Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mandella Inspiration

The was a quote that recently can to my attention and I loved it. During a post a while back I mentioned having love for what I do and the importance I loving what you do. It does not mean it's not scare and that fear is not involved. It's just that when inspiration fills you with a sense of possibility. When I read this quote of Nelson Mandella it made me stop and reflect and the wonderful sense of truth was brilliant. Now I am not a religious person, but I would describe myself as spiritual.

The spirituality I feel is something that has come from my involvement in sport, and more importantly from rowing. The purpose of putting this out there is rowing has brought the best out in me. That's not to say that at times it has brought some of the worst qualities out in me, it's just that when I read this quote it resonated with me in such a way because for some time I thought that I was scared and feared the worst side of myself and the sport. This changed some time after the 2000 Olympic games which I mist due to a back injury. This experience made me question my feel inadequate. Since that moment I realised that if to be honest I was not as fearful of being inadequate, but rather limitless. Since reading this quote I have found myself repeat it to others and the connection and link it has created is amazing. He is an inspiration and one who I have only a small comprehension of.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are
powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We
ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually,
who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the
world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel
insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not in some of us; it’s in everyone. As we are liberated from our own fear, our
presence automatically liberates others.”

Nelson Mandella
Inaugural Speech, 1994


I love things that inspire me and others and find them to be the most brilliant source of connection to an ideal example. This is a great message which poses great questions. The research that I noticed the other day stated that athletes who achieve great success have an unusual amount of optimism. I believe we can all be brilliant and talented. I believe this to be true and maybe it's that unusual amount of optimism showing through, maybe I am hopeful too. Sport gives me hope, optimism and rowing has delivered in the fullest way the virtues of an activity the challenges me to face my fears. So I want to acknowledge all inspiration and the influence and power it provides. I love being an athlete and being open to the influences other provide through there actions and their presence.

Over the next few weeks I will capture the many people who have a profound effect on me. It is interesting for me to consider the change in the people who I have been aware of during the phases of my sporting, work and family life.

4 comments:

ededit said...

This article from today's washingpost post may be of interest:

Pulling Against Time
Athletes Perform Faster, Higher, Stronger -- Until Age Catches Up With Them. But Training Can Curb the Inevitable Decline.

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007; HE01



When Bob Kaehler tried out for the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team in 2004, he wanted just once more to feel the elation of flying across the water at 32 feet per second, nine human bodies and a boat fused into a perfect expression of power, balance and timing.

He'd made the team in 1992, 1996 and 2000, but he knew this time he was up against long odds. He had a family, a business, not quite enough time and a 39-year-old body. In his favor were experience, technical skill and a thing called "boat-moving ability."

He didn't make it.

As he looks back, he says there were lots of reasons. His body was just one of them, and perhaps not even the biggest one. But things were different.

"It is hard to say where my physiology really was. It was not where it needed to be. It probably would never have been where it was in 1996," Kaehler, who is 42, said last week. "When you are older, you need to get back in the game sooner. It is doable. But I would have probably needed 18 months, not six months or eight months."

Athletic performance declines with age -- it's the one other thing that's inevitable besides death and taxes. But how does that happen? What is it that slips? And why is it that, sooner or later, when you try to roll the rock of physical conditioning up the hill, you can't get it as high as you once could?

Those are questions all world-class athletes ask when they unwillingly clean out their lockers for the last time. For others -- those who retire before they have to -- it comes later. For Mike Teti, the 50-year-old head coach of the U.S. men's rowing team and a three-time Olympian, it came all at once, on a day in 2000 he still remembers clearly.

The team had a rare day off, and Teti took his newspaper to a coffee shop in Princeton, N.J., to relax. He opened it and couldn't read the print. He went to the boathouse to work out on a power-measuring machine called an ergometer. He had the worst scores he'd ever seen. Getting dressed to go home, he noticed his pants were tight.

"For me, everything happened at once. Almost overnight. And you say, 'Oh my God, I'm over the hill.' "

Kaehler and Teti have long since come to terms with the fact they will never again be the athletes they were. Kaehler, who lives in Holland, Pa., is a physical therapist and runs a coaching business on the side called RedLine Maximum Fitness. ("As in redlining an engine," he says tellingly). Teti exercises to stay fit ("and to eat") and helps bring other rowers to the sweet spot where body, mind and opportunity can win races.

To understand why the decline of athletic performance is inevitable with aging -- and why it is partially reversible at any age -- requires a little knowledge of exercise physiology. (Don't worry, it's worth it.)

Sports that combine strength and endurance -- rowing is perhaps the best example -- are enterprises that in many ways come down to one basic task: finding a way to deliver the most oxygen to muscles as fast as possible.

Oxygen is part of the fuel that allows muscle tissue to produce mechanical energy -- to contract, in a word. Glucose (a form of sugar) or fat are the other necessary fuels. Muscles can work for short periods without oxygen -- so-called anaerobic respiration. But for sustained, long-term exertion, there is no substitute for oxygen. None.

Oxygen is carried in the blood, principally attached to hemoglobin in red blood cells but also dissolved in the blood's water, or plasma. It is put into the blood by the lungs, which are basically an elaborate mechanism for exposing an extremely thin layer of blood to air. Once it reaches muscle cells, oxygen is taken up by mitochondria, a vast archipelago of microscopic power plants floating in each cell's inland sea.

When a person commences athletic conditioning, the demand for oxygen goes up. Muscles want more oxygen as fuel. The number of muscle cells increases, and the cells already present get bigger. The number of mitochondria in each cell also goes up, in some cases dramatically. For oarsmen and marathoners, it can double.

The body's capacity to use oxygen is measurable. It's called "oxygen uptake," is designated "VO2" and is reported as the liters of gas absorbed per minute through breathing. When people train, their VO2goes up; when they become sedentary, it goes down.

But there's a limit -- maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2max. A rower or runner might enhance performance beyond that point through extraordinary effort, but the extra speed won't come from oxygen-based energy. It will require anaerobic respiration -- a process that produces lactic acid, makes muscles feel as if they're on fire, and can't be sustained for long.

Training not only raises VO2max, it also dramatically increases the level of exertion a person can sustain for long periods. This is something sedentary people realize when they try to keep up with their fit friends over a mile and not just 100 yards. Trained athletes can function at 87 percent of their VO2max for an hour and then 83 percent for a second hour. For the untrained, it is 50 percent the first hour and 35 percent the second.

In theory, many things could determine VO2max, but in practice one thing predominates -- the heart's ability to move oxygen-rich blood around the body. That is far more important than, say, the lungs' ability to put oxygen into the blood or the muscles' ability to take it out.

Endurance training enhances blood delivery in several ways. The distribution system improves; blood vessels get wider; and the number of capillaries in muscle tissue goes up. But again, one variable predominates -- it's the heart's pumping capacity, the volume of blood it can move per minute.

Training can raise this so-called cardiac output from a maximum of about 6.6 gallons per minute in an untrained person to about 10.6 gallons in a highly fit athlete. The heart achieves this by beating faster, filling fuller after each beat and squeezing harder.

And it is all those capacities (and more) that decline with age.

Maximum heart rate declines about 5 percent per decade as the heart becomes less responsive to the adrenaline-like hormones that whip it into action. VO2max declines 6 to 10 percent per decade after age 25, and this accelerates to 15 percent per decade after age 60.

At the receiving end, muscle strength declines 10 to 15 percent per decade starting at about age 30. This is because there is an actual loss of muscle fibers (and the nerves that drive them), and because some fibers usually used to generate brief bursts of power are transformed to longer-acting endurance fibers -- a change that reduces strength overall. By age 70, a person is only half as strong as he or she was in youth.

While the performance of nearly all the body's physiological variables goes down with age, the decrement in athletic performance depends on the sport and the athlete's baseline fitness and skill. Exercise physiologists have studied this for many sports and come up with many interesting observations.

One study looked at the top 10 performances for four different length races run by U.S. Masters Swimming in 1976, 1986 and 1996. Masters are amateur swimmers, all older than 18 but most in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who race against one another in five-year age groups. Nearly all the times were faster in 1986 than in 1976; and in 1996 more than half were faster than they had been in 1986. Interestingly, the average age at which finishing times began to rise -- a sign that the swimmers had passed their peak performance -- went from 33 in 1976 to 40 in 1996.

Conclusion: The whole population of adult competitive swimmers is getting faster, and the average swimmer is staying fast longer.

Other studies looked at football and baseball, sports in which cardiovascular fitness is less important to overall performance than it is in such activities as swimming. Age makes little difference in the performance of punters in the National Football League, but the passing success of quarterbacks improves significantly between ages 22 and 26. For professional baseball players, the number of hits a batter gets and the number of strikeouts a pitcher gets both peak at age 27. But the percentage of times a player walks peaks at 30, fielding percentage peaks at 31, and the earned run average (ERA) for pitchers peaks at 29.

Conclusion: Experience and practice counts (even if you're really good) and can make up for loss of strength.

A study of triathletes in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s competing in a half-Ironman race found that performance for each part of the event (swimming, biking, running) declined at roughly the same rate in each age group. A study of weightlifters showed that upper-body strength (measured by the bench press) declined at the same rate as lower-body strength (the squat).

Conclusion: No part of your body is spared the effects of age. So exercise it all.

That last piece of advice is the thing that falls out of the vast, detailed understanding of exercise physiology of the past 90 years. Aerobic capacity and muscle strength can be improved with exercise even when people are in their 80s.

Peak performance for most sports may occur in a person's 20s or early 30s, but "in terms of the trainability of the tissue, that seems to be maintained even when the person has another 50 years on their bones," said Edward T. Howley, a physiologist and exercise researcher at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "It's never too late to start an exercise program."

Still, the fact that it may be too late to win a race is a hard thing to accept. Especially if you are used to winning races.

Every Thanksgiving morning, Mike Teti, the Olympic rowing coach, runs a cross-country race with members of the Schuylkill Navy, a group of people affiliated with the clubs along Philadelphia's famous Boathouse Row.

The race has been run since 1899, and the field is always fast. Teti has won it nine times, more than anyone else. His best time over six miles was 29:55. Now he comes in at 35 or 36 minutes.

"We remember what we could do. I remember that I could run 5:30 miles. We think we can do it because we could 10 years ago, and we just can't," he said wistfully last week.

Two years ago, he reached another milestone in the Thanksgiving run. A woman beat him.

"Not," he adds after a pause, "that there's anything wrong with that." ·

Drew Ginn said...

Many thanks for the article. What an insightful read and with my relationship to James Tomkins it is an inspiration to see him finding ways to continue to perform at a high level. In 2001 he spent time in the US with Teti and the program there. There's a great connection between athletes who have explored their capacities and the changes that occur over time. We are all young at heart and certainly our minds remember the glory days. Those days seem to become more polished over time too. Thanks again for the article.

ededit said...

OK, corny as I know this will sound, it is truly amazing to read a rower I have admired from afar for so long actually say thanks to me for something as small as copying a u.s. newspaper article. I am in Cleveland, dealing w/ 12 inches of snow overnight and wondering if the river will EVER thaw, and your note warmed the day immeasurably.

As it happens, the article's author rowed himself three decades ago but has been running since. After doing the piece he's thinking about checking out the local rowing club and perhaps looking into sculling.

Think it's terrific your taking this run-up to bejing on your own terms, & specifically keeping family a priority... best of luck.

Drew Ginn said...

Thanks for the comment and I must admit the situation you have there with snow and frozen water way is an extreme contrast to what we have over here in Australia. Also I appreciate your support words. All the best, Drew

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