A little over a week ago Stanford had its 121st commencement ceremony. The speaker was graduate, former Stanford football player, Rhode Scholar, and current New Jersey major Cory Booker. I first heard about this guy a few months ago when he allegedly juked out his bodyguard to run into a burning building to save a woman. Some versions of the story say he punched out his bodyguard to get by him. Either way, pretty baller.
Here is the whole speech for you to check out. It’s quite inspirational.
For those of you that won’t invest the time in the video, here a couple quotes I felt compelled to get out of bed to write down.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport” – funny how we expect everything handed to us. I suppose if we aren’t willing to do the job of a politician or even participate by doing anything more than voting, we have less of a right to complain. Along the same lines, Booker says most people resort to “sedentary agitation”. Great term!
“Fear is a precondition to discovery” – bam! Think about that next time you’re scared.
And ladies, unlike most of our men featured in our All That Is Man series, Booker is both alive and single. What are you waiting for?
This speech ties together the last two books I’ve read. One about a grad student that spent years hanging out in the Chicago projects to learn how they live – Booker did something similar in Newark. The other about Obama’s 2008 campaign – Booker is also a strong African American politician with an extensive education and roots in community organizing. Funny how connections like this seem to happen …
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
How does a distance runner who never held a world record or even won an Olympic medal make such an impact on the world? Steve Prefontaine was a winner, the kind of guy you want to cheer for – an average Joe that proved what was possible if you are determined. Sadly, Pre died over 35 years ago, at the age of 24, before reaching his full potential.
Pre ran track at the University of Oregon during the early 70’s and wasn’t your typical hero athlete. He was a working-class guy from a small coastal logging town in Oregon and had a little edge. A rebel with a cause if you will. He was very outspoken and an absolutely ferocious competitor.
In addition to showing his tenacity on the track, Pre fought hard to overturn the amateur status for track and field in the Olympics. Even though the athletes were generating millions of dollars in revenue both in college and after college, they weren’t allowed to be paid for their appearances and still be eligible to compete in the Olympics. Despite being a world famous athlete, he was forced to live in a trailer and use food stamps to keep his amateur status alive. Just three years after his death Congress took the amateur status requirement away from track and field.
Pre is also famous for his association with Nike. The Oregon track and field coach, Bill Bowerman, was the co-founder of Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 which later became Nike. Steve Prefontaine would become the first Nike athlete and the company continues to honor him through campaigns like “Pre Lives” and naming buildings after him.
Prefontaine died at the age of 24 after swerving his car (allegedly after several beers) and running into a rock. The MG convertible rolled over and him underneath. At the time of his death Pre held an impressive 14 American running records including every distance from 2 miles to 10,000 meters. If you ever find yourself in Eugene, Oregon I highly recommend stopping by Hayward Field and leaving a running momento at Pre’s Rock.
Here are a few more famous Pre quotes (if these don’t get you fired up you’d better check your pulse):
“How does a kid from Coos Bay, with one leg longer than the other win races? All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small Pre’, ‘You’re not fast enough Pre’, ‘Give up your foolish dream Steve’. But they forgot something, I HAVE TO WIN.”
“I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it.”
“Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”
For those of you that think I’m not an emotional person, this post is a little insight into what really gets me going. No, not his death, his competitiveness.
Pre was a huge contributor to the running boom that began in the 1970s. Did you know that jogging was not always a popular exercise? Track and field was a popular spectator sport (weird), but that didn’t translate into everyone going on morning jogs. Ron Burgandy sums up the nation’s exposure:
Many people first heard of Steve Prefontaine when two major movies were released about his life within the same year of each other (Prefontaine in 1997 and Without Limits in 1998). Actually, a documentary Fire on the Track was made in 1995 as well.
Bear Grylls is a man’s man. He makes your annual camping trip look like a luxurious stay at a five star hotel. He makes the TV show Survivor look like a bunch of cry babies on a rough vacation. And he makes any meal that is cooked seem extravagant.
Bear is famous for his TV show Man vs. Wild which drops him into various remote wilderness survival situations – Grylls must overcome various obstacles as he fights his way back to civilization. However the show, and Bear Grylls, receives flak for staging certain events and misleading the audience into believing Bear receives no assistance from his crew. I am not going to argue that the show is 100% accurate, or try to assess how difficult the stunts are. Instead, I will point to real elements from Bear Grylls’s life that exemplify his manliness.
After college Bear Grylls joined the British Army and was selected for the uber-competitive British Special Forces as a paratrooper. How bad ass is he for getting in? They start with around 200 top notch candidates and after intense physical training for a couple weeks, only 30 to 40 remain. Next comes jungle training (where Bear likely picked up a lot of his skills on the show), combat survival, escape and evasion, and the dreaded resistance to interrogation (which lasts for a loooong 36 hours). Everyone that makes it to the end is rewarded with a favorable transfer, but only the best are allowed in the Special Forces. Bear Grylls was reportedly one of four in his class selected.
His life doesn’t get much easier from here. In 1996 his parachute ripped on a routine jump, sending him crashing to the ground with tremendous speed. He landed on his pack and the result was 3 crushed vertebrae – it was initially unclear if Bear Grylls would ever walk again. Keep reading…
With the beginning of the baseball playoffs, I figured it was time to bring back the All That is Man series. Baseball obviously isn’t the manliest sport (volleyball is), but that doesn’t mean manly men don’t play it. Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2632 straight games and revolutionized the shortstop position from scrawny guys that can’t hit to what it is today. Cal is All That is Man for these four reasons:
Men are competitive. So is Ripken. “On the night before the start of the season in which he would break one of the most prestigious records in baseball history, Ripken played two-on-two wearing loafers, because there was a hoop and there were players. Did his team win? ‘We crushed,’ he said.”
“During all the coverage of the streak, someone in the family circulated the story that I cheated my own grandmother at canasta. I don’t remember that, but I might have occasionally drawn too many cards on her, because I did cheat on everyone else. For years I kept detailed statistics on all these family [card] games, for the sole purpose of trying to prove that I was the best. The only positive note here is that I finally figured out that the only proof of how good you are is if you play within the rules.” – Cal
“Ripken is nothing if not consistent, even in his approach to something as simple as a home trampoline. Family lore has it that Cal wouldn’t get on the trampoline until he had watched his wife perform on it a few times. Then he started practicing by himself. The first time he tried it in front of anyone, he pretended he had never been on it. ‘Right,’ said Kelly with a smile. ‘He’d probably had 25 hours of practice.'”
If you play every game for 16+ years you have to be pretty tough – everyone gets injured, but he just played through it. He once rolled his ankle during a game. It swelled up, black and blue but he finished the game. Afterwards he went to the hospital – the doctor told him to stay off it for two weeks. What’d Cal do? He threw the crutches away as soon as he got to the car and played in the next game!
“The Orioles used to play a game to determine which player could take the most pain, and which one was the hardest to bruise, a game invented by Ripken, who, of course, was also the champion. ‘Ten minutes before the start of a game,’ former Oriole pitcher Ben McDonald once said, ‘a couple of our guys jumped Rip and dug their knuckles in his ribs. We had him pinned down. He was yelling, ‘No! No!’ but he wouldn’t give up. He would rather die that give up. The next day, I had a huge bruise on my ribs, and he had a tiny red spot.’”
Maybe he got the toughness from his father: “When I was a kid, he would come home from playing soccer,” Cal Jr. said. “He played midfield when he was in his 50s. He would have these huge blood blisters under his big toe. He’d take out a power drill, drill into the toe, the blood would come spurting out, and he’d go ‘Ooooooooh.'”
This installment of All That is Man is quite different than the last. Bruce Lee was a tiny little man and Andre the Giant was, well, a giant. He stood an approximate 7 feet, 4 inches and weighed in around 520 pounds. Although not as quick as Bruce Lee, he was incredibly agile for a man his size, as you can see in some of his wrestling highlights. There are three reasons Andre is tops on the man food chain: his size, eating abilities, and drinking accomplishments.
Andre the Giant had acromegaly – a syndrome where the pituitary gland overproduces growth hormone. It provided him a natural and steady stream of hGH that would have made Barry Bonds jealous. Unfortunately, this led to many health issues and he spent most of his life in pain – knees, back, heart, and more. He chose not to undergo treatment (most likely because the damage had already been done?) and died at age 46.
Men eat a lot of food. They even have challenges to see who can eat the most food. It would have phenomenal to see Andre the Giant take part in an endurance food competition. There are numerous stories where he would go to a restaurant and order almost everything on the menu. Or he would go to one restaurant, eat a three course meal, then head straight to another restaurant, eat again, then head to another restaurant. I don’t think the standard 2000 calorie diet nutrition facts applied to him.
The number one legacy Andre the Giant has left on the internet is he drinking ability. Boy did he love to drink. (Although it is sad. He couldn’t fit in normal sized entertainment venues so he spent most of his nights on the road in bars. He was also in chronic pain most his life and used alcohol as a crutch.) There are stories of Andre finishing 119 beers in one sitting, or even more depending upon the source. How about finishing a case of wine on a long bus ride. Here is one story that sums it up:
French doctors who were to operate on Andre’s back devised a method for determining how much anesthesia to administer to someone based on the person’s tolerance for alcohol. They asked Andre what it took to get him drunk and he couldn’t answer. He told them it took two liters of vodka “just to make him feel warm inside.”
Along with all these feats, he also starred in the Princess Bride toward the tail end of his career. It is a terrific movie of which he was extremely proud. One other fun fact for you: Andre the Giant actually signed his checks “Andre the Giant” rather than his given name – that’s when you know a nickname has stuck!
It is my pleasure to introduce you to the “All That is Man” series. The concept is simple – posts dedicated to the manliest of men throughout history and share some of their amazing feats and abilities. My rationale is equally as straightforward – it’s no secret that today’s males are uber-pansies compared to the rough and rugged men of yesteryear. While I am not an advocate of returning to our manual labor roots, I think it is important to acknowledge the great feats that men have been able to accomplish.
This first installment focuses on Bruce Lee, the star of just about every classic kung fu movie worth watching. He was the quickest little dude and trained ridiculously hard to keep his body in top notch physical condition, which culminated in some absurd feats and abilities. But what really set him apart may have been his philosophy.
Quick background. Bruce was actually born in San Francisco (not China), spent his childhood in China, but returned at the age of 18 to attend the University of Washington. Along the way he became a martial arts expert and dropped out of college to teach martial arts.
Bruce Lee taught what he called “the style of no style” becuase he thought traditional martial arts were too rigid and didn’t translate into chaotic street fighting. This philosophy would later be called “Jeet Kune Do” or the “Way of the Intercepting Fist.” However, rather than opening a chain of karate schools like most martial arts experts, he decided the best way expose his ideas and philosophies was through film.
Unfortunately Bruce Lee and died at age 32 from a sensitivity to a muscle relaxant in a painkiller, just before his latest movie made him an international superstar. Who knows, if he lived longer maybe Kung Fu movies would be mainstream today, right up there with comedies and dramas. Maybe Walker Texas Ranger would have had an Asian fusion.
Lee performed one-hand push-ups using only the thumb and index finger.
“When he could do push ups on his thumbs and push ups with 250lbs on his back, he moved on to other exercises”. -Jesse Glover
Lee could thrust his fingers through unopened cans of Coca-Cola. (This was when soft drinks cans were made of steel much thicker than today’s aluminum cans)
Lee could take in one arm a 75 lb barbell from a standing position with the barbell held flush against his chest and slowly stick his arms out locking them, holding the barbell there for 20 seconds.