By Steve Gilliland
Might as well admit to you, my closest friends: I never played professional football or baseball, and I never participated in the Olympics. I was never asked to endorse running shoes or exercise equipment either; however, I do love old sports movies.
In fact, I would rather watch a sappy, grainy, Black & White sports movie over most anything on television these days. One of my favorite sports movies is Jim Thorpe – All American. I think the movie holds a lot of life lessons for all of us.
The movie was produced back in 1951 and is celebrating its 70th anniversary. In this day and age of everything digital, when a young Burt Lancaster took to the screen to play Thorpe, it was old-fashioned Hollywood magic. It was also a movie way ahead of its time. It took on issues such as racism, alcoholism, “amateur versus professional,” and the treatment of indigenous people in a meaningful way.
Look Beyond What You Can See
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is easy to miss, but it has always stayed with me. Young Jim was a good kid, but he was always getting into trouble.
Out of both desperation and hope for his future, Jim’s wise father sent him to the Indian reservation school. Jim would always “escape” and run back home – a distance of many miles. In one, last-ditch effort to get his son to see the future, Jim’s father takes his young son to a fence at the reservation’s boundary:
“Look out, Jim, what do you see?”
Jim says that he sees the hills, the scrub cactus and the desolation.
No, Jim, out there is the future. There is nothing for you here except misery. Go out and make me proud.
In that moment, I always think of two things as a man and a father. As a man, he wanted Jim to understand that life on the reservation took its toll. And though his father must have been heartbroken, his father knew the only way his son could succeed was to push forward and have faith in his journey.
What the conversation was really about was the topic of vision.
Ignore Your Limits
Vision is powerful when we allow ourselves to embrace it and to let it empower us. I hope that in 2021 more young people are permitted the space to have a vision; to imagine; to dream and to believe.
Having said that, many children are not given the room in which to see that future unfold. A few years ago, the educational blog K5 Learning stated:
“It’s becoming more and more apparent that our kids do not only need to have cognitive skills, the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests but also need certain character traits that will help them persevere when encountering and overcoming failure. Traits such as grit and self-confidence, persistence and self-control.”
The author of the piece could have taken a page from the Jim Thorpe handbook. Thorpe encountered many problems in his lifetime, but he never lacked vision. He forged ahead despite all of the odds against him, and there were many.
What You Believe You Receive
The year 2020 was a difficult one. There can be no doubt about that. By all measures, our vision was tested. Oddly, despite the doom and gloom and all of the factors that often conspired against us, I am also amazed at how some people succeeded to unbelievable heights.
I have a friend in Pennsylvania who volunteers as a mentor to academically troubled high school students, and he recently shared a story. A student and his mother were worried about how he would do this year with algebra and biology and his other subjects. The young man, about Jim Thorpe’s age as when the movie opened, achieved a 4.0 (straight-A’s) last semester.
My friend told him, “You are not alone. See yourself succeeding! We will get through it together, but you have to believe in yourself as I believe in you.”
My friend was talking about vision.
With grit and self-confidence, you can develop vision at any age. There is no challenge 2021 will bring that you cannot overcome as people or as a nation. You have to be persistent and believe in yourself.
The legacy of Jim Thorpe was much more than about “sports.” If anything, it was that his vision for a better life never dimmed despite crippling setbacks.
This year, let’s all help one another rekindle a vision and leave a legacy that no matter how great our challenges, we will not be defeated. Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.
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