Archive for category LIFE LESSONS

Superhumans Do Thousands Of Push-Ups Non-Stop!

After writing about push-ups a few days ago, I wondered what the world records are for this exercise. They are shocking, beyond imagination. It turns out that there are many records depending upon how many arms used, palms or fingertips, repetitions performed in one minute, five minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, a day and even a year.

Now that I have started doing them again two or three times a week, I am up to (or down at) 33 to 38 non-stop. The non-stop world record is 10,507! This is NOT A TYPO. Yes, over 10,000. Can any of you even grasp that kind of fitness? I can’t.

Here is a page that will show you how many the national average is for your age and gender. Just type in your age and number of repetitions you can do and hit the “Calculate” button. You’ll also see how to do a push-up—notice it can be different for women.

Another great page I found is written by a former push-up passionado, Charles Linster, who held the record of 6006 for about 10 years. He writes here about his quest to do more and more push-ups until he finally became the world’s supreme push-up achiever. It’s all so interesting. He has even written one or two books about it.

One of the memorable excerpts from his page is as follows:

“Solace was found in the words of Jascha Heifetz, the concert violinist, who said, “There is no such thing as perfection, there are only standards. And after you have set a standard you learn that it was not high enough. You want to surpass it.” In an effort to be able to perform calisthenic totals close to my personal bests anytime, I established daily minimum repetitions for all of my exercises and began to increase those minimums.

“Late that fall and the following winter, I tried out for and earned positions on both of New Trier’s Freshman and Sophomore Gymnastic Squads. During a January practice, a member of the varsity team told me that he didn’t believe my push-up total and challenged me to perform 100. Picking up the gauntlet, I made a believer out of him. Successfully meeting this challenge energized me. Still flush with victory and feeling especially “good” during my workout the next day, I performed 222 push-ups. Twenty-four hours later, I still felt “good” and shattered my performance of the day before by ticking off 333 push-ups. Two weeks later, the “good” feeling returned and I executed 444.

“I owed my January push-up records to Heifetz’s maxim of raising standards. Every day I performed at least one more push-up than the day before. I was like a mountain climber, using these minimums as “base camps” from which I could launch new push-up heights when feeling “good.” But the greatest result of my three new personal bests was the breaking of a psychological barrier. Until that time, I was convinced that records could only be broken by small increments. By more than doubling my personal record in less than three weeks, I knew that I didn’t have to settle for being merely good at the push-up, I could be great.”

Now check out these mind-and-body boggling push-up achievements. You can read about more of them and find links to details of many right here :


* non-stop: 10,507; Minoru Yoshida (JAP), Oct 1980
* one year: 1,500,230; Paddy Doyle (GBR), Oct 1988 – Oct 1989
* 24 hours: 46,001; Charles Servizio (USA), 24/25 April 1993 at Hesperia
(new record claim, not yet verified: Jeffrey Warrick (USA), 46300)
* 1 hour: 3,877; Bijender Singh (IND), 20 Sept 1988
* 30 minutes: 2,354; Rolf Heck (GER), 13 Nov 2000
* 10 minutes (women): 450; Alicia Weber (USA), 24 May 2009 in Clermont, Florida, USA
* 5 minutes: 441; Giuseppe Cusano (GBR), Loftus Road Soccer Stadium at the Fulham v. Portsmouth game on 24 Nov 2003
* 3 minutes (women): 190; Renata Hamplová (TCH), Record Festival Pelhrimov 1995
* one minute: Record claims up to 199 in one minute have been made. We do, however, not continue to publish these record claims, because it became impossible to judge about the correctness of the exercises at this speed.
* one-armed, 1 hour: 2521; Paddy Doyle (GBR), 12 Feb 1990 in Birmingham
* one-armed, 30 minutes: 1382; Doug Pruden (CAN), 30 July 2003 at the Body Quest Health Club Edmonton
* one-armed, 10 minutes (women): 105; Alicia Weber (USA) on 6 March 2010 in Clermont, Florida (USA)
* one-armed, on back of hands, one hour: 677; Doug Pruden (CAN) at the Body Quest Health Club Edmonton, 9 Nov 2005
* one-handed handstand pushups: Yury Tikhonovich (Russia) did twelve pushups while standing on one hand in June 2006 at the Starclub variete in Kassel (Germany). He repeats this feat almost every day in the rehearsal for his show
* on fists: 5557 (in 3:02:30 hours), Doug Pruden (CAN), 9 July 2004, Body Quest Health Club Edmonton
* on back of hands, 15 minutes: 627; Paddy Doyle (GBR), 8 November 2007, Stamina’s Boxing Self Defence Gym, Erdington, Birmingham
* finger-tips, 5 hours: 8,200; Terry Cole (GBR), 11 May 1996 in Walthamstow
* one finger: 124 Paul Lynch (GBR), 21 April 1992 in London
* with hands on raw eggs: 112; Johann Schneider (AUT)

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Change Your Mind To Change Your Body…And Change Your Life

Robin Quivers drank sweetened lemonade with red pepper to lose 70 pounds

The three people below (two friends, one celebrity) were all able to change their body weight by finally making some change in their minds. Something clicked that allowed them or compelled them to alter their eating patterns of many many years.

How does that happen, especially after so many frustrating attempts or inability to even deal with their unsatisfactory situation? Sometimes people have life-threatening situations—a heart attack, a doctor’s warning of a probable stroke. But that didn’t happen in these cases.

If we could only harness this energy and discipline in so many other aspects of our lives, we might all be super powers.

Now here are their stories:

Met a friend I hadn’t seen in four months, and she was 25 pounds lighter…positively THIN. She said she’d seen some pictures of herself and finally was fed up with how she was feeding. So she gave up red meat, most carbohydrates, ice cream (which like me she loves), and eats more vegetables. The weight just melted away.

One continuing disappointment for this lady in her 50’s is that she still can’t look like she did in her 20’s, before she was a parent. Not sure there is any solution to that problem. It’s best to be glad we lived all those years, rather than having died earlier, and accept that things change with time, including our bodies. And also to be proud of how much wiser and smarter we are as adults.

Another friend’s scales had needles pointing to 230 pounds, and he finally changed his eating routine, so that he now weighs 189 after about six months. No more skipping breakfast and lunch and then eating enormous meals late at night that fail to satisfy his starving body. Though he is in his late 60’s, he still works full-time with the energy of a man half his age. Now that he is so much lighter, he is probably moving like a teenager.

Scanning the radio stations, I bumped into Robin Quivers for the first time and learned how she lost 70 pounds (of her former 218) by spending weeks drinking just water laced with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. It’s called a Master Cleanser, and she was thrilled to also lose some joint pain and aches, sleep much better and make some best-dressed and most-beautiful people lists.

Most impressive about Robin’s words were how she went from not being able to be in a house that lacked ice cream in the freezer—so she had to run out and buy a pint or two to feel sane—to becoming indifferent to the dessert. She no longer felt the deprivation and was not avoiding or curtailing her urges. The desire for unhealthy, fattening foods had gone away.

The video will give you more details, which include a skeptical point of view that this cleansing diet is safe and sound.

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One New Technique And I’m Playing My Best Tennis!

I’m still exhilarated, incredulous and giddy. Yesterday for the first time ever, I won a set against my tennis coach, who was really trying. He’d won the first set we played 6-3 and assumed he would coast to a predicted second set victory. After all, I’d never taken more than four games from him in a set during two years of competition. But I triumphed 6-2, breaking him three times (he broke me once).

It’s not my win that I want to emphasize. It’s the idea that one tiny variation in technique can lead to such astonishing improvement and success. In all pursuits, whether making money, career advancement, personal relationships with spouse/partner/child, we all wish it could be so simple as merely making one small change that is a tipping point to achievement. Well I had it, and it made me speechless.

It was all so random: a friend who is a far superior player invited me to be a last-minute fourth for his doubles game—I accepted happily. This was the first time he’d called, and we played against his club’s pro and teacher. After two sets, the pro left to give a lesson, and my friend found another player to fill in: this 20-year-old used to play on the University of Michigan tennis team.

You may have guessed that I was frustrated with my performance—I was way outclassed. I wanted to hit better, more powerfully, in the court more frequently, use top spin. I wanted to compete at this higher level with guys in their 50’s or under 25. WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO IMPROVE ???

That night I finished a book about Nadal and Federer’s great Wimbledon final in 2008, when Nadal won the cup for the first time in the fifth set. In one of the later pages, I read about Nadal’s grip that has his hands perpendicular to the strings. The next morning I grasped a racket, and it looked like a Western grip that my coach had said I should avoid. He and my original coach had both insisted that I use a Continental grip that is more like shaking hands with the racket. But what did I have to lose? I defied my experts, challenged their experience and authority, and forced myself to suck up the awkwardness of this new approach.

various tennis grips

It was miraculous. Suddenly I was hitting the ball with the sweet spot 80% of the time. The vibration I was putting up with for each shot disappeared. I had top spin on my forehands and a hard hit ball without backspin on my backhands. The balls were falling INTO the court much more often. And I was feeling like a player. I couldn’t believe it. Everything had come together.

I opened some cans and practiced serving. I was accurate and delivering a faster ball. I hit with a friend, and I felt like I could execute my vision. At my regular Monday doubles game, my partner was surprised how much better I was playing. He said I was hitting balls with confidence. We won two of the three sets.

And then Tuesday I played Frank Adams, who has been guiding me for two years and others for over 50. He had taught me his unique style of play, and I loved it. But now I was modifying his approach, and I was excelling beyond my belief and imagination.

He helped me figure out that by changing to a Western grip, I was hitting the ball sooner and at a lower angle. The ball’s trajectory was closer to the top of the net and falling down into the court consistently. He acknowledged that clearly with the stroke that I had, these alterations were perfect for my game. What a discovery. A revelation. A thrill. And a victory.

So there are lots of lessons here. Sometimes the answer to a problem can be a simple solution. Sometimes you have to question the experts and what they are saying. You always read about people discovering their own style. Writers breaking through tradition to create their own original and personal voice. Famous painters who stop copying their predecessors and uncover their unique use of color and brush. Well I had jumped to my highest level of tennis skill so far. Fantastic.

Of course this is only a tennis game. But it feels sensational. I can’t wait to take on more players and see how I do. Sort of like a young gunfighter, I will seek out the challenges. Frank said I had improved more than 100%. Three friends assumed that Frank was sick or injured. But he wasn’t. He just said he was surprised and that now his juices were flowing. He can’t wait for a rematch next week.

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Dance Your Life Away To Be Healthier, Happier And Around Longer

This 4-minute film of a grayhair dancing was on a college humor site promising funny videos. I love his moves, I love Gaga’s music. Doesn’t he seem to be enjoying what he is doing? Of course he can outdance the college kids trying vainly to keep up with him.

What I hate is the message that it’s ridiculous and laughable to see a man with gray hair dancing with zest or at all. Dancing is such a high. It is revitalizing. So is the music, when it has some pep and life to it. My father danced so much that I had the adjective “dancing” inscribed on his headstone. It kept him smiling, alive, upbeat and happy his whole life. He didn’t stop even after his leg was hit by a car in his 70’s. He was doing the cha cha, foxtrot, mambo, and other steps late into his 80’s.

There has always been this idea that when you are over 40, you are supposed to “put away childish things,” be dignified and not act like a youngster. I remember dating those dames who bought that bullshit—they were like the walking wounded, more dead than alive. Boh-ring. Yet at the same time, our society reveres youth and convinces oldsters to dress and look like they are younger than their years. So you have millions over 50 wearing denim like they are teenagers; paying for face lifts, botox, tummy tucks and uplifts; and dyeing hair or plugging scalps to look like they did decades ago. Totally contradictory.

“Act your age.” How many times have I heard that reprimand? Or maybe it was, “You know Ira, he doesn’t act his age.” Who wants to? Movement and aerobics are what keep you young and healthy, along with a good diet. I’ve been dancing since I was in elementary school, then meeting tourist girls, so we could cha cha cha in the dance rooms of Miami Beach hotels, where I worked in high school. I took jazz dancing in my 30’s with professionals near Carnegie Hall (who of course danced rings and hoops around me, when I couldn’t remember all of the instructor’s steps). Now I strut my stuff at weddings and other parties plus a few Zumba classes.

You can really work up a sweat on the dance floor. It can be far more than a little pitty pat that has you looking cool as you do the two bland steps that blend you into the crowd. To hell with that. Express yourself. Be creative. Cultivate some originality. Don’t even think about being shy when you dance.

I remember one high school reunion when an Elvis impersonator (shades and white jump suit with reflective buttons) was belting out the old songs. I came down to the hotel’s night club a bit after my classmates and was just inside the door. There were Larry and Diane, two of the best dancers in our class of ’58, dancing as energetically and almost as gracefully as they had 35 years ago. They could still impress me with their style and sweeps. Maybe they had gained a few pounds, maybe lost some hair or used hair color. I don’t recall. But they could move.

Next to me were younger non-reunion hotel guests—maybe in their 20’s— watching these two “old people” (in their 50’s) twist and rock on the floor. But these “kids” were also laughing at what they saw more objectively: two grandfolks dancing like they were teenagers. They thought it was ridiculous. They couldn’t stop giggling at the spectacle. I was hurt and upset. Maybe I should have decked them, or at least shut them up. They saw oldsters acting “inappropriately.” I saw revived life. As Michaelangelo cut the stone away to reveal the David hidden within, the music—in my opinion— had cut loose the inner child from the stiff and aging bodies on the dance floor.

Well it’s your choice. I have friends in their 50’s up here in Connecticut who take tango lessons and then go to Argentina with their dancemates. Sounds like fun to me. I have friends who go to Roseland or other places where you can dance more formally with strangers. It sounds fantastic. Are you ready? What are you waiting for? You know you don’t live forever…

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Though Ernie Davis’s Life Was Unfair And Short, He Made It Tall And Inspires Us All

Ernie Davis with his Heisman Trophy—12/61

I woke up pretty pissed about how unfair life was for Ernie Davis. I never heard of him until last night, when I bumped into a movie about him called The Express, because he was so fast and so good. Coming from a dirt poor childhood, he wins a football scholarship to Syracuse and becomes the first in his family to go to college, the first African-American to win the 1961 Heisman Trophy, which is the most prestigious award in college football given to the most outstanding player, and then in 1962 Ernie becomes the first African-American to be the number one pick in the NFL Draft.

It was late at night, I was tired, so at this point I stopped watching the movie and took a quick trip to the internet to see how his life turned out. Dammit. He never played one pro game, because he was soon diagnosed with leukemia and died a year later…he was just 23. Snuffed out.

If I could interview him in heaven, he might tell me that he had more fame and success and satisfaction in his few years alive than many people who live three or four times longer. He might tell me that all the racism he encountered was painful, but he helped inspire other black people to strive for their best and not back down. If one part of the movie is accurate, he also convinced white folks, like his coach, teammates, and classmates, to be more accepting of black people and see that the differences between the races are not as great as they were raised to perceive.

After the Heisman Award Ceremony, President John F. Kennedy, who had followed Davis’ career, met him and congratulated him personally. Later in 1963, Kennedy sent a telegram, reading:

“Seldom has an athlete been more deserving of such a tribute. Your high standards of performance on the field and off the field, reflect the finest qualities of competition, sportsmanship and citizenship. The nation has bestowed upon you its highest awards for your athletic achievements. It’s a privilege for me to address you tonight as an outstanding American, and as a worthy example of our youth. I salute you.”

So what’s my point? Clearly Davis was not an ordinary person. But he did face enormous obstacles—no money, no connections, bigotry, isolation, social pressure to not cross over conventional lines. Yet he overcame them. If you and I can’t make such big leaps, if we are never going to be written about in papers and national magazines, or documented in movies, we can still be inspired by his example to make smaller achievements than his, but the biggest ones we are capable of.

Ernie Davis wearing the same number 44 as Jim Brown did before him

I once asked a philanthropist I met if she agreed that people were mean-spirited, jealous, self-centered, envious, evil, corrupt, greedy, power-seeking? She reminded me that some people are noble, creative, altruistic, dedicated to improving society and the lives of their fellows, unselfish, humble and happy. I could focus on either group, or be aware that there are these two groups. But I shouldn’t forget about these good people, whenever the news stories concentrate on the mis-deeds of the bad guys. A great lesson.

As I searched for information about Ernie Davis, I found this letter written to Syracuse newspaper editor, Donnie Webb from an elementary school teacher. Very touching. (I should mention that Ernie’s jersey number 44 was also worn before him at Syracuse University by Jim Brown, whom many consider the greatest football player of all time.)

I am writing you to tell you about how Ernie Davis’ spirit is alive and well at our school. We adopted him as our symbol of character three years ago. He is the symbol of our character education program. Each and every student in our k-5 building knows who he is, what he stood for and they try to act as Ernie would have. Each September we hold an assembly and show the 44 video (E.D. part) to all of our children. Then we talk about the type of person who Ernie was.

Then each month Bridgeport Elementary highlights a different character trait to study. During that month we ask the entire community (kids, staff, parents, grandparents etc.) to write letters that tell us how a student at Bridgeport has demonstrated the particular character trait. Then, at the assembly we give out Ernie Davis awards. Every student that ha a letter written about him/her receives a medal with Ernie’s picture, the number 44, and the trait of the month written on it. We pick 3 or 4 outstanding letters and read them to the audience. Those students receive an Orange 44 football jersey with the character trait of the month sewn on it along with their name. We literally have scores of kids that have won jerseys. We also have a segment of the assembly called “What would Ernie do?” We ask difficult character questions and then have children answer by thinking what would Ernie do. There is more to this than what I am writing here. He has become a part of the culture of our school.

Thank you,
Kevin Ellis
Character Education Co-chair
Bridgeport Elementary
May 25, 2007

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The Difficulty Of Thinking About Your Future

I spent yesterday visiting with two great kids around 20. The girl was beautiful and bronze. She admitted that she tans easily and didn’t use sun screen yet this summer. He admitted that when you are 20, you never think about what life will be like when you are 40. We were talking about staying fit and healthy, and I had mentioned how many women I saw who may have gained just two pounds a year after college, so they were 40 pounds heavier at age 40, or weighed an extra 60+ pounds by the time they were 60 or 70.

The concerned parent in me told the girl how I worked as a cabana boy in Florida during high school and even used baby oil to intensify my tan. My blond hairs against a bronze skin were often admired by the tourist girls I was trying to impress.

At my annual physical, when I was in my 50’s, my new doctor in Connecticut was also very impressed: “Lots of sun damage here.” He explained that it can take decades for the harm from excessive sun tanning to show itself.

My doc insisted that I see a dermatologist every six months. It may have kept me alive, because in addition to various, benign skin cancers that appeared and needed to be removed, there was one very deadly cancer, melanoma, that surfaced. It was removed early enough that five years have passed without a flare up or serious consequence. Lucky me. But a friend’s friend died of melanoma after years sailing joyfully, and unprotected, in the sun.

So it’s hard to be young and worry about consequences later, when you are old. That was me too in college. I was just trying to pass some courses, get a date, have fun, earn some respect. Normal and very understandable. Maybe many people don’t ever see how earlier actions are connected to later results. I read that the human brain can’t think very far into the future until it is around 25 years old. That is why insurance rates for drivers are so high until age 25. At that time those drivers still alive have a bit more “common sense.” It’s not true when it comes to eating. Not when one third of the people are obese and another third are overweight.

And it may not be true when it comes to our leaders anticipating international relations, economics, climate change. So we just have to muddle along, trying not to be fearful of all the foods we encounter. Being aware enough to not fall into the hole of denial. Controlling what we can of the choices we have. Taking the time to become informed.

Most of us don’t have the energy to do this in addition to all the demands of a busy overstimulated, overwhelming life. We are simply trying to survive, to make it to the next day, the next paycheck, the next vacation or family dinner.

Sometimes we can’t change our behavior, even when we know what the consequences are likely to be. My father used to say, “If the crime is worth the punishment, then commit the crime.” I read an essay about cancer this week by Christopher Hitchens, a famous intellectual who wrote books, high-brow essays and appeared on talk shows. I saw a video today in which he states, “I am dying. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dangerous Diets Make Bosoms Bigger And Puberty Earlier

A few years ago, someone informed me that young girls are more bosomy and beginning puberty at younger ages, because of the hormones they are drinking in milk. These bovine growth hormones (BGH) are being given to dairy cows to increase milk production, the life of their herds and farmers’ profits.

This week I read that some Chinese babies between 4-15 months fed formula with BGH are actually growing breasts. I also read that more U.S. girls are beginning puberty at younger ages, like 7 or 8, than occurred in studies 20 years ago. This may be attributed to obesity or chemicals in the environment and could lead to greater likelihood of breast cancer.

My main point is how at risk we are to illness or harm just from eating what used to be regarded as “healthy” foods. It’s not enough to avoid junk food and fast food. Now milk is a danger. To avoid high cholesterol foods, I avoid egg yolks, organ meats like liver, ice cream. I am told sugar, specifically fructose, is loved by cancer cells. So I have to watch out for that—it’s in everything. Then there is mercury in fish, now oil in Gulf of Mexico shrimp and crabs. Etc, etc, etc. What a mess.

Clearly it’s hazardous to eat so many foods that I didn’t hesitate to enjoy as a kid. Is this change because the foods have been polluted, like milk, or because I have a different viewpoint as an older man wanting to stay healthy? Probably both. What a tightrope to walk on each day. Tense, nerve-wracking, terrible.

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How To Contol Your Life…And Your Death

I read two articles recently having nothing to do with abs that made me think of how to fit crunches and exercise into a busy life…and all of us have busy lives.

David Brooks wrote a piece for the New York Times describing two ways to live a life: as a Well-Planned project and as a more fluid exploration, the Summoned Life, that starts with the particular circumstances one faces.

“Once you have come up with an overall purpose,” he continues, “a person following a Well-Planned life has to make decisions about allocating his time, energy and talent. When he is done, life comes to appear as a well-designed project, carefully conceived in the beginning, reviewed and adjusted along the way and brought toward a well-rounded fruition.

“The person leading the Summoned Life starts with a very concrete situation: I’m living in a specific year in a specific place facing specific problems and needs. At this moment in my life, I am confronted with specific job opportunities and specific options. The important questions are: What are these circumstances summoning me to do? What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me?”

When I say I want to crunch abs at least twice a week, I am often disappointed at failing to reach this goal. I visit kids and friends, see a movie, dine out, travel. I don’t hit my target. Other people do make and exceed those goals. I saw the gym rats who said they were pumping iron four times a week. I was never ever one of them. I made different life choices involving others I have relationships and obligations with. I am also playing tennis five to 14 hours a week. The muscle builders are probably not doing that also. But I want to have the muscles too.

I’d be a lot happier, I am concluding if I could just adopt the more relaxed attitude of accepting my circumstances and the time-limited opportunities in my life to: carry out survival functions, work for money and causes, write for this site, spend time with loved ones, play tennis for fun and cardio, handle car and house repairs, and also squeeze in some crunches. I always think I can do it watching TV, but usually I am too tired to do much more than eat a snack and push the remote.

Any suggestions? I actually have friends who don’t watch TV, hardly use a computer. They have time to exercise every day an hour or two and also get up with the birds and the sun. I have to stop wanting it all and learn to accept my limits. But it’s almost impossible. Too greedy for a closer step toward perfection. Too interested in tennis over gym exercise. But when I was younger and working full steam, I barely spent an hour a week some years doing any kind of physical activity

The second article by Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, talks about “the three leading causes of death that we have control of: tobacco use, poor dietary pattern and limited physical activity. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Important Is Being Dignified In Sports?

I found a story on the internet about a college rugby player who scored his first goal ever and was forced by tradition to “shoot the boot.” This is when he drinks beer out of a rugby shoe still covered with the game’s mud and grime (and possibly foot fungus too).

I asked him if I could post his story on this site, and he declined, saying he was applying for jobs and was worried that prospective bosses searching the net wouldn’t think he was a serious person, though he was clearly a devoted sportsman and outstanding team player.

All sports have these rituals of initiation. Who couldn’t understand that and accept them? What kind of nerdy, staid boss? And who’d want to work for such a stiff? Awright, I get it, I get it.

Jeez in England for centuries, when a youth kills his first deer, he smears blood all over his face to celebrate his de-virginizing. I remember seeing these photos in Scottish sporting estates of boys AND girls barely 14 or 15 smiling proudly beside the antlers and beaming parents.

But the rugger’s rejection reminded me of another college senior who gained 30 pounds of muscle and described his transformation on this site…but later asked to have his story and pictures removed, because prospective employers might not hire him if they saw how he used to be skinny.

Now here I am at age 69 flashing my abs and showing totally undignified pictures in a world of adults who are all trying to “act their age” and maintain the respect of others who are presenting more proper, age-appropriate faces (and bodies) to the world. I sure am out of step.

Okay, okay. It’s easy for me to imagine being turned down by an East Side NYC co-op, or rejected at a country club, if I am not behaving in a socially acceptable manner. I can even foresee some people not going into a business deal if I am too unconventional.

But it reminds me of the straights in suits from the east meeting the blue-jeaned digital entrepreneurs of the west. The new tycoons of Silicon Valley sure showed those dying manufacturers from the heartlands that clothes and old customs didn’t make the financially successful man. Certainly not having the stodgy graces of a 19th Century industrialist in a $2000 suit with hand-stitched buttonholes.

Plus it always seemed to me that it was a lot more fun to be youthful and free and not weighed down by too many social conventions…if you could get away with it.

Take any dignified man in the world and give him a baby, preferably a child or grandchild, and everyone allows him to kneel down on all fours and play with the youngster, while being as silly or ridiculous or undignified as he wants. But as soon as that powerful geezer rises up, he must withdraw back into his shell of reserved appearances. Boring. Deadening. Not for me.

Is it for you? You CAN create a life that may not require you to be so stiff and withdrawn, so formal and respectable. There are many worlds in which to earn a living that are more forgiving, be they advertising, the arts, digital domains, sports. How important is that for you?

While I understand why those two college seniors felt the need to hide their past shapes or shenanigans in sports, I think it is a sad and negative commentary on how much of our society works. One benefit of growing older is that hopefully you are long past those situations in which other people’s judgments will rule your behaviors and your life. But we all know that I am just thinking wishfully and dreaming fancifully. We are never totally free of those outside opinions, unless we are completely senile, crazed or totally self-centered and absorbed. And in those cases, who wants to hang out with you anyway?

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Paulina’s Lament About Body Modification

Since starting this site and becoming more aware of popular culture, I keep bumping into the obsession in so many countries with physical appearance, particularly breast size, and how it distorts what women of all ages—but especially girls—think of their bodies. It’s clear how imperfectly many females view themselves due to the society’s ideal dimensions promoted in the media. It also affects how men and teenage boys regard their potential dates and mates.

As someone who spends hours exercising to change my body slightly and come closer to the fantasy me in my mind (more ab definition, more muscle cuts), I certainly can’t criticize most of the two million women a year worldwide (300,000 in the U.S.) who enlarge their bosoms for cosmetic reasons to ease their insecurities or to help them believe they will have a better chance of attracting a man. Both plastic surgery and muscle building may have the same goal—to look “better” in the mirror and on the beach— but it is obvious that surgery is a lot more serious and riskier than crunches and weight lifting.

supermodel Paulina Porizkova—1985

supermodel Paulina Porizkova—1985

The attention to celebrities’ body changes is mind-boggling. Here is an article by Paulina Porizkova, who in the ’80’s was one of the top models in the world— she was twice voted by People Magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world…and also nominated in 1989 for a Golden Raspberry award as one of the worst actresses in a film. I never heard of her before this story appeared, so in case you are as naive about some icons as I am, I have added Paulina’s bio after her article.

You will notice that Paulina minds when women make body changes to conform to the current mass standards of beauty—which she just happens to have been born with—and she faults Kate Hudson for feeling insecure and modifying her “perfect” body by having breast implants. Yet the bio mentions that Paulina had a gap in her teeth, resisted smiling in her photographs, and eventually had her teeth corrected. Paulina also says every woman is uniquely beautiful and should celebrate any good features if she can find them. For me this sounds like a rich person saying all poor people shouldn’t mind poverty, because they have an abundance of spiritual riches.

April 22, 2010

Why Kate Hudson’s (Alleged) Breast Implants Have Me Heartbroken
by Paulina Porizkova, Supermodel

Kate Hudson has gotten implants. Allegedly. This news headed straight to my heart from the lips of Wendy Williams who got it from some gossip rag. My coffee was getting cold while I, heartbroken, sadly gazed at the before and after pictures of Kate Hudson on the screen. The before: an amazingly fit, gorgeous, and yes, small-breasted young woman in a to-die-for red bikini; in the other, a blond starlet sipping a latte. The cup size was undeniably different. (And no, we’re not speaking of the latte.) Was there a chance it was merely a hardworking push-up bra? I find myself practically praying over Kate’s boobs. Pathetic, I know…

two shots of Kate Hudson, 2009 (left) and 2010

two shots of Kate Hudson, 2009 (left) and 2010

My issue here isn’t with Kate. If big boobs make her happier, then more power to her. The issue here, this fixing something perfect to something else perfect, is so much a sign of our times, and one that truly saddens me. The availability and ease of transforming our bodies is completely losing our identities and uniqueness. No one ages anymore, no one has imperfections of any kind anymore, all smiles are flawless and no one past 35 can express displeasure. Madonna no longer looks like Madonna: what started as a sexy, well shaped, and somewhat hairy Italian girl has ended as a cool Nordic blonde. It’s not that she doesn’t look great, she does. But she is starting to sort of melt away into the stew of the famous women over-fifty-high-cheek-boned blondes-who-cannot-frown.

Generally, I’m all for self-improvement. If you don’t know something, do look it up. Do learn another language, do travel, do open your heart and mind to new experiences. And by all means, pluck your mono-brow, dye your mouse-brown hair and work out to firm your body; after all, if fashion changes to celebrate hairy plump women you can go right back. But please, before permanently removing or adding a part to you to fit societal graphs of pulchritude, consider that that change will be permanent. If, a hundred years ago, you were unhappy with your nose – tough luck. You could hide your flaws, accentuate your strengths, and sometimes, more often than not, realize your flaws were your strengths and were precisely what made you unique and beautiful. That’s how, for example, we got the incomparable portrait of a large nosed Madame X, proudly displaying a profile that makes ME want a big nose.

Paulina writes she now has saddlebags and cellulite

Paulina writes she now has saddlebags and cellulite

Personally, I believe that every woman in the world is beautiful. Sometimes the distribution of her attributes is not immediately apparent; sometimes it’s a little uneven, but if she knew how to celebrate the things she was given, whether it’s a beautiful pair of eyes or legs, or intellect, or a sense of humor- she could see how uniquely beautiful she was. Lest you feel like interjecting, “oh please, easy for you to say, Miss Former Supermodel…” for your information, I have saddlebags and cellulite, and no matter how hard I work out, that is my body shape and I’m stuck with it. I look horrendous in short shorts and any pant or trouser that is tight in the thigh. But, for the body type of a saddlebag/cellulite, I think I look really great. I have a small waist (which seems to come with my specific body type) and so I take every opportunity to show that off. In my opinion, I’m one hot example of a saddlebag/cellulite woman over forty. If I went and lipo-ed my thighs to the size of Gisele’s, I still wouldn’t look anything like her, and instead, I’d start looking like everyone else. I would be a poor example of a woman with skinny thighs. That is my trouble with Kate. I used to use her as an example of the perfect beauty with a small chest. Now, with her new boobs, she just looks like any California blond actress. Instead of enhancing, she has diminished herself.

Wouldn’t Audrey Hepburn, Jane Birkin, Twiggy, Charlotte Rampling, and Jean Harlow have lost their special brand of elegant, feline sexiness if they were tipping over under the weight of great ol’ mammaries? Compare any one of these natural beauties to someone like Heidi Montag, and it’s like comparing a Hastens Swedish handmade mattress to a cheap plastic pool float.

Heidi Montag after multiple plastic surgeries

Heidi Montag after multiple plastic surgeries

So why? Why do we all want to look the same? It can’t all be about being attractive to the opposite sex. There are men who prefer the full breast; there are men who prefer the well-shaped leg or the round behind. There are all sorts of tastes out there, for all sorts of women. And the way to get their attention is by being different, by standing out. Once you start to blend in, you are no longer special.

That’s the end of Paulina’s article. Now here are some facts about her life:

Paulina Porizkova (born April 9, 1965) is a Czech-born supermodel and actress. She holds both Swedish and United States citizenship.

A photographer friend took pictures of Porizkova and sent them to the Elite modeling agency in 1980. At 5 feet 10 1/2 inches (180 cm), she was the perfect height for a fashion model. Elite head John Casablancas noticed Porizkova’s attractiveness and potential, and offered her a ticket to Paris. It was an extremely tempting offer for a teenager who was eager to get out of Sweden and to support herself.

She quickly rose to become a top model in Paris during the early 1980s, and her fame spread to the United States when she posed in swimwear for Sports Illustrated magazine. She appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1984 and again in 1985. (Her first appearance as a model in the magazine was in 1983.) A third consecutive run as the S.I. covergirl supposedly was dashed when she appeared on the cover of Life magazine in a swimsuit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Michael Moschen’s Passion For Practice

A week ago I went to NY University to again see a neighbor of mine perform his rare art on stage. Sometimes Michael Moschen juggles balls with extraordinary finesse or humor. He can simultaneously bounce balls continuously with the soles of his shoes. Other times he moves objects in ways so unusual and dexterous that you can hardly believe what you are seeing. He has created new illusions and motions with objects like metal sticks and circles, is inspired by everyday actions like a curved shape rolling down a hill of sand, and invents maneuvers that no one else even imagines, much less is capable of executing. Check out some of his videos, particularly the giant triangle inside the museum (go to 2:00 if you are impatient) in the video above and from 2:30 to 4:12 in this one below:

But it’s his dedication and years of practice to acquire a “skill set” that I want to focus on. This time I was connecting his words and actions to my desire to improve at tennis and squash. You could relate it to any skill that you are working on.

He has one segment of his show involving four billiard-ball-sized crystal spheres that he manipulates in each hand and up to seven of them with both hands. It takes maybe six minutes. But he told me that after he thought of this feat, he practiced for hours every day for two years, before he was ready to go public. You won’t believe what capabilities his hands and fingers have.

In last week’s performance, he said that he normally practices four hours each morning and four hours each afternoon. Every day. I can’t imagine anyone practicing something every day. Or even six days a week. Doesn’t life invade any planned routine? But he insists he is constantly practicing.

The next night a friend said he’d read that for someone to be an outstanding professional athlete, like one of the top 100 tennis players in the world, you have to practice at least four hours every day for 10 years. And of course this assumes you have some natural talent to begin with. Practice alone won’t make you an outstanding player if you are uncoordinated or can’t relax or have poor vision or are too small in some sports or too heavy in others.

Jaime Escalante says you also need “ganas,” which is Spanish for desire. Richard Heckler says you have to practice the motion 300 times to begin to get it, but 3000 times to really integrate it into your brain and muscle memory.

Of course the the most successful pros know how important constant practice is. After winning this year’s Australian Open, Roger Federer admitted,

“Look, it’s no secret I’ve struggled the last, what is it, five matches I’ve played here in the States. It’s disappointing, I think, my performance overall, if I’ve got to analyze right now after the match.

“But I fought as much as I could under the circumstances with my game having issues at the moment. Definitely lack timing. I don’t know where that comes from because I played so nicely in Australia. So it’s disappointing to not be able to back it up.”

“[This loss] only fuels my desire to go back to the practice courts and come back even stronger. I don’t like to lose these type of the matches. I’m looking forward to the clay court season now. It helps to kind of move on to a different surface. Definitely need to practice harder, and that’s what I’ll do.”

So practicing is clearly needed to improve any game or skill. Enjoying those weekly contests without practice in between may be fun or frustrating, but it is unlikely to make you a much better player or performer. Practice, practice, practice. Let’s do it!

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Jaime Escalante Taught Us All How To Win

Jaime Escalante died last month. I had just mentioned him on April 19th, when I was writing about Gonzalo and other youngsters from low-income neighborhoods who are taught soccer to build confidence and then learn to express their feelings by writing poetry for the first time.

Jaime Escalante

Jaime Escalante

Jaime was the teacher portrayed in the film “Stand and Deliver” who proved to the world that some poor, disadvantaged, minority kids could perform just as well academically as middle class, suburban white kids if given the opportunity to learn with a dedicated educator. In fact Jaime’s students did better on one SAT Advanced Placement test than kids in any other school in California and made teachers everywhere reconsider the potential of minority and economically deprived students in their classes. One obituary described him as the most famous teacher in the world.

He didn’t use sports as a way to build confidence. He used calculus. But I wanted to highlight his achievement anyway, because so much of sports has to do with self-image and mental attitude, belief in yourself, how to perform under pressure and in competition. Just like life.

I’ve seen the movie a few times, even last night, and it’s very inspiring. While the need to practice a sports skill is obvious, the parallel in the classroom is long hours of instruction, study, and practice taking tests and answering problems and questions. The film shows the kids signing a contract with their teacher—and their parents signing too—that commits them to come to special classes on weekends, during Christmas holidays, and early in the mornings before their regular classes

actor Edward James Olmos in the movie about Jaime

actor Edward James Olmos in the movie about Jaime

Jaime talked about “ganas,” the Spanish word for “desire.” You have to have it if you are going to put in the hours, succeed, make a difference in your outcome.

My friend Joe always talks about his “passion” for life, for his work (directing plays and running a theater). Not everyone has enthusiasm or passion. We are not sure you can manufacture it or pretend you have it or make a lot of progress without it.

But if you are determined or driven or incredibly focused, it’s more likely you WON’T be stopped or thwarted by the obstacles in front of any goal. Life is messy. People are messy, and jealous, and envious and don’t want to see others succeed and rise above their circumstances and make more money and receive accolades. People want to be superior to others—it’s a survival thing according to some social scientists and psychologists. If they can’t rise above you, they will try to keep you suppressed and beneath them—that’s one way they stay relatively superior.

Jaime overcame those hurdles. He inspired the kids who could barely imagine what potential he saw in them. Then there was the principal and the other teachers who said he was wasting his time on lazy Latinos and gang kids who were limited mentally and were lucky if they could “rise” to car repair jobs and waitresses. There was also the national college application testing (SAT’s) company that claimed the high grades his kids achieved must have been attained by cheating—and demanded a retest under carefully supervised conditions by the testing company’s personnel. There was violence against him, his own family’s struggles with his long hours and ridicule, and he even had a heart attack from the stress just before the first test.

There was even the skepticism from the parents of his students Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts About Birthdays And Aging

Ira—Does it feel any better being in the 7th decade as opposed to the 6th decade? Happy Birthday!
—Mickey Fierberg-Freundlich

I still feel young, Mickey, and my body is still working after so FEW years of physical activity. But getting this close to 70 sounds and looks (on paper) somewhat elderly (but not yet ancient). I will work at acquiring that “It’s only a number” attitude, but I am not there yet. Any suggestions from readers are welcome, although drinking until I can’t think straight probably won’t happen for me.

One thing I do believe is that each birthday confirms obviously that I lived another year. I am very grateful for that achievement and feel extremely fortunate to keep reaching higher numbers. I often mention to younger friends and relatives who make fun of what an old fart I am that I knew someone in high school who died at age 17, andr a former girl friend who died at 45, and many other people I know who are gone. It’s all attitude, isn’t it?
— ira

A belated Happy Birthday, Ira!! What a wonderful way to spend Easter Sunday and your birthday—sounds like all of you had a blast!
—Stephanie Logan Kennedy

What Made This Ski-A-Mogul Achievement Possible?

A friend said he was very proud that at my tender age I had just learned to ski moguls He thought it was cool. Of course I am pleased to have accepted this challenge and finally achieved the impossible. And of course another friend said that I was too old to be doing this.

I have been wondering why I was able to do this after so many years? Instead of plodding along at a snail’s pace—a scared snail in fact—who traversed a mogul field by going all the way to one side and then all the way back 100 feet or so to the other side, I was finally able to zip down within a narrower 15 or 30-foot corridor. How did this happen? What was the difference that allowed me to not fall, to speed up, to lean downhill?

Ira on far right at end of last mogul run—3/18/10

Ira on far right at end of last mogul run—3/18/10

I have concluded it was because my son was there as an inspiration. I wanted us to be able to ski together on the same trails at the same time. My being on a blue, while he was on blacks would not have been satisfying. I had to overcome my fears. I had to make it down through the mogul field. I had to go fast enough to not make him impatient or bored. And he was kind enough to put no additional pressure on me.

So I rose to the demands of this occasion. I always had the talent. I was merely able at last to call up my latent skills and deliver the motions. If inspiration can move mountains, it can also let some of us ski on mountains.

I’d like to be able to do this in tennis and squash as well. Maybe in other aspects of my life outside of sports. Too bad my son will be away in school for almost all those contests…

I finished the Andre Agassi auto-bio, Open, on this vacation. A great depiction of what the pro-tennis life can be about. Terrible. What a grind. But more importantly, Andre describes in detail how much of a mind game this sport is. And many others must be as well. In my earlier posts, I have guessed ones mental attitude was critical. Now it is more than confirmed. Momentum. The change in one’s outlook. The killer instinct. The passion to win. These are all very very real. I love the challenge of improving my performance. Now I must go hard after my goals…

At lunch yesterday in Montreal, the waiter told us an astonishing observation: “In the two years I have been working at this restaurant, you are the first English family who tries to speak French.” My son has been studying in school, so he is pretty conversant in French, and I know enough words to ask for tarte du pomme and say merci beau coup.

However to hear that no other people raised speaking English would try a few words at the table is stupefying to me. It tells me how afraid people must be to fail. Or too lazy to try to learn. How can they realize any dreams (assuming they have them) if they don’t take chances and risk losing or making mistakes? Especially a mistake as minor as using the wrong foreign word. Like I once asked in Italy for fish (pesce) ice cream instead of peach (pesca) ice cream…it’s a family joke still. I also told a Spanish grave digger I was visiting my cousin’s (primo) cemetery instead of my first (primero) cemetery. That’s another family laugh at me. And the poor gravedigger kept trying to help me find my dead cousin…

Are you one of those people afraid to make any mistakes? Maybe a slight change in behavior will lead to bigger, more meaningful changes in the future…

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Eye-For-An-Eye Or Turn Your Other Cheek?

Which do you prefer of these biblical admonishments? In your life and in sports?

There was a controversial event at the 2010 National Collegiate Squash Finals that was very upsetting and confronting for me. It made the papers, ESPN, and YouTube and also generated much commentary.

With Trinity College seeking its 12th consecutive annual victory, and leading Yale four matches to two (with five out of nine needed), the Trinity #1 player, Baset Chaudhry, the #1 ranked college player for four years, won the final point in the third game, thus winning his match and the team national championship.

Baset Chaudhry howls at Yale's Ken Chan, while Ira rises next to lady in orange sweater—2/20/10

Baset Chaudhry howls at Yale's Ken Chan, while Ira rises next to lady in orange sweater—2/20/10

At that instant, Chaudhry let out a howl, a scowl and three-inch-away face-down at his Yale opponent, freshman Kenneth Chan, who is at least a foot shorter. The cameras and videos recorded the moment, and the fire was ignited on the explosion that resulted.

“Bad sportsmanship,” “He lost it,” “Penalize and punish him,” were some of the damning comments. The lion against the lamb. The bullying giant versus the innocent little guy.

I was there for two days of the tournament, I know Baset, admire his talent and have seen for years what a gentle young man he is. He also has high grades that have earned him academic recognition and a job already waiting after he graduates this spring.

What was largely ignored by the media is that Chan was constantly bumping into Baset, losing from the beginning (three games in a row), and in the middle of the second game, after Chan made a difficult point, Chan let out an enormous howl up at Baset’s face that was startling, unsportsmanlike and unforgettable. But no picture was taken or published of that provoking gloating. Only one of Baset at the moment of victory giving it back to him.

Polls in the Hartford paper show that of 2000 readers, 61% think that Chaudhry’s behavior was unacceptable. A former sports coach I know agreed, as did a friend who has been a jock all his life. You are supposed to be gracious in victory, able to control yourself, especially in a gentlemanly sport like squash. Even if you are a kid in your early twenties and not a professional athlete. No excuse, no justification is possible. No matter what someone did to you before, no matter what insults might have been said (I have no knowledge or grounds to think that was the case this time), regardless if someone taunted you, cursed you, made comments about your mother or yelled in YOUR face before you yelled back in his. You’re expected to smile and be a nice guy. A good sport. Well done, old chap. You did your best. Cheerio.

I find it hard to agree, even though I was told that I am acting like a “fan” now (which I am), rather than like a neutral observer.

I mind when people not involved in something tell others how they “should” act. Read the rest of this entry »

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Blood On The Court

Yesterday after I slammed my head into the squash court wall, there was enough blood on the floor and in my cupped hand that I wondered if I had a concussion or was going to need stitches for the ¾ inch gash above my right eye.

Later while watching the Olympics, I grimaced during the three crashes I saw in the women’s downhill ski competition. And Lindsay Vonn won a gold medal in that event in spite of her pained shin, her almost-ripped-off thumb.

This morning I read about a snowboard athlete, Kevin Pearce, who wiped out in training and is in rehab learning how to walk again. Shaun White (gold medal snowboarder) has experienced a list of injuries from his sport that makes one pity his mother: He fractured his skull, broke his right hand and right foot and was knocked unconscious—all by age 11.

Now that I follow professional athletes—or even the amateurs I know—we are all getting injured all the time. It comes with the territory. But I lived for decades without messing up my body. I didn’t have broken anything, much less limps, bruises and aches. Can any of you who play sports imagine such a pain-free existence?

I can’t any longer. Though I am not taking the extreme risks of the pros, who might die or be permanently disabled from their passion to play and excel. I still can’t grasp those rock climbers who fall to their deaths with one slip of the finger. Unimaginable.

In an article about the dangers of Olympic winter sports, I read that Statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission make clear just how dangerous winter sports can be and not just for Olympians: 139,332 Americans were injured while skiing in 2007 and even more, 164,002, got hurt while snowboarding that year. And when looking at all winter-sport injuries, including sledding, snowmobiling and ice skating, 10 percent involved a head injury.

Why do we all do it, to whatever degree? Read the rest of this entry »

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Fiona L’Estrange’s Life-Long Love Of Horses And Dressage

Horses have been part of my life most of my life. My father rode, my mother rode. My grandfather was absolutely passionate about horses. He was the British ambassador in Honduras and was able to get heavily into polo ponies…civil service allowed you to live the grand life. He had nothing—no money, an old car. Broke his hip riding a polo pony in his 80’s. That was chips for his riding. The end.

Fiona L'Estrange and Digger before their dressage demonstration at the 2002 Belmont Stakes

Fiona L'Estrange and Digger before their dressage demonstration at the 2002 Belmont Stakes

So I came by my love of horses honestly. In the genes. Always ridden since under age 10. Rode at boarding school. We had a house in London, where I grew up, lots of friends who rode and took lessons, and I went with them. I borrowed a pony when I was 11 and then graduated to horses.

I still take lessons—you have to, even those at the Olympic level have trainers. You always need eyes on the goal, especially with a horse you’re piloting. That’s what makes riding such a difficult sport.

“Horses are extraordinary and unique. No other animal could be so misjudged, mishandled, mistreated and abused and still try to serve willingly and to the best of it’s ability.”

People are always trying to make the horse submit. They shouldn’t do that. They try to make the horse think like a human. It doesn’t work out so well. You have to learn to read the horse and have a working partnership. The best riders know how to ask a horse to be his best. It’s the only way to have a great partnership. It’s a great feeling, I think for both horse and rider, when a session goes really well.

When I was growing up and through my teens, mostly riding in woods and fields, we played hunting games, like egg and spoon, balancing while galloping, sack races (hopping alongside the horse). It took lots of skill, practice and training. We had bending poles races (you weave left and right around them), relay races, teams. It teaches you to work together. I participated in Pony Club……it was all huge fun.

When I was 19, I came to America. There was a bit of hiatus while I was getting adjusted. I lived with a race car driver who traveled to various tracks around the country, so I decided to get back into riding during these race weekends–then suddenly I was riding around the New York area during the week too.

I also hunted both in the UK and here. The staff wear pink coats so that you can clearly see them in the field. They keep the hunt together. The Master leads the entire field. The Whippers-in are responsible for the hounds. The rest of us are in black jackets and tan britches.

In my early 20’s, I did a little bit of hunting in Rhinebeck, NY and took lessons at Claremont Stables in Central Park (in Manhattan at 89th street) for about a year and a half—sadly it has since closed.

I had a full-time job then as a Production Executive. I was up at 5-6 am and rode in Central Park on a thoroughbred I’d leased from an illustrator’s representative. Then I’d be at my office job by 9 or 9:30. Did that 5-6 days a week. When that horse developed arthritis, he was retired to a place that had a horse named Melly who was headed for the slaughterhouse. I bought him. My first horse.

Fiona and Digger cantering

Fiona and Digger cantering

Even though I was traveling for consulting business then to Japan and Italy, I started competing in dressage and eventing. Eventing is a real discipline—it is dressage, cross country, then show jumping all with the same horse and rider, all in one day—a true challenge for all.

I still like to gallop and jump, but not in competition. When you jump in eventing, the heights go from about 2’6” to nearly 4’. To be competitive, you also have to be concerned with speed. In the cross country phase, you go from light to dark and dark to light. You go up and down hills, all at the same speed. There are penalties for going over the allotted time.

In my late 20’s, I evolved into just doing dressage. I am mostly teaching just dressage now. For the most part, I won’t take people’s money to teach them to jump at a higher level—other trainers do it better.

After Melly died, I bought my second horse, Julian, who was largely unbroken, but turned into a really good eventer. Then two years later I sold him to a friend and bought Digger.

Digger and I have had 21 years of loving time together. I bought him as an unbroken two year old and did all the work with him myself. We entered major competitions and won major awards. In June 2002, we were invited by an Olympic judge to demonstrate dressage at the Belmont Park track in Long Island, NY, between races and just before the Belmont Stakes. A friend of mine created an audio using Shrek music, “I’m a Believer, sung by Eddie Murphy—did you realize there is a Princess Fiona in the Shrek movies? It was fabulous and fabulous fun to ride on that track in front of apparently 6 million people, both spectating and watching on tv! Actually I’ll bet most of the tv watchers were either in the loo or at the fridge!

on the track at Belmont Park

on the track at Belmont Park

There were so many friends, travel, fun and incidences. And it was a ton of work. We did well at the Devon horse show, the biggest dressage and breeding show in the country. Four exhausting days of competition in Devon, Pennsylvania. Amateurs can compete against professionals. Once I began teaching, I couldn’t be considered an amateur. So I am competing against many Olympic riders most of which are riding horses that cost a small fortune! You can pick your classes, but not who’s in them.

In dressage classes, you compete for a score, not just 1st, 2nd, 3rd through 6th. There is no money for winning. You are competing against yourself. 100% is perfect, but no one in the history of dressage has ever reached that. The highest so far is 82%, and my best was a 71%. There are from 7-28 movements in each test, and each one is graded 1 to 10. Then it’s all totaled and converted to a percentage.

What I love about dressage is that it’s very intellectual, a thinking person’s sport. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Risk-Averse Are You In Life And In Sports?

Are you willing to take chances? I think I am. I’ve made investments in start-up companies, begun new books or magazines when I was a publisher, learned to ride a horse English-style at 50 and jump bareback at 52. I began serious tennis lessons at 65, and I’ve taken up squash for the first time when I was 68. But on the tennis court, I often play the safer shot and am gentler with my follow through for fear of hitting the ball too long. Then my opponent often smashes it back for a winner. No good. I must have more courage.

When it comes to food, I know people who order the same meals each time in restaurants. They admit that they are worried about not liking some unknown choice and are then stuck eating something they think tastes horrible. Or not eating it and wasting the money. And not reordering, and then going hungry. Or they don’t want to think about another decision, so they order what is familiar. A seven-day-a-week meat-eating friend told me proudly that he recently ordered trout for the first time and is now eating fish twice a week. He is in his mid-50’s.

These are little steps, but maybe they reveal bigger truths about who we are and how we play at sports and the rest of our lives. Yesterday I gambled and ordered the special appetizer the waitress had described, but not told me the price. As I said to the owner at the end of the meal, all the appetizers on the menu were around $10-13. Imagine my shock when the special one was $19! He said the waitress had made a mistake with the bill and insisted that the price should have been $17. But it certainly makes me leery about taking a chance again and ordering food blindly in his place. That price equaled the cost of some of the entrees. And I was unwilling to ask how much it cost before I ordered it. Too awkward for me.

Yesterday I also had another confront about my appearance. I have been playing many more hours of tennis and squash the past few months since my arm injury kept me from exercises in the gym. My upper-body muscles are gone or soft. I may be as fit as I was in the army at 21, when I ran five miles a day and jumped out of airplanes. But I look older. Of course I am older. So what’s my problem?

Well part of my goal in building muscle—and especially abs is to look “better”—and also younger. As I wrote in a previous post, millions of people reach for those goals by coloring their hair and undertaking plastic surgery. Very common and socially acceptable, although more for women than men.

graybeard Ira—2/1/10

graybeard Ira—2/1/10

But what the hell, you only live once. So tired of how gray my beard and remaining head hair had become, I went back to the hair salon for a cut and color. I was willing to take THAT chance, if not a riskier tennis swing or skiing down a steeper, black diamond trail.

What happened yesterday was a very funny development: the stylist tried a new color on my beard, and I ENDED UP LOOKING TOO YOUNG! This was a minor disaster, and she wasn’t sure how I was taking it and what to do about it. It was hilarious. My beard went from white to almost black. A clearly different color than the hair on my head. I was two-toned, like a tiger…well not that different. But anyone could tell.

the beard that still looks too young—2/12/10

the beard that still looks too young—2/12/10

This was a problem. I considered shaving it off on the spot. A friend at tennis had advised me to do that if I wanted to drop five or more years of appearance. I was almost at that point. I had taken the chance of a newer beard color, because the old one faded back to white weeks before my head hair. Now I was stuck. Of course it is only hair, it will fade in time, grow out, I am not a celebrity or going to job interviews. I am not dying. I will get through this. I will survive.

An hour later, after I learned more of what most women go through, after consultation with the owner of the salon, I had another paint brushing of bleach and coloring agent, and it didn’t look so bad. But I clearly looked more like when I was 20 years younger. And I have a picture to prove it.

my beard in 1980

my beard in 1980

The biggest problem is that I no longer recognize myself in the mirror. And I am sure other people are going to do triple takes when they see me. I will have to insist that, “I am not Chuck Norris.”

Now if I could only apply this gutsiness to my athletic pursuits, I’d be terrific. So many sports are mental games more than physical challenges. I have to take more risk…

…Ha Ha Ha Ha. I told you. Bumped into someone I work with for years—but hadn’t seen in three DAYS— and after her startled look at me, she asked if I was growing a beard! I had to tell her I have had the same beard for over 30 years, but that it was just darker than the last time we met.

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Reader Writes That Fitness (Not A Sculpted Body) Is What Really Matters

Back on December 30th, a reader criticized this site for promoting the wrong message about the importance of abs, thin bodies and hair coloring, all intended to make us look younger than we are. She said that I am a pawn in a superficial society focusing on youth, and I am spreading a teaching that is bad for the average person who does not look like a movie star or model.

I just received an email from Robert Doornick referring to that earlier post and making some other observations about fitness and good health:

The web site looks great, and continues to expand with time. You’ve started a trend! Unlike that person who speaks negatively about the wrongfulness of obligating people to look better than they can or should at any given age, I firmly adhere to the principles that aiming for a fit body has little to do with the resulting aesthetics of a more “sculpted look” – unless of course vanity comes into play, in which case that becomes a personal issue – but instead, it has everything to do with maintaining a healthier body, embracing a more active and productive life, along with equally important side effects such as a more fit mind as well. If one ends up having a more pleasing architecture as a byproduct of exercising and eating right, then so be it; lest we not forget that it takes such a well tuned body to perform in sports, lead a much more productive life and – for those of us who don’t adhere to physical exercise – enjoy a healthier and longer life.

Indeed, Advertising agencies manipulate consumers in the wrong way by using physical perfection, love and sex as appealing incentives for using or wanting products and services. In that context, the comments made by this person in your web site are indeed correct. Perhaps this same person should also be reminded that does not sell cars, toothpaste, clothing, or any other product or services. Replete with its countless and ever increasing accounts from willing participants, this implies that the clearly popular Site is about staying fit and healthy, rather than associating with a centerfold in order to drive the latest Automobile!

I for one have been working out for decades, and my body has at times looked fit enough, and at other times a bit on the bulky side. I have never lost sleep over its appearance however, and my satisfaction has always come from the knowledge that I was taking care of this bipedal vehicle so that it would transport me safely through life’s challenging roads; and even when desired, allow me to willingly take the bumps, just for the fun of it!

I applaud you for Ira, and for facilitating this fun enclave of like-minds. May the Force Be With You, and I mean this strictly in the gymnastic, resistive kind of way!!!


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Catching Up And Choking Up

If playing and watching sports often results in our forgetting about “real life,” and the drama of sports is often regarded as a metaphor for “real life,” then how much can we adapt from sports success and failure to improving our daily lives?

A lot, I hope. When an athlete or team is way behind and comes back to win, what can we learn from that to help us also upgrade our own performance…in sport as well as possibly going from rags to riches? Or personal setback to major achievement?

And just as a player way ahead often blows his/her lead, what can we glean from that choking that will stop us from doing the same in our own athletic contests and also our personal quests? So we don’t go from castle to hovel, from happy marriage to divorce?

There is this sports announcer thing about momentum, more confidence, change in mood, reviving, rallying. What is it all about? What happens on a psychological level that obviously affects the physical level and then the score and final result?

I have seen recently a few sports situations that make me think about these changes for the better and worse (when one comes from way behind, someone else blows their big lead, right?).

So let’s explore this subject in a series of posts. First some Wikipedia definitions: A “choke” is a failure to perform in sport due to anxiety. This is a form of panic attack in which the athlete may literally experience breathing difficulty or otherwise lose physical composure. Successful champions do not choke, but are “clutch” players — rising to the occasion under pressure rather than collapsing.

In sports, clutch refers to competent and/or superior play during high pressure situations. Most often it is a successful action taken under high pressure during a game, usually at the end, that may result in a significant change on the game’s result. In the mainstream, performance in important situations is often attributed to some wealth or deficit of character that causes a particular outcome…

So I was watching a college squash match, and the Trinity player was behind one game to two. (A winner needs three games out of five.) He’d just been crushed in the third game 2-11. The score in the fourth game was 6-10, so it only takes one more point to 11 for Trinity to lose this individual match to Dartmouth. Although the odds of a Trinity comeback are incredibly remote, I have some faint intuition that this game is not yet over. But I don’t say anything, don’t want to jinx the outcome. I’m all for Trinity.

The score inches up to 7-10, 8-10. Now the fans sense defeat is not inevitable. The players must realize it a bit as well. 9-10, we are almost there. What is going on? Is the Trinity player gaining confidence? He must have more hope now than when it was 6-10. What about his opponent? From a sure or very likely win, enormous optimism, maybe even cockiness, he has to be worried, more fearful, tightening up on his shots.

Suddenly it is 10-10, the unimaginable has happened. It’s a new game. More tension, excitement, many minutes of back and forth. In fact there are six match points total, until Trinity’s Parth Sharma wins 16-14. What a turnaround! Now Trinity has the momentum, the greater enthusiasm; his opponent has to be debilitated and let down. Sharma wins the fifth game easily 11-3, and that individual match goes to Trinity.

How did that happen? How can we make that happen? In sports. Or off the court. People do rise to riches. They do get the girl. They do zoom from doom to boom?

Last year at the Wimbledon final, Andy Roddick wins the first set, goes to a tie break in the second set, and takes a huge 5-1 lead. Read the rest of this entry »

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Does Aging Bother You? How About Looking Older?

This is a big subject I want to discuss in many posts.

I will show you famous people who have aged horribly and look terrible.

I will talk about people who go through incredible plastic surgery to look younger.

I will talk about the performance artist ORLAN whose medium was once her own body as she directed surgeons to transform her lips, eyes, nose, etc to look like the most perfect body parts seen in paintings and sculpture.

I will mention Botox, hair coloring, dieting and exercise to look fitter and younger.

Let’s start with a True Confession: I color my hair. Here I am in a 2008 photo that shocked and disturbed me, because I thought I looked so old.

old-looking Ira at graduation—6/08

old-looking Ira at graduation—6/08

It’s not that bad for a father aged 67 at his daughter’s high school graduation. But I was very upset. I had been going to the gym and playing tennis, each for about a year. I was OK aging, mainly because I wasn’t sick or lame or inhibited in any major way from doing the physical things I wanted to do.

Maybe I don’t have the reflexes of a 20-year-old. But I have truly felt for years that each birthday celebrated means I lived another year and am glad of that achievement and the life experience. I had some friends who died in high school, and others at older ages. So I am thrilled to still be living and learning and laughing and loving.

But as toned as my body was starting to look with all that gym work and cardio, suddenly I appeared to myself like an old man from the chicken neck up, like my father or grandfather.

Then after months of thinking and hesitating and judging the vainness of doing something, anything, I took the leap and colored my hair. Women start in their teens. Movie stars do it before they are on screen…and a lot more. Why couldn’t I do it too? Yes I was self-conscious. But I always admitted it or volunteered the truth whenever any questions or comments arose. Which was almost never. (“Damn, Ira, you look so good. How do you stay so young-looking?” “It’s easy…I exercise and color my hair.”)

younger-looking Ira—12/09

younger-looking Ira—12/09

Every six or eight weeks, after my hair is looking grey and too long, I head for a haircut and some new pigment. This week when the great change was complete, I looked at myself in the mirror and said to the stylist, “Marlene you are a magician— l look at least 10 years younger…”and better, I thought. It still amazes me. Thank goodness for that blend of delicious dyes named Burnt Sugar, Butter Almond Crunch, Hazelnut and Iced Latte. Who knows why they are all food related.

I resent the Youth Culture mantra that I grew up in and live with. The society that says old and older people are not as valuable as youngsters. They may have lived longer, but those antique “gray-hairs” aren’t as attractive or hip or energetic or worth knowing. Even their wisdom and advice might be out-of-date and easy to ignore. Nevertheless, it looks like I succumbed to part of the message: it’s better to look younger.

I have a woman friend who refuses to use make up, color her hair or do anything about her wrinkles. She welcomes older age and wants to experience it as fully as she can. She is very energetic, used to be a dancer, is very physical and loving toward her children and grandchildren. She knows who she is and is not embarrassed that she looks like a grandma.

But most people don’t do that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Re-Channeling Anger To Become A Tennis Terror

I wrote earlier ( about how I lack the killer, cuthroat instinct. How it shows on the court. I am definitely competitive and want to win and try what I think is my best. But if I lose, big deal. It’s only a game. And I am constantly saying just that to new doubles partners: “Relax. We’re here to have fun. You never have to apologize for a bad shot and say, I’m sorry.”

Observers of my tennis game have commented on my nonchalance about winning. They say my niceness shows up, that I don’t run desperately for each ball, that my net volleys are firm, but not so forceful as to knock someone unconscious if I hit them in the head. I should be tougher.

All that changed yesterday, December 7th, when I was playing and became pissed. Now I must interject that I have had some personal setbacks, disappointments, anxieties about a relative dying, friends with their own problems. And the doubles game was going slowly. I grew impatient for a speedier match, and all my suppressed negativity broke through. I was outraged, annoyed, ticked off—at the world and the difficulties of living a life. At the raw deals people are stuck with, and their daily burdens. It all busted loose. I may have wanted to scream and shout.

So I took it out on the tennis balls. I served rapidly, faster and harder than ever before. I hit powerfully for me, deep and accurately. The other team was commenting on how impossible returns were. And what was going on stroke after stroke?

I was experiencing new and rare emotions that I couldn’t recognize. I felt enraged and ornery and furious and threatening. God damn evil and dictatorial. Some caused I’m sure because a relative of someone I know had been murdered a few days before. If I’d had a hammer, I might have hit someone in the head. There was a lot of pent up energy.

So I channeled it into my game.

When it was over and a few hours had passed, I thought about who I had become. Read the rest of this entry »

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Getting Better At Something When Others Get Worse

So in spite of a sore arm and wrist, my frequent tennis playing has improved my performance. I am still frustrated with poor shots, but there are now many more better ones. And by watching the lessons on the Tennis Channel—which finally arrived in my little rural town that was the very last one in the state to have cable offered at all—my serve has become more powerful and directed as well.

This is not just my opinion. In the last 10 days, four different people from much better doubles games have asked me to sub for them or someone in their group. This is a big deal. Only a month ago, when I heard that a member of one strong game was going to Florida for the winter, and I offered to fill in, I was told that “We’re not sure.” “I’m not in charge.” Etc, etc. It was polite evasion that really meant: “You’re not good enough for us. We want to find a better substitute.”

Now that same diplomat is asking me to play for him. And I feel honored. This is a breakthrough. Other people at the courts are getting the same impression, and suddenly a number of more advanced players are approaching me. I have made a certain cut. I am now “good enough” to try out with these guys. And some are already inviting me back for additional substitutions.

I told a friend how pleased I was that I was improving. He said that he was in the decline phase of his performance. He has been playing sports so vigorously for so many decades that although under 60, his body is wearing out, he hurts when he plays, and his tennis game is now getting worse. And knowing that he can’t improve, he feels his cavorting on the court is over. He’s turned to golf, where he can learn a new sport and enjoy progress and satisfaction. At tennis, he experiences decline, frustration and disappointment. It’s too upsetting to not be able to hit like he used to, place a shot where he wants it to go, make serves that are whammers instead of wussers.

I understand where my friend is at. Life is fragile. So are our bodies. This can be the exceptional case in which “if you use ’em, you may lose ’em.” A 74-year-old was walking around the court yesterday to warm up before our doubles game started. (I jog around the court twice to loosen my joints.) He said after the match that his aching Achilles heel prevented him from chasing after some balls. Later I received a phone call informing me that the pain intensified, and he will be out of action for months.

It’s obvious that if you leave the couch potato sofa and shake your booty a bit, you have a bigger chance of injury…though a lesser chance of heart attack from poor circulation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Positive Thoughts Give Elite Athletes The Vital Edge

We always hear about top athletes having confidence, visualizing their success, seeing themselves win in advance of the game. Here is an article that spells out (sort of) how it is done with actual case histories. Now let’s see if I can hit like Davydenko tomorrow and play at the net like the Bryan Brothers (these three tennis champions won the ATP World Tour Finals singles and doubles on Nov 29th).

LONDON (Reuters) – Elite professional sport with its unrelenting demands tests the mind and spirit as much as the body.

When the difference between winning and losing can be a fraction of a second or the unexpected bounce of a ball, encouraging positive thoughts and banishing the fear of failure is a consistent theme in the lives of successful athletes.

England cricket captain Andrew Strauss is a recent convert to the power of positive thinking, praising the controversial self-help book “The Secret” after his spell in the international wilderness.

“The theory is what you think about happens,” said Strauss in his own book “Testing Times.” “If you think positive thoughts, then those thoughts will come about.”

“The Secret” by Australian writer Rhonda Byrne, which started life as a film, has been praised as a life-changing text and criticized as pretentious psychobabble.

Whatever the verdict, the lessons Strauss drew in 2008 — positive thoughts, a winning frame of mind, visualizing success — are certainly not new.

Twenty-five years earlier, the same principles resurrected the life and career of New Zealand’s greatest cricketer Richard Hadlee.

At the end of an exhausting year on and off the field, Hadlee was close to a physical and mental breakdown.

“It may sound a little melodramatic, but at this stage I was preoccupied with the thought of death,” he said. “I was convinced I had heart trouble which in turn made me worse.”


Motivation expert Grahame Felton, who ran a three-hour course for the Canterbury team, transformed Hadlee’s life.

Felton talked about visualization, control and belief, explained that fear was negative and emphasized the importance of setting targets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cyclist Frank Krasowski’s Year-Round Rides Create Endorphin Satisfactions Exceeding Food Pleasures

At the therapist the other day for my arm, I mentioned “Beth’s Story” (see November 6th post below) to Frank Krasowski, the owner of The Hills Physical Therapy in Bantam, CT. He had his own ideas about what it takes to diet, exercise, and lose weight.

“Some people are disciplined, and others aren’t. Food gives some people so much pleasure that they can’t give it up…unless there is another pleasure to compensate for that loss.”

For Frank, riding his bike on hilly, scenic roads does the trick. The sweating, the big gears, and the views he enjoys outdoors trigger endorphins into his system that easily make up for his more limited diet. “I love biking. It changes my mind set, so that food becomes fuel, rather than a source of pleasure and satisfaction. This doesn’t happen for me with other kinds of exercise.”

Frank Krasowski resting from a ride—2007

Frank Krasowski resting from a ride—2007

He admitted that his ability to be disciplined with food goes in spurts. And he really admires people who can stick to their own rules with consistency. He also volunteered that he rides in the winter as long as there isn’t much snow on the ground. He has all the necessary clothing layers, masks and gloves to build up the warmth needed to ride comfortably in freezing temperatures. Sounds pretty disciplined to me…

After hearing Frank’s words, I did a few searches on the net about sugar rushes and endorphin highs.


Time and again you’ve experienced the intense effects that food can have on your moods. Cakes, cookies, and fudge are known as pleasure foods not only because they delight your taste buds but because they can make you feel calm and happy – at least temporarily. This sugar induced sense of euphoria comes from several chemical mechanisms in your brain. First of all, the sheer pleasure of tasting a chocolate treat or powdery donut stimulates your brain’s pleasure pathways and the release of dopamine and endorphins, the chemicals that makes you feel exhilarated. You also get a quick surge of energy as the sugar hits your bloodstream. Unfortunately, that energized feeling lasts only as long as the sugar rush. Once your blood-sugar levels drop (about an hour or two later), you’re left feeling drained and out of sorts. You become an addict looking for another hit.

Clearly, then, food can be as powerful as the most addictive drug. If you’re experiencing carbohydrate cravings as a result of taking antidepressants, you’re probably well aware of the addictive nature of certain foods. Addictive foods are almost always processed foods. (I have never known anyone addicted to lima beans.) And you probably know that feeding your cravings only makes you crave the food even more. In fact, some studies suggest that food cravings may be triggered by low levels of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins), a phenomenon that may also occur in people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs.

NOW SOME INFO ABOUT ENDORPHINS Read the rest of this entry »

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