Here is an excellent story regarding teamwork.

Jimmy Durante was a singer, comedian, and actor during the early and middle part of the 20th century.

During World War II, Ed Sullivan asked Jimmy to entertain a group of soldiers who had just gotten back from the war and were temporarily staying on Ellis Island. Jimmy said he would but he only had time for a short performance because he had to catch a ferry in time to do his radio show back in New York.

But when Jimmy got on stage, something interesting happened. He went through a short monologue and then stayed. The applause grew louder and louder and he kept staying. Pretty soon, he had been  on fifteen, twenty, and then thirty minutes.

Finally he took a last bow, and left the stage. Backstage someone stopped him and said, “I thought you had to go after a few minutes. What happened?”

Jimmy answered, “I did have to go, but I can show you the reason I stayed. You can see for yourself if you’ll look down on the front row. “

In the front row were two men, each of whom had lost an arm in the war. One had lost his right arm, and the other had lost his left. Together, they were able to clap, and that’s exactly what they were doing, loudly and cheerfully.

Now that is teamwork in action.

What is Your Name?

Once a soldier in the Macedonian army was brought before Alexander the Great on a charge of cowardice. Alexander heard the charge and then asked the man, “What is your name?”

In a barely audible voice, the man replied, “Alexander.”

“What is your name?” asked Alexander again.

Once more the soldier replied, “Alexander.”

The king stood up before the man and ordered, “Either change your behavior or change your name.”

Opinions of our family name or company name are often formed by our actions. Let’s do what we can to always insure that our behavior supports a good name.

The Race Shoemaker Lost

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!


Overcoming the Impossible

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.


My Favorite Columnist

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.

Light This Candle!

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.

Daniel Boone: Speaking for His Life

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.

Always Ask Questions

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.

Saved By a Speech

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.]

No One Told Him He Couldn’t

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.