The Fountain of Youth is Real

Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.
For as rich as you are, it’s much better by far
To be young at heart.

Last night, for about 40 minutes, I found the Fountain of Youth. It was there, right beside us as we ran lap after lap on the black asphalt track. Because I was with youthful people, I was caught up in a whirlpool of energy and humor and earnestness and ambition.

Sometimes I forget that I was born when Eisenhower was President, before the Beatles invaded the United States, and before the Cuban missile crisis. Fun shared with others can sustain us such that we forget our sense of time.

And the fun we have! In this year alone, we’ve done an escape room, a coastal bike ride, a birthday workout, a scavenger hunt, an adult summer camp, a downhill mile, rock climbing, a solar eclipse viewing, a surprise birthday party, book clubs, and more, with more to come.

Of course, none of this fully constitutes a meaningful life. But a meaningful life needs to include friends, family, and adventures.

How do you cultivate a spirit of youth? You use your imagination. Recently, we were doing a workout at the local elementary school when my friend Sarah’s son climbed a 20′ pole and gave us a yell. Now, Sarah could have reacted with fright upon seeing her son far off the ground. Instead, we vowed that we, too, need to climb this pole. And we will!

My mother died at age 35, which seems awfully young to me now. Because of the situation in which I found myself, I had to grow up faster than one would like. I had to think about health insurance and paying bills and applying for financial aid, all with little help. I can’t help but think how happy she would be to see her son living out the life she was denied.

When the time comes to age gracefully, I will do that. For now, I will continue to drink deeply from the Fountain of Youth whenever it’s near.

Friends are the family you choose

Whenever I hear of someone who is considering therapy, for any reason, I recommend it with my whole heart. Almost all of the healthy and happy people I know have done some sort of therapy. There is within almost all of us many subtexts, things which underlie our actions in ways we aren’t aware.

Having said this, I never had to delve very deep to analyze my own life. I didn’t have a lot of family, so my friends have always been important to me. My neighbor Laura, my high school friends Patti, Anna, and Diane, my long-time buddy Brent — all have been like siblings to me in many ways.

When my daughters were in college and the last years of high school, I began to have a not-too-subtle mid-life crisis. The pursuit of career goals no longer served the same needs. Because I had been so focused on my daughters, I had drifted away from the kind of friendships that were important in my younger years.

It was around this time that my wife strongly suggested I see a therapist. Though it didn’t click immediately, eventually my therapist (appropriately named Hope) helped me see the how much agency I had in determining the tenor of my life. I will forever be grateful to Hope.

Not many years later, we joined up with a local running group. Even to say “a local running group” seems entirely inadequate. It would be like saying the Atlantic Ocean is a body of water or that “Star Wars” is a science-fiction movie — true statements but missing much of the significance.

Over the course of the past five years, the friends who make up our running group have become like family. Since many of them are younger — Jamie, Risa, Hope — I think of them like children as well as friends. And those who are not too different in age — Susan, Aaron, Sarah, Rich — are much like (younger) siblings.

It seems one of our challenges as humans is the live in the present. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Forever is composed of nows.” but we so often seem to be living in the past or for the future. With these friends, however, now seems to be the most beautiful time. I’m never distracted by my phone because the people who might contact me are, for the most part, with me.

I can remember a run last summer in which most of the important people in my life were present. I whispered to Jamie, “These are the people I would expect to see when I arrive in heaven.”

It’s not like we get to choose between a good family or good friends. If we’re blessed we have both. For me, I will always be grateful for the family I found in my fifth decade.

Shalane Flanagan: Ambassador for Running

Photo by Cheryl Treworgy

In 2000, I was re-doing my office at home and decided to decorate with pictures of favorite athletes. Even though she was just a freshman, I knew that Shalane Flanagan was going to be a phenomenal athlete. In those days, it wasn’t easy to find photos of college athletes (other than football and basketball players). I found a source for a picture of her and ordered one. It turned out that the photographer was Cheryl Treworgy, Shalane’s mother, who herself had been a world record holder in the marathon. I told Ms. Treworgy how much the UNC community appreciated Shalane becoming a Tar Heel.

In my personal pantheon of favorite athletes (which, unlike most Halls of Fame has gotten smaller as I’ve gotten older), Shalane Flanagan continues to be someone I admire greatly.

She is now 36. I used to take my daughters, who aren’t much younger, to watch her run at UNC track meets because I wanted them to see a strong young woman who represented her sport, her university, and herself with great distinction.

Shalane went on to run in numerous Olympics at various distances, including a 6th place finish in the marathon last year in Rio.

It’s the overall example that she demonstrates in her life that has spoken to me, however. You can tell a lot about someone by how they accept victory and defeat. In 2014, when Shalane fell well short of her goal in the Boston Marathon, she said, “I don’t wish it were easier. I just wish I were better.” On September 8 of the next year, when she set the American Record in the 10K, she thanked the former record holder “for setting such high standards and for being such an amazing friend, role model and inspiration.”

Shalane wrote a best-selling cookbook with her friend and former UNC teammate Elyse Kopecky last year and I had the chance to hear her speak. Part of her reason for writing the book was a mission to convince runners to eat whole, real food.

Photo by Liz Goodman

And though she is a private person, she has spoken about one of the latest and biggest challenges she’s faced, becoming a foster parent to two teenage daughters. “It has been by far one of the most rewarding things my husband and I have ever done, and we’ve talked about how we could envision doing this all the time, maybe never even having our own and just doing foster care. There’s such a need for it. We haven’t had any incidents to deter us, or hardships. My only regret is that we didn’t get them sooner. But we’re changing the trajectory of their future and their life,” she told ESPN.

I’ve found it dangerous to put people on a pedestal. After 17 years of following her career, however, I feel certain that Shalane Flanagan will continue to inspire and make me proud.

How to be the best in the world at what you do

via Creative Commons

When I was about to graduate from high school, my guidance counselor passed along to me a small award for which she had nominated me. Part of the award was a book by Judge Danforth called “I dare you”. An exercise in the book was to create a little device called “My Checker”. Below is My Checker, created in 1978. It’s actually written on one of the little cards that would have been in my graduation invitation. The Checker is a square. As you know, each side of a square, by definition, is equal in length. And on each side of this square is written a word: “Mental”, “Physical”, “Social”, “Religious”. The idea is that we will be our best when we are in balanced. I can say with certainty that when something in my life seems off, I can usually see that I am out of balance in some way.

From 1978

Our physical body enables us to sustain the systems which keep us alive. We won’t live on earth forever, but to a great extent the quality of our life will be determined by our physical health.

Our minds are amazing. While there will be considerable advances in artificial intelligence, our minds will always be unmatched in versatility.

Friendships and relationships with family can make our lives meaningful and fun. We are social creatures.

Finally, we can nourish our Spiritual health. Whether you practice mindfulness, prayer, meditation, or something else, being spiritually and psychologically healthy requires you to take responsibility for who you are.

I want you to take just a few seconds. For each of these, I want you to consider how intentional you are about nurturing these aspects of your life.





There’s a Drew Barrymore movie called “50 First Dates”. The title derives from the fact that she has a memory problem and can’t remember her date with Adam Sandler on the previous day. One of the reasons I liked this movie was the idea of seeing every new day with fresh eyes. If you live 80 years, that’s over 29,000 days. Can you imagine? Even if you’re old like me, you still have thousands of days on average. Thousands of days to make mistakes and learn, to read interesting things, to be vulnerable to others, to work, to play, to laugh, and to cry. Grow and learn a bit each day and you’ll be a mountain of wisdom and character.

Fine, you say, I will be balanced and I will grow each day. But to what end? What am I supposed to do? What is my mission?

When my wife and I were wed, I married into a successful family. I was the first and only person in my family to go to college. My wife’s family was well-educated and professional. So I tried to step it up. I looked up the hottest job markets and thought about what I could do. Though I don’t blame myself, I really had it all wrong. There is a much-better approach.

Perhaps you’ve seen something like this before:

Let’s look at a quick example of someone who I think would qualify as the best in the world at what she does. I have a friend Sarah who enjoys her job as much as anyone I know. She is a family physician who cares for patients in an office, is on-call at the hospital, and teaches young medical students. One of her real loves is delivering babies. Despite bringing many little ones into the world, she still gets emotional about it and marvels at their perfect little features. She feels appreciated because she is appreciated by her patients. Clearly she makes the lives of others better because she cares about the whole person and gives of herself.

I want to focus on the third element, “Doing something you’re good at”. (By the way, it’s not lost on me that this is not proper grammar. I like it better that way.) Sarah’s dream as a young person was to be a physician. In order to do this, of course she needed to make good grades in high school and as an undergraduate. She withstood the pressure and long hours of medical school and residency. She then worked in an underserved area of Michigan in the National Health Service Corps. Finally, she was able to put all of those late nights, the basic science classes, the rounds with professors, the repetitive cases, and the national board tests to use.

The point here is that doing something well is a process, sometimes a long process, you need to follow. The Sarah who sometimes cries with joy when she delivers the baby of a friend is the same one who needed to study cellular respiration, who had to find confidence to present to her attending physician in medical school, and who had to learn to do all this while balancing being a mom, an athlete, a person of faith, as well as a health professional.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jerry Rice who said, “Today I’ll do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.” I absolutely love my job. I get to work with and mentor college students. Almost all of the 20 or so students with whom I’ve worked in the past couple of years understand the concept of delayed gratification. They know that success is a process.

The third assignment for you, then, is to contemplate your calling. Remember than the road may be a journey. Your journey may require doing things which are not your passion but are necessary for getting to where you can exercise your passion. I can tell you that linear algebra, circuits, and coding aren’t passions for me, but learning these things help me often in mentoring my students, and that is a passion.

Next, I want you to recognize, embrace, and exploit the unique position you have in the world and in the lives of others. You may have a professional position in which you are paid for your particular skills and abilities. Your friends and family value you uniquely for who you are. Let’s say you are a mother. Then you have a wonderful job.

All of this is to say: You have a unique calling in this world. To be the best in the world, you now just need to be your best. In the example I mentioned earlier, Sarah has her unique position, but it’s the way she embraces that position that makes her the best at what she does.

Whether it’s me or you or anyone, we can become the best by being our best. You realize your unique place in the world and become the person you can be.

There’s a story that has been told a number of times. It illustrates this point. There was a fellow named Johnny who bagged groceries in a food store. Johnny was developmentally disabled. One day, a regional executive came to the store to talk to the employee. He asked that they do their part to making the shopping experience exceptional. Johnny decided he would put a note in each bag for every one of his customers. With help from his father, he printed slips of paper with a quote or thought. He would put these in each of the bags he filled.

After a while, customer came to really like these. The manager, one day, saw that there was a line waiting for Johnny’s cashier. The manager told the waiting customers, “There’s no line on register four.” The customer all said they wanted to wait in Johnny’s line so they could get the thought for the day. This contributed to an atmosphere of happiness at the store. For example, in the florist department, if there were a broken flower, they would give it to an older lady as a corsage. The store flourished.

Johnny was in a unique position and he became remarkably successful

The last thing I’ll ask of you is learn to recognize when you are settling. You might be settling for something by being impatient. If you want to deliver babies, then you need to be patient enough to learn organic chemistry. You might be settling for something by waiting. Instead of waiting until everything is perfect, you might need to have courage to have that conversation, or take that trip, or apply for grad school.

You know in your heart when you are settling. Let’s avoid that feeling.

Here, then, are your five assignments:

1) Consider how balanced you are between the physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Make corrections as needed.

2) Grow in some way every single day.

3) Figure out your unique calling. Find the intersection between what you can do to make others’ lives better, what makes you feel appreciated, and something you do well. Then do that.

4) Recognize, embrace, and exploit the unique position you have in the world and in the lives of others.

5) Don’t settle.

Do these things, and you will be your best and you will be the best.

A Grand Slam, a deflection, and a marathon: Three athletic feats I’ll never forget

Shoulder to shoulder with greatness (L to R: Aleksandra, me, Sarah, Ben)

There are countless lists of great athletic feats, almost all of which happened on a big stage and were viewed by thousands or even millions of people. I, too, have seen my share of great moments on television and in person.

I would rather, however, reflect on the amazing things I have seen in person. There is something particularly special about athletes who perform at a high level in relative anonymity. Here, then, are three feats I witnessed, ranging from 1975 to 2017, which have left an indelible impression on me.

  1. Carl Lacy Morrow’s Grand Slam — In my junior high school, the best athlete, without question, was Phil Melton. He was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. Before he was due to enroll in our high school, Ben L. Smith High, which had a poor reputation compared to its cross-town rival, Page High, Melton moved to the Page district. As you might expect, this did not go over well with the Smith Golden Eagles. This is the context for my first favorite memory from 1975. Page and Smith were playing baseball, with the Page Pirates leading 3–0 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Phil Melton was on the mound. Improbably, Smith managed to get the bases loaded with two outs. This brought Carl Lacy Morrow up-to-bat. Carl Lacy was from a poor section of town. He was the shortest player on the field, and also the toughest. When Melton hung a curve ball, Morrow sent it over the wall for a walk-off grand slam. It was transcendental and seemed to be a victory for everything good in life.
  2. A injury-preventing dive — Once, around 1983, I was playing Ultimate Frisbee in a pick-up game with some excellent players. On the side of the field sat a friend, Carol, with her baby. At some point in the game, the disc sailed low and fast toward Carol’s face (and also toward the baby’s face). At that point, a fellow who I remember but whose name I’ll never know, dove over the blanket where they were sitting. Somehow, completely laid-out horizontal in mid-air, he swatted away the disc and prevented a certain injury, before landing in a summersault on the other side of the blanket. It was quick and perhaps remembered only by me. But it was an amazing move, again something I’ll never forget.
  3. Which brings me to the most recent event which happened just this past weekend. Three friends — Ben, Sarah, and Aleksandra — had been preparing for the Richmond Marathon for months. Ben would be running his first marathon and we had the feeling it would be something special. Sarah had thoughts of a Boston Marathon qualifying time, which seemed at once both audacious and entirely realistic. And Aleksandra had a number of injuries, illnesses, and circumstances which vexed her training. As we tracked their progress, it was clear that the day would not be disappointing. What I witnessed was three friends and athletes who gave everything they had that day. That they met their goals was important. That they executed their plan was essential. That they inspired is forever.

This list is short and spans a lifetime. If it remains at three items, that will be fine. What each of these have in common is a timelessness, a kind of perfection, and a transcendent quality I will remember forever.

A Meaningful Life, part 2: Your Physical Self

I’ve written before about the need for balance in life, the ideal of the Renaissance man or woman. As a teen, one of my idols was Kris Kristofferson, because he had been a college football player, award-winning songwriter, Army helicopter pilot, Rhodes scholar, actor, and singer. I was not going to match his achievements but I was to determined to never let go of the concept.

If we view a well-rounded person as having balance between the spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical, then it seems to me the last of these is most often the casualty of 21st-century life. Volumes have been written about obesity in the United States and its consequences. Most often, the focus is on the cost in health care and, to a lesser extent, the quality of life.

To pursue fitness is a chase we always win. In any attempt to improve our fitness, we are treating the body as the temple it is.

I have lain exhausted on a track after running 400-meter repeats. I have fallen off a rowing machine when done with a 5000-meter time trial. I have kicked and been kicked by a 265-pound mass of muscle in a sparring match. I ran into the proverbial wall in my first three marathons. And I threw up from exertion five days in a row at football practice in high school.

These have been some of the most meaningful moments in my life. My friend Jamie wrote, “When we push ourselves in the physical realm beyond what we think we can handle, this mentality spills over into other aspects of our lives. In teaching ourselves that we can handle that physical hill, we learn that we can also tackle the hills in the other aspects of our lives. We learn who we are, and what we can do. We learn that we are more than what our insecurities whisper to us. We are stronger than our doubts would have us believe.”

To view exercise as simply an unpleasant requirement to maintain health is to miss the point. We are maintaining the foundation of all that we are. Though we sometimes want to compartmentalize our lives, we are far to0 complex for one area of our existence not to affect other areas.

If you are overweight: Let me say that I never view you with anything less than heartfelt concern. My strong desire is this: To come alongside you, have you place your hand over your heart, and let you remind yourself that it is that steady heartbeat keeping you alive. I want to re-introduce you to the body which would skip along the playground during recess, which awakened during adolescence, and which must occasionally feel stirrings to rise up to a physical challenge.

If you have previously been fit but have lost yourself in the business of life: Whatever you have going, exercise should be viewed with the same importance as your job and your loved ones. If the day were to come where you find your life threatened by illness, you would quickly see it this way. Why wait until that day?

If you are currently exercising and taking care of yourself: Be proud. You are stoking the fire of the engine which powers the rest of your life. You have overcome the inertia which drives us all to conserve energy, and found that energy feeds on energy.

When I get together with my friends for a run, or go to my friend Lauren’s Pure Barre class, everyone looks much the same. Some are medical doctors, some are PhD’s, some are stay-at-home moms, some are young, some not so much, but all generally wear similar clothes and are at similar levels of fitness. This should tell us something: When our time on earth is coming to an end, we won’t take our material possessions with us. Instead, it’s the hills we climbed, both the figurative and literal hills, on which we’ll look back with fondness. And how do we prepare ourselves to climb hills? By doing it.

Findng My Way

Lately, I’ve been visiting trail running with my friends. My poor sense of direction is legendary in my family and my vision isn’t very good, so the thought of being set loose amid twisting and turning paths, with a carpet of leaves, rocks, and roots — well, this is an accident waiting to happen.

Still, my dauntless friend Sarah ran almost six miles of this byzantine route and it inspired me such that I knew I had to try to replicate her success.

And so it was, armed with a bottle of water, a map, my phone, about 1.5 hours of daylight, and crystal-clear directions from Sarah, that I set out to run the Occoneechee Loop. Most of us would think of a “loop” as a rough circle or oval. Not this one. It had more curly-cues than Shirley Temple’s hair.

After finding my way to the beginning of the trail, I ran through markers 1, 2, 3, and 4. It was then that things went sideways. Oh, I can see now what I did wrong. At the time, though, all I knew what that I couldn’t find #5. All I could find were numbers 10 and 11. To make a long story short, I eventually found all 17 markers, but not in any sensible order.

I reported back to Sarah, hoping for and receiving high-fives for congratulations. I felt like I had been on a two-day Outward Bound adventure. I’m embarrassed to say how great I felt about my triumph.

When I got home, something unexpected happened. While taking a shower, my mind drifted back to a time when I was a young professional, trying with all my might to negotiate my career and be successful. I became teary thinking about how I would come home and my young daughters would be playing, full-of-energy, and excited to see me. Without much analysis at all, I realized that my forest adventure had returned an echo of more than two decades ago. The struggle to find my way in the woods paralleled my struggle to earn a living and find a place in the corporate world. As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Sometimes we run for fitness. Sometimes for fellowship, peace-of-mind, or challenge. Sometimes the goal is just to find our way. On rare occasions, all of these come together as it did for me yesterday, creating a golden memory in the golden sunset.

Making Adjustments

via Creative Commons

My brother and I grew up in the same somewhat-chaotic household. From an early age, he was extremely bright. I remember him reading books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, “Das Capital”, and various science fiction works before he left elementary school. I, on the other hand, was…an underachiever. I remember my guidance counselor giving my father a book called “Bright Child, Poor Grades”, in a effort to help me get in gear.

In seventh grade, a confluence of events changed my life. First, I went to a tough junior high school in which it was in your best interests to keep a low profile. You would likely be beaten up if you stuck your neck out. Second, my mother died and that increased my sense that the world was a tenuous place and you’d better keep your nose clean. Finally, I was in homeroom after the second grading period when my friend leaned over and said, “Look, you made Honor Roll!” “What?” “Honor Roll! You see the ‘H.R.’? That’s what it means!”

And so my life changed. In a short time, I learned that perhaps you could receive good attention for doing the right thing. Also, I learned something about the age-old debate between nature and nurture: you cannot change what nature gave you, but you can nurture those parts in you that you want to develop. And so I did.

Our lives are on a trajectory. The direction is more important than the speed. Sometimes you need to alter that direction. There is a balance between second-guessing yourself every minute, which isn’t helpful, and being aware of this very minute. This balance isn’t easy but it is always worth it.

In the past five weeks, I have been going to barre class . If I am inattentive for even a couple of seconds, my form falls apart or I miss some important instruction. So I look for my friend to see what I should be doing.

And it’s now December and the year has passed by in a blur of adventures, tests taken and tests passed, and smiles. I will not gain back these past 365 days but I will not regret even one of them.

To sum up:
1. Like the pilot of a bobsled descending the hill at 80 MPH, we need to always be making adjustments if we want to make the best of our ride.
2. We need to pay attention, but if we lose our way, we can look to our friends for help.
3. Time will pass whether or not we use it wisely, but if we make the most of it, we can look back and smile.

Eleanor Powell said, “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” For us, what we make of what we’ve been given determines the tenor of our lives.

Your Life in 2018: What Is At Stake

via Creative Commons

Soon, you will begin seeing a flood of stories and posts about the new year, and what you might hope to do differently in 2018. Depending on your past experience, you may greet the New Year with great hopes, or perhaps a little cynicism.

I would like for you to consider that this isn’t about diets or renewed determination or paying off your debts. It’s not about losing belly fat or learning a foreign language or being a better correspondent.

This is about you, your purpose in life, and how you want to spend your brief time on Earth.

There is more competition than ever for our attention. It seems like drama has become the rule rather than the exception. Side-shows have become the show.

I suggest that it is time for us to take control of our how we spend our days. Deep down, you know what is important. Sometimes we avoid the important things because they are difficult, or maybe (on the surface) a little boring, or maybe the payback doesn’t seem immediate.

These are the things, I would suggest, will make the biggest difference in your life:

  • Eat mostly healthy food.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Exercise in a way that works well for you.
  • Read something challenging.
  • Nourish relationships.
  • Take a few minutes every day for prayer or meditation, just some time to separate out your thoughts and emotions from you.
  • Pay attention to how you carry yourself,your posture and how you listen to others.
  • Be mindful, especially about where you allocate your attention.

If these things seem basic, that’s the point. Doing the most fundamental good things in life leads to a life of fundamental good.

In addition, these are not specific to one age, one season of life. Whether you are a teenager, or in your 30s, or in your 50s, these practices will help you.

In this past year, many forces have no doubt conspired to distract you from your calling. May this be the year when we turn toward what we know will make us better.

Why Documentation Matters

My friends and I decided to do a Christmas craft. We bought several of the ceramic Christmas trees, the kind you coat with glaze and fire in a kiln. (We also bought some menorahs, mugs, and ornaments for other options.) After these trees are fired, you place small plastic “lights” on the tree, and these are lit up from the inside to make a pretty object.

When we placed the plastic pieces in the tree, they were too small in diameter, so they fell out. While gluing them in was an option, we felt like they should be the correct size such that they would fit without glue.

Naturally, we turned to a Google search to get coached up on this important subject. I wasn’t prepared to get the equivalent of a PhD in ceramic Christmas tree lights. This page was a tour-de-force on the subject. What’s more, it conveyed not only information but wisdom and a bit of personality. It included sections on measuring the lights, on why imports from China are likely of lesser quality, and even helpful information about how to determine if your mailing address is rural. (“If you live on a County or State Road, you might be rural. If your neighbors own cows, you might be rural. If you can see the Milky Way at night, you might be rural.”)

I was so delighted with what I learned from this page, and it made me reflect on the role of written documentation and notes. Here are my conclusions:

  1. Caring a lot about something shows. Whoever wrote this information clearly had a passion. This wasn’t someone who was writing strictly from notes. It came from experience and knowledge and, dare I say, passion.
  2. Substance is much more important than form. The web site itself looked like HTML from the 1990s but that didn’t matter.
  3. There are sometimes no substitute for text and images. Though I enjoy learning through videos, sometimes information is best delivered via the written word.
  4. There is nothing so arcane that someone won’t benefit. I doubt this page is referred to often, but it is invaluable when needed. Let this be a lesson: if you have collected a wealth of specific information, it needs to be recorded for others to use.

This is not the first time I benefited from someone’s willingness to share knowledge. We may sometimes take for granted what we’ve learned. Open the gates to what you know, and it may be just what others need to move forward.