A Very Special Visit

I was in the midst of shaving when the phone rang. My dear wife Debbie answered the call and informed me that my father was on the line and it sounded urgent. Immediately my shaving came to a halt and I put the phone to my ear. My father informed me that my dearly beloved grandmother, his mother, was not expected to see the next day in mortality. Her doctor had informed Dad that he did not expect to see Grandma Ecca alive when he made his morning rounds the next day. The words were a punch to my heart. Shaving in preparation for Church on that particular Sunday morning immediately became inconsequential as I processed the information received. I didn’t know how to respond. Debbie’s response was a quick and simple one: “You should go.”

Each of us who have had experiences with our grandparents cherish those memories forever. The same is true for me, but with Grandma Ecca there was always something special. I was the first grandchild born to both sides of the family. During those early years all four grandparents helped raise me in their respective homes, therefore I spent more time with each, due to life’s circumstances, than one might expect.

Rebecca Trujillo Martinez was my “Grandma Ecca”. To so many of her friends she was “Becky” and to her family she was simply “Ecca”. Grandpa Martinez left mortality when I was just four years old and Grandma would remain a widow for the rest of her time on earth…forty years! She always treated me with so much love and I was not alone in that respect as she treated everyone with love. To meet her was to love her. Short in stature, she did not reach the five-foot mark, her heart was as big as all outdoors.

When my parents married it was a very different era. Theirs was a bi-racial marriage. My dear mother came from early “Mormon” stock who had crossed the Great Plains to Utah. My dear father’s family was rooted deeply in the Hispanic traditions of old and founded in the Catholic faith. Her complexion was light, while his complexion was of a darker hue. In certain circles this union was frowned upon at the time, but to Grandma Ecca it was embraced and my mother became family. I heard Grandma refer to my mother as “Hijita” (“little daughter”) on a regular basis. The love between the two was undeniable…as the special love only a mother and daughter share.

Back to that morning when my shave was interrupted. I usually follow my sweetheart’s lead when it comes to things of a more spiritual nature. This was the case on the morning of January 19, 2004. I quickly changed my clothes, hopped into one of our cars, and pointed it in the direction of Ogden, Utah. It good conditions the drive from our home would take in the neighborhood of twelve hours. My intent was to arrive as quickly as possible with hopes of seeing my dearly beloved Grandma Ecca just one last time. With one stop for gas and a stop or two at easy-access restrooms, I made the journey faster than I had ever done previously. That Sunday there had been a celebration in Grandma’s hospital room for her ninetieth birthday. As I entered the room, just before midnight, remnants of the celebration were still evident on the door. I smiled with hopes the celebration was worthy of one of heaven’s choicest souls. My heart swelled with more hope as Grandma was sleeping peacefully. One or two family members were present waiting the seeming inevitable. We were all tired. The other family members left for home while the nurses set me up to sleep in a chair next to Grandma’s bed.

As the sun rose on a new day, I opened my eyes to the smiling face of my Grandma Ecca. She seemed happy to see me and I know for sure that I was happy to see her. I gave her a gentle hug and a kiss on her cheek, expressing my joy in being there with her. Grandma questioned why I was there, but the look in her eyes conveyed that I was wise to listen to the urgings of my dear wife to come with haste. We enjoyed each other’s company as it seemed just like the last time I’d seen her just a few months earlier. There was a sparkle in her eyes and I know tears of joy were in mine. Our joyful visit was interrupted by her doctor on his morning rounds. I left the room as the doctor and nurses attended to my beloved grandmother.

After a short walk, I returned to wait outside Grandma Ecca’s room. As the doctor and nurses left the room, the doctor pulled me aside to say that he was sure the only reason she was still with us was because I was there…he could see it in her eyes when she looked at me. I was touched and felt extremely blessed that a loving Heavenly Father had allowed Grandma and me some time together before she was called home.

For the next four days, except for meals, I spent every waking hour with my grandmother with whom I had spent so much of my life and to whom I owed so much. I was even allowed to push her wheelchair around the hospital so she could get out of her room for a bit. We reminisced, in English and Spanish, about good times gone by. The walks we shared in small town and urban settings. The times we spent talking late into the night long after others in the house had gone to bed. The late night snack of a homemade buttered tortilla dipped in syrup we shared as she always had a sweet treat before going to bed. The times she travelled by bus, she would never fly and she never possessed a driver’s license, to visit our family no matter where we lived at the time. All the important times in my life that she found a way to be there for me. The loved ones who had left mortality and all the good times we shared together…as well as how much we missed each of them. We laughed. We cried. We spent time together I will forever cherish. In a way it seemed this served as a summary of our lives together…our love for one another and the love we had shared with so many along the way.

Life moves on and I had to return to work. After four days in her presence I had to leave my dearly beloved grandmother and return to California. We both knew it would be for the last time in this life, so we were both hesitant at my departure. As usual Grandma had tears flow down her cheeks while we hugged and kissed our goodbyes. The difference with all of our other departures was that tears unashamedly flowed down my cheeks as well.

I returned to the real world and work. Just over two weeks later I got the inevitable phone call informing me that Grandma Ecca was once again reunited with so many loved ones who had gone on before. I can imagine the hearty hugs and tears of joy as she was reunited with my grandfather, her sweetheart, and countless other family members and friends…including my dear mother, her “Hijita”.

Do not pass up the opportunity to spend time with loved ones and those others you hold dear. An opportunity lost will never be replaced, so enjoy the time together while you have it. Those four days with my dearly beloved grandmother I will cherish forever and I know that we will reflect on that time together again some day.

So many experiences I”be had along this journey we call “life”.

I’m just a simple man sharing my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

SIXTY?!?!?!

One of my grandfathers, an uncle, an aunt, and my dear mother were not able to complete six decades on this planet we call “Earth”. As I approached the various ages of these beloved family members I felt apprehension mixed with thanksgiving for the time I am afforded in mortality with family, friends, colleagues, fellow humans. Understanding that none of us have total control of how long we live in this earthly state, I can state that due to circumstances beyond my control I am now celebrating my sixtieth birthday. As I ponder the life I have been blessed with I know there were opportunities along the way for an earlier departure than I would have preferred. So many of us have had those experiences. Occasions where it was clear we had been watched over and protected from fatal outcomes along this journey we call “life”. So many associates, colleagues, friends, and family have transitioned from mortality, yet here I remain. The list of those individuals grows with each passing year. I am humbled that my name is not currently on that list…yet I know in my heart when it is I will be reunited with all of those who have gone on before, embraced with mutual love in the presence of a loving Heavenly Father. In reflection I can see that there is so much I have experienced…so much I have learned…so much I can still do.

While very young my parents moved us around quite often. Through my elementary school years I averaged attending two schools per year due to our moving from town to town. I would just start to get comfortable, then it would be time to start all over once again. As a result friendships outside my family were short-lived. My shy nature did not help things, so I kind of ended up on the extreme side of shyness. Upon reflection I see that opportunities for strengthening relationships were lost due to my shyness and inability to open up a bit with those outside my family. Even so, moving around so much helped me learn that people are people. I attended schools with so many differing student bodies that I saw that there is good and bad in all different kinds of people. The outward appearance of an individual is not always a reflection of what lies within that individual.

Nearing high school age our locations of residence became more stable. I only attended two junior high schools (grades 7-9) and one high school (grades 10-12). It was in high school where I could finally participate in what had interested me for years…FOOTBALL! The sport had fascinated me for as long as I could remember, yet due to my size I had not been able to play the sport in how it was intended to be played…fully padded up in football gear. That first year in high school I had participated in the summer training sessions, thus I had teammates with whom I had started to build friendships with. When classes began this made the transition to high school so much easier for this extremely shy guy. Football was not kind to me at first. I had to be helped in putting on the football protective gear correctly. I learned quickly that there is a difference between the discomfort experienced with physical exertion and the physical pain caused by other humans pounding into your body from various directions. With time I adjusted. The first year I didn’t get to suit up for varsity games until we reached the playoffs. I am sure that honor was bestowed upon me due to my ability to survive as opposed to thrive. The view was eye-opening enough to set the mold for me to become a varsity starter the last two years of high school. Along the road of playing high school football I learned that the sport was not what I had expected it to be in full football gear…it was BETTER! So much so that I did not want my football playing experience to end. I sought college opportunities.

I had hoped to earn a college scholarship playing high school football. I did not. I was offered a walk-on opportunity at a university I had dreamed of playing for, but my financial circumstances made that an impossible dream to fulfill. A local community college invited me over for a visit. A few of my teammates and I enjoyed our visit and our free dinner at a fast food restaurant across the street from campus. I was sold! I immediately began training in earnest for my first season as an East Los Angeles College Husky. I was no stranger to hard physical training, so the transition to college football was as smooth as could be expected. The size and speed of the football players I played with and against took some adjusting to, but I adjusted and became a starter on the offensive line that first year in college. As the calendar turned to another year, with my training for my second college football season well underway, a higher calling gradually came to me.

In our religion we are given the opportunity of going on a mission. Two years for males and 18 months for females. I had never considered going on a mission since I considered that it would interfere with my football endeavors. As I prepared for my second season of college football it seemed that I was spinning my wheels and not really operating with a purpose. After much reflection and prayer I decided that I should serve a mission. I did all that was necessary and eventually received word that I was called to serve in the Central American country of Guatemala. It was definitely a leap of faith, the biggest I had made in my young life, but I knew within me the decision I made was the right one. Despite any challenges which awaited, I was determined to serve. I had no idea how much this experience would end up impacting the rest of my life.

For two years I put my personal endeavors on hold while embarking on a path to serve others. I was not a model missionary by any means. I was humbled to my very core and challenged in ways I had never imagined possible. I met so many people who changed my perception of the life I had back home. My eyes were opened to the lack of opportunities available to the vast majority of people I came across which were available and often taken for granted in the United States. I did what I could to help the people whose paths I crossed. What I learned from them was so much more than I have ever done for those wonderful people. After two years I returned home a much better person than I had been before. I vowed to never take for granted opportunities placed in my life. No matter what there are always people in the world who would love to live in similar circumstances as our own…yet they will never get the opportunity.

Returning to the “real world” took some adjustment on my part. No longer the extremely shy individual I was before Guatemala, I had much more confidence in myself and my abilities. My priorities had shifted and were much more grounded. Football had been left behind and not to be included in my post-Guatemala life. A college degree was a high priority, along with earning the funds to pay for my education. It quickly became apparent that working full-time while going to college would definitely require more time in earning a degree than I could foresee. The thought came to me that if I took the chance of playing football one more season at East Los Angeles College I could possibly garner the interest of a university enough to warrant a college scholarship. I set to the task. I took a part-time job, went to school full-time, and trained as hard as possible with the intent of earning a spot on the football team once again. My efforts were rewarded and I even ended up starting every game on the offensive line. In a relatively short amount of time, I was not able to train with the team until the summer months, the offensive line I was a member of became extremely close. We had each other’s backs and our working relationship on the field became evident as we could not be stopped on becoming one of the top community college offenses in the country. This taught me that bonds can be formed in a relatively short time and last a lifetime. We got together many years later after not seeing each other for decades and it felt like we were still brothers at heart.

In the Spring I was afforded two choices of universities who wanted me to play football. I chose to head west and accept a football scholarship to a small division two university in southwestern New Mexico. The small town provided challenges to others from Southern California, but not to me due to what I had seen and experienced in Guatemala. I found the place very acceptable and a great place, with few distractions, to complete my bachelor’s degree. The higher elevation was a challenge and the competition was intense. Two years later I had started on the offensive line and had earned a bachelor’s degree. That small town brought so many of us together from various parts of the country. We left with a brotherhood which lasts to this day. We didn’t always share the same morals, but we shared the desire for success on the football field…and we found it as we had the best two-year run the football team had to that point in the school’s history.

It was great and football had been very good to me. Three years in high school and four years in college, but the trail had come to an end as I was not a good enough player to earn a paycheck playing football….but maybe coaching football could be part of my future. Football had taught me so much and I wanted to stay involved with it some way. I had learned that the greater good rests in the success of the team. Individual effort is best when combined with the efforts of others forming a team which can attain more than possible to the individual alone. Hard work does not guarantee success, but it sure gives you a better chance. Fighting through discomfort/pain leads to strength in which to face challenges. I loved the sport and would get to stay involved thanks to the coach who had recruited me to that small division two university.

I was back in the Los Angeles area preparing to start a teaching career and coaching high school football. I received a phone call which would change my direction. It was that coach offering me the opportunity of coaching at the university I had just graduated from. After much thought, and consultation with others I trusted, I accepted the position and returned to begin my coaching career. That career has now spanned more than thirty-four years…three colleges…and two high schools. I’ve worked with countless numbers of athletes over that span and I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity. I’ve been mentored and taught by some of the best football minds around who happen to be great individuals who not only helped me become a better coach…they helped me become a better man. I needed, and accepted, all the help I could get. I needed to become better in order to help keep us with the most important part of my life.

We had graduated from the same high school together. I knew her as a person who was way above my league in every aspect. Not only was she pretty, she was popular, had many friends, and even had regular access to a car. We never dated, but we were cordial. Six years after graduation our paths crossed and she invited me on a date. She was impressive and I felt lucky to have had the opportunity of dating such a beautifully wonderful person. It was a one-time memorable kind of thing. Two years later our paths crossed once again and we started down the same path together. We were married about a year later and I had to pinch myself periodically to make sure I was not dreaming. She knew she was marrying a football coach and she has supported me since day one. Unconditional love knows no bounds. Our love for one another helped bring four wonderful children into our lives.

Along with marriage, fatherhood taught me to put my priorities in order. I know not what paths others may take, but as for me the family reigns supreme. Football had to take a back seat as being the best husband and father I could be meant more to me than becoming the best football coach. I never desired being a head coach, just an assistant coach focused on the offensive line. On the other hand, being a head of household brought more fulfillment and joy than I could have ever imagined. With my last breath in mortality I will declare that the greatest joys in my life are rooted in my family…which now includes two son-in-laws, and two grandsons with a granddaughter on the way.

Speaking of family, it took me some years to realize that “I was born of goodly parents.” My father and I didn’t always have a close relationship, but I could go to him with concerns or doubts I had. He was never judgmental. My mother taught me most every characteristic that I have. She worked hard and at times could be hard on her two sons. I later realized that may have been a reaction to some of the unexpected cards she had been dealt in her life. My younger brother was the best friend I could have ever had growing up. Despite our seven-plus years age difference, we were extremely close. Most of the pleasant childhood memories I have include my beloved brother. With the help of my parents and brother, not to mention my grandparents and other family members who helped raise me, I had a firm foundation for the life which lay ahead of me. From them I learned that diligence, energy, faith, integrity, love, and a sense of humor are integral parts of a complete life.

So, what have I learned in my sixty years of mortality? I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned, but let me tie things up with some thoughts…

Don’t take the truly unimportant things too seriously…laugh often and look for the light side of things.

Enjoy the journey…it’s great to have goals, but the road to attaining those goals is a journey which can, and should, be enjoyed.

Love wholeheartedly…it may leave you vulnerable, but it’s the only way to go and the life rewards are everlasting.

Don’t sweat the small stuff…life is filled with important stuff, don’t waste energy on the things that don’t matter as much.

Family is one of God’s choicest gifts…don’t take it for granted and don’t spend unnecessary time away from them.

Be honest with yourself and others…no one likes to be dealt with dishonestly.

Find something you really like to do, then figure out a way to get paid for it…the world is filled with people who have followed this way of thinking and the world is a better place because of the inventions and services they have rendered. I am a simple man who found football and I’ve been paid to coach it for more than thirty-four years now.

Don’t accept blame that isn’t yours…you make enough mistakes on your own, don’t accept the blame others may want to place on you.

When receiving criticism, consider the source…never accept criticism from those you don’t trust enough to ask for advice.

What you look for in life you will find…too many in our world today look for the bad…be the person who looks for the good in life and you will always be pleased with what you find.

So often the best presents can’t be gift-wrapped…enjoy and appreciate the moments which touch your soul…those are the greatest gifts of all.

Go ahead and do the seemingly small stuff…those are what often have the biggest impacts. Smile often. Greet people with a cheerful face. Open a door for someone. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” when appropriate. Perform a simple act of kindness…not only will the receiver feel good, you will too.

Sixty trips around the sun and I’m still learning…never think that you’ve learned enough.

So much learned and so much more to learn and experience. Life is a gift that I do not take for granted. I am grateful everyday I wake up in the same place I went to bed. I could go on, but I’ve take up enough of your time…I gotta take advantage of the time I have left.

Just one man sharing his….VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

The Desert?!?!

Who would ever want to live in a desert? Other than poor creatures who had been born there, I could not imagine anyone choosing to live in such an arid environment. I remember traveling through deserts in my younger years with the only thought being that I was glad we were just passing through. Even the glimmer of the lights of Las Vegas could not deter my mind from the fact that the city was located in a desert. Who would ever want to live in a desert?

Upon engagement to the girl of my dreams, she mentioned that she thought it would be a good idea to tell her father, a man who I had not known existed, of our matrimonial plans. We left the comforts of the Los Angeles, California area and headed northeast to a section of Los Angeles county I had only heard of…the Antelope Valley and the city of Lancaster. Far, in more ways than one, from the more famous city with the same name in Pennsylvania, this Lancaster was located in the desert! It was November, but there was no mistaking that I found myself in a desert as I met my future wife’s father. He and his wife seemed like very nice people, but why did they live in a desert? Who would ever want to live in a desert?

As we drove back to what I considered to be “civilization”, the lights of the night revealed that my future in-laws were not alone in living in this particular desert. I would learn that the two largest cities in the Antelope Valley, Lancaster and Palmdale, were two of the fastest growing cities in the United States at the time. Nearly half a million humans resided in the Antelope Valley. I was quite a bit surprised as I figured far fewer than that would ever choose to live in a desert! Who would ever want to live in a desert?

Little did I know what the future held as three years later my wife and I were new parents and contemplating where we would like to raise our little daughter. The area in which we resided was not an option as I personally felt that our little one should be raised in a better environment. We searched high and low for areas in which to purchase a house. With a twist of irony, we landed in Lancaster with a house we watched grow from the foundation up. That’s right. We landed in the desert! Who would ever want to live in a desert?

I coach football, thus I am outside a lot. That first summer in the Antelope Valley was a rough one for me due to the heat. Triple digits were what I expected to see in a basketball game…not on the thermometer. My body was not used to the 100+ degree temperatures. I remember returning to our locker room after summer practices totally drenched in sweat and exhausted. If not at football practice, I spent as much time indoors as possible. This was a time in the desert that I had never experienced: summer. I was not impressed. Who would ever want to live in a desert?

Fast forward thirty years. I now look back on those times and can’t help but chuckle. I adjusted to the heat of summer, the cold of fall and winter, the pollen of spring, and the seemingly ever-present winds of the Antelope Valley. Tumble weeds. Joshua Trees. Sand. Junipers. Reptiles. Snakes. Add them all up and they equal our desert. That’s right I said “our” desert. When you live in a place for thirty years it becomes yours. Who would ever want to live in a desert? The answer to that question is more than I had previously imagined and I have learned that I want to live in a desert.

I now am a proud “Desert Dweller”. Where I had never imagined being found for any sort of extended time, I now call “home’…a desert! We have become part of the community. I teach and coach football. My sweetheart is the libertarian at an elementary school. We have raised our four children here. All four have returned to visit, spend time, and reminisce on the good times we have shared in our desert. Our blood family lives outside our desert, but our friends and adopted family are close at hand as we are all Desert Dwellers. The desert has brought us together and we have formed a unique bond due to the desert and its challenges.

During my six decades on the planet I have learned countless lessons. Amongst those lessons is that life can often give us lemons. It is up to us what we make of them. I am of the mindset to make lemonade.

We moved to the desert for an affordable house. It took awhile for me to adjust to what the desert has to offer, but I did and am stronger because of it. What a desert meant to me in my younger years has evolved to the point that when I hear the word “desert”, I think of the word “home”. I never wanted to live in the desert, but I am sure glad that I do!

There is no doubt the desert has helped form my…VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…

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…