A few weeks ago, my neighbor, Walt, asked me if I could attend a luncheon on July 25th. It would start at 12:30 and go for two hours, at the Green Springs Inn, 30 minutes from home. That amounted to 3 hours away from the office. I decided I'd take the day off for this so I can attend. I admire Walt and respect him and was flattered to be included. I'm pleased I went because I met an extraordinary person. His name is Larry Young.
As backstory, Walt is from Missouri. In 1958, he became coach of the Fort Osage High School football team. They didn't have many big guys although one, Bruce van Dyke, went on to the pros, playing for the GB Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of Walt's other players was a little guy named Larry Young. When the 1960 Olympics came onto television, Larry happened to catch the speed walking part. The next day at football practice, he was horsing around and practicing the technique as seen on television. From that, Larry ended up being on the 1968 and 1972 US Olympic teams, winning two bronze medals, along with a gold in the Pan American games. From that as well, Larry became a sculptor. All that even though in his telling, aided by his wife, who acts as his historian, he finished dead last in his competition.
Just for the record, speedwalking is tough. Try it sometime, walking by striking your heel first and straightening your knee. Larry was best as a distance speedwalker, averaging seven minutes and forty-five seconds per mile when he won the 20 KM speed walking competition. It's a fast pace for walking.
His success as an Olympic athlete and sculptor are what you first know about Larry from the records. He's about five six and seems to be a lean 160 pounds. Brown hair is softly pewtering gray. When you read about his story, you think of serendipity, how he went from watching the Olympics to horsing around to competing at a non-professional level to being invited to participate in the Olympics. Along the way, he married, was in the Navy four years and learned how to work metal in forges and foundrys.
Hearing his story, you think of serendipity again as he returns to Missouri. The president of a small college that's going co-ed calls him. The president is a speedwalking fan and heard Larry is back in Missouri. He'll give Larry a full scholarship and give him the money to build a foundry if Larry will compete for their school in speed walking competition.
But the real story is how Larry perservered. He made all that luck happen by trying and trying and trying. He tells about going again and again to meets and finishing dead last. He won grant money for his art, went to Italy to study and returned with his sculptures. He drove around Houston and then Dallas, trying to sell them, going from gallery to gallery, not giving up as each told him, No thank you, your portfolio is too small, until one finally said, Yes.
The real story is about support. Those he competed against would encourage him, telling him he had pretty good technique, that he just needs to train more. The story is about family. His father, interested in what Larry is doing, becomes his coach and a competitor. His father worked with Larry on his large scupltures, helping him file them down and then convincing Larry to quit using hand files and move to power tools. The resulting sculptures are pretty amazing.
That's Larry Young in the red shirt above, speedwalker, Olympian, sculptor, and a pretty good guy. I'm glad I took the time off to meet him. It was an inspiration and another reminder, believe in yourself and don't give up.
Not even when you finish dead last.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com