In one of my earliest memories my dad picks me up off the ground and throws me over his head. He is wearing a matching red Adidas track suit with black stripes down the side. It is the early eighties and this outfit is worn without a lick of irony. There are many Adidas track suits in my memories, actually. Also baggy mesh shorts, and soft heather grey muscle-shirts sporting XXL across the front. There are practice jerseys and logo’d sweatpants from just about every team my dad every played for.
Our garage contains an array of fitness implements -- an incline ab-board made of shiny red leather, a pull up bar I enjoy hanging from and a bench press that is fun to lay on. A worn looking speed bag by his work bench has surely seen better days, but so have the hands that inflicted all that damage. There is an inversion table, and another medieval looking contraption in the middle of the room where one must wear gravity boots to hang upside down. All at once they are the tools of the trade and the side effects of his 7 year NFL career. As I child I assume this is how everyone’s garage looks: one part home gym, one part work bench, one part archive of a suburban life packed neatly in matching boxes.
I am about 9 when my dancing begins to evolve into a more competitive outlet, rather than a social hobby. Since our rehearsals become more intense, my dad rearranges his equipment in the garage to assure I have a space of my own. My hot pink stereo plugged in at the tool bench, I am free to tap and twirl at all hours of the day. We spend hours together perfecting my craft, and while he is well qualified for the coaching job, I hardly believe this is how he envisioned using his years of hard won competitive experience.
You would never know considering the time he dedicates to my dancing. There is at least a five year window where he spends each Super Bowl Sunday driving my family up to a dance competition in a Sacramento Hotel that will be one block away from the building where I nail an interview and get my first real job 15 years later. Rather than join the other dads who are off at the hotel bar cheering on their teams, he stands in a banquet room cheering on Team Holly hoping all the while that I employ the breathing techniques he learned while playing in the playoffs. He promised they would work when my nerves would try and take over.
Back at home his disciplined athleticism shows up while I rehearse. When I have trouble nailing a certain routine, he teaches me how to close my eyes and visualize. When he tucks me in at night we sit together and meditate as I see myself executing perfectly it in my mind. I will use this technique again and again to comfort myself in my adult life when the anxiety of something impending keeps me up at night. "If you can see it, you can be it." When I confess that I am nervous about an upcoming performance, he tells me over and over, “What the mind can conceive and you can believe, you can achieve.” And I am certain he is one of the most brilliant men I know to dream up a philosophy that rhymes.
Of course when I lose my focus, he is right there to call me on that too. When I am half-assing it, he asks me if that is how I would do it if I were in front of a table of judges. Would that performance win a 1st Place Rosette? Or do I have something better inside that I'm holding back? Being the smart-mouth that I am I tell him that I don’t need his opinion. "I KNOW dance, dad. You know football. The two are very different, obviously." I am annoyed with his hard nosed approach in these moments and I tell him I no longer need his help.
“Always be coachable, Holly or you open yourself up to getting beat. If you already know everything, you don’t have anywhere to go. Appreciate feedback in all of its forms. Show me someone who is defensive and I’ll show you someone I can beat. The person who is always willing to learn how they can be better, always has a chance to be the best.”
I’m sure I sighed and walked away rolling my eyes at the time, but 20 years later what I would give to have just one more piece of that advice.