Remembering My Dad, the Coach

my dad the coachWhen I was growing up, my Dad was a high school coach—first football and basketball, then track and cross-country.

This meant learning lessons from fields, courts, and tracks even before my brother and I were old enough to play sports on our own. He repeated Vince Lombardi and John Wooden quotes and shared stories of legendary sports heroes, like the great Yankee Lou Gehrig, nicknamed the Iron Horse for his commitment and endurance on the baseball field.

We watched a lot of sports together. When he coached high school football, we went to the games and cheered for the Westhampton Beach Hurricanes. Autumn Saturdays were for high school games and we planned dinners on Sunday around football games. We liked all the home teams: the Yankees, Knicks, Giants, and Jets. Yes, it’s possible to be a fan of two different home teams—why not?

We were taught that giving it your best was expected. “As long as you try your best” applied to everything. You can do it. Try and try again—that’s courage. It’s a game of inches, he said after a player made (or missed) the end zone, basket, or base, or when a runner reached the finish line. You have to work hard, stay focused, and go for it.

Athletic skills and physical feats were appreciated and even marvelled at, but we were taught that mental toughness was what made a true champion. Determination and dedication—that’s what you need to win. You can’t just show up—you have to prepare and play hard, no matter the circumstances. To succeed, practice is as important as competition. So is putting your heart into what you’re doing. You have to love the game and the pursuit.

He said “have fun” instead of “good luck.” After all, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. “Be a good sport” applied to all. The highest value should be placed on being a good teammate, keeping your ego in check, maintaining your cool, playing by the rules, persevering when things get tough, and respecting your opponents. Attitude is everything.

It’s not right to root against someone. A sportsmanship award is better than a first-place trophy. If you don’t have an allegiance to a team or athlete, go for the underdog. He thought blow-outs were boring, even if your favorite team was the one in the lead. What he wanted to watch was a good game.

In school, joining a sports team was encouraged and also seemed like the natural thing to do. I’m so glad I did. I ran cross-country and track and the lessons I learned are with me today, decades later. I wasn’t a fast runner, but my dad was proud of me because I trained hard, tried my best, and loved being on the team.

When I went to college at Albany State, I joined the school newspaper with the intention of covering sports. My favorite was college basketball. In the last couple of years, Albany’s team has made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament. This was an opportunity for my Dad to talk to me about hoops and send me an email with the simple subject line: “Go Great Danes.”

Our mutual love of sports was a bond we maintained and treasured. Through email, we would share links to articles or video clips that were inspiring—recent ones include a video segment on Terry Fox, feature stories on Roberto Clemente and Yasiel Puig, a commentary about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and an old photo he found online of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. His comments were short and sweet: “good stuff,” “inspirational,” “get a tissue,” or “enjoy.”

After I moved to Los Angeles, he sent me an article of great LA sports figures and we were able to go to a UCLA basketball game. When I recently joined a fantasy football league with friends, he wanted to know the players I had on my team and he’d notice how my star quarterback or running back was performing. During the post-retirement visits to California my parents took, we watched Sunday football games together at my home and I planned meals around game times.

In everyday life, I have relied on sports lessons to motivate me, whether it’s pacing myself, going the distance, or kicking in the end. During tough times, my father’s encouraging words—similar to the ones he would share with the students he coached—have supported and lifted me. It was as simple as reminding me that strength comes from within.

There’s always a game on and it pains me to think I won’t be able to talk to him or sit down on the couch with him to watch—or talk on the phone, plan a visit, open my email to see another message that would surely bring a smile to my face. There is so much I already miss about my dear Dad. I can almost hear him say, “chin up, Stefanie Susan.” I will miss that love and support and his voice telling me to have fun. But I’m so grateful for the gifts he gave me.

Capturing Sentiments: Photos Taken After September 11

I have always loved to take photos. I like to document experiences, places, and the faces of loved ones. On any given day, I will take aim at sunsets, seascapes, flowers, and the cat looking cute, but I especially love when a photo can tell a story or express a sentiment. These days, when my eyes linger on an image, I love that I can reach for my smartphone and capture a moment with ease.

I did not take any photos on September 11, 2001, or during the immediate days that followed. This was the pre-iPhone era and I used a camera with film to take photos during that time. After standing on the roof of my building and seeing that the towers had fallen, I packed a bag to temporarily flee my downtown apartment. I did not pack my camera. Even if I had, I’m not sure if I would have taken images of those first few days. Then, like so many others living in New York, I walked around feeling shocked, saddened, fearful, and uncertain.

But after several days, when I was back in my apartment, I started noticing signs of solidarity and patriotism everywhere I looked. I started to see American flags hanging where they had not been before. There were stars and stripes in shop windows, too—along with red, white, and blue fashions on mannequins. Walking the streets, I saw windows filled with patriotic displays that were thoughtfully and artfully arranged. My favorite is a miniature brass sculpture of a woman sewing (or repairing?) the American flag. With a smartphone, I certainly would have photographed more, but I’m glad I captured the images I did. They remind me of the hopeful days that followed.

MORE: Photos of NY Windows After September 11

Memories of Parks and Beaches: Celebrating the Wilderness Act

When I recall some of my treasured childhood memories, I picture myself either surrounded by trees and mountains or sand dunes and an ocean that stretches out as far as you can see. Parks and beaches were the best playgrounds and I was lucky to have them so close, as well as parents who exposed us to the great wonders of nature and taught us to appreciate and respect the wilderness.

It was a childhood packed with outdoor adventures. When I go back as far as I can remember, I’m at a park near our house feeding ducks and walking through the woods to climb a tree we named Irving. Our family’s summer vacations were camping trips to state and national parks, where we played in lakes, rivers, and oceans and hiked the Appalachian Trail. The rest of our summer days were enjoyed close to home at the beach, splashing in the white water then learning to jump waves and swim out past the breakers.

We went to the beach even during the colder months to walk the boardwalk nature trail. I didn’t know then that the area—the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness—was protected as part of the Wilderness Act, which was passed 50 years ago today. It was right down the road and also housed a nature center where park rangers would answer questions about the displays on the barrier island ecosystem. What a gift.

Drink Up: Daily Tonics and Teas for Good Health

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Two recent conversations inspired this post: hearing about a family member who suffered from dehydration after a long day in the sun without adequate fluids, and a friend who has been bothered by a recurring cold since she started working in a new office. To both I say, “Drink up!” In addition to eating clean, staying hydrated is essential in the maintenance of good health. Below are a few good-for-you drinks I consume daily.

Hot Water with Lemon Juice
I love starting my day with this lemon juice tonic. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass or mug and fill with just-boiled, filtered water that has cooled for a few minutes. I remember my grandmother drinking hot lemon water (she would also squeeze a lemon slice right into her mouth without making a face!). It naturally provides a fresh-from-the-fruit dose of vitamin C and is said to kick-start the system, detoxify, and provide balance.

Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Stir one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water—cold or warm—for a boost of detoxifying vitamins, enzymes, and minerals. Be sure that the apple cider vinegar is organic and unrefined (I like Bragg’s) and shake the bottle before use. Optional: stir in honey and sprinkle in some cinnamon (the cinnamon never fully dissolves but adds some flavor and provides another antioxidant boost). I like to have this tonic mid-afternoon, right around the time my energy starts to wane. Instead of reaching for something sugary, I’ll drink this to feel revived.

Flavored Water
Sometimes I add cut fruit (fresh or frozen), sometimes cucumber slices, sometimes fresh mint or lemon verbena. It’s so easy and good—just drop into a pitcher or container of water and refrigerate. Also consider adding something to your reusable water bottle when you’re on-the-go and add frozen fruit to your water bottle instead of ice cubes on hot days. I also like adding a splash of chilled hibiscus or chamomile tea (see below).

Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is an infusion easily made with dried hibiscus petals and hot water. I love the tart flavor and drink it straight-up, combined with green tea, or chilled and sweetened (agua de fresca). It contains vitamin C and minerals and studies suggest it could help lower blood pressure and ease digestive woes. To easily enjoy it all week long, I make a batch and keep it chilled in the refrigerator. It’s also good for topping off a hot cup of tea or adding a boost of flavor to water or regular iced tea.

Green Tea
Green tea, long known to be an antioxidant, is my go-to for an afternoon cup of tea. When it’s cool out or I’m working in an air-conditioned office, I reuse the tea bag and refill my mug with hot water all afternoon—this keeps me warm and limits my caffeine intake. Extra boosts to add: hibiscus tea or a few dried hibiscus petals; lemon juice or a lemon slice; grated ginger. Or, stir with a cinnamon stick.

Chamomile Tea with Apple Cider Vinegar
Here’s my bedtime drink: half a cup of chilled camomile tea with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Chamomile is known for its calming effect and I heard that consuming apple cider vinegar helps ensure restful sleep, so I’ve combined them. I make several cups of chamomile tea in advance and keep it chilled in the refrigerator.

Buried in the Sand: Beach Glass and Clams

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It doesn’t feel like summer unless I have the chance to stroll along the shore in search of beach glass. Where I grew up on Long Island, it’s easily found and I have been a collector of sea glass for as long as I can remember. I think of it as treasure-hunting and usually stop only when my eyes tire and my back begins to ache from bending—or if the sun is beating down and I feel compelled to jump right into the ocean. In another life, I might have been a gold-digger. During a recent family visit, I picked up 20 pieces on a beach walk with my parents.

Another fond childhood memory I have of searching along the shore is for clams. Our parents would send us — me, my brother and cousins — to go clamming in the sand and we would fill our buckets with them, then take them home to be served. I remember steamed clams and pasta with clam sauce, but my favorite was baked clams. The bread crumb mixture was similar to the one we used for stuffed artichokes — with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, and parmesan cheese — but we added oregano and lemon to the mix for baked calms. For the kids who weren’t fond of the slimy clams, Uncle Mike would chop them into small pieces to blend with the bread crumbs before baking. After a long day at the beach that made me feel nostalgic for childhood beach days, we picked up clams and I prepared them for dinner. Just as good as I remember.

13 Tips for Staying Healthy at the Office—Physically and Mentally

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When a friend recently changed careers and started working in an office for the first time, she asked me if I had any tips on staying healthy at work. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked at a desk in an office and the experiences have taught me a lot, including ways to stay healthy—and sane. Here are several habits I’ve developed to help maintain my health in the workplace.

Get up and move.
If you’re working in an office, you’re probably planted on your butt for most of the day. Studies point to the health hazards of sitting for long periods, so it’s up to us to get up and move more.

Start with simple from-here-to-there stretches. Every time you get up to use the restroom or cross the office to attend a meeting, take the opportunity to stretch. Reach up, reach out, reach back, reach down for your toes. If you spend a lot of time typing, you will also benefit from stretches designed to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

To cut down on your sitting time, consider getting a standing desk, or creating your own by elevating a laptop on a pile of books. I like to alternate between standing and sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair—it keeps me from slouching and also feels good to bounce a little while working.

Finally, rally your coworkers into scheduling time for daily movement. At a few different offices, I’ve led or participated in five-minute movement breaks with other coworkers. We’ve done everything from standing yoga poses to basic calisthenics. Also fun, if your office isn’t too conservative: occasional dance breaks.

Look around.
Staring at your computer all day can cause eye strain. Years ago, an eye doctor advised me to get up and walk to a window every hour, to look out into the distance and give my eyes a break from staring so closely at a computer screen. When you’re not able to get up, you can still take eye breaks by looking around and adjusting your focus.

Drink up.
There are numerous benefits of staying hydrated, from keeping your mind clear to maintaining gut health. Throughout the day, drink water and other good-for-you beverages such as herbal teas. In offices that are too cool from the air conditioner, I will make a cup of green tea and continually refill it with hot water to stay warm and also hydrated. Drinking a lot also necessitates trips to the bathroom, so you’ll get up and move more.

Keep your hands clean.
I accepted looking like a crazy germaphobe at work after witnessing too many people leave the bathroom without washing their hands. Nasty, I know. And then there are the ones who wipe their runny noses with their hands when they’re sick. So go ahead, use a paper towel to open the bathroom door on the way out. If your office has a hand dryer instead of paper towels, use a square of toilet paper. Also, if you’re going to use a hand sanitizer at work, choose non-toxic ones made with essential oils. I like EO and Clean Well products.

Keep your workspace and possessions clean.
Do you bring your smartphone with you to meetings or—gasp!—the bathroom? Do you throw your bag down on the floor? Don’t. Find room on your desk or a file cabinet for your bag. If you need the phone with you for meetings, be sure to clean its surface often.

You should also make an effort to keep your desk clean of dust and germs. Instead of chemical-laden cleaning products, fill a spray bottle with equal parts distilled water and vinegar (optional: add drops of lavender or tea tree oil) to maintain clean surfaces.

Take a proper lunch break.
Don’t think lunch, think lunch break. That means eating while you’re seated at your desk doesn’t count. Step away from the desk—and no one one will get hurt. (You know the emails will be there when you get back.) Getting away from your desk for a midday break can be energizing and replenishing, which is good for you and can also benefit your work. If you’re not able to take a full hour, at least make sure you eat away from your computer.

Think twice about using the fridge.
I have yet to encounter an office refrigerator that didn’t have at least one moldy container lurking in the back. I’ll bet that lunch you packed from home can safely remain bagged and unrefrigerated for the two or three hours until lunchtime. If you choose to use the fridge, be sure to wash your hands before and after you eat. (And don’t be the one who leaves that container in the back to get moldy.)

Snack wisely.
Eat a sugary snack and you’ll inevitably face the dreaded sugar crash. Keep fresh fruit and raw nuts at your desk and you’ll keep up your energy between meals. I also like to keep a stash of dark chocolate bars on hand for an afternoon treat—and to share with grateful coworkers. (Note: while healthy snacks are best for every day, going back for a second cupcake at a birthday party isn’t going to kill you…)

Get outside the office.
If you don’t go outside for lunch, plan for a short afternoon outing. Right at that point during the afternoon when you feel your energy dip and check the time to see there are two or three more hours until you get to go home—that’s the perfect time to get up and get out. Walk around the block, look up at the sky, breathe the open air.

Breathe through the stress.
The meeting that won’t end. The co-worker complaining about how the barista messed up her latte order. The manager who asks you at 5:30 p.m. to deliver a spreadsheet before the next day’s 9 a.m. team meeting. Arrggh! When you feel yourself getting frustrated, angry, or annoyed, pull back and breathe. Easier said than done? Not when you’re calculated about it—by actually counting. When stressed, you can calm yourself by inhaling slowly to the count of ten, then exhaling at the same slow pace. Repeat as needed. Is there a quiet office or conference room you can use for five minutes? Consider taking a meditation break. (You don’t have to wait for stress to get to you, either. If you find yourself with downtime, give yourself the gift of breathing time.)

Tune it out.
Are coworkers having a lively discussion about a reality show at the cubicle to your right while a conference call is on speaker phone at the cubicle to your left? There are frequent distractions and disruptions in any office and you might find yourself unable to focus. Google “online sound machine” and you’ll find sites that offer white noise options for you to plug in your earphones and tune it out. Sounds of the ocean usually works for me.

Decorate your desk area.
It may sound insignificant, but surrounding yourself with photos, art, and amusing tchotchkes is good for your state of mind. You may be spending more waking hours in your office than in your home, so it’s in your best interest to make your workspace feel welcoming and it’s easy to do by surrounding yourself with images that give you a boost. (A photo of your last vacation will be the perfect visual for when you’re having a bad moment.) Is there a quote that moves you? Print it and tape it to your computer monitor or another place you can easily glance at for inspiration.

Give yourself a break.
We can all use time to pull back from work for a few minutes. When that time comes, visit your favorite escapist blog, check your social media accounts, read the long-form article that has nothing to do with work, watch the latest viral video, listen to music, call a friend, or play an online game. Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

A Holiday Gift Guide for Giving Better Stuff

I heard someone joke about going to the local thrift store the day after Christmas to donate the just-unwrapped and unwanted bounty of gifts. Yes, we definitely have a collective problem with too much stuff (and too much waste), which is why it’s great to give experience gifts or contributions to good causes in the recipient’s name. But sometimes the best gift really does come in a package you can hand to your loved one for opening. For gift-giving that’s more meaningful, ’tis the season to:

Give twice.

When you buy items from thrift stores or auction sites that benefit nonprofits, your dollars support their work. A few favorites even have online shops, including Housing Works. When you shop online while logged in to Amazon Smile, you can choose a nonprofit to receive a small portion of sales. Also, sites like Bidding for Good offer products and experiences that benefit a variety of organizations.  

Another way to give back is by buying from gift shops for museums and parks, in person or online. (A few favorite museum shops: MoMAThe Metropolitan Museum of ArtLACMAThe Getty.)

Stay local.

Support the independent businesses in your neighborhood by shopping local—especially at book stores and sources that sell the works of local artisans. Even better if you can shop on foot or bike, leaving the car behind.

Be a maker.

Homemade gifts, including food and personal care items, are twice as nice. Extra touches: attach a recipe for the recipient and consider a vintage glass jar, container, or tin that can be reused.

Celebrate good taste.

Put another way: give tasty edibles. Choose locally grown produce, sweet treats, and other items for out-of-the-ordinary dining experiences at home. First stop: food vendors at your local farmers’ market. A farmers’ market basket or bag with fresh and local produce and a cookbook is a perfect gift. My grandmother always said, “Food is love.”

Make it an experience gift.

Give movie, concert or theater tickets, restaurant gift certificates, or museum memberships and you’re giving the recipient an experience to enjoy. The same goes for magazine subscriptions, books, music CDs, and DVDs of movies or TV shows. Also consider giving games or a puzzle from a photo-printing service that allows you to create one with personal photos.

Go green.

One size fits all: House plants, herb gardens, and seeds or outdoor plants for loved ones with yards.

Buy better products.

It’s true about one person’s trash being another’s treasure—and when you buy from antique markets, consignment and thrift shops, eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, and other sources of second-hand items, you do your part to reduce waste to landfills. Think of it like the island of misfit toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—there are worthy, good-as-new items out there looking for a home.

Another factor to consider: the maker of the products. Give from companies with responsible business practices—organic, Fair Trade, sweatshop-free, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, etc. (Look up B Corps for more.)

Lessons From My Track Coach That Still Motivate Me Every Day

When I was entering high school, my parents told me they wanted me to join a team. My father was then a coach himself and knew the experience would be valuable. I ran on the cross country, winter track, and spring track teams. Frank LaBianca coached all three of these teams at my high school, for both boys and girls. He was one of my best teachers and I learned as much about life from running on tracks and fields as I did from sitting in classrooms.

Coach studied John Wooden and Vince Lombardi and we all heard their words and were taught their lessons before knowing their names. We heard their quotes, along with others that came from writers, philosophers, and world leaders. Coach was also the print shop teacher. This is important to this story, as he taught his students by giving them assignments to print words of wisdom that were then displayed on the wall in the room our team gathered in before and after practice every day. Some were also printed on business cards Coach kept in his pockets to hand out when we needed them most.

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So here’s the thing about words of wisdom: They can be words printed on a page or they can really mean something to you. When you hear phrases or expressions or even full speeches again and again, you will remember them. When those words are tied to emotions and experiences? Boom. That gives them weight and meaning. You hear a word or a phrase and it triggers something—and you can be lifted, encouraged, inspired, and driven to pick up speed and go, go, go.

In recent years, a group of teammates began to connect on Facebook. One teammate helped establish a scholarship at our high school in Coach’s name and reached out to us for support. Then someone suggested we get together to have a lunch to honor Coach—to thank him all these years later for what he did for us. Coach’s nickname was “Labo” and a teammate asked us all to share our favorite “Labo-isms” for the event—things we remember Coach saying to inspire us again and again. Here are my favorites.

“A team is only as good as its slowest runner.”

You’ve heard “there’s no ‘I’ in team”—everyone has a part to play. In cross country, there are seven runners and only the first five score in a race; your individual point score is simply where you place in the race and the team with the lowest collective score wins. So what about the other two runners? Any one of the seven can finish in the top five. These last two runners can help keep pace and offer support to other teammates. and they can act as displacers by finishing ahead of another team’s top five runners (in a close race that comes down to a matter of points, finishing one second ahead of a runner from the other team could make all the difference). You don’t have to be the fastest—or the best—to make a difference, but you have to show up and run as hard and as fast as you can to be an integral part of the team.

“Be a champion in practice—that’s where champions are made.”

Also: “Champions are made, not born.” No doubt about it, physical ability makes a difference. But it’s not everything, and talent will only get you so far. I was never the fastest on my team and no one would have dared suggest I run the 100-meter dash. But a 5K cross country race requires more than just speed; you need endurance strength that comes from running every day, remaining committed to your training goals, and listening to your coach. It means running in the sand with your sneakers on and sprinting drills around the track, even when your muscles are burning, you feel like you can’t catch your breath, and it’s taking everything you have not to cry over that blister on the back of your heel. Those who work hard and are committed to their goals are the ones who succeed. Practice makes perfect? No, but it will make you strong.

“You don’t know how strong you really are.”

During cross country season, we used the same course as the boys’ team and they would be stationed throughout the course to cheer us on, along with Coach (yelling louder than anyone). I am certain I surged ahead at their encouragement—before our home course’s legendary “Cardiac Hill,” approaching the last long stretch before the finish line, or simply mid-way through the course when my legs were feeling heavy and I wanted the race to just be over already. But I was always surprised and amazed when I found the strength to pick up my pace or the energy to kick at the end. Endurance training gives you strength. (And encouragement from the sidelines helps you find it.)

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“To have a friend is to be a friend.”

Also: “Don’t kick a man when he’s down.” We all struggled at various times—in practices, in races, and in our lives. Coach insisted that we respect and support one another and we did. I loved being on those teams and it wasn’t because I loved running or competing (though I did). It was the experience. We were truly bonded: we practiced and competed together, cheered each other on, rode the bus together to and from meets, carb-ed up on bagels or pancakes before big races, crammed into crappy hotel rooms for overnight competitions, socialized on weekends, and went to running camp every August. Blisters, sweat, and tears? Check. We were a team. Some of us stayed in touch after high school, others drifted away, but we all still share the bond. And at the reunion lunch for Coach, we felt it.

“ ‘Tis better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.”

Also: “Never feel shame for trying and failing, for he who has never failed is he who has never tried.” You have to try. Really, that is all.

“What are you afraid of?”

“What are you afraid of?” I heard this one a lot. I believe Coach knew just when to ask me that—when my confidence was low, when I was tired, when I wondered if I might be better off spending my time doing something else. At the lunch, many of us took turns sharing stories about our experiences on the team and with Coach, and this was mine:

I remember being in the print shop, listening to Coach give me a pep talk about fear and taking chances. “What are you afraid of?” he asked. He likely repeated that question a second time, and probably tilted his head to the side and used his hand to punctuate each word like an orchestra conductor. Then I remember clearly that he pointed up to the wall, where he had posted dozens of inspirational quotes for us to read. On the far right-hand corner was a passage from Theodore Roosevelt and it was the longest of all the quotes.

“Far better is it….” he began. But then I interrupted him. I had heard this quote so many times and I jumped right in to finish it: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” In that moment, I know I felt smart and a little sassy for standing up and reciting the quote word-for-word. I don’t think I realized then that he had already taught me to believe those words, which were certainly about a war or at least about life and death or something more dramatic than a track meet or a poor showing at practice. My teammates also remember that quote and I saw heads nodding when they heard me repeat it. I told Coach then that I still hear those words all these years later, how they’re often triggered when I am facing a challenge, or when I have lost focus or confidence or faith. Those words guide me.

Photo courtesy of Frank LaBianca.

Why It’s Hard to Imagine A Better Sports Hero Than Lou Gehrig


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Originally published on GOOD.is

I remember my grandmother talking about how she cried when Lou Gehrig gave his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech at Yankees stadium, announcing that he was going to retire from baseball after being diagnosed with ALS, an illness that would soon become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This might have been tougher for Gehrig than most. At the time—and for more than 50 years after this—he was the record-holder for consecutive games played in baseball (2,130). That sort of commitment earned him the nickname “The Iron Horse” and was one of the many reasons he made such a great team captain.

Gehrig was long gone by the time my grandmother told me this story, but he became my first sports hero that day.

In sports—and other pursuits—you need skills (some innate, some developed). You have to deliver. In addition to his consecutive record streak, Gehrig played remarkably well (the other record he held was for most Grand Slams: 23). Then there’s the unflappable spirit. You need to believe you’ll hit another homer even if you find yourself striking out.

And even better than playing well? Playing well with others. Unless you are pursuing something truly individual, you need to unselfishly support the efforts of your teammates. Now for the part about having a heart of gold. Yes, of course you need to have a healthy ego and plenty of ambition (but, seriously, you don’t have to be showy or obnoxious about it). If you’re fair and decent, you earn the respect and admiration of your teammates. In honor of their lost hero, the Yankees didn’t name another team captain for 30 years.

Back to that speech. My grandmother was one of thousands who cried upon hearing a brave and humble Gehrig give his farewell address, in which he expressed his gratitude to fans, fellow players, his parents, his wife, his mother-in-law—even groundkeepers. It is by no accident that Gary Cooper, the most All-American of actors, was later cast to play Gehrig in the movie about his life, The Pride of the Yankees. It is a bio film of Gehrig’s life, but it a story you would guess to be pure fiction because, come on, let’s be honest here, could a guy really be that good?

I grew up believing he was, and his example has stayed with me all these years.

I’m still entertained and moved from watching sports, and it is the athletes with Gehrig-like qualities I always admire the most. While I have been disappointed by some (I won’t even bother to name them), so many other true greats continue to emerge on playing fields and courts and tracks.

It’s inspiring to see someone who has the skills, the spirt, the heart—and commitment. That consecutive game streak of Gehrig’s says so much. Think about how easy it is to quit, change course, or simply lose steam. Gehrig didn’t. (2,130 consecutive games!) He remained dedicated until it was no longer possible. You’re lucky to find someone like that to look up to in life.

Roger Ebert’s Quote About Kindness Gets an Awesome Cartoon Treatment

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Near the end, film critic Roger Ebert wrote a heartbreakingly beautiful blog post about what he had learned about life and death, in which he emphasized the value of kindness and contributing joy to the world. His beautiful and wise words are given an artistic treatment in this “Zen Pencils” narrative comic. (Bonus: sales of prints of this comic will be donated to the Sundance Film Festival’s Roger Ebert Scholarship For Film Criticism).

Sunshine on Tap: Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

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Originally published on The Green Beauty Team website

The most surprising prescription I’ve been given by a doctor wasn’t something I could pick up at my local pharmacy. Instead, she told me to get out in the sun more—and to go easy on the sunscreen. The advice from my doctor came when a blood test revealed I had a vitamin D deficiency. As someone who has been a devoted sunscreen user for years, this sounded as nonsensical as being told to take up smoking or eat more deep-fried foods.

It has long been established that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) increases your risk of skin cancer and causes signs of premature aging. I wear a moisturizer with an SPF of 15-30 every day to prevent skin cancer, sun spots and wrinkles. (Health is a top priority, but vanity is another great motivator.)

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in some, but not many, foods. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IUs (international units) of vitamin D for adults 19-70. The trouble with getting D from your diet is that it’s found in limited quantities. For some perspective on amounts of vitamin D in foods, one cup of fortified milk has 115-124 IUs and 3 oz. of salmon has 447 IUs. The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Egg yolks, cheese and mushrooms also contain small amounts, and some milk, cereals, cheeses and yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from supplements.

Alternately—and this is where my doctor’s advice comes in—your body can naturally synthesize vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, without sunscreen or windows to block the rays. According to the Natural Institute of Health, most people get enough D from regular sun exposure.

WHY YOU NEED PLENTY OF D
Those of us who wear sunscreen regularly are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, but it’s important to take steps to maintain the recommended levels, as the role of vitamin D is not to be dismissed.

Let’s begin with bones. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is essential to maintaining bone health. If your body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, it cannot absorb calcium and you can develop osteomalacia, a condition which causes bone pain and muscle weakness. A calcium deficiency also puts you at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones. Each of us naturally loses bone mass as we age, which is why it’s critical that we get enough vitamin D and calcium.

Vitamin D has other vital roles in maintaining overall health: it helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, and works to make sure muscles and nerves function properly. Though not yet conclusive, recent studies have also been conducted on vitamin D’s role in preventing cancer and other diseases and conditions.

GETTING BACK THE D
Just as my doctor prescribed, I am now trying to spend 10-20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight several days a week—not long enough to get burned, but long enough for the body to produce vitamin D. (Lucky for me, living in Southern California makes this possible year-round.) Of course, those especially at risk for skin cancer need to take greater care in protecting themselves and no doctor will carelessly recommend that people get too much sun exposure. I’m also taking a daily vitamin D supplement and taking care to add more fatty fish to my diet.

You never have to twist my arm to go out for sushi. These days I’m also making my tried-and-true favorite of tuna and capers with pasta weekly (penne with fresh or canned tuna, a handful of capers, tossed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil). Plus I’ve added these vitamin D-packed recipes below to my repertoire.

Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines
Salmon with Herbed Mustard Sauce
Baked Salmon in Foil
Roasted Mackerel with Avocado Salad

Choose Not to Be a Lady: Nod to Nora Ephron

Not being a lady

Reading the remembrances of Nora Ephron, I am reminded about how much I like her work. And because I was a kid who dreamed of growing up to be a writer, I also admired her.

In one piece, I stopped on this quote from a commencement speech she gave to Wellesley graduates in 1996: “I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”

That made me smile — and feel grateful for strong and trailblazing women like her. When I was in high school, I was told to be a lady by an authority figure and I still remember the feelings of outrage and confusion from the exchange.

“Stefanie, cross your legs,” I was told by an assistant coach of the track team. “Be a lady.” He was the grandfather of one of my teammates and was a supportive and kind man — but old-fashioned and, well, sexist.

Luckily, I had parents who raised me to be independent and to believe that I did not need to behave differently because I was a girl. I knew to assert myself and question authority if necessary (see my fashion rebellion story).

“Why do I have to be a lady?” I remember asking. He was surprised. I recall trying to explain, but I’m not sure how articulate I was. I might have asked why the boys weren’t told to cross their legs. After all, we were both wearing our shorts and track jerseys on the bus.

What I knew but couldn’t say was this. When boys and men are told, “Be a man,” it is to fight for something, to reach down into the depths of their beings and emerge stronger to do the right thing. When girls and women are told, “Be a lady,” it is to delicately suggest we be demure and adhere to rules that are, frankly, pointless. Why would I want to be constrained and controlled? Why on earth would I want to be a lady?

I hope for more commencement speakers like Ephron and parents like my own to encourage girls and women to break the rules when the rules need to be broken. That’s a good kind of trouble to get into.

Memory Lane: Coach’s Lessons Part 2

I love finding inspiration in unlikely places, like on the side of a cookie box. I posted last week about a Teddy Roosevelt quote I learned from my high school track coach. The quote is printed on a box of Bart’s cookies I found at Whole Foods. I bought the cookies because of the claim on the front of the box that they’re “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World.” Them’s fighting words—and then I spotted the real fighting words on the side. Good cookies, but I still believe homemade ones are best.

Memory Lane: Coach’s Lessons

coach_card

I had the voice of my high school track and cross country coach, Frank LaBianca, in my head today. This is always a good thing. Coach was also the school’s print shop teacher and he printed pearls of wisdom for us on cards (like the one above). These are wallet-sized, but Coach also printed banners and posted them on the walls of the print shop, where we held team meetings. The one I memorized was a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that began, “Far better is it to dare mighty things….” I remember surprising him one day by finishing the quote for him when he began it. (I still know it by heart.)