Whether you like sports or not, hang with me for about 2 minutes.
This past weekend was extraordinary for two athletes; one at the end of life and the other at the beginning.
Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a sub-4 minute mile died. In 1954, at the age of 25, Bannister ran a 3:59:4 mile at a time when “experts” in sports and medicine thought the effort could be deadly to those who tried. The accomplishment unlocked potential—both physically and psychologically. Six weeks later Bannister’s record was broken…but, he led the way. Eight years later Jim Beatty, a member of UNC-Chapel Hill’s track team was the first to run an indoor sub-4 at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles.
At Oxford, I had the opportunity to visit the track on which the record was broken and speak with folks who knew Bannister. He was a doctor and academic in town. By all accounts, he was a wonderful person and a outstanding professional.
The intriguing part of the story that is rarely told is that Bannister was a medical student in the early-50s and did not have time to train as other athletes did. He broke the mile into quarters and knew the time he needed to run in each quarter in order to break the record. He trained for short, intense periods. He believed that if he focused on the quarters he could last the 4 minutes it would take to break the record. Today’s high intensity training proves what Bannister believed over 60 years ago.
On Saturday, Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker from the University of Central Florida, also stretched physical and psychological boundaries by bench pressing 225 pounds 20 times at the NFL Combine. The event showcases future college players who hope to be pros. In attendance are scouts, team executives and the media. The “Deuce and a Quarter” as it’s sometimes called is not a lot of weight for these guys, but it’s the standard for strength testing at the Combine.
Stephen Paea, a defensive tackle from Oregon State University, did 49 bench presses with 225; the most ever.
So, why is Griffin’s number important? Because, when he was 4 years old his mother found him in the kitchen with a butcher knife trying to cut off the fingers on his left hand. He had amniotic band syndrome, a congenital birth defect, that led to constant, excruciating pain. Doctors amputated the hand the next day.
Even with only one hand Shaquem kept up with his twin brother, Shaquill, on and off the field. The two played at UCF together. Shaquill was drafted last year and plays defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks.
The day after his bench press success Shaquem ran a 4.38 second 40-yard dash (the standard for speed), the fastest time by a linebacker in over 10 years. He certainly is no slouch, he was the 2017 American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year.
He said, “I always hold myself to a higher standard than a lot of people just because if we’re running drills, if I drop a ball, they’re going to be like, ‘Well, he dropped the ball because he has one hand.’ If anybody else drops a ball, they’re going to be like, ‘Well, maybe it was a bad ball.’”
Griffin was fitted with a prosthetic hand as a freshman and wasn’t able to lift the 45-pound bar. His best effort until Saturday was 11 reps with 225. He hoped he could do 6 at the Combine with the crowd watching. On Saturday, as his numbers went up, people were screaming for him.
Both these men showed what we, as humans, are capable of with determination, focus and effort….and you and I complain when our latte is too hot?