Believing in Team Possible

Hello Everyone!

I wanted to start the new year with thanking the many athletes who have shared their sports stories with me. All of you have provided me with new insights and greater motivation to write. I also wanted to thank all of the readers who support Team Possible by sharing posts or leaving comments. According to my “end of year report” from WordPress, your enthusiasm for stories of athletes who redefine ability has fueled this blog to be read by over 8,000 viewers in 77 countries. Although I will not use numbers to define my writing success, it certainly is validating to have nearly 500 followers. However, what encourages me the most are the comments from friends of Team Possible like:

I share all of your posts with my colleagues who are working on an inclusion task force.

I shared your post with my students.

I am designing a playground at work, and because of your posts I am truly integrating the accessibility features for all the children to play together.

I shared your post with a family member who has a child that is exceptional.

My son loves the post about Winter. Now, he has me read it to him at bedtime.

When I get the email about a new post, I save it until I have some time in my day to sit back and read it. They always make me think and reflect.

Think and reflect…I do lots of thinking and reflecting. It is simply part of the writing process. After rereading every interview from 2015, I selected the words from Team Possible members that have truly made me sit back, think and then get moving:

Nick Springer: Strength has nothing to do with what you can do when you are at your best, but what you can do when you are at your worst.

David Yates: They saw Winter and thought, “If this little dolphin can lose her tail and still live a dolphin life, then I can handle my problem.”

Jesse Billauer:  Ability is following your passion and being active in life.

Mackenzie Soldan: Grit is a good word. I would say it is taking a situation and fighting your way through it.

Zack Bastian: I’ve noticed that in my life when things get really bad I have an ability to turn the situation into something positive, and that is my super power. When things get bad, I get inspired to work harder and be better.

Greyson Cage: I wish I had invisibility, teleportability, flight and super speed.

Jim Abbott: We have to challenge ourselves each and every day. You need to ask yourself if you are pushing the limits of your own abilities.

Abby Dunkin: Ability is what you can do and not letting anything hold you back, no matter the circumstances.

Emilia Scovel: What makes a good coach is someone who knows how to make the team believe in each other and makes the team do their best.

Kanya Sesser: I think of myself and imagine myself reaching the goal.

Sydney Collier: Don’t get discouraged. It seems like a long journey and it really is. There are all these ups and downs along the way. Just keep your eye on the goal.

Cortney Jordan: Ability is doing your best and putting all your effort into something. It is demonstrating what you are capable of.

Malat Wei: Always have a positive attitude around your teammates. A positive attitude will get you wherever you want to go in life, and not just in sports.

Nick Newell: I am more of a Batman type guy. I take what I have and make it work.  Then, I go about it the smartest way possible. No superpowers. Just always working with what I have.

Rio Woolf: You can do anything.

Impressive, I know! Those wise and inspiring words have motivated me to keep going and to interview more athletes in the upcoming months. In 2016 you can look forward to meeting more athletes on the Road to Rio and beyond. Since I LOVE children’s book, you can plan for some book reviews, and I may even sneak in a documentary or movie review. Finally, I will weave in a personal essay or two throughout the months. It should be an exciting year. Thanks for joining me.

Keep Believing in the Possible!

Jen

Nick Newell: MMA Fighter

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MMA Fighter Nick Newell Photo Credit: http://orangectlive.com/

I will admit I was really nervous to do this interview with MMA Fighter, Nick Newell. I don’t know a lot of mixed martial arts fighters, but I do know it is one of the most brutal sports. When I watched Nick Newell’s matches on YouTube, it confirmed my fear. I was about to interview a fierce competitor that dominated his opponents in the ring. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself talking with a mild-mannered gentleman who presented himself as “an every day kind of guy.” However, what doesn’t make Nick, “the every day kind of guy,” is his extremely high expectations of himself and a whole lot of grit. Here is his sports story.

Where is your hometown? I grew up in Milford, Connecticut. I went to college at Western New England University in Springfield near where I train.

What sport or sports do you play? I train in mixed martial arts at the Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield and I will be opening a gym soon in Connecticut.

What is your sports story? When I was growing up around the age of five, I decided I wanted to play soccer. So, my mom signed me up.  I wanted to play soccer because you don’t need two hands to play soccer. Then in third grade, all of my friends were playing baseball.  So, I decided I wanted to play baseball. My first year was a little rough. But then, the next two years I made the all-star team.

When I got to high school I decided I didn’t want to do soccer or baseball anymore and I decided to wrestle. I lost my first 17 matches. I was wresting in the 103 pound class, but I was only about 97 pounds. By my senior year, I was All-State. I broke the school record for career wins because I made up for my first year over the next three years. And my senior year, I also set the state record with 53 wins.

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WNEU Photo Credit: WNE Wrestling

I went on to college where I wrestled for Western New England University. I was a two-year captain, but I was never an All-American or anything very prestigious. Although, I would have liked to reach that level. So I moved onto mixed martial arts (MMA), and the rest is history.

Did your wrestling background help you with mixed martial arts? Yes, tremendously. Not only did it help me skill wise, but wrestling also helps you determine where you want the fight, which is a huge advantage in MMA fighting. But, really it is the mental toughness and mindset you get from wrestling that is second to none.

What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? The thing that I am most proud of is that I have always strived to be the best version of myself. I never compared myself to anyone else or envied anyone else for what they accomplished. It’s just me competing against myself. I am always trying to be the best version of myself and I think that is what helped me be successful.

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Nick posing with his XFC champion belt. Photo Credit: 5thRound.com

Going 4-1 in the World Series of Fighting is certainly an accomplishment, as well as, winning the XFC title. But, I am simply proud of the person that I am.

What is your workout schedule? I train 11 times a week. I workout twice a day Monday through Friday. I train once on Saturday and I take Sunday off. My training consists of kickboxing, wrestling, grappling, and strength training. There are two different types of workouts. There are cardio workouts where I do rounds, and there are technique workouts where I go slower to improve my techniques. I also lift. You can check me out lifting on-line at #liftingonehanded or #newellworldorder.

What songs are on your workout playlist? I like alternative music the best. I am also a hip hop fan. I have a friend, Danny Evans, who does hip hop and he has an album out that I listen to a lot. I listen to everything, but country music. I don’t like country music. I’m not saying I don’t like people who like country music. I am just saying, personally, I just can’t stand it.

What books inspire you?  (Long pause…) I could read a little bit more; I definitely could. I am more of an audio-video guy. I was a communications major, so I like videos more. I did read The Hunger Games books because I liked the first movie.

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Nick with his opponent in a choke hold. Photo Credit: MMAjunkie.com

What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? I  don’t like to lose. I am very hard on myself. I hold myself to pretty high standards which motivates me to work hard and to work through unpleasant situations that other people wouldn’t want to work through.

What superpowers do you possess? (Another long pause…) I am more of a Batman type guy. I take what I have and make it work.  Then, I go about it the smartest way possible. No superpowers. Just always working with what I have.

How would you define ability? Ability is the efficiency at which you can get something done. It is how well you can do something.

How would you define grit? Your willingness to push through. If you really have grit, you can push through anything.

What advice do you have for other athletes? Doesn’t matter what sport you are doing… if you want to the best in it, you have to earn it. You have to earn everything. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, just be the best you.

Who would you like to thank? I want to thank Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield and my coaches- Jeremy Libiszewski and Scott LeBrie.

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Instructors at Fighting Arts Academy Photo Credit: fightingartsacademy.com

For a little more on Nick check out this video: A Day in the Life of MMA Amputee Fighter Nick Newell by STACK

Jim Abbott: MLB Baseball Pitcher

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Jim Abbott playing for the California Angels. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

It was a hot summer day when I convinced my parents to let me drive to a Red Sox game at Fenway with some friends. I desperately wanted to make the 90 mile trek to cheer on one of my favorite players and to see in person his unique pitching technique. It wasn’t Roger Clemens, but Jim Abbott from the California Angels who I admired and wanted to see play.

I don’t remember all of the details of the games, but I do remember sitting at the edge of my seat every time Abbott took the mound. I was amazed at how he threw the ball, managed his glove and kept his composure throughout every inning. I remember feeling stronger, more capable and inspired by his performance. He had mastered every aspect of a traditionally two-handed game with one hand.

Recently, when I was reflecting on sports moments that have shaped my life, and I thought of that game. It led me to emailing Jim Abbott in hopes to do an interview with him after all of these years. And to my amazement, Jim agreed.

What impressed me about the interview with Jim was his humility and belief in the human spirit to grow from challenges. I gained a lot of insight about life on and off the field from this well-read, articulate and compassionate man. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to see him play, and after all of these years to speak with him about his sports story.

What is your sports story?

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Jim batting for the Angels. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

My story is simple, yet probably a bit complicated. I loved sports. I loved to play. I loved to compete, and I grew up in the midwest where sports were an important component of my hometown. Also, all of the people I looked up to were athletes- either at the high school, college, or professional level. And, I wanted to be like them.

I was born missing my right hand.  There were a lot of aspects to being different that, maybe consciously or unconsciously, developed my love for sports. I just wanted to compete and fit in on a team. I was fortunate enough to do it for a long time and play at the highest levels. All the while, I was learning from those many experiences.

Growing up I had a lot of insecurities. I had a lot of moments that I didn’t know if I could do what was being asked of me. But, I was surrounded by great teachers, parents and coaches who put me on the teams. And when I came across a situation that I hadn’t dealt with before like maybe holding a bat a little bit differently or switching the glove on and off, they helped me find ways and devise strategies. For all the credit I have received for my accomplishments, those folks probably deserve as much or even more.

What sports accomplishments are you most proud of?

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Jim pitching for University of Michigan Photo Credit: Baseball Almanac.com

I am very proud of growing up in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. It was tough town. But, it was a great town to grow up in because I was presented with a diverse set up experiences that helped me gain many different perspectives. I am proud I played sports there. Flint has a great athletic history, and I am really proud to be a part of that history.

Going to the University of Michigan was a huge accomplishment and is probably one of my proudest affiliations. I am fortunate to have attended school there and to have been part of a Big Ten championship team. It  meant a lot to me.

I am also proud to have played on the1988  United States Olympic Team. It was an incredible moment. And I am even proud of my pre-major leagues play, where you are fighting and grinding to make it. When I look back at those times, I am really proud of those moments.

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Jim leads Team USA to Gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea over Japan. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

You’re response surprises me. Your answer has to do more with your roots, who you are and where you come from, and it is less about your professional career or the fact that you pitched a no-hitter when playing for the Yankees.

I’m not trying to be disingenuous. Maybe I am just getting sentimental as I get older, but really those things just mean a lot to me. Without that foundation, the rest of it just doesn’t fall into place.

How would you define ability?

Literally, I would define it as what you are capable of doing. In the context I would like to think about it, I would say, “Are you making the most of what you are capable of doing?” We have to challenge ourselves each and every day. You need to ask yourself if you are pushing the limits of your own abilities.

I was recently reading a new book released by Thaler and Koval, Grit to Great. They mention you and the role of grit in your career as a baseball player. How would you define grit?

Wow, that’s great. I didn’t know that I was mentioned in that book.

Grit is resiliency. I think of grit as toughness. It is the edginess that it takes to believe in yourself in moments of doubt and difficulty.

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Imperfect: An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

I know you have co-authored a book with Tim Brown titles, Imperfect: An Improbable Life,  about your life experiences in sports. What books have inspired you throughout your career?

Oh gosh, there are a lot of great books that have inspired me. I have a whole bookshelf full of books that are dog-eared and have highlighted pages. The biggest one to me is probably not something you would guess, and it might surprise you. It was suggested by a great mentor in my life, Harvey Dorfman. He was wonderful at providing perspective on and off the field. His way of teaching often included giving books, and usually they had nothing to do with sports. In fact, most of them were novels. One time he gave me the book, All the Pretty Horses written by Cormac McCarthy. I loved the book, but in particular there was a passage about three-quarters of the way through the book where this older lady was engaged in a conversation with the protagonist of the book and she talked about losing a hand later in her life. She was telling this younger kid what this experience meant to her and how it shaped her world view. When Harvey gave me the book, he never mentioned the scene. But when I read it, I knew immediately why he had given it to me. Forever, I have been impacted by what Cormac McCarthy wrote and I agree with it. It has even been a real guiding point in my life. I am amazed he was able to write that piece having had two hands. He showed an incredible amount of empathy for that woman. It really stuck with me, and it still does.

What advice do you have for young athletes?

Love it. Embrace it. That love and passion can be a driving force to getting better at whatever it is you do or play. Find what it is you love to do. Then, work, practice and lose yourself in it. Don’t worry so much about the results. Embrace it, learn from it and try again tomorrow.

What advice do you have for their parents and coaches?

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Jim Abbott meeting a young player. Photo Credit: Jim Abbott.net

Well… I have all kinds of advice, but if I follow any of it myself is another story. I actually think my parents were better at this stuff than I am. I can’t really articulate how they did it, but the greatest thing they taught me or helped me to believe was that I was up to the challenge. I was different and it was challenging, but I was up to it.

My dad would say, “What was taken away once will be given back twice.” I think he really encouraged me to look at the blessings as opposed to the negatives. It was that repetitive message that helped me believe that I could do anything. Having one hand did not have to define me, and I could do whatever I set my mind to accomplishing.

Helping your kids to believe that they are up to the challenge is a fantastic gift. Challenge comes to all of us, day in and day out, and the confidence to face it is a gift.

All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy Photo credit: Amazon.com

Any additional comments or thoughts? No, I feel like I’ve been going on and on…Well, there is one quote I want to share from the Cormac McCarthy book. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but he states, “Those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart. It is just that misfortune that is their gift and their strength.” And I believe that… I truly believe that. I believe misfortunate and being set a part can be tough, but it can be a gift. It can be a strength.

I agree and in our house when I talk with my kids about challenges we also discuss how they create complimentary gifts or superpowers. So do you have any superpowers? No, I don’t have a super power, but that is an interesting question. You know…when I think about it, the resistance that I have faced from having one hand has given me empathy. Empathy is my superpower. I really feel for people and their struggle. I have empathy for what people go through in life. I give people credit for their struggles.   

Who would you nominate to be featured on Team Possible? You know who is really cool and I admire is a young MMA fighter, Nick Newell.

Nick-Newell

MMA Champion Nick Newell Photo Credit: http://orangectlive.com/

Great news! Nick trains in my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and has already agreed to be featured in an upcoming blog. So keep reading and believing in the possible!