[description of Counsilman Fund, by Bob Groseth]
Thank you John [Leonard]. As John said, I worked as manager for Doc [Counsilman] when he was writing his famous book The Science of Swimming, which was the bible for most of the people that are my age and around. One of the things that Doc did was that he brought-in people from outside of Swimming, outside of sports, that were scientists, psychologists, physiologists. He talked with them, and he wanted to be on the cutting edge.
The idea of the Counsilman Fund is to bring people not necessarily associated with Swimming—although some of them are and tonight we have someone that is. But people from outside the normal swim coach who gets up and talks about workouts and stuff; and talk about something that is going to inspire us, to make us think of looking at Swimming in a different way, look at training in a different way, look at strokes in a different way. Doc was always doing this and always at the cutting edge. And he shared his knowledge with everyone around him—that is why he wrote the book. Those that were on the deck with him at meets know that he also would carry-on with a lot of coaches, sharing that information and inspiring coaches.
So the idea of the Counsilman Fund was to bring someone from outside of Swimming, or someone outside of the normal, to talk to this group to inspire them. And I think that one of the reasons that John just talked about: coaches sharing their knowledge with younger coaches—which we all like to do. But also expanding our knowledge. And this is one of the things that has kept ASCA and USA Swimming at the cutting edge, just because we are always bringing in new ideas, and tonight’s talk is just an example of one of them.
On your seat you will find one of these envelopes—that has my name on it. The Counsilman Fund got started about eight years ago, and John let the fund build-up. In the last couple of years, we have been spending money out of the fund and it is getting back down. We need your help to keep these talks going. Okay? The idea is that that we want to get enough money so that we can kind of self-fund, and use a percentage of the money each time. But the fund, because we have been using the money the last couple of years, the fund has gotten down and we need help to get it going. So we will take money, we will take stamps, we will take gift cards; we will take anything you have got. Write a check, put it in the envelope. There is a red box at the registration desk for the Counsilman Fund, put it in there. Or just put-on a stamp and mail it to me. But let us keep these fresh ideas coming-in by keeping the Counsilman Fund going. Thank you very much.
[introduction by John Leonard]
Thank you, Bob.
It is a tremendous honor and privilege, as well as a joy, for me to introduce our Counsilman speaker. Doug Ingram and I have been friends now for more years than I want to think about. It is a little more than friends, because the man who got me involved in Swimming at a level off of my own pool deck is Doug Ingram. And I think there is probably 150 or 200 coaches heavily-involved in Swimming governance who would say exactly the same thing.
There are three ideas that I think that everyone who knows Doug associates with him. And rather than talk about his resume, which is incredible, or the fact that he was the ASCA president for a couple of terms, which is an unbelievable experience for me; I want to talk about three of the qualities that everyone who knows Doug Ingram thinks about.
Number one: he is a selfless leader; he is a selfless contributor. It is not about whatever is best for Doug, it is about what is best for the group that Doug is working with—always and forever, no exceptions. One of the most selfless gentlemen I have ever had the privilege of knowing in my life.
Second thing that everybody thinks about is, if you go in The Bible and you like reading some parts of The Bible, it talks about servant leadership. Nobody exemplifies servant leadership better than Doug Ingram. The hardest tasks that come to do are the tasks that Doug Ingram picks up first; the most difficult things to do are the things that Doug Ingram does first. And then, he never lets anybody know he is doing it. For the last twenty-plus years, when you watched the Olympic team of the United States compete, Winter or Summer, and they have tremendous performances, it is all because behind the scenes, the man who manages the Olympic team for every sport, takes care of all the logistics, spends an enormous amount of time overseas making sure our team is positioned to be successful, is Doug Ingram. And you never hear the name—you never hear the name.
And the third thing that is a quality, that all of us that know Doug know and love about him, he exemplifies the idea, and he talks about the idea and he teaches the idea, that there is no limits to what we can achieve and what we can do as long as we do not care who gets the credit.
Please help me bring to the stage one of the great gentlemen of our sport and all of sport, Coach Doug Ingram. [applause]
Now, I am not going to let him talk yet. And this is sort of funny—Doug knew this was coming. Kim Seaman—who we are going to introduce you to in a minute—was a [ASCA] Fellow from the 2013 class, who was one of the Fellows who did fantastic interviews, including Doug Ingram, which you will be reading about in the ASCA magazine in the months to come. The class did a fantastic job; Kim did a fantastic job. Kim went one step further: she wanted to make sure she had a gift for Doug for this meeting. So this morning I said, “Okay, right as soon as the talk is done, we’ll immediately bring you up, Kim, and you can do the presentation.” Stupid. What is after this? Beer! Beer beats awards. So I would like to bring Kim up to the stage, please, so she can present her gift and explain it to Doug. (Kim come on up please.)
[Kim Seaman]: Thank you, John. As John mentioned, this past year I had the privilege of getting to know Doug through the ASCA Fellows project. As a token of gratitude for his hard work and his humble heart, and the service that he has given to Swimming and American sport, his colleagues and myself wrote notes of appreciation to him that have been compiled into a book. And we wanted to present that to you this evening as an honor. It is just a small representation of the big impact that you have had on so many people’s lives.
Thank you so much. Wow, Kim, John: goodness, you know how to embarrass a guy, that is for sure.
I really am honored to be here and give this presentation, especially in front of what I consider the greatest association of coaches in the world. And for it to be associated with Doc, even that much more special and humbling. Bob said it so well: no one sought more things outside of Swimming than Dr. Counsilman; a true renaissance man. When you think about the litany of things he brought back to Swimming from outside, it is just remarkable. He belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Swimming coaches, when we decide to put that thing up and start carving it out. He is one of those gentlemen.
Also to the coaches that I got to work with over twenty-plus years in the noble profession of swimming coaching, thank you so much. Anything that I have ever accomplished is absolutely to your credit, not to mine; I really appreciate that. And finally, with some very, very heartfelt emotion, I want to dedicate this talk to Coach Jimmy Flowers. You could not ask for a better friend, either on the pool deck or on a mountain, than Jimmy, so, namaste Jimmy.
Dr. Counsilman said: seek more, question more, look for more things; look outside and bring it back to the sport and share it with all of us. And that is exactly what he did. If you find that you are the smartest person in a room, I suggest you go look for another room. And again, that is what Doc was about as well. Get outside your comfort zone. That is what we ask our athletes to do every day, every season: get outside your comfort zone. So we as coaches should be exactly the same way.
Another genius, Albert Einstein, said: I have no special talent, I’m just passionately curious. Let us be like Doc: let us be passionately curious. Nobody is more-so than he was.
The best always change. That is how they got to be the best; that is how they maintain themselves as the best. USA Swimming is the best Swimming nation in the world. I get to work with all the sports—I am very blessed that way—and I can tell you from my experiences that there is no better Olympic sport in the U.S. than USA Swimming. But that makes it even more important to seek positive change, anywhere and everywhere we can find it; and bring it into our sport and challenge ourselves to stay on top of the world. ASCA/America’s Swimming coaches: they are the best in the world. And that is what we want to maintain, and that is how we always need to keep seeking.
Miracles start to happen when you give just as much energy to your dreams as you do to your fears. (And I am going to talk about dreams as we move through here this evening.)
As I said I get a chance to work with many different sports, and I want to talk about a couple. The first one will remain anonymous, because I want to protect the… well, in this case, the guilty. But this sport won 5 medals in 1988. There is only 12 medals they can possibly win in their sport, and they won 5 of them: they were the best nation in their sport in the Olympic Games. In 1992, they won 3 medals; in 1996, they won 2 medals.
And we were on their doorstep: you need to re-evaluate and change; you need to look at everything within your sport. Do you have the right athletes? Do you have the best and the best-educated coaches to provide for those athletes? Are the training programs and the competition programs what they need to be? All of the questions we asked on the quiz, all of them, Swimming has all the right answers. This sport: Oh, no, we’re fine. We just need to tweak a few things; it’ll be all good, no problem. You can imagine. If you were a business and this was you—5, 3, 2—you are out of business.
But the sport goes-on to Sydney; 1 medal. We are frantic about our efforts to get them to change. They go to Athens; zero medals. All of a sudden there is this huge hullaballoo: Oh, my gosh, what happened? We have to change. We’ve got to make tremendous adjustments. Yeah, we have been talking about that for ten years.
They did start to make that change. 2008, still zero medals. But you could see: better athletes, better coaching, better training. Everything was moving in the right direction. 2012, 3 medals. So they reversed themselves.
My beseech to you: do not let that happen. Do not get to the point where you have to make that kind of dramatic change. Stay at the top in your Swimming; keep looking for positive change in every arena.
Positive example. And I will say them: USA Shooting. USA Shooting won about 3 or 4 medals each Games for about twenty years. We said, “Look, there’s 20+ medals that you could possibly win. Can’t we just double this? Can’t we shoot for 8, maybe 10?” Oh no, no. No country has ever won more than a handful of medals in a Games; there’s too many disciplines. You spread your resources across Shotgun and Pistol and Rifle and… you know, all these excuses. (Well, they were excuses.) Well in 2000, the Chinese won 9 medals. Whoa. U.S. Shooting said, Gosh, I guess you can win more than 4 or 5 medals. And to their credit, with our help and assistance they have made some great changes and are moving to the point of challenging China for the top of the heap in their sport. So it can work both ways. But the best thing to do is make sure that when you are at the top, you keep changing to try to continue that.
We will use one more outside of Swimming sport. Everybody knows what this is [on slide]; a kind of a rudimentary, 1890 high jump. And the technique that was being used is called the scissor technique. About a dozen or so—a couple of dozen—years later, this is actually in 1912 at the Stockholm Games, a new type of technique. (Some of you Track & Field guys might know what it is) Western roll, it was called. And from being below two meters for the World Record, they moved above two meters. In the mid-30s, along came the straddle technique.
Now all three of these innovations, creative new ways of changing the technique, had one thing in common. Right? They all go over the bar, looking at the bar as they go up; looking where they are going to land on the way down. And we are all familiar with this technique used today. And everybody knows the name: Fosbury flop.
Now, how much courage, how much creativity, did it take to say: Wait, I’m not going to jump over face-first; I’m going to go backwards over the bar. I’m not going to know where I land until I land. That takes the kind of courage and creativity that we all need to exhibit, we all need to ask our athletes to exhibit.
Dick Fosbury said, and these are his own words (I am going to have to read them): “I was told over and over again that I would never be successful, that I was not going to be competitive and the technique was simply not going to work. All I could do was shrug and say We’ll just have to see.” Well, there are always nay-sayers: there is always people that can tell you why you cannot do something. But, as Dick Fosbury shows us, yeah, you could be Olympic champion, you can be the World Record holder, making these kinds of changes.
There was the progression. It started back in the 1890s; under two meters. Then all of a sudden, Western roll; wow, okay, we are making progress. Along, straddle, more progress up. And then all of a sudden, we are flopping. And man, we are really going now; we are all the way in, the record continues to go. This happens in all sport.
You guys know it well in our sport. Where would we be on our various strokes if it was not for Coach Joe Bernal and a gentleman named Dave Berkoff, and the underwater dolphin kick that is so prevalent today? An innovator takes a lot of courage, takes a lot of not listening to the nay-sayers to do that.
Well I came to kind of a moment in my life where… I had been dreaming about a mountain called Mount Everest. Had been reading about it since I was a teenager—and that is a long time. I thought: I need to actually go see this mountain. Is this a pipe dream, or am I serious about thinking about Mount Everest?
So on the left side there [of slide] is base camp on the north side of Mount Everest, 2006. The right side—and the reason I put the picture there—this was our high point at just under 22,000 feet. That was the brightest point of the day right there; it got worse from there, deteriorated. It got to the point where you could not see your hand if you held it out in front of your face. Total whiteout, total storm; blew us, literally, off the mountain. And that is why I put in there something I like to consider and think about and talk about, and that is: Some days you have fun and some days you build character. And on the left, we were having a lot of fun; and on the right, we were building a lot of character.
Every day you see this with your athletes. There are days that it is great: practice is good, we are having fun. There are other days: we are grinding it out. Those days are important too because we are building some serious character during those days. So I had to decide: do I want to have the fun and the character building necessary to make an attempt on Everest?
(I am going to read this to you as well because it will be tough for the ones in the back to see.) This is from a climbing colleague of mine named Mark Jenkins.
Climbing Everest is not curing cancer. It is a narcissistic pursuit, not a noble one. But there is grandeur in the endeavor. A common goal of magnificent difficulty, with everyone sharing in the brief moments of pleasure and extended periods of pain….
Now that is what you guys are dishing out, I know: brief moments of pleasure but lots of pain to get to those moments of pleasure. And that is okay, because these kinds of things (this is Martin going on):
…binds heart to heart more strongly than the rope itself. Because Everest is so high and so indifferent, it calls upon every mountaineer, at some point during the climb, to rise to his or her better self….
And that is what you guys are doing: you are asking those athletes at some point during this training, during this competition, during this season: you have got to rise to your higher self. To:
… that person inside us all who has unquestioned courage, who will sacrifice without doubt, who will commit without complaint, who will put his life on the line. This answer to the inevitable question of Why? Because: the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, expects of you, demands of you, to reach for the highest qualities in yourself.
The sport of Swimming expects of you and demands of you that you reach that higher quality. We all want to have big, bold dreams, right? Well if they are not scaring you, if they do not scare you, they are not big enough; that is my proposition. Make sure your dreams are so big that they scare you.
So why climb Everest? Why attempt challenges anywhere? Because it is hard. You guys are in the business of hard, and that is great. Because our society is not in the business of hard. Ron and Don Heidary, I read some stuff that they are doing: unbelievable. Flying in the face of the cultural headwinds, that is exactly what we have to keep doing for our sport and the young people in our sport. Because it is hard, because it is what you can learn about yourself, because of what you can teach others from that learning. Because of the camaraderie, the teamwork, that you can build. To test yourself. That is why you take on these challenges.
Now I love this ad. This is Ernest Shackleton, 1914. He put this ad in the London Times because he was recruiting for people—at that time only men were applying—to go with him on an Antarctic expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole. Pretty daunting task. And so here is his ad, in the London Times:
For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
He was overwhelmed with people wanting to sign up for this. Well, that is what you guys are doing; you are selling the same stuff. Small wages; we do not have to argue about that. Right? Cold water. Hours-upon-hours, days-upon-days, watching a black line on the bottom of the pool. Yeah, that is sublime, that is sexy, that is a sport that we can do. That is the hard sell, but that is what you guys are doing. And that is why it is so important. We need more of that.
And much more poetically than I could ever say: Robert Browning: Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
[next slide] Another gentleman great with words: President Kennedy. And when he made this speech, the Soviets were so far ahead of us. They were the first ones to put anything into space—Sputnik. They were the first ones to put the first man in space, orbit, all that stuff—first, first, first, first. But Kennedy says no:
We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
Now that is pretty bold, pretty audacious. That is the business we should be in: bold, audacious goals.
So for me at that point: okay, you’ve got to do this, you know. You have talked about it, you have dreamed about it; it is there, let us go do it. “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is merely tenacity,” said by one of the most tenacious, courageous females on this planet: Amelia Earhart. And from one of our two-time Olympic gold medalist, Kristin Armstrong: “I want to get more confident being uncertain. I don’t want to shrink back just because something isn’t easy. I want to push back and make more room between I can and I can’t.” Pretty wise for a young lady there.
So after decades of dreaming, was I willing to put in years of preparation, months of planning, weeks of pain, days of climbing, hours of waiting for the summit weather to be right, just for a few minutes on the summit? Well yeah. And Jim Rohn tells us why, because: “you either suffer the pain of discipline, or you suffer the pain of regret.” So we are off!
Kilimanjaro: roof of Africa. And just like every elite sport, it is all about the preparation—preparation, preparation, preparation. Just like when you are doing real estate, it is location, location, location. Right? Well this is: preparation, preparation, preparation. I am not telling you guys anything new; you know that.
“Motivation gets you started, habits keep you going.” Our great miler, Jim Ryun. This [on slide] is actually Christmas Eve, the Winter of 2007. I needed Dave over there with me to complete the picture, because I actually carried that [Santa] hat up there, Dave, and wore it for the summit photo on Kilimanjaro. But I did not have Santa Claus Dave Thomas with me. (So next time Dave, we are going together.)
Aconcagua. It is the highest point outside the Himalayas, 22,840 feet high. It takes tremendous teamwork and courage and persistence to accomplish some high altitude mountaineering; the same as what is in your sport. This team—the group that we had at the summit—I was so impressed with all the gentlemen there. We had a really tough summit day; it would have been easy to turn back several times early on. Then it cleared and we had success. The difference was the team, the team aspect. No one of us, individually, could have made that, but as a team we could do it.
And that is exactly what US Sw… it is what you are showing for our sport of Shooting, when I said they made some changes and moved it towards the Chinese. One of the things they changed, was they said wait a minute—and we obviously pointed it out to them—you don’t have to be just an individual sport, you can be a team sport, made up of a lot of different events. And that is what USA Swimming has shown the rest of the Olympic world. And that is what our shooters did, and it has really paid-off for them.
If you watched the Games in Sochi—maybe you had a little time—the Dutch speedskaters had a remarkable meet. They more-than-doubled the most medals they had ever won in any Olympic Games prior. And we got back and, you know, there was all kinds of dissection and after-actions; and people are moaning-and-groaning, cussing-and-discussing everything about the Games. What were the Dutch doing? What was their physiology? What was the training plan? What was the psychology behind it? How’d they do it?
I saw one thing, repeatedly, but I saw it every day. The way Speedskating works is the men skate the 1,500 one day—because they only go two at a time, so it takes a long time to get everybody through, but it is a time-based—and the next day, the women skate. Well, I had never seen this in Speedskating, but when the men were skating, the entire women’s team was in the stand cheering them on. And the next day, vice versa. They stole a page out of your book, the Dutch did. Not our speedskaters, unfortunately, but the Dutch did. So I beg Swimming: keep showing us how to make an individual sport into a team sport; it is so important for us all.
Training and preparation. It has to be… again, you guys know this: you have got to get good at suffering. The physical training you need. That picture on the left is on top of Mount Lincoln, a 14,000-foot peak, in the winter before I went to Everest, 2013. It is a selfie—I am not very good at that, obviously. It was a total whiteout that day, but I needed to put myself in that situation because this was going to be nothing compared to Everest. I had to force myself to suffer at that level. The gym: I had to spend more time. Core work; on all the limbs, body work. Get it ready so I could be prepared for the big event. And sure enough, in March of 2013….
This is how you get to Everest, by the way: you fly from wherever your home is to Kathmandu. You take a small plane (like this) and you fly to Lukla. Perennially it is the most dangerous airport in the world, because right here at the end of the runway is a 2,000-foot drop, and at this end of the runway, there is a rock wall (you can see it along here). So the pilot, what his job is, he just clears the end of this precipice and touches down, and slams on the brake. You pitch forward, and you are all hoping: Oh my gosh, please stop before that wall. And just as you get to those markings there, he comes to a stop, turns the plane around—like it is a piece of cake—parks it. You unload all your gear and you are off to Everest. If you survive this, your chances on Everest are immeasurably improved.
You then hike through the Khumbu Valley. Arguably, this is the best part of the whole experience. You are with the Sherpa people; you are seeing them live and work and play, and what they do on a full-time basis. You are with your teammates. You are building the bonds that are binding your team together; just like you do in practice, building those bonds that cannot be broken, because you need those teammates as you go higher.
The reason it is really important to enjoy this part of it is because the goal is really far out there. In the top picture, Everest is way back there in the clouds. We are about 35 miles still from Everest, so the goal is way out. Just like when you set those big goals, they are far out. So the process and the journey along the way is that much more important. And that is what you have to make sure athletes focus on: the journey and the immediate goal.
A lot of logistics with Everest. I mean you can imagine. Tons of gear to get up that mountain. Think about feeding 30+ people three meals-a-day at above 20,000 feet—it is a real logistical challenge. Think about getting-up in the dark—wee hours of morning—filling your pack up with gear, climbing 2,000 feet, spending the night, leaving that gear, going back down to base camp. Because you are going to do the same thing in a few more days, until you get all of that gear up there. So you actually go up and down… you climb the mountain more than once—to say the least.
The important thing here is: stay focused on that goal—that far, far, way-out goal—while you manage all the little details. Because, as we all know, if you see the goal but you forget the tiny details, you are not going to get to the goal. But if you get all the myriad of details coming at you, and therefore you lose sight of the reasons you are doing it, you are not going to get there as well. So that is that balance.
Everything at the Olympic Games—and you guys know, the ones who have been there—is a performance issue. Everything at your championship meet is a performance issue; every little detail. You have got to prepare for that: prepare for that environment, prepare for that opportunity.
Protect the performance aspect at all costs. I preach that to our folks daily. Our job is to protect the performance for the athletes, make sure that the environment can support them. On Everest it is a little different: you have got to protect yourself and your teammates. Focus on the big picture while keeping all the tiny details in mind; that is the key learning.
This is Tengboche Monastery (in the top picture there). It is the most important Buddhist monastery in the Khumbu Valley.
There are processes or steps along the way. Every endeavor, every aspect, whether it is music or art—Da Vinci, Mozart, Copernicus, everybody—has to go through certain steps to reach their goal. No different in sport and Swimming: certain things you have to go through.
This is a really special one here, because the lama, Lama Geshe, lives at the Tengboche Monastery and blesses the members of the expedition, all our gear, when we passed through there. In fact the Sherpas will not go beyond this point without the Lama Geshe. He asks Mount Everest for safe passage for us, and says prayers and gives us a prayer scarf around our neck. It is really an important point. Every great endeavor has a spiritual heart, find that spiritual heart.
Another one of my climbing colleagues, Bill Burke:
Sherpa Chhring Dorje once said, A mountain is a living Goddess. Climb with a pure heart. Now this is great advice. Those who climb for fame, fortune or recognition—if that’s their only reason for climbing—or they climb to set a record, they are not climbing with a pure heart. Mountains should be climbed with respect, humility and concern for those who share those sacred realms….
If you are only swimming to get fame and recognition, that is not the reason you should be swimming. If you are only coaching for setting records, that is not the reason to be coaching. You have to do it with a pure heart.
Selfish motives lead to selfish decisions, putting the lives and well-being of others at risk. (This is Bill still talking.) My own belief is that journey to the finish line is where all the learning takes place….
You notice he did not say the finish line, the award stand; no:
…the journey to the finish line is where all the learning takes place and where happiness and growth are achieved.
So you keep walking for ten days, and you get to base camp on Everest. Base camp is right along this; this is Khumbu Glacier—it is right alongside of it here. Our route is up the ice fall, which we will talk about in a few minutes—one of the more dangerous parts of it. Through this valley called the Western Cwn—it is a Welsh word, obviously named by the early British expeditions, meaning a steep valley. Up the face of this mountain, called Lhotse, to the saddle between, and then up Everest.
In looking at that every day, you have to recommit to my training, to my preparation, to the goal; just like your program needs to recommit every day to what we are doing. That is how we instill, in these great athletes, the ability to be as great as they are: recommit every day.
(That [picture on slide] is our entire group. That is: climbers, Sherpas, a few friends and family that hiked into base camp with us—they are now going home and we are going to continue on—cooks, everybody.)
The human body is amazingly adaptable. I mean, a guy like me, you know just ordinary Joe, to be able to adapt to the altitude that is necessary to get up Everest, it is phenomenal. But again, that is what you guys are in the business of doing: helping people adapt. The human body is the most amazingly adaptable thing we have ever had.
For us it is a matter of how we do that adaptation: climbing high, coming back down, resting lower. As we go high, more blood cells, more efficient oxygen uptake, etc. A really critical process; that is why it takes so long for us to do it. Same thing for you: you guys know the physiology; that is what you are doing every day. Keep doing such a great job.
In our case, unfortunately when you get to 24,000 feet—it is what they affectionately call the death zone—you cannot adapt anymore; the body starts to breakdown regardless. It does not matter who you are, how fit you are, it breaks down. So you minimize the time you spend above 24,000 feet.
Do not sell anybody short: the human body is amazingly adaptable.
Simulating what you have to do. One of the things that most intimidated me, thinking about this: I had never crossed the ladders with my crampons on. Crampons are those metal spikes you see right there; you are going across an aluminum ladder. A guy like me, that is blind in one eye, cannot see out of the other, it is a struggle. I mean my lack of depth perception, I have got to make sure I almost feel my foot on that ladder. So, literally, here is what I did at home starting in October before I left in March.
I borrowed all the ladders that my neighbors had on our block. And I set up in my backyard, I lashed together these ladders, up sawhorses and then turn and then down. I set this whole course up. And then I would put on all my gear: the spikes, the big boots, everything. And much to my neighbors’ amusement—and my wife’s chagrin—I would be out there for hours, walking on those ladders. Hours. Because, again, I knew if I was going to succeed, that is what I had to do. Exactly what you guys make sure your athletes do. What are they going to need do at the championship? That is what we have to replicate day after day after day in practice to make that happen.
You have to get way-outside your comfort zone sometimes. This [on slide] is training in the icefall, solid ice; practicing: ascending, traversing, rappelling down. Really a lot of stress. But not over-stressing, but the kind of stress we needed so when we got in that position on the higher mountain, it was not new, it was not different, it was not something that was going to concern us.
So here is the route you take. You start at base camp, here. You go up through the icefall. You probably read about the tragedy this year in the icefall, where the 16 Sherpas were killed. I will show you a picture of where that happened; we were not there. Camp 1. Across this valley I talked about, the Western Cwn. Camp 2. Up the Lhotse face, to Camp 3. The saddle, [then] to the summit.
Now what we have to remember all the time, particularly in mountaineering: nature always bats last. You are not going to fool Mother Nature, as you know; they always bats last.
This picture is the icefall (here); this is the west face of Everest. We were there, we watched this come down. We are talking hundreds of tons of ice. We had passed by here a couple times, and still had two or three times to go. Unfortunately this year, this one came down when the Sherpas were here, and they were 16 of them that were killed and crushed. But you know that going in: you and your next-of-kin sign the forms, just like you do when you go on in any trip. So that is the ice fall there; that is why I wanted to practice over and over and over again.
And I mean it sounds trite, but it actually was not too bad when I actually had to do it across those crevasses. Because I had… in my mind, I am still just walking in my backyard. It really brought home that that is what we do with our athletes. They get to the point that the Olympic Games is no different if we have properly prepared for it.
I love this quote from Coach Wooden—John Wooden, basketball, you all know him, legend. “Be quick but don’t hurry.” He preached this to his basketball players. We had to be concerned about it because when we are going through the icefall, you will see [on slide] a couple of things here where it says prayer flags. Well the reason the prayer flags are there is because the Sherpa want to make sure that they make safe passage. So whenever I would see a prayer flag, I was quick, but I did not hurry. And the Sherpa would start chanting their prayers, and you would say, Oh my gosh, we’ve got to be quick but not hurry. Because if you hurry, what happens? You misstep. And now you have got to make that same step over; you are not efficient. You do not clip-in good—uh-oh, that’s trouble, with your carabiner into the rope. So be quick, move as quickly as we can, but do not hurry.
Be quick when you move down the pool. But do not hurry so much you cannot grab the water and make the catch. Be quick when you move down the pool, but not to the point you do not follow-through and you do not finish your stroke. So, to me, every time I went into the icefall, I am thinking: Coach Wooden, be quick but don’t hurry, be quick….
[on slide] Camp 1, above the icefall. Not a lot of space, that is why the tents are just lined up in a row there. The ones in the foreground is our group; a couple of other groups in the background there. And that valley (on the bottom left), that is where we’re going next; up towards Camp 2.
About this point in the climb, it is really interesting. I am in a tent. Young… he is in his late-20s; I call him young, young climber. In climbing, that is pretty young, for Everest. Named Scott. He says, “I can’t move my legs.” While he is in his sleeping bag. I look at him and I ask him the obvious question. And he says, with a wince, “Yeah, they are just sore and they hurt to move.” And I said okay, we’re fine here. He is just the learning the difference between being hurt and just hurting. That is exactly what our athletes are learning too: how to push yourself.
You know, Doc said it. Bob talked about us that grew-up reading his hurt, pain, agony—that was the process. I know Coach Easterling knew that, really well; because swimming for Coach Easterling, he made sure we spent as much time as possible in the agony range. But without physical damage. That was the process: you have got to hurt. If you can hurt, then you can endure pain. If you can endure pain, you have got to get to where it is agonizing. Now you are making progress, now you are adapting, now your body can handle any stress put on it.
We go through this all the time. Someone says something that upsets us; we say something back that we should not have said. Business takes a turn for the worse, we should have won but we lost the meet, everything looks bleak. Do we give up, just because we are hurting? Do we quit because we are hurting? Or do we learn from the pain? And go on and move on from there.
Alan Arnette, a climbing colleague of mine who is actually really-famous now because he just did K2. He says:
To summit Everest, you must find that one reason. And it is unique and personal to you. Perhaps no one else will understand your reason and that is ok. At 27,000 feet in the harsh winds, unbearable cold with the wind blowing against your goggles, there is no one else. You are alone on the mountain, in your own world, fighting your own demons. If you don’t know why you are there, you will probably not summit; or perhaps return home.
The same thing: there are a thousand reasons to give up. There are a thousand reasons to say no, a thousand reasons not to do something. There is one reason [to do] and that resides in you; that is that better-self, inside. Why we should move on and persevere.
Camp 2, advanced base camp. We have got everything up there; it has taken several trips up-and-down the icefall. We have the oxygen bottles there. (You can see them up here, stacked up.) We have all the tents and the gear and equipment. Everything is ready, next time come up. We are going to go back to base camp, and our version of a taper at base camp, before we come back and attempt the Lhotse face.
And it is exactly the same thing; it was so remarkable. Here I am at base camp. Got to be patient: do not get too anxious, do not get excited, stay calm. Trust your training: you have done everything you have done to get you here. That is what makes it, and that is what you preach to your athletes, that is what your athletes have to believe: Yes, we did exactly what we need to do to get here, therefore our taper is going to be great. Eating, when you do not want eat because the attitude suppresses your appetite; but you need fuel. Resting, recovering; everything you have to do.
And then you go back up for the summit attempt. Last time though the icefall—last time up. Things changed dramatically. This particular crevasse (here), there used to be a ladder here—right across here. Now there is not a ladder; we had to climb down into the crevasse and back up it to get to the other side. This ladder (as you can see) is on its last legs, but it got us across. So things have changed, and so your attitude has to be proper.
No one can choose your attitude for you; you are the only one. Your coach cannot, your spouse cannot; you choose your own attitudes. So choose wisely, get the right attitude. That is the same with your athletes and your swimmers.
Avalanches are still occurring. We still have to wait a little bit for the weather. This is called a lenticular cap, this cloud here. This means the jet stream is still blowing across the top of Everest, and it does so for all but a few days a year. And the weather forecast… we are really lucky compared to [Edmund] Hillary and Tenzing [Norgay], the first summiters, because they had to pretty-much go by the seat of their pants on the weather; we had forecasters sending us data all the time. Yeah, it is going to clear. The monsoon is coming up from the Indian subcontinent; it is going to push the jet stream to the north of Everest. Well, that is our only hope, because if it does not… those winds are 200 miles-an-hour, right now at the top of Everest; we have to get them down under 50 [mph] to have a reasonable chance.
Waiting for that weather. Here is a big storm rolling in; we had to actually delay two days here. We waited for this storm to come through and blow like crazy. But at least get past us, clear the jet stream off and then up the Lhotse face.
Lhotse face: we had been looking at it. Every time we came up to Camp 2, we looked at it. It is like: Wow, that looks vertical. Well, it is worse, once you are on it. You realize once you are there that it is more than vertical—it is worse. And your route—to show you here [on slide]. Coming up, across this huge crevasse—the one that separates the steepness from the flatter—up the Lhotse face. Camp 2 is down here at 21,500 [feet]; we are going up 2,000 feet to 23,500 at upper-Camp 3. And then from there, we will go across and continue our route.
On the Lhotse face. This is just above lower-Camp 3—there is tent that you can barely see in the background. And Camp 2 is down here. So we have come up from there, past lower-Camp 3; just over this headwall is where we are going to camp at upper-Camp 3. Once you get there, you are at 23,500 and literally, the tents… to get a flat area you have to hack out this ice to get enough area to put your tent down. You need to put on your crampons, carry your ice axe, and maybe clip-in to a rope, just to go outside and relieve yourself. Because, if you slip here, it is unforgiving; so you have got to make sure that every time you do move, you move with safety in mind.
Now things come into your mind like: is this impossible, or is it just hard? In life we see this all the time. Someone on a daily basis will say That’s impossible—a goal, a schedule, a relationship. Is it really impossible or is it just hard, hard, hard? When we are confronted with this question, where do we go? We go back to our goal: Is this goal still really worthwhile? Do I really believe in it? Do I have the commitment and the energy to stay with this goal until the end?
Here is an example, personal example, on Everest. My right foot slips, causing me to swing across a vertical rock wall at 23,000 feet. Smooth rock above, death below. As I settle against the wall, I look up and then down. Turn back? Quit? Is this impossible or simply really hard? It is the ultimate question for a mountaineer. Is it impossible, then I turn back; or is it just really hard, then move on.
So from Camp 3—right in here on the Lhotse face—you go across. The first thing you cross is called the Yellow Band. To relate it back to what we do—all of you guys—when you have a big, bold, audacious, hairy goal out there, there has got to be some intermediate steps along the way. Well I had read so much, studied so many maps, I knew every landmark—even though I had never been there. The first one was the Yellow Band, it is called; and it is a band of rocks. So it is those same metal spikes, but now you are trying to grip on rock.
It is a pretty-intimidating first obstacle, but you have got to get past it. And from there, up the Lhotse Y, it is called; across the Geneva Spur and into Camp 4. Intermediate goals: that is what gets us to our ultimate goal.
Penjo: this is my Sherpa. This a gentleman who did not graduate elementary school, yet he is as wise/brilliant as any person you could ever imagine. Just like in coaching, you guys are wise and brilliant when you find and use those coachable moments. I will tell you two coachable moments with Penjo and myself.
I am sure when we hooked-up in base camp, he was thinking: Man, I got the short-straw here. How the hell am I going to get this old guy up the mountain? But up and down the icefall a few times. We are going up for the last time through the icefall. He always went first, and rightly so because he is the man. That made it easier for me because he could make the rope taut so when I crossed, it was easier to come across the ladder. We get to a section of ladder, he steps aside, he says, “Doug, you go first, Sherpa style.” Woah… I mean, I get chills telling you about it right here. I mean, I am like ‘Wow, this guy who thought what a loser I’ve got, all of a sudden has that kind confidence in me.’ That is the confidence you instill in your athletes; that coachable moment when they believe: Wow, coach thinks I can do this. If he believes it, then I’m going to do it. So, not as efficiently as he would, but I did make it across the ladder and then he came across following me.
And then… actually it was on the traverse from Camp 3 to Camp 4—right about the time I took this picture of him. We were having a little rest break, getting some hydration, some fuel, in us. And we were really moving well; I mean efficient. And that is the key, just like your stroke has to efficient. Every time you slip, and you have to take that same step over again, you have wasted energy that you are going to need later on and you do not want to do that.
And the same thing: we were moving well, we were very effective as a team. He says, “Doug you get stronger every day. Tomorrow we summit.” I almost could not take another step, I was like, oh my gosh, this guy telling me we are going to summit. And it was like okay, we’re going to summit. And that is the exactly the impact that you guys have. If the coach says I am going to be the Olympic champion, I am going to be the Olympic champion. If coach says I am going to break the state record, I am going to break the state record. That is the power that rests within you guys.
The climb from Camp 3, along the Geneva Spur like I mentioned, to the South Col and deep into the into the Death Zone. Now you are at 26,600 feet, so you are up there. You feel strong, yet weak; you feel excited, yet afraid. You long to go higher, but you also really want to go home. It is a contradiction that it is nothing like you have ever experienced. And again, it is like the athletes experience sometimes: they are excited, but they are scared; they are strong, but maybe they are maybe feeling a little bit weak. We have to help them get through with that.
This, there is no doubt in my mind, is the most inhospitable campsite in the world: South Col. Col means it is a saddle between two peaks, in this case Everest and Lhotse. And because of that saddle, it just channels the wind through there, so the wind is howling. It is obviously cold. That is the reason there is no snow: because the wind has blown it all off. It is literally when… and you have heard these phrases before I am sure, you have to be very comfortable being uncomfortable. Because you are not going to be comfortable; you probably have not been for 6 or 7 days, coming up the mountain. You have really got to find a way to be comfortable when you are uncomfortable.
It is so windy. Our tent (you can see here the light coming in), it started as a little tear over here and it was soon just shredded before our eyes. As we were sitting there in our tent, watching it, just going, Oh boy are we going to have a tent where we come down? is the question. True adversity training.
This is when the adverse training really kicks in: is it impossible or is it really, really hard? That is what Dick Fosbury had: is it impossible to jump over backwards or is it just really hard and I can make huge progress? David Berkoff: is it impossible to do this underwater kick for this long or is it just really hard? Is it impossible to go to the Moon or is it just really hard? These are all the things that we have to deal with.
This picture is taken from on Lhotse, the mountain next to Everest, because we are going to climb in the evening, at night. Literally, when you would normally be going to bed is when we are going to start up. Because you need to get up and off that summit early in the day, as early as possible, to be safe.
So we are going to start from the South Col (right down here). We are going to cross this snow field, which is a pretty good distance—it looks a little bit small here, but it is pretty good. This is another rock face called the Triangle Face (which you can see here is a triangle); that you have got to get up with your crampons, up this rock face. To The Balcony. Actually an almost level spot, where you can get some fuel and some hydration, change your oxygen bottle. But it is 5.5 hours from here to there, and then you continue along the summit ridge towards the summit.
Climbing Everest, just like anything that you are doing with your athletes, is a real balancing act. Can you get your lungs to supply the amount of oxygen to your heart that you need? Can you get your heart to pump out to your muscles to the degree you need? Can your muscles work as efficiently as you need to be successful in the pool or on the track or in the gym? Meanwhile, is your mind prepared? Can it handle the unexpected as well as your own mental game as well? A true balancing act; again, just like you guys do.
Life and sport, just like the mountain, all take a real toll when we are in an extreme effort, and that is when the mind is what keeps you moving. You know, the physical body is amazingly adaptable, but it is really the mind, there at the end, that is going to keep you making those steps.
This [on slide] is sunrise and the shadow of Everest. So the sun is coming up behind Everest and you can see it coming to a pinnacle out in the far distance. Truly, it becomes mind over matter. And you have to tell yourself: if you do not mind, then it is not going to matter; we are going to keep moving, we are going to continue on.
The margins… and here again, you guys know this; it is what you deal with is slim, razor thin, margins. The margins between success and failure are razor thin. And again it came crystal clear to me on the mountain how all the decisions that were made, all the things we did in training and preparation, one small deviation and we might not make it—razor thin. It is not just how strong you are; rather it is how well you prepare. And that is exactly… you guys deal in hundredths of a second: hundredths of a second from gold to silver, hundredths of a second from making the Final or not making the Final. Razor thin margins and a lot of preparations to make sure you can be on the right side of that margin.
This [on slide] is approaching the Hillary Step (that is the rock in the background). Now the Hillary Step is the true crux of the climb, if you get this far. And this ridge here—if you can imagine—from here it is 8,000 feet down into Nepal. (That is Camp 2 right down there; there is Base Camp down there.) So 8,000 feet in this direction; it is 10,000 feet to Tibet on the other side. The macabre joke among the mountaineers is: fall towards Tibet if you fall because a few more seconds to live.
(This is the base of the Hillary Step.) I cannot imagine Hillary and Tenzing when they did this—they were the first ones. When they came upon it, nobody had ever seen it, much less done it. And they were like: Wow, we’re going to get up this thing. (This is a couple of my teammates: I am looking back down towards them.) It is all reflex at this point: your character, your everything that you have put into this, becomes a reflex.
(This is looking up the Hillary Step at a couple of my partners above me.) It is only 40 feet; maybe 50 at max, rock wall. And you are thinking: I’ve climbed through this in my sleep. Yeah, but this is at 28,700 feet, okay; it is serious. “Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will,” Mahatma Gandhi.
The Summit Ridge. You can always take one more step is what I was, at this point, reduced to. I am still not thinking, Okay, am I going to summit? I do not know, but I can take another step. Okay, one step, three breaths—[breath], [breath], [breath]. Okay, another step. Yeah, I can take one more. Another step. That is literally the situation you are in. Our great Hockey coach from ’80 [Herb Brooks]: “Risk something or forever sit with your dreams.”
And then, there are no more steps. You are on the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, 29,029 feet. Tremendous.
I mean you think, Okay, my body is just going to be overwhelmed by the emotion. Unbelievable or not: no. It was like, Thank goodness, we’re here; now let’s go down—literally. I mean seriously: decades of dreaming—as I said, the same thing your athletes are doing—years of preparation, months of planning, weeks of pain, days of climbing, hours of waiting; less than ten minutes on the top. All I said was: get the photos taken, spread Jimmy’s ashes and let us get down because I am at the end of my resources—I have got almost nothing left. And I had made the mantra, the commitment to Suzy my wife, was: getting to the top is optional, getting back down is mandatory. I knew she knew that, and I was not going to let her down.
And, you know, you can go down the street here to Disney World, and that is a lot of fun—it is fine, it is great. But things do not have to be fun, to be fun. Suffering with some great teammates, putting yourself… trying to achieve a great endeavor, that can be fun too. So it does not have to be fun to be fun. There is a reason it is not very crowded at the top; because not everybody wants to have that kind of fun. In sport, in climbing, in anything. And you cannot buy your way up there. That is the beauty of sport, that is the beauty of these things: you cannot buy your way to the top. You have to—the old commercial—earn it, the old fashioned way.
So, getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory—stay focused Doug, stay focused. I was living in the moment: no thought of yesterday or tomorrow; no consideration of what to eat for dinner or celebration of the summit. It was total concentration in a world of distractions, exactly like your championships. Athletes have to step on that block with total concentration with all these potential distractions around them.
I have got to get back down to, first, Camp 4—which is right down here, 2,000 feet below me. Down that Yellow Band, back down the Lhotse face, Camp 2, spend the night, and continue on to base camp. I needed to reach some place I had never touched, to feel something I had never felt, in order to get something done I had never done. The same thing that our athletes have: they have got to go to some place they have never been before if they are going to break the World Record, to break the state record, break that club record. They have got to go some place they have never been.
This is arriving at base camp three days later. As you can see, little bit thinner, a lot more tired. This actually, 60 Minutes-Australia was doing a documentary and they sent me this photo. I did not even know they had took it until I got it in an e-mail. My wife said, “Okay, you’re not going back, right?” I said, “No. I have done it. No need to go back, been there.” But I am getting help to enter the emergency room tent there at base camp. I had some frostbite on my fingertips; had a frozen cornea—my good eye, of course, never freezes my bad eye, the good eye freezes. But I am there.
The mental toughness to push yourself to the absolute physical limit: that is what we want our athletes to do. Find that place, go there.
It is a happy ending, of course. We are hiking; we trek out. Frost bite I can live with, my fingers are all still here, the skin repaired, I can see. The yaks are having babies, there are flowers now, there are leaves on the trees all different than we came up. Tremendous.
Back home, meanwhile—I did not know this—but our International Games team at the Olympic Committee had put a sign up by the elevator (they heard me say this too many times, I guess): “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” So for the two months that I was on Everest—unbeknownst to me—we are on the fifth floor in our building, they took the stairs up and down. Lunch up and down, home, etc., for two months. I was pretty proud of them for that.
Sir John Hunt, the guy that led the first successful expedition on Everest—Tenzing Norgay and Hillary—says: “The real measure is the success or failure of the climber to triumph, not over a lifeless mountain, but over himself.” Like the real measure of your athletes is not to triumph over the pool, the lane, even the competition; but over themselves.
“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it.” This was said a long time ago; Epicurus. This is centuries, this is eons ago.
So I ask today: what motivation, what innovation, what passion, what dream will lead to the next Fosbury Flop? Who, when, what will lead us to the next Berkoff Blast? What is the next Moon shot? What is the next Everest? Will USA Swimming continue its’ world dominance? Well the answer is right here in this room: you guys are the ones that will make that determination. Be like Doc: be passionately curious; look everywhere for the things you need to help your athletes be successful.
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning. Now Doc… well he did not say it—he probably said it in different words, he could have said it. Actually, Albert Einstein said it. The important thing is to not stop questioning. There are doors that are waiting to be opened, thresholds for your athletes to cross. And I promise you: Mount Everest is not for everyone—I promise you that. But for everyone, there is an Everest that you can seek. So I wish you namaste in that request.
Thank you very much. Namaste.
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