In Memoriam – Illinois State University Redbirds

Redbird logoWhen you are recruited to play college basketball these days, the university welcomes you into the family. Though we never called it that during early infancy of the women’s game, we knew our college team had our back. A loyalty to Illinois State University basketball remains imprinted in my soul. Even though I did not personally know the victims of the tragic plane crash outside of Bloomington, my heart mourned for the lives lost – an ISU men’s basketball Associate Head Coach, Torrey Ward, a Deputy Director of Athletics, Aaron Leetch, and alumni Terry Stralow ’74 (co-owner of Pub II in Normal), Andy Butler ’96, and Jason Jones, M.S. ’93; and former student Scott Bittner.

All seven men who were on board the plane, including pilot Thomas Hileman, were “Redbird guys,” said Athletics Director Larry Lyons ’86.

How can I feel connected to a university of over 20,000 when I haven’t lived in the state or even the country for decades? The memories of the people at that place, where interstate 74, 59, and 39 intersect in the Corn Belt, left a lasting impression.

When I played in the late 70s, we had three women’s teams, a platoon of peeps to lean on in hard times. Coaches like Jill Hutchison, Linda Herman, and Melinda Fischer invested so much in me, not only as a player but also as a person, and Schnied (Kathy Schniedwind) taped me up for every battle in Horton Fieldhouse. Nor will I forget the teammates like Slate, Von, Char, Guppy, Apple, Woody and others or those who followed after me to leave their own mark like Bethie, Bos, and Vickie.

In addition to teammates, five friends called “the family” rented a townhouse together. We pulled all nighters to prepare for finals, wet our whistle at the ol’ Pub II watering hole and scarfed down Avanti’s pizzas.

Whenever I am back in the Chicago ‘burbs, we reunite. Our “cousins” another cohort of ISU alumni meet up annually. My ol’roomies from Dunn Barton Hall still wish me happy birthday every year.

Back then I had my own sorority – a gym full of sisters – including my own biological ones, also ISU grads. During my senior year my middle sister shared our house; my baby sister shared my Redbird locker.

When the news about that the fatal return flight from the Final Four celebration in Indianapolis reached Switzerland, I felt sick to my stomach.

After every tragedy we are reminded how fleeting life is. Our paths may only cross once, but the impact we have on others is everlasting.Redbird forever

In light of that, I wanted to give a shout out to my ISU family to thank you for your support, for keeping the ties across the miles, for having my back.

Everyone is vulnerable. Every. One. Every. Day. Always.

To those folks in the Bloomington-Normal area and the ISU community who grieve for their lost loved ones, I offer my deepest sympathy. It is not enough. No, I never met you, but I know where you come from and what you represent.

Your loss is a loss for all Redbirds.

We are family.

 

Call Me Coach – A March Madness Epiphany

IMG_4467_copyEver the misfit, I struggled to find my niche as an athletic girl on the cusp of Title IX. Even in adulthood, I continued to wonder what I was supposed to be doing with my life. During March Madness when I checked scores and brackets long distance, it dawned on me. I am a coach.

Last year, I had opportunity of a lifetime to speak at the DIII Final Four at UWSP. For the first time since moving abroad, I experienced March Madness firsthand. I marveled at the evolution of the woman’s game and realized the impact the pioneers had in paving the way.

Some children know what they want to be from the time they are five-years-old; I was in my fifth decade before I figured it out. In kindergarten, my dad announced that he wanted to coach like his dad, Coach Mac. But when I was growing up coaching never crossed my mind; girls weren’t allowed to play ball, so how could a woman make a career out of coaching.

I used to think that I was born to play basketball, but when that dream ended abruptly it took me decades to grow into my real calling.

I went on to coach middle school, junior varsity, and varsity girls’ and boys’ teams. I called La Chat boys teamplays in English, German, and French and learned to swear in a dozen different languages. When the opportunity arose, I humbly assisted coaching a wheelchair basketball team in Germany. I was equally inspired teaching kids with Down Syndrome how to shoot hoops.

As I helped athletes cope with divorce, depression, disappointment, academic pressure and the death of loved ones, we held it together with jump shots, high fives and team huddles. We created a bond that one cannot fathom unless having been a part of a team.

During hard times, sometimes the only difference between hope and despair was knowing that someone believes in you.

Coaching at an international school in an international league, every year the team composite is unique – with African, American, French, German, English, Indian, Japanese, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Uruguayan players– but the outcome remains the same. We put differences aside to become a tight knit group in pursuit of our goals. We shared our camaraderie, competitive drive and love of the game.

In a lifetime of seasons, coaches never really know how many lives they helped shape. La Chat teamRecently, one of my former players – who now runs marathons and the Wellness Program of entire city – honored me by calling me her mentor on the front page of the local newspaper.

Though I have won my share of championships, there is no greater testimony of success when working with kids, than seeing them as productive adults.

“It’s not about trophies,” Coach Mac said it best to the Chicago Tribune in 1985, “The important thing is how you develop your athletes, how you mold their hearts and minds. The real reward is being able to look at your athletes in later years and seeing how you’ve contributed to the development of their character, so that they can serve as leaders of their community.”

In college, I thought I would save the country, as a social worker instead I became an international coach guiding kids from ‘round the globe, to go out and save the world.

I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of the senior boys would stop me in the hall to say, “What’s up, Coach.”

I have arrived! Today even the guys address me with respect.

They call me coach.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament

In Team Sports Girls Win Even in Loss

I am sure a lot of people back home wonder why I am still coaching in Switzerland, the land of ski, where basketball is a minor sport at best. Facilities are limited, practices sporadic, and talent questionable.

But I still get a kick out of coaching the varsity girls. Last Thursday after teaching until 5 pm, the team and I hopped on 2 different buses and 3 different trains, to travel to Zug to compete in an international SCIS tournament. We lost every game except one, but the results don’t tell the whole story.

When we were down by 20 points against the American School of Vienna, who went on to win the tournament, we came back within a couple baskets. We fought intense battles, losing by a point or two in other games.

Sometimes you play your hardest and still finish next to last. Normally I would be frustrated, but after our final game, I felt content. Our losing tournament was really a success. My players bonded together, improved with every game, and built long lasting memories. They learned to play all out every game even when falling behind.

Though I hate to lose, winning is no longer the be all of my existence. One becomes wiser with age; I know that regardless of the score, the value of team sport is immeasurable. Team competition helps girls grow stronger and healthier, better prepared to negotiate conflict, overcome set backs and believe in themselves.IMG_6207_copy

This year, my players are going through tough issues that come with adolescence. During a scary time period where terrorist attacks, date rape, and random violence reign, they take those tottering steps toward adulthood. They face challenges with heartache and tears: break ups with boyfriends, friends falling out, college rejections, academic pressures, poor grades. But when they come to practice, they run hard, forget their troubles and giggle again.

They make up crazy systems of attack with even sillier names, like double D – sounds like a bra, not a double pick, high post play – Quiznos, peanut butter, and Dani boy.

Towards the end of one game earlier in the season, when we were ahead by 20 some points, our point guard called out, “Mississippi.” I watched in disbelief as all my players sat down on the court except for our point. While our opponents froze in bewilderment, stunned by our bizarre, sit-down offense, our guard dribbled right up the middle of the key for an easy lay.

And I laughed. Gotta love Swiss basketball.IMG_6214

This would never happen in America.

Though I am still every bit as competitive; I still study the game, call crucial time outs, diagram perfect plays, I am more mellow about the outcome. I understand that by just competing and being part of a team even my least talented players will learn lessons lasting lifetimes.

Farewell to Papie

photos Guy Lechault-1Impeccably dressed and coiffed, cher Papie, Guy Lechault, was a dapper, hardworking, upstanding French citizen. Born in Rouen on Dec. 1, 1926 to Robert Lechault and Jeanne Ducreux, he was raised during hard times between two world wars.

During WWII in Occupied France, like all able-bodied French boys, he was carted off to work for the enemy. Fortunately, he wound up with a German farm family where he was treated justly during unjust times. A few years later back on home soil, he was drafted and sent back to Germany with the Allied forces.

In 1951, he married the love of his life, Francoise Elie. His eleven-year-old granddaughter will tell you, “He met Mamie in a boîte de nuit (night club)!”photos Guy Lechault-9

They actually met at a tea dance popular after the war. Papie sure could heel turn across the parquet; he twirled me around the tables at our wedding. When my German teammates came to celebrate, without missing a beat, Papie raised his glass to them in cheer, “Prost.

Together Guy and Francoise raised three children. Two lovely daughters and one fine son, who became my husband.

photos Guy Lechault-7Before the days that Grand Hotelier schools turned out perfectly trained servers and sommeliers, Guy was a self-taught man learning the trade in bars, restaurants and then at Trouville’s seaside casino. In addition to impeccable table etiquette, he cajoled with the customers in rudimentary English, German, and Dutch. In later years, when guests arrived at Le Grande Bec hotel/restaurant, perched on cliffs above the English Channel, Papie welcomed them to France by serving Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

Papie loved sports and could recite the scores of his favorite teams. Once an avid football player, he enjoyed kicking a soccer ball on the beach with his 3 grandsons.

His first granddaughter was the apple of his eye until his adopted granddaughter stole his heart with her infectious laughter and mischievous brown eyes.IMG_1975_copy

Papie was a bricoleur (fixer upper) extraordinaire. He painted homes with the precision of a professional and there wasn’t an appliance that he couldn’t repair. While tinkering, he was also what the French call a râleur (grumbler). I learned a lot of new French words listening to him swear while hammering, chiseling, and drilling away.

In his profession, obliged to work impossibly long hours, family time was precious.

He saved tips to take his children across the country for one week of ski holidays in the Alps. After we moved to Switzerland, and then well into his 70s, he carved the slopes of Mt. Blanc with his son and grandson. Three generations of Lechaults etched life long memories in perfect powder.

His work ethic was so deeply ingrained, he never missed a day on the job putting in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. In his free time, he remained active fishing and biking until the last few years, when his heart weakened.

IMG_3393_copyNon-judgmental, Papie welcomed me wholeheartedly into the Normand clan with his warm heart. On my first visit to Trouville, he offered me Coca Cola to make me feel at home. Once I developed an appreciation for wine, he served grand crus from his cellar knowing I favored the Burgundies of his mother’s home region.

Though he could command the timely serving of entire restaurant, there was no table he preferred to reign over than the one in his own home where he poured wine, carved roasts and shared the lively repartee that is so very French. After enjoying a 5-course family meal, he would doze off in his favorite chair in front of a football match.

Papie had an infectious smile and an engaging style; he was movie star handsome and as charming as a politician, but without the BS.

Kind, tolerant, industrious, a self made man of humble origins, a loyal husband, loving father, and proud grandfather.

Guy Lechault would have turned 88 this December, but in our hearts, vibrant Papie will remain forty-something forever.IMG_2675_copy

1 December 1926   –   25 September 2014

How was your Summer Holiday?

IMG_4546Every September the favorite back to school topic is how was your summer holidays? Holiday? I spent my summer at our family cabin in Wisconsin running a resort and preparing meals for a dozens of hungry “campers” who thought they were at the Club Med of the Northwoods. It seemed like when we weren’t hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and eating we were recovering from hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and eating.

We never saw the bear, but we sure had lots of other excitement: one sever allergic reaction, an episode of vertigo, a tick bite, an acute lumbar spine injury, a broken toe, 2 herniated disks, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis elbow, and an infected bite from an unidentified creature. Thankfully these ailments did not befall the same person.

We were so lucky to have access to free medical advice. When in doubt call Dr. Nat.

“I am a pediatrician,” she repeated, “and I hate to break it you, but you are all over the age of 18.”

Ah, the blessing of having a doc in the family. “I’ll tell you what I told you the last time you called. Go to urgent care or check with your general practitioner!”

So we learned that if you call 911 on one of those old-fashioned land phones, the rescue squad could locate a cabin hidden back in the woods with only a fire lane number.

Ze Frenchman, the only one who ignored the doctor’s advice, waited to seek treatment until the bite on his shoulder morphed into an abscess the size of a turnip requiring minor surgery and major antibiotic intervention.

We also had a lot of back injuries. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first rate chiropractor, Dr.Dave. Unfortunately, he moved his practice 50 miles further north to Eagle River.

It seemed like every day someone had a chiro appointment, so we switched in names of patients depending on whose pain was greatest.

“I twinged my back,” Nic said, “but right now my toe hurts worse. I dropped a weight on it.”

Dr. Dave was surprised to see our son, who lives in Minneapolis, limp through the door.

“Doc, you always know we’ll be bringing a bus load from Summit Lake,” I said. “You just never know who’ll be on the bus.”

In between our ambulance rides, urgent care visits and doctors appointments, we had a blast.

We had birthday celebrations for my dad, my sister, and my niece. We threw a wonderful party for my mom’s 80th. We toasted my sister’s retirement, my siblings wedding anniversaries and our daughter’s first official day on the job.

You know those Frenchman; they never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in good cheer.

And surprisingly, on the coldest summer on record, we ran out of ice every day because we were nursing so many injuries.

But hey, no one is complaining. When friends and colleagues asked about our summer holidays we tell them, “It was great!”

When we look back on our Summit Lake summer, we forget the aches and pains; all we remember is the love and laughter.

So, do tell, how was your summer holiday?

Step into Wellness with Walking Sticks

IMG_0191_copyMy dad, a former All American athlete, teacher and coach, has always maintained an active lifestyle and tried to stay in shape. In the past, he recovered from heart and hip surgery by walking regularly. Though his neuropathy has gotten progressively worse, he is not one to sit still, so I gave him walking sticks for his 83rd birthday and told him to set the trend in Sterling.

Since the 1930s, Nordic walking has been used as a means for cross country skiers to train during the summer months because it closely simulated the same movement. However it wasn’t until the late 90’s that pole walking or ski walking took off around the world.

When the activity first originated in Finland, people called it “dementia walking” because people thought walkers forgot their skis. The craze once laughed off as foolish nonsense has gone global. An estimated 3 million people practice pole walking regularly. Since 2004 over a fifth of the Finish population take part in the sport. http://www.onwf.org/

Now doctors are aboard, agreeing that it is one of the best forms of cardiovascular workout because it uses all muscle groups. They also recommend that it is ideal for those in cardiac recovery.

  • Engages 90% of your body’s muscle
  • Increases heart rate
  • Burns more calories than ordinary walking
  • Trims the waistline
  • Improves posture
  • Takes pressure off the feet, knees and back
  • Proven to lower Body Mass Index in 12 weeks

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning forms the core of the workout. Nordic walking requires muscular endurance, balance, range of motion, agility, coordination, efficiency of movement, and visual acuity. Pole walkers must focus forward not down, which helps improve posture. Some experts argue that ski walking provides more health benefits than walking, biking, jogging or running.

According to an article in American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013, “studies conducted by NCBI National Library of Medicine show that Nordic walking exerts beneficial effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and quality of life in patients with various diseases and can thus be recommended to a wide range of people as primary and secondary prevention.”IMG_0189_copy

In the mountain villages one can see hikers of all ages using walking sticks. In our fitness courses, we teach Nordic walking to our high school students. It is particularly popular with long distance athletes whose joints can no longer take the pounding. When I told my friend Tina, an x runner, about it she immediately joined the movement.

Accolades aside, Nordic walking’s best health benefit is helping maintain a long, active life.

So, what are you waiting for? What better way to invest in your future?IMG_20140816_162919_901_copy

Join Grandpa Jim and get fit.