Is your Club or Group looking for an inspiring guest speaker or do you want to host a book signing? . . . Contact Woody today!
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For a Personalized Autographed copy of “STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:
400 Roosevelt Court
Ventura, CA 93003
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By Day’s End, It Was Nearly Perfect
The airplane was coming in damaged and ablaze.
The pilot needed to land on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck, a tiny postage stamp in the middle of the ocean, and additionally had to snag the tailhook on the arresting wire to keep from skidding off.
Moreover, the pilot would have only one try. If he came in at the wrong angle, the wrong incline, the wrong speed, there would be no time for a second approach.
There actually proved nearly not time enough for one attempt: mere seconds after the pilot landed perfectly and escaped the cockpit quickly, the plane became a fireball.
The heart-skipping adventure was related to me by my luncheon seatmate, himself a hero in a “Vietnam Veteran” hat and buddy of the pilot, before I was to get up and share stories about John Wooden. I think my seatmate rightly should have been given the microphone as the day’s guest speaker.
The top block of Coach Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success is “Competitive Greatness” which he defined thusly: “Be at your best when your best is needed.” Hearing the harrowing fireball tale, I told my seatmate: “That is truly being at your best when your best is needed!”
As generally happens when I am asked to give a talk, I wind up on the receiving end. This time, not only did I leave with a new tale to share about true “Competitive Greatness” but I also departed with a new book – “Coach Wooden and Me” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an unexpected gift from my storytelling seatmate, Tom McEachern.
Making Tom’s thoughtfulness all the more special was that it mimicked a kindness Coach Wooden once did me. As I was leaving his home at the end of an afternoon visit, he excused himself to go to his study and returned with a book as a gift.
I thanked Coach, but embarrassingly told him he had already given me too many gifts in the past. I insisted he keep the book and that I would happily stop at the bookstore on my way home to buy my own copy.
Smiling wryly, Coach said: “Well, Woody, I can’t very well give it to anyone else because I’ve already signed it to you.”
We shared a laugh before Coach rejoined: “I still want you to stop at the bookstore to buy an extra copy and give it to a friend for no reason.”
In other words, in Wooden-ism words: “Make friendship a fine art.”
Tom had not known this story before buying me a gift book, but after hearing me share the anecdote during my talk he did a second Wooden-like thing: he had me sign an extra copy of my memoir “Wooden & Me” to give to one of his friends for no reason.
Later that same day, another Wooden-ism I shared with the audience returned to mind: “You cannot live a perfect day until you do something for someone else who will never be able to repay you.”
Inspired by Coach, and by Tom, and most specifically by a young man in Chicago – who I mentioned in this space a month ago after he gave the expensive winter boots off his own feet to a homeless man with tattered sneakers – I gave a nearly new pair of running shoes to a local homeless man because his shoes had deteriorated so greatly they afforded less protection than flip-flops.
Truth is, I received far more than I gave.
On this same day still, and returning full circle to books, a friend told me she was donating some new books to a Little Free Library on my behalf.
I am not sure it is possible to live a perfect day, but this one was definitely a very, very good one.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …