rewarding and spiritual time I had experienced in life to that point. I returned home with an ability to communicate in a language which has served me well since completing my mission in 1981. The reserved and shy individual I had been had grown into someone who ended up with a career of teaching and coaching football. In other words I was reserved and shy no more!

One of my favorite accounts of enduring to the end and finishing the race involves a marathon runner from long ago. It helps remind me that enduring, despite difficulties, is more important than simply winning.

During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari placed last in the marathon, yet major sports magazines named him as one of two “top international Olympians” that year. While losing the race, Mr. Akhwari won the admiration of untold thousands because he embodied the spirit of a true Olympian as he finished despite setbacks.

The marathon is a foot race of more than 26 miles. World class runners complete this distance in just over two hours. Athletes who compete in this race must train for years in order to reach the highest levels of competition. The Olympics present the best runners in the world. In 1968 John Stephen Akhwari was just one of four athletes from his home country who earned the right to compete in the Mexico City Olympics. He was actually a peasant farmer who did his training in his spare time.

The starting field at the 1968 Olympics featured 75 runners…18 of those would not finish the race as the altitude would take its toll.

The best athletes in the world that year faced a common challenge when they arrived in Mexico City: its altitude. At 7350 feet, it was the highest elevation at which any Summer Olympics had been held.

From the country of Tanzania, where the elevation is just above sea level, Mr. Akhwari suffered leg cramps early in the race. Yet he continued to run. More than six miles into the race he collided with other runners and fell, dislocating and badly cutting a knee and injuring a shoulder. He got up and continued to run. By sunset, most of his fellow competitors had finished the race. Wounded and in lots of pain, he continued to run. Better said, he continued to hobble his way towards the end of the race. Most spectators had left the stadium where the marathon’s finish line was located. Those spectators who remained in the stadium noticed lights flashing on a vehicle escorting a lone runner and cheered as the Tanzanian hobbled along the track to finish the race more than an hour after the winner.

It’s doubtful that anyone present realized they were witnessing a great moment in the history of the Olympics. Many journalists and people posting on various media have told the story of Mr. Akhwari’s personal victory. When asked why he had continued to the end of the race when his injuries would have caused many runners to drop out, Mr. Akhwari replied simply: “My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race. My country sent me 5000 miles to finish the race.”

The Apostle Paul said: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

In the Old Testament we read, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

The poet Dennis Brutus wrote:

“Endurance is the ultimate virtue…More, the essential thread on which existence is strung when one is stripped to nothing else…and not to endure is despair.”

President Thomas S. Monsoon stated: “The difficulties which come to us present us with the real test of our ability to endure. A fundamental question remains to be answered by each of us: Shall I falter, or shall I finish? Some do falter as they find themselves unable to rise above their challenges. To finish involves enduring to the very end of life itself.” (October 2013 General Conference)

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke of John Stephen Akhwari’s determination to finish his race back in the 1968 Olympics:

“He knew who he was—an athlete representing the country of Tanzania. He knew his purpose—to finish the race. He knew that he had to endure to the finish, so that he could honorably return home to Tanzania. Our mission in life is much the same. We were not sent by Father in Heaven just to be born. We were sent to endure and return to Him with honor.

Dwelling in the world is part of our mortal test. The challenge is to live in the world yet not partake of the world’s temptations which will lead us away from our spiritual goals. When one of us gives up and succumbs to the wiles of the adversary, we may lose more than our own soul. Our surrender could cause the loss of souls who respect us in this generation. Our capitulation to temptation could affect children and families for generations to come.” (April 1998 General Conference)

President Monson has told each of us that we are runners in the race of life. He also says: “Comforting is the fact that there are many runners. Reassuring is the knowledge that our Eternal Scorekeeper is understanding. Challenging is the truth that each must run. But you and I don not run alone. That vast audience of family, friends, and leaders will cheer our courage, will applaud our determination as we rise from our stumbling and pursue our goal…Let us shed any thought of failure…Let us seek; let us obtain the prize prepared for all, even exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God.” (October 1993 Ensign Magazine)

Elder Jospeh B. Wirthlin said: “An obvious parallel between life and a marathon is the necessity to run diligently and endure to the end. Among his final words to his people, Nephi told them: “And now,…after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay…Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ…and endure to the end.” (2 Nephi 31: 19-20). (October 1998 General Conference)

John Akhwari had prepared for his race. He trained and conditioned his body and mind so he was able to finish it.

Enduring to the end is a very important doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To endure to the end, we must prepare and train—not by running a race route before a cheering crowd, but by studying and following the path the Lord has set. We must know his doctrine and teachings. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can get up and continue our “race in life” even if we stumble and fall along the way.

I have stumbled and fallen along the way more times than I can remember. Each time I have been strengthened by those who love and care for me, amongst which is Our Heavenly Father, who have helped me rise once again. In the end I become stronger because of the challenges which caused me to falter a bit along this race of life we share.

We were not meant to walk this mortal path on earth alone. We have been promised the strength and power to have joy and success along our journey called “life”. Studying and following the path the Lord has set will bring us happiness and joy in this life, while leading us back to the eternal home Our Father has prepared for us.

The Savior of the world has told us: “Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endure to the end will I give eternal life.” (3 Nephi 15:9)

I know this to be true. I pray that each of us will always use the innate powers within us to endure to the end despite the difficulties which will rise along our way. We are meant to succeed and succeed we will if we rise above and fulfill what we are capable of.

Just sharing a bit more of my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

MORTALITY

I remember as a young child I often cried myself to sleep with the thoughts of this mortal life coming to an end. The thoughts would invade my mind at the most inopportune times…usually at night when I felt the most vulnerable. The uncertainty of it all was too much for my young mind to handle. I was totally scared of some day leaving this mortal existence with conflicting thoughts around me of what lies ahead. I knew within me that this mortal body is not alone due to special experiences I had been given. Even so, the young me at times felt overwhelmed with the thoughts of mortality.

Shortly after my fourth birthday my dad’s father passed away. All four of my grandparents had a hand in raising me in my early years, thus I felt very close to each of them. I remember everyone being so sad and I felt a distinct emptiness within me knowing that I would not be able to enjoy time with my grandfather anymore. At the grave site a door was seemingly shut with my grandfather on one side and me on the other. A few years later a special visit came which would ease my mind. I was spending the night at my mother’s parents home. I was having a fitful sleep one night even though I was in a very comfortable place for me: on their living room floor in one of their very comfortable sleeping bags. I felt all alone even though my grandparents were just a doorway from where I slept. Feelings of unease engulfed me and my mind raced too much for me to get much sleep. As I looked towards one wall a comforting sight awaited me. There in the room stood my dad’s father looking down on me. I clearly remember the reassuring look on his face as he smiled at me and nodded his head. Almost immediately my mind was put at ease. I returned my grandfather’s smile and enjoyed his presence until I felt totally relaxed. I rolled over and enjoyed a most comforting rest of the night in a deep sleep. It was a deeply personal experience which I did not speak of for many years to come.

In my pre-teen years. I was at school when my parents took me out early so we could rush to Colorado where my great-grandmother was in the hospital. The outlook for her health was not good. “Grandma” had been a very important part of my life as I had lived with her and my grandmother for some time. I was always “hijito” (“little son”) to her and she always treated me that way…as her son. We arrived to the small southwestern Colorado town as quickly as my parents could drive us from California. My parents, grandmother, and I all went to the hospital where we saw Grandma in a hospital bed. She was unconscious and a mask was over her face to assist her in breathing. We all stayed for awhile and visited amongst ourselves. Grandma remained unconscious so it was decided that we should go to her house. All of us were filing down the hallway when a feeling hit me to return to Grandma’s room for just one more look. As I looked from the doorway towards Grandma, she had removed her breathing mask. She had the same look on her face I had grown to love and treasure. She did not appear to be sick. Our eyes locked and she gave me a most loving look of reassurance that all would be well. I can still remember the loving smile she gave me as she nodded her head. My parents called for me from down the hall saying that there was nothing we could do, so we should leave the hospital. At Grandma’s house a couple of hours later the phone call came from the hospital informing us that Grandma had passed peacefully from this existence. Many tears were shed, but none were mine. I knew all was well as my dear great-grandmother had reassured me before she was called home.

My other grandfather, my mom’s father, and I had always been close. Every time we visited, whether at his home or ours, he and I would spend time talking late into the night hours. He taught me so much while giving me valuable advice and direction over the years. I last got to see him when I was nineteen years old and heading to serve a Church mission in the Central American country of Guatemala. My uncle and his family, along with my grandparents, had arranged to meet me at the Salt Lake City, Utah airport as I waited to board a plane headed to Los Angeles where we could catch our flight headed to Guatemala City. We had a very nice visit which could not last long enough. When it was time to part ways we tearfully said our good byes to each other. I looked my grandfather in the eyes and said that I’d see him when I got back in two years. With a knowing look he just smiled at me. I once again expressed my desire to see him upon my return, but with a barely perceptible shake of his head I had my answer and knew that this would be the last time I would spend time with my beloved grandfather in this life. I hugged him and didn’t want to let go…but I had to. Not a year later I was assigned to an area in Guatemala City. A note was left on our door from the mission office that I needed to call the phone number on the note. I knew the number. It was the first phone number I had ever memorized. It was my grandparents phone number. Calling from the phone company I was greeted on the other end of the line by my grandmother informing me that my grandfather had left mortality. I knew this would happen while I was in Guatemala as my grandfather had let me know not a year earlier that it would. My mind was at ease.

Our mother was always the guiding light of our family. I know she didn’t always feel this way, but she was the rock and foundation of our lives. It was a crushing blow to each of us to hear that her body had been invaded by cancer and our lives would never be the same. She fought a valiant fight through all of the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but it became clear that the disease would prevail. Mom made all of her funeral arrangements and even organized the program for her funeral. She told us we would be too sad at the appropriate time, so she didn’t want us to be “burdened” with all of the details. Mom and I had shared experiences together which bonded us in a special way. Her reassurance was that when the time came she would ask for a slight breeze to blow to reassure me that all was well. I was teaching at a southeastern Los Angeles high school. I had just started teaching my last class of the day when someone from the office arrived with a note to call the hospital where Mom was located. I knew right away something was up as the messenger was not a student, rather a teacher who simple said: “Go!”. I quickly gathered my things and headed to the office to make the call I feared. My father answered and tearfully told me that Mom had peacefully passed from this existence. My eyes grew teary and might sight grew dim. I quickly left the office and staggered down the hall, not knowing what to do. As I left the building a slight breeze caressed my face. My mind cleared and I knew it was granted to my dear mother that I be reassured all would be well. Many of my tears were shed at her services, but those tears were a reflection of my sense of loss. When it came to my delay beloved mother, I knew she was in a much better place and all was well.

No matter where I look mortality stares me in the face. My students often are surprised at my age as they say I look younger. Even so, reality is real. I’m not a strong as I once was, despite my continued weight training. My facial hair’s color is one which shows that I will turn sixty by the end of the year. Pain is a regular component in my life as my life-long companion, arthritis, continues to make its presence known. Various injuries along my path have definitely inhibited me in activities I am able to do today. My vision continually gets worse and it takes more time each morning for my body to get warmed up in order to get through the day. These are not complaints…just facts.

There’s a saying in sports stating that Father Time is undefeated. This is reality. I still have much to be grateful for in the physical sense. I may not be as strong as I once was, but I can still weight train and I think I’m slightly stronger than your average sixty-year-old. While I can no longer jog, an activity I once really enjoyed, I am able to get in much needed time on the elliptical machine thus maintaining a decent level of cardio respiratory endurance. When my body permits, I can hit a racquetball and play the game…albeit much slower than I once was able. I am capable of performing my duties of high school physical instructor and assistant football coach. I can also walk and enjoy the beauties of nature which are found everywhere. I know I can’t defeat Father Time. My goal is to continue working with him for as long as I can.

Too many individuals I’ve known in life have not reached the age where I find myself now. I am blessed to be where I am, doing what I am capable of doing. I remember being much closer to life’s entry thinking of myself more than anything. As I get closer to life’s exit I find myself thinking more of others…especially my family. No matter what money and material possessions I’ve accumulated in this life, nothing is more valuable than my family. For them I would give anything and everything.

When the time comes to be reunited with my grandparents, parents, and other beloved family and friends what material goods I leave will be of no value. No matter what, deterioration will take place with material possessions. Within time the value of material goods will diminish and eventually vanish. Thus, the material will prove to be meaningless.

Of my dearly beloved family members I’ve mentioned today, I do not possess anything of a material nature that was once theirs. What I do carry with me are the most precious experiences we shared and the lessons they taught me through their words and examples. Those are what make me a better person for having known them.

As I reflect on the mortality of us all I ask myself the simple question from a favorite Church hymn: “Have I done any good?” If my answer is a negative one, then I have work to do! “Because I have been given much, I too must give.” I have been given much and I must do some good! That is what truly matters.

That’s what mortality is all about. It’s not meant to last forever and it’s not meant to take on alone. We are together in this game of life and we can, and should, help make each other’s load lighter as we enjoy life to the fullest and leave behind all the good works we can.

I’m just a simple mortal sharing once again my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

FOOTBALL

Recently I was challenged to a ten-day photo challenge of posting pictures of football which I found important and/or memorable. Since I do not have many photos of when I played the sport, I found it easier finding photos of when I have been coaching football. The tough part of the challenge, and what brings me to the point of writing this blog, was to not include any explanation to the photo. Tough assignment for someone who has been involved in football for as long as I have. So, it is here that I choose to share what football has taught me which I have found to be useful in many aspects of my life outside of football.

As a young child the sport of football caught my eye. The game seemed fascinating and I could not get enough. If there was a game on television I was firmly planted in front of the screen taking in every moment of the action. I played whenever the opportunity presented itself…on the school yard…on the street…in parking lots…at the park…during physical education classes. It did not matter to me, I would play football anywhere. Yet, I could not play football in full football gear since I was too big to play in youth football leagues such as Pop Warner. It wasn’t until high school that I was finally able to put the full gear on.

That first day was a surreal experience. The helmet, shoulder pads, and other protective gear worn in football had become a dream of mine to wear. I was so excited and naive as to much the sport would present me in pads. So much so that some of the gear I had no clue in how to put it correctly on my body. Some laughs and encouragement later, I was fully geared up and there was no looking back. Little did I realize at the time, but football would end up being a huge influence on my life ever since that first day back in 1975.

It became abundantly clear since that first day that football is far from the aesthetic sport shown on television. There are sights, sounds, smells, and so much more that the television camera cannot capture. My senses were bombarded to the point of overload. I had felt pain before in my life, but not to the level of what football would give me. My body would adapt, but it would be a seemingly slow process. Yet, I was truly committed and I had waited too long to not see this football thing through…and my life has been blessed ever since due to the fulfillment of my dreams of playing “real” football.

So, what has football taught me that has been useful in life?

Hard work is necessary in order to attain what is valuable. This hard work does not guarantee success, but it sure provides a better chance at success than natural ability alone ever will. During my time in football I have experienced the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens. The teams I’ve been a part of have won championships and not made the playoffs. Those teams have been on both sides of winning close games and losing close games. We won big and we lost big. We’ve gone on winning streaks and endured more than two seasons without winning a single game. No matter the situation of the team, hard work was always put in.

Perseverance is necessary if you want to be successful. Winning a game is no easy accomplishment. It is an uncommon thing to be experienced only by those willing to put in what is necessary in order to have a favorable outcome. There is no short-cut to success. History has proven time and time again that perseverance is vital in attaining the extraordinary. Even losing games can lead to success at a future date. Each opportunity of playing a game provides an opportunity of learning lessons, thus giving up is not an option in being successful.

Teammates are necessary, and vital, in order to do anything. Football is not an individual sport. It is the ultimate of team sports. No one individual can control a game. If just one individual fails to do his job on a particular play, that play can be doomed to failure. Not matter how good an individual can perform, it takes the contributions of the team in order to be successful. A brotherhood evolves which can last a lifetime due to the experiences gained together in preparing for and playing in football games as a team. So many of my teammates from decades ago I look to as family, even though we haven’t been in each other’s presence for too many years.

Preparation is necessary beyond description. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Football is a game won on game day, but the preparation aspect sets the stage often well in advance of the first kickoff. A team must prepare itself both mentally and physically in order to attain success on the game field. Entering a game not fully prepared is an opportunity lost forever. It has been said that games are won during the offseason and played during the season. Total preparation is a must.

If it were easy, everyone would do it. My boyhood dream of playing football did not include what I found to be reality. Sweat, grime, dirt, spit, pain, injuries, and so much more were not on the list of why I wanted to play football…but they were included, along with so many other things which turn some individuals away from actively being involved in a sport which has become immensely popular. In my first year of football I felt as if I were a human punching bag which existed solely for the purpose of helping the varsity starters improve their game. I survived and for the remaining years in playing football I was a starter. I improved each season and became the best I was capable of due to the work put in by my coaches, my teammates, and myself. I left the game with no regrets and was blessed to immediately enter the coaching ranks, of where I have been ever since 1985.

I am not anywhere near famous, yet I have had the opportunity of coaching many fine athletes. Along with that I have also had the opportunity of working with many fine coaches. Of both athletes and coaches I have learned much. I’ve also learned from some of the most famous, and successful, coaches at the highest levels. Not bad for a guy who didn’t get to play “real” football until high school.

Whether this is of any use to anyone is not my call. It’s been useful to me…so far.

Hard work. Perseverance. Teammates, which includes family and support groups. Preparation.

Just one of so many coaches sharing his…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

“Old Man” Strength

I first heard the term “old man strength” many years ago when I was far from considering myself “old”. In my eyes the term was one of respect directed at an individual who had chosen to keep up with strength training as long as his body and mind would allow. Of course, I never imagined I’d ever fit into the category of possessing “old man strength”. I believe most of us don’t entertain the thought of aging until we reach the point where our body communicates in no uncertain terms that our body has indeed aged. As I am winding up my sixth decade on this third rock from the sun I have noticed that I fit all too well into the category of possessing “old man strength”…and I’m very proud to be here.

When I was first introduced to strength training I was a wide-eyed fifteen year old preparing, in the summer of 1975, for my first season of playing football. The high school I was to attend was a football force to be reckoned with in the greater Los Angeles area of that era. The players were athletic, big, and strong. Weight training had to become a way of life for me just to survive on the gridiron with theses guys. So, I bought into the idea of strength training and attack it with vigor. I remember my early goals included being able to put that seemingly heavy 45 pound Olympic plate on each side of the Olympic bar and be able to bench press that lofty amount of weight. I think I achieved that goal by the end of that summer and I am sure glad I did as I needed every ounce of strength I possessed just to be able to survive my first season of football. What I turned out to be that season was a practical human tackling and blocking bag of humanity. Our varsity team did well enough to play for a city championship and they regularly honed their skills, size, and strength upon a hand full of us who withstood the punishment and made it through the regular season. I didn’t suit up for a single regular season varsity game, but as a reward of survival the head coach called me up for the playoffs. I had a great seat on the sideline for games. I even got into the second half of our semi-final game blowout win, which meant I got to get pounded by an opponent instead of my own teammates. I walked away from that first season of football with a strong resolve to not be a human blocking or tackling bag again. The answer lied in the weight room.

As my strength slowly increased so did my goals. I worked as hard as possible to put two 45 Olympic plates on each side of the Olympic bar and be able to bench press it. Happy was the day when I reached that 225-pound goal. I was not allowed to boast of my accomplishments as many of my teammates remained much stronger than I. Still, I remain committed and for the remainder of my six years playing football and college, I never again became a human blocking and tackling dummy. My overall strongest strength rested in my legs. I eventually could workout with more than 400 pounds on the bar and could go over 500 pounds for a low number repetitions. I came from the factory with natural leg strength and I just needed to put the work in for that strength to increase. My upper body was a different story. My bench press seemed to stall a bit as I went no higher than 275 pounds in high school. I didn’t reach the magical level of three 45 Olympic plates on each side of the Olympic bar until I was I was much older. Yet it was a day of celebration for me when I reached that 315 pound goal when I reported for preseason camp my senior year in college. I had reached what I considered the mountain top of what my body was capable of attaining…or so I thought.

As I entertained the coaching ranks of football I was afforded to continue on with the strength training I had grown to love over the years I spent as a player in football. I had reached the “three wheel” level and I was content. My strength did not remain stagnant, but my legs had to slow down significantly as wear & tear had affected my back to the point where I could not longer squat with weights. I reached a point where 315 became part of my bench press workout. I was clearly much stronger than I had been as a player, simply because I had remained dedicated to my own strength training while helping to improve the strength of the athletes I worked with. I’ll always remember the spring day, when I was in my mid-thirties, and I had the team doing single repetition maxes to see where their hard work had taken them. The majority of the team had finished and only a dozen or so remained when one of them talked me into seeing what my single repetition max on bench press would be. After some coaxing, I agreed. To my amazement, and encouragement of the small group remaining, after some preliminary lifts I asked four four wheels to be placed on each side of the bar adding up to a total of 405 pounds. As I brought the bar to my chest I knew I was going to push it back up…the fight was on. Me against gravity. The progress of the bar was slow, but steady. A roar went up from the group as I accomplished lifting more weight on the bench press than I had ever imagined possible for me to attain. I was elated! Due to consistency and dedication to strength training I had reached a level of bench strength most do not reach. To this day I say that I want the words “400 lb. Bench” on my tombstone because of what it represents of hard work and commitment. I understand there are countless numbers of individuals who have bench pressed much more weight than I ever did, but I will remain proud that I was able to do more weight than anyone could have ever guessed I would reach when I first started strength training back in 1975.

The amount of weight on the bar when I bench press is not nearly as high, yet it is the weight I am capable of training with. More than a decade ago my doctor told me I didn’t need to train with heavy weights anymore. I followed his advice and lowered the amount of weight and increased the repetitions…for about a month. I noticed that I was not looking forward to my weight training sessions as I had for so many years previous. The challenge of mind and body over weight did not exist and I missed that challenge, so I returned to using heavy weights in my training routine. My strength is not compared to others. I always tell athletes to focus on the repetitions and the weight will take care of itself. I follow that advice as I lift what my body is capable of lifting, which means that’s now I am at the level of “old man strength”.

Over the years I’ve been complimented about what weight I am able to lift at my age. This makes me feel a bit uncomfortable since only I know what my body is capable of performing. For a long time I did not strength train at a public facility as I had access top the weight room at the community college where I coached and did most of my training there. I no longer coach at that community college, so my workouts are relegated to a very public (if you’re able to pay the $$) gym. Periodically I notice those stronger than me and those less stronger than me. I ALWAYS notice the man in the mirror staring back at me as I sit down preparing to bench press…not the man I used to be, but the man that I am now. The man proud to possess “old man strength”.

As the Good Book says, there is a time and place for everything. As for me, I am at the time in my life where “old man strength” reaches beyond the weight room and strength training. It means that I now choose to be strong enough.

Strong enough to choose right over wrong. Strong enough to choose respect over disrespect. Strong enough to choose tolerance over intolerance. Strong enough to choose patience over impatience. Strong enough to choose humility over arrogance. Strong enough to take a stand over standing in the shadows remaining indifferent. Strong enough to have my own beliefs over relying on the beliefs of others. Strong enough to do what truly matters over filling time with frivolity. Strong enough to make my own decisions over following the whims of others. Strong enough to realize that there can be consequences to my actions, which I will have to endure, over thinking that someone else will correct the mess that I made and all will be forgotten. Strong enough to listen over thinking of what my response will be. Strong enough to know that there is a time to think of others over always thinking of myself. Strong enough to offer a helping hand over always looking for a hand-out. Strong enough to say the words “I’m sorry.” over waiting for those same words in response. Strong enough to continue learning over resting on my laurels. Strong enough to adapt over being unchanging. Strong enough to be grateful over feeling entitled. Strong enough to pull my own load over relying on others to do the heavy work. Strong enough to learn from my mistakes over repeating those mistakes. Strong enough to realize the opportunities afforded me are due to the sacrifices of others over taking everything for granted. Strong enough to understand what I need over focusing on what I want. /Strong enough to me over trying to please others. Strong enough to choose family over everything.

I have not always been “strong enough”. It has taken me nearly sixty years to arrive to the happy place I find myself now. Life has taught me some valuable lessons. Like all of us, I’ve been given some tough tests along the way…and I’ve failed many of those tests. Yet, with each test, whether successful or not, I have experienced growth. That growth has not always been pleasant, but it’s always been productive and worth the pain. I now realize, as the acclaimed lyricist states, “…I knew much more then than I do now…” I thought I once knew much more than I really did and a lifetime later I have accepted that if I’m not progressing, I’m digressing.

Right now I’m just a man doing his best to be “strong enough” as I further develop my “old man strength” and my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

THE DECISION & THE CALL

Forty years have passed. I had just finished my first semester at East Los Angeles College, just a half-hour public transportation bus ride from our home in Maywood, California. The calendar had just turned and we found ourselves in the year 1979…ready to end the 70s in style in the greater Los Angeles, California area.

As a young boy I had been fascinated by the sport of football and it had been a dream of mine to someday play the sport professionally. I was able to play football in high school and ELAC was a step in the right direction for me as it was close to home. I had been extended an invitation to walk-on at a university, but I did not have the financial means to do so. My ultimate goal was to earn a football scholarship to a university, after two seasons at ELAC, then do everything necessary to get an opportunity to play football professionally. I was fully dedicated to the football cause and my focus was clearly set on attaining my goals.

After one of our offseason late-January workouts, some of us football players hung around to watch the basketball team warm-up a bit before their practice. The players had a dunk line going and all of us were quite entertained with the impressive dunks. As one of the players approached the lane and planted his foot, to launch himself towards the rim, his plant foot slipped ever so slightly due to some moisture on the floor. Instantly the player hit the floor in pain and it was clear an injury had occurred. We were stunned. As the player was quickly attended to I retreated to the locker room to change clothes and head towards my bus stop for the bus ride home. All the while the thought would not leave my mind that football is a sport with a much higher possibility of injury than basketball. Maybe I needed to ponder a bit about the path I was on.

At the time in our religion, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, males reaching the age of nineteen could serve a two-year mission. It was recommended, even encouraged, but it was not a requirement. My plans did not include such an endeavor as it would get in the way of my football progression. Now, after pondering what I had seen in the dunk line, maybe I should reconsider what direction my life was heading. If a basketball player could get injured with a slight slip on the court, it was definitely clear to me that a football players could get injured in a myriad of ways on the field. I did not want a personal injury to take place in order for me to realize what I should be doing with my life. Maybe a Church mission deserved more consideration on my part. My prayers, fasting, and research would begin.

Due to various factors, I was an extremely shy person. I was not shy with football, but anywhere else I felt quite a bit reserved and uneasy. My first date was to my senior prom in high school…and that was only because a friend of mine had done all of the ground work for me since he thought it unfathomable that I had no plans of attending the senior prom. I would break into a cold sweat just talking to members of the opposite sex, ending up stammering more than actually speaking. My circle of friends did not reach out much further than my football teammates. My being chosen as a football captain by the coaching staff was a reflection of my work ethic, not my leadership or social abilities. Considering a Church mission would be a hard sale to me as it would require more interaction with people than what I had ever experienced. Still, I knew I needed to approach things with an open-mind.

I prayed and fasted fervently to know what path I should take. All the while I was fully immersed in the offseason football workouts at ELAC, yet I was still focused on the task at hand of deciding what to do. The thought of a mission would not leave my mind. I spoke with my parents. I spoke with family members and Church members in our local congregation who had served missions. I spoke with local members who had played athletics before and after serving their missions. More importantly I spoke, with more energy than I had ever done before, with Our Heavenly Father. The answer became clear to me that I should serve a mission.

Of course the nineteen year-old me was nervous about the overwhelming endeavor I was about to embark upon, but I knew it was the right path for me to take at that point in my life. I was convinced and nothing would dissuade me from doing what was necessary to prepare myself to serve a two-year Church mission. ‘

First came an interview with our Bishop (leader of our local congregation). After that came physicals, dental exams & work, a language-learning capability test, and finally an interview with our Stake President (area Church leader). All of this took some time and patience. After some months, all of the paperwork had been done and it was determined that I qualified and was fit to serve a Church mission. My paperwork would be sent to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah and my waiting game would begin. When I say “sent”, I feel I must clarify that in today’s language that would refer to what we now call “snail mail”. No internet, no e-mail, no cell phones, not even personal computers were at our disposal in 1979. Which meant that my paperwork, and eventual mission call, would be delivered by the United States Postal Service. It would take 3-4 days to reach Salt Lake City, an equal number of days to return, and an indeterminate number of days in deciding where I would be assigned to serve. Once again patience would come into play.

In our religion, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, a young missionary does not choose where he or she will serve. The choice is to serve. Where the individual serves is determined at the highest levels of Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. My hope was to be assigned to an area amongst the history of our fair country on the eastern side of the United States. I truly hoped not to be assigned to an area of the world where I would need to learn a language. My experience with my Spanish classes in high school were not pleasant, resulting in me knowing just basic colors, days of the week, months of the year, and some very basic phrases. I did not think I would be good at learning a language. Even so, I was going to serve wherever I was assigned. To quote a Church hymn, my thoughts were that “I’ll go where you want me to go dear Lord”.

As I waited to receive my mission call, life went on. I had not informed my coaches or teammates about my decision. In fact, I had purposely avoided meeting with university football recruiters who visited our campus due to the fact I knew that I would not be present for the upcoming football season. I took final exams with the thought of my upcoming Church mission in the back of my mind, with the upcoming mission call never far from my conscious thoughts. I eventually informed my coaches and teammates/friends of my decision. Most of them were surprised, but supportive. One teammate, who was a longtime friend from high school, put me in a head lock and questioned my decision, due to the fact we had worked so long and hard together. He came around and in the end I felt nothing but support from those who meant the most to me. I also had the support of my loving parents and loving younger brother…and that is what mattered the most.

June arrived. Seemingly too many days passed. The mission call arrived, folded up amongst the other mail in our too-small-for-important-documents mail box. I waited for my parents and brother to be present, no fan-fare which often accompanies the opening of mission calls today. Just the four of us with me reading the words of the first page…”The Mission Call” which told of where I was assigned to serve. This mission call would change the course of my life forever! The steps I had taken to get to this point were monumental for me to take. I had to go outside my comfort zone in so many ways and I knew that the actual serving of a mission would require me to go further than outside my comfort zone than I had ever imagined possible. Yet, I was here.

The words jumped from the page, to my mind, through my voice, and to the ears of the four of us present. “Guatemala Guatemala City Mission”! I wasn’t sure where Guatemala was, but I guessed it was in Latin America and that I would have to learn Spanish. I was right about having to learn Spanish and I quickly learned that Guatemala was just on the other side of Mexico. After that day in June of 1979 life would never be the same…I would never be the same. In actuality the road which led me to decide to undertake the steps necessary to submit the paperwork to serve a mission is a path which changed my life for the better in all aspects.

I never received a pay check for playing football and I have no regrets. I have been blessed countless times over due to my decision of serving a mission and I would not change a thing. The decision…the mission call…the mission. Each helped form who I am today. Each has definitely had an affect in my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

“THE BOSS”

I had only coached football for five years when I first met the man. For the previous two seasons I had stood on the opposite sidelines from his team while I was the offensive line coach at fellow conference member East Los Angeles College. In our two meetings each school had won a game, defending their home turf. After the 1989 season, at the all-conference meeting, the head coach at ELAC mentioned to him that he had a coach who was purchasing a home in the Antelope Valley. (Al Padilla had been my position coach at ELAC and had graciously hired me while I only had three years coaching experience.) Coach Padilla mentioned to the man that he felt it would be worth the man’s time talking to me. I am certainly glad this man followed up on the recommendation from the man I held in the highest regards.

My wife and I had just moved into our new home in Lancaster, California over the Thanksgiving Day weekend of 1989. Along with our daughter, who had come into the world the previous April, we were living the commuter life. Up in the morning, at an inhumanely hour, my wife would drive us down to the Los Angeles area for our respective jobs. The sun would be rising when Debbie dropped me off at work. After work I would walk about an hour to where our daughter could be found at family members homes. We’d visit until Debbie got off of her swing shift. She’d meet us and I’d drive us home to the Antelope Valley, where we’d arrive just in time to get a short night of sleep…then repeat the same routine the following day. It was tough, but we only ended up having to do this for about eight months. I was planning on continuing the commuter life since I really enjoyed coaching at ELAC, until I received a phone call from “The Boss”.

Brent Carder had been head coach at Antelope Valley College since 1970. When I first met him what struck me most was the pure whiteness of his hair…even though Coach Padilla had warned me, I was still caught off guard. Coach Carder had arranged with me a time we could meet in his office and talk a bit. Like I said earlier, our schedule was hectic, but a time was settled on which met all of our schedules. We would rush back to the Antelope Valley for our designated time of 7 PM on a Wednesday. I later found out that this meant that Coach would stay on campus for hours after his regular time of departure just so we could meet. Our first meeting lasted at least an hour and a half and he suggested that we continue talking the next Wednesday at the same time. I agreed and this continued for a few more Wednesdays, after which Coach Carder offered me the position of assistant offensive line coach. After a week of deliberations with my dear wife Debbie, I accepted the offer, informed Coach Padilla, and looked forward to what lied ahead.

I had to miss part of Spring practices, due to my mother’s passing from mortality, but even so that Summer Coach Carder assigned me as the offensive line coach and assigned the coach I’d been working with to coach the running backs. I later learned that Coach Carder was not a man to leave things to chance. Each of my interviews with him provided him not only a chance to get to know me, but also a chance to test me. The final test came during Spring practices where he could see me work. I’m sure glad I passed the tests!

Brent Carder did not teach classes at AVC. No, his full time job included that of Head Football Coach, Athletic Director, and Dean over the Physical Education Department. Along with these time-consuming assignments Coach was on more college leadership committees than I can remember. Thus, the affectionate title I use in his respected reference…’The Boss”. Especially since Coach handled each position with the upmost professionalism and attention to detail which made him one of the greatest community college head football coaches in California.

In the office Coach was an even-keeled professional with concern for the individual. On the football field Coach was as intense and competitive as them come with his concern focused solely on the team. For the seventeen years I coached for him, I only remember seeing his anger away from the football field on two occasions. (The sure sign of his getting ready to release his anger was when his complexion became reddish, contrasting strongly with his white hair.) The first time was when I innocently adjusted the blocking scheme on a running play that he felt strongly about. I had taught the scheme, which was different than he thought it should be, during practice. In our meeting it became abundantly clear, in red & white, that the play would be blocked the way Coach thought it should be. I of course fell in line and corrected my errors with the players the next day. The only other time Coach displayed his anger off the field, that I saw, was during a Sunday football staff meeting where one of the defensive coaches expressed thoughts contrary to how Coach Carder was handling the team. As the situation unfolded, none of us other coaches wanted to be in the unsuspecting assistant coach’s position. Even those seated closest moved slightly away as Coach’s position became very clear. As Coach gathered his thoughts, redness appeared and I felt for the impending recipient as I was too familiar with what it felt like. Once the storm had passed, I was surprised that the offending coach had not been fired on the spot…yet that was not Coach’s way. Above all he worked with total integrity and professionalism.

I learned so much from Coach Brent Carder and I will always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me. I was the first Hispanic football coach hired at Antelope Valley College at a time when Hispanic football coaches were not widespread. A certain stereotype preceded me due to the fact the I came from East Los Angles. I can honestly say that Coach did not care where an individual came from, what his last name was, what the color of his skin was, or any other silly stereotypes which existed at the time in the Antelope Valley. What he wanted was someone who could do his job and who was a good individual. I always tried to never let him down in either regard.

So many of his players, and even some coaches, did not get to see what a great man Brent Carder was for Antelope Valley College and its football program. I saw him heavily get on a player’s case during practice, then speak kindly to him in the locker room afterwards. He expected each coach to do likewise as one of his staff rules was to never end the day with a player negatively. I saw Coach stand up for what was right when one of his players, one who had caused more than one headache, had been done wrong by a coach at another institution. Coach Carder called in some favors and applied pressure to the coach who ended up correcting the wrong and making things right. More times than I can count I saw Coach in his office on weekends heavily involved in a project he felt needed to be worked on. In the seventeen years I was his offensive line coach I had to miss practice twice, and each was due to what I considered to be a family matter that I felt strongly about, When I mentioned to Coach what I was going through, all he said, with true caring and understanding in his eyes, was “Go!”. When I came across Brent Carder in the locker room alone after practice one day a glimpse of the man emerged. We were alone and he expressed his concern over the health of a beloved family member. His emotions were strong and I just offered a listening ear and a comforting hand of reassurance that all would be well. When one of our players was lost due to senseless violence days before we opened preseason camp, Coach treated the situation as a father and helped get all of us through a challenging time. These experiences, and countless others, emphasized to me what a great man Brent Carder really is.

In the football arena Brent Carder knows few equals. What he accomplished during his long tenure as head football coach at AVC is unparalleled. Football was part the college when the reigns were handed over to him. Brent Carder made the football program part of the community and a power to be reckoned with in community college football. He coached State Champions, Conference Champions, All-Americans, All-State players, All-Conference players, and players who reached the highest levels of university and professional football. More importantly, Coach worked with individuals who, after their time with him, became responsible members of society who have achieved success in their chosen endeavors. In the Antelope Valley alone many leaders and responsible individuals can be found who worked under the tutelage of Brent Carder. This holds true across the country as Antelope Valley College once could recruit outside California, and countless players did come from Florida, Nevada, Louisiana, Georgia, and many points in between…all to play for Coach Brent Carder. It’s no wonder The Boss is in the California Community College Football Hall Of Fame, and his name adorns the football stadium on the Antelope Valley College campus.

Coach knew to hire coaches he thought were good and could handle their assignments along with the time requirements. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to fit into that category. From the first staff I worked on in 1990 there are four coaches who are in the State Hall Of Fame: Coach Carder, Gene Pagliaro, Frank Blua, and Joe Watts. Each of them are great coaches and greater men. It was an honor working with each of them.

When Brent Carder decided to retire from coaching it was a bombshell. We had assembled as a staff for a recruiting meeting. It had been a tough stretch for the Marauders and we were anxious to hit the recruiting trail in hopes of finding players who could help set things right. Unlike any other meeting, The Boss was the last to arrive. He shared with us his decision to step down as the Head Football Coach at Antelope Valley College, then quickly left the building dealing I am sure with his emotions. We sat there in silence. Speechless and shocked at the end or an era we had just witnessed. It was December of 2006 and emotions still resurface as I reflect on that day and Coach’s announcement. I think it was then that I realized that I had come to look at him as a father figure and I was unsure of what the future would hold for me in coaching for the first time since I was hired back in 1990.

Eight years later, after remaining as an assistant football coach at AVC, I came to the realization that after thirty years of coaching football, twenty-five years at AVC, it was time for me to step away from the sport I had dedicated so much of my life to. After informing the coaches and players, I told each of our children. The decision came on suddenly and I think all were taken by surprise. Once the emotions of the day had subsided a bit I knew there was one more person I needed to inform of my decision…Coach Brent Carder. I stepped into our garage for some privacy and dialed his number. I told him of my decision and that I wished to once again thank him for all that he had done for me and my family over the years. I would always be grateful to him and wanted him to know that. He was mostly silent…listening. I’m guessing he probably wondered why I had even called. Then, after what seemed like some time of reflection, he spoke words I will always treasure. “Mike, you were a good hire.” Simple words to some, but to me those short words were a ringing assurance that I had done what I had been hired to do and more…and more importantly, Brent Carder appreciated my efforts.

Along this journey we call “life” we are blessed with countless experiences and individuals who help us grow, develop, and progress. For me Brent Carder is one of those individuals and the experiences I had with him are too numerous to list. Each has helped me grow in ways he probably doesn’t realize. Here I have mentioned just a few reflections which have immensely helped me while developing my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

COME LISTEN TO A PROPHET’S VOICE

I had heard the experience of meeting a prophet could be soul-searching. I remember my dear mother telling me long ago of her once meeting a prophet named David O. McKay, when she was a young girl. She said it felt as if he could look right through her and knew everything within her very soul. Mom told of how his loving eyes seemingly looked right through her and so much love was reflected back to her. She never felt that strength of seemingly knowledgeable love before or since. I found it hard to imagine, but I did not doubt the cherished words of my loving mother.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity of meeting a prophet, named L. Tom Perry, after a meeting. My dear mother’s words were accurate as I never felt such love emanating from an individual that I had never met before. I don’t remember what words were exchanged, but the presence of love was clearly felt. While this kind gentleman was a member of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he is accepted by those of our faith to be a prophet…a special representative of Our Heavenly Father who is a chosen conduit here on earth from our loving Father.

As a senior in high school I, along with thousands of other youth my age, attended a meeting with Spencer W. Kimball, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as the lone speaker. We all gathered in a large arena to hear our prophet’s words. On cue we stood and began to sing the hymn “We Thank Thee O God For A Prophet”. I was seated in the upper levels of the arena, but my location afforded a view of the corridor where the prophet entered the arena with his traveling companions, which included his beloved wife. As the prophet entered the arena I could no longer sing. Unexplainably my voice choked up and words could no longer be formed. My eyes teared up and I was filled with such emotion that I had not previously experienced. I don’t remember the words the prophet shared with us that day, but as we sang the closing hymn I definitely felt a sense of loss as he left the arena through the same corridor he had entered.

Fast forward to the year 2014. Russell M. Nelson was visiting our area for a special conference. He is a prophet and would just four years later become the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This was not to be a meeting with thousands in attendance as had been the case in my youth when I had first been in the presence of a prophet. We arrived early enough to have seated comfortably close to the front, so we had a very good view. President Nelson entered the chapel and we all stood. He strode to the stand, smiling all the while, faced the congregation and bade us to sit down. When it came his time to speak he had nothing in front of him. No notebook, no tablet, no cell phone. For the better part of an hour he just spoke to us. The love in his words and voice was clearly evident as he shared with us words which he was inspired to speak to this particular group on this particular day. We all were in awe. At the conclusion of the meeting we were informed that this prophet would stay on the stand to shake the hand of any who wished to do so. Due to our proximity to the stand we were quickly in line and it did not take very long for us to climb the steps and stand in the presence of a prophet.

We were able to shake the hands of all who had addressed us. Our stake president, Bryan Crawley, stood next to the prophet and introduced each individual to him. It should be noted that at the time I had coached football for more than two decades at the community college located directly across the street from the building in which this meeting was held. President Crawley introduced me by name and pointed out the I coached football at the college. President Nelson’s words, as he shook my hand, stated: “Oh, I think he can do anything he sets his mind to.” A short and simple sentence delivered by a prophet of God.

I had reflected about my coaching career for some time. All of the time and effort I had invested over the decades. Was it what I wished to continue doing? Had I truly done any good? Was there anything else I should doing? While there had been opportunities lost due to my coaching, I had no regrets. Still, I wondered if I should continue down the path that I was on?

President Russell M. Nelson, a prophet of God, had spoken words to me. There were a myriad of things he could have said to me, but I know that he was inspired to say: “Oh, I think he can do anything he sets his mind to.” Words delivered directly to me could not be ignored. Words which would end up changing my life in so many ways.

The 2014 football season turned out to be my last season at the community college. On my own accord I retired the following February. I had given my best efforts for a quarter-century to a program which had provided me with so much. I worked hard to the last day and I left behind no regrets. What the future had in store I did not know, but I knew it would have me doing what I should.

It did not take long for me to have opportunities which would have not been available had I still been coaching at the community college. I began to be blessed almost immediately and I am so very grateful for those words spoken to me, by a prophet of God, which had me look at things in my life from a different perspective.

I stayed out of coaching for a year. At the urging of loved ones I reflected on my future. I landed at a local high school, where I’ve been for the past three seasons, coaching football once again. Today I am more happy at what I do than I have been for many years. In my present assignment I have been reminded why I got into the business of coaching football back in 1985.

Words are valuable tools which can alter the course of history. So many of us are inspired by quotes left behind by others who have experienced the life we lead now. I am a better man today than I was back in 2014 when a prophet shared with me the simple words: “Oh, I think he can do anything he sets his mind to.” Those words surely inspired me and altered my course in life as I further develop and share my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…