A Lesson from My Hero


JIm Ryan taught us a great lesson – were you paying attention?

Before I begin, I need to first apologize to my high school librarian – just in case she is following my blog posts these days!

You see, back when I was in high school, in the early ’70’s, my hero and inspiration was Jim Ryan. Jim Ryan was the first high school athlete to break the 4:00 mile barrier. In 1964, at the age of 17, he ran a 3:59 mile. I was 9 years old at the time and was determined to be the “next” Jim Ryan!

Some of my friends thought I was obsessed, and I guess I was. I watch Jim Ryan run every chance I could. I read ever article about him I could find. They were all tacked on my bedroom wall as my inspiration.

In our school library was my favorite book, The Jim Ryan Story, written in 1967. It was stamped with “Property of Windham Board of Education”. You might ask, how do I remember this? Because the book is now on my desk in my home office!

Yes, I admit it. I stole the book from my school library. But you see, I had to! And I have proof! The library checkout card is still in the pocket attached to the back cover of the book. I consider it my most valuable evidence.

In 1970, Richard Allen, home room 203, (that’s me) checked out the Jim Ryan book 4 times. But Bob Myers, home room 108, and Roger Groves, home room 212, were also checking the book out frequently. What was I going to do if one of them stole it? I could not let that happen! So I checked it out one last time, and never returned it!

Yes, I’m guilty! I sincerely apologize and will gladly pay the late fee (if I can afford it!) But this book has given me inspiration on many occasions through my college, military, corporate and now entrepreneurial life.

And I thought of this lesson this weekend as my son raced in yet another high school cross country meet – on a perfect Saturday morning – 65 degrees, no wind, great course. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

So what is the lesson? Thanks for asking! It is a simple one. Jim Ryan is the poster child for this lesson. Here it is:

If you want to be GREAT at something, you’ve got to PRACTICE like no one else in the world!

You see, it’s simple! If you want to be exceptional, then start practicing like you mean it. No one is so naturally gifted that they can be the best with out serious practice. Jim Ryan figured that out. He measured every split. He was determined to train harder than those better and faster than him. He pushed himself like no other high school kid ever. He knew that if he wanted to set a record and be the best, it was going to take long hours, lots of miles, exhausting repeats, and pushing himself beyond his current capabilities.

The same is true in business. If you want to be good at sales, you’ve got to role play, push yourself into difficult situations, make the tough call, knock on doors that would scare others away and refine your message again and again. You get the idea. Same is true in accounting, operations, team building, leadership and any other aspect of business.

But many business owners don’t expect or demand practice from their team – or themselves. They allow their folks to just go through the motions, not tracking their results, not measuring this week’s performance against last week, accepting whatever happens. It’s a shame really. There is so much potential if we were to follow the simple lesson of PRACTICE, measure, assess, encourage, PRACTICE, measure, assess, encourage, PRACTICE…

Let me ask you, if I told you that you could double your revenues or double your profits by following the simple lesson that Jim Ryan taught us back in the 1960’s, would you do it? Would you be willing to step up your level of practice and demand the same from your team? Would it be worth it to you to be disciplined in your approach, measure your results and continue to set the bar higher? Or are you content with the way things are today?

It’s a simple lesson, but it takes hard work. And the reality is that most people aren’t willing to do the hard work necessary to be the best! How about you?

As for me, I mentioned that I aspired to be better than Jim Ryan. Obviously, since I am writing this blog post rather than signing autographs, that did not happen for me. I was not willing to practice hard enough – I admit it. But here is an interesting tidbit: in the race where Jim Ryan ran 3:59 as a high schooler, his split times were 59.2, 2:01.5, 302.8, 3:59.0. It turns out that my fastest 1/2 mile time was exactly the same as Jim Ryan’s 1/2mile time on that day – 2:01.5. Which means I would have been shoulder to shoulder with my hero after 2 laps. But he had the strength and endurance from his PRACTICE to do another 2 laps in 1:57.5 while I was exhausted and finished!

I’m not particularly proud of that, but the lesson I learned from Jim Ryan rings in my ear every day.

How about you? What are you capable of? Are you practicing like you mean it? Could you go higher, do better or go faster with more PRACTICE? Then what’s keeping you from getting started?

Ride Hard,