Willie Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby four times, but he may be remembered best for the race he did not win. That was in 1957. He was aboard Gallant Man and gaining on Bill Hartack riding Iron Liege as the two horses dueled down the stretch.
Then an incredible lapse in attention occurred. As the horses passed the sixteenth pole, Shoemaker thought he had passed the finish line and stood up. Quickly he bounced back into the saddle and began riding hard again. But Gallant Man could not overtake Hartack and Iron Liege, who won by a nose.
John Nerud, the trainer for Gallant Man, stated, “I never figured out why he pulled up. He was one of the greatest riders ever.”
The answer seems to be simply that he was not paying attention. Paying attention to what is going around you, especially when you are about to win the Kentucky Derby, is the difference between defeat and victory!
I have always been a fan of the Indianapolis 500, watching or listening as the cars zoom around the 2½ mile race track 200 times each May. My all-time favorite driver was A. J. Foyt, who won the 500-mile race four times. But the driver that amazed me the most was Jim Hurtubise, a maverick racer who was a contemporary of Foyt. The following incident is the reason.
While racing in Milwaukee in 1964, Hurtubise was in a horrific crash. He suffered burns over 40 percent of his body and was fortunate to live. His hands were badly burned to the point that no one expected him ever to drive again. He underwent many surgeries; when it came time to repair his hands, the surgeons told him that his fingers would be in a straight position and he would never be able to make a fist again. This would end his racing career.
Instead, he ordered the surgeon to mold his severely burned hands so he could grip a steering wheel. Not long after his recovery, he won the 1966 USAC Stock Car Race in Atlanta and went on to race in six more Indianapolis 500-Mile Races and retired from racing in the late 1970s.
One racing fan recalls as a l2-year-old shaking hands with Hurtubise after the accident. He said it was awkward with his hands in that permanently curved position. But Hurtubise smiled and said, “Excuse the hand. I had the doctors fix it that way so I could continue racing.”
He may never have won the Indianapolis 500, but he won for me the title of Most Committed and Determined Athlete ever.
When I was in graduate school at the University of Illinois in the early seventies, my favorite newspaper columnist was Mike Royko, a writer for the Chicago Sun Times. Earlier he had written for the Chicago Daily News. When that paper closed its doors in 1978, Mike took the task of writing the eulogy for the paper, to be printed on the front page of the final edition. The following story was the touching way he closed his remarks.
“When I was a kid, the worst of all days was the last day of summer vacation, and we were in the schoolyard playing softball, and the sun was down and it was getting dark. But I didn’t want it to get dark. I didn’t want the game to end. It was too good, too much fun. I wanted it to stay light forever, so we could keep on playing forever, so the game would go on and on. That’s how I feel now. C’mon, c’mon. Let’s play one more inning. One more at bat. One more pitch. Just one? Stick around, guys. We can’t break up this team. It’s too much fun. But the sun always went down. And now it’s almost dark again.”
When Royko died nearly 20 years later, this same story was told as it related to his influence. But this time the ending was, “It is dark, dear friend. We miss your light.”
Changing the context of a story or pithy saying is an effective way of making your point while using mostly the words of someone else.
I’m always looking for quotations I can use in a presentation. I have found that historical events often provide stories that include powerful quotations.
We were all reminded this past week with the death of Neil Armstrong of his famous quotation as he landed on the moon. I also found in the many articles about previous flights one that told of the first flight into space by Alan Shepard.
On May 5, 1961, he crawled into his small Mercury spacecraft with very little room to move around. One writer said that it would be like sitting in the driver’s seat of a small car with two heavy raincoats on.
Because of weather conditions and minor repairs to his radio system, he remained cooped up in the small space for four hours as NASA pondered whether to launch him or not.
Finally, tired of waiting, he said, “Why don’t you fellows solve your little problems and light this candle?” Shortly after, they launched Shepard for his l5-minute flight. (This vivid and powerful statement, “Light This Candle” became the title for a biography of Shepard by Neal Thompson.)
This story could be told to emphasize that at some point you must take action on a problem you have been working on. It also shows that you never know if something will work unless you try.
Pay attention to significant historical events. You might find a story and a great quotation to use in your next speech.
Rarely is a speech a matter of life and death, but once with Daniel Boone it was. In Daniel Boone: the Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, John Mack Faragher tells of a time when Boone was speaking for his life and the lives of the other 26 scouts taken prisoner by the Shawnees.
According to Faragher, the Shawnee tribal Chief Blackfish gives him an opportunity to address the issue of why they should not be killed. In essence, Boone gave this argument in front of the tribe. “You have got all the young men. To kill them, as has been suggested, would displease the Great Spirit, and you could not then expect future success in hunting nor war. If you spare them, they will make you fine warriors, and excellent hunters to kill game for your squaws and children.” He went on to persuade Blackfish of the value of adopting the young men rather than killing them.
At the conclusion of his speech, a vote was taken, and their lives were spared. When you adapt to the needs of an audience, you will have a good chance to persuade the audience to accept your recommendations.
Cris Collinsworth, noted sports announcer, lives in our little suburb of Cincinnati—Fort Thomas, Kentucky. A few years ago he and some other well-to-do citizens donated money to replace the Highlands High school football field surface. An article appeared in our local newspaper about the generous donation.
The reporter had been in the school and seen that the chemistry and biology labs were critically lacking in state-of-the-art equipment. So she said to Cris, “The school’s labs are in terrible shape. Why didn’t you donate money for the academic needs of the school?”
His response was a simple one: “They did not ask.”
You never know until you ask. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—and to ask for help.
On October 14, 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was in Milwaukee campaigning for President on the Bull Moose Party ticket. He ate dinner at the Hotel Gilpatrick with supporters and was leaving the hotel to go to the Milwaukee Auditorium to deliver a speech. As he shook hands and waved at well-wishers, a man stepped out of the crowd and at close range shot Roosevelt in the chest.
By all practical reasoning, he should have been killed. Not only did he live, but he gave an eighty-minute speech before he would go to the hospital for treatment.
What saved his life? Was it a miracle? A supernatural event? No, what saved his life was that the bullet penetrated his folded, multi-page speech manuscript. Who would imagine that a speech manuscript could save a person’s life! Well, the bullet was also slowed down by going through a steel spectacle case in his pocket before entering his chest, thus creating only a flesh wound.
There are very few times when delivering a long speech from a manuscript is a good thing, but in this case, the speaker was saved by his speech—and his myopia! Strange objects can save people’s lives.
[Note: I used to tell this speech and draw from my breast pocket a toy cap gun and shoot it as part of my speech. I stopped when an elderly lady in the audience almost had a heart attack when she heard it! Then of course after 9/11, that was totally unacceptable.]
One of my favorite major league baseball players was Jim Abbott. He was a left-handed pitcher who played for the California Angels, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox through the 1990s. He was one of the few players who went directly from playing college baseball at Michigan to the major leagues. But that is not the main reason he was such a memorable pitcher.
He made millions of dollars and had nearly a .500 record as a pitcher. His best year was 1991 when he won 18 games for the Angels. But that still is not the most memorable fact about Jim Abbott.
Abbott pitched a no-hitter when he played for the Yankees against the Cleveland Indians in 1993. Obviously very significant, but still not the most memorable aspect of his career.
No, the most memorable trait of Jim Abbott was that he had no right hand. He won nearly 100 games in the major leagues with no right hand.
After one game, a reporter asked him how he learned to play baseball at the major league level with one hand? Jim’s response was, “No one ever told me I had an impairment. If they had, I probably would never have played baseball.”
Too often the limitations we face are the ones we have in our minds. Let us be careful not to place limitations on ourselves or others.
In 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered a speech before the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta that later came to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise.” His address was one of the most important and influential speeches in American history, establishing Washington as one of the leading black spokesmen in America.
In the speech, he tells this story:
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water. We die of thirst.” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal, “Water, send us water!” went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.
Often times we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives; we keep looking for an opportunity to make our lives better elsewhere. Perhaps we simply need to “let down our buckets were we are.”
A dear friend of mine in his eighties, Clancy, fought in the Battle of the Bulge during the winter months of 1944-1945. Recently, he recounted for me his several weeks on the front lines of that famous battle.
He told about his company pushing forward in a forest area to attack the enemy. He recalled the constant bombing that he and his fellow soldiers were exposed to. They never knew when the bombs were coming and had no idea where they would explode. The constant noise was deafening. The cold temperatures were numbing and made it hard to pull the trigger on his rifle. Sometimes he saw individual soldiers he was shooting and sometimes he just aimed and shot, hoping to secure his own safety.
Foxholes were the only source of protection and that was minimal. The enemy had concrete bunkers, which were difficult to penetrate so our troops always felt that they were at a disadvantage.
The most telling exchange with Clancy was his lack of specificity about some of the events. For example, he did not remember even an estimate of the casualties among the 500 men who were fighting in his particular part of the battle field. His response was simply, “Most of the soldiers.” He did not recall in specific details any of the many close calls with death he experienced.
He was vague about how they survived the cold temperatures, lack of living quarters, the constant barrage of enemy fire, and the poor sanitary conditions. As he was pausing to consider these kinds of questions, his daughter who was listening said, “Dad, do you still have nightmares about it?” His pause followed by a simple “Yes” after sixty-seven years was a quiet tribute to the horrors of the war.
The human mind is able to shut out the horrific and couch the memories in general terms. There were 81,000 American casualties in the forests of Belgium during that battle. Clancy’s story is a reminder of the debt we owe the men, often very young, who fought in this battle that was the turning point in the war.