I would like to think I am a learned man, someone who would know this quote was from "Romeo and Juliet" - but the truth is it probably would have taken me two or three guesses to get the correct William Shakespeare play. Some would say it was because I didn't go to Harvard or Stanford but I knew better.
When I talked about my career after retiring I always joked that I worked my way backwards when I got involved in collegiate track and field - starting at the top and year by year slipping downhill like a car on ice. I don't say it to malign any school. Simply to explain the fact.
I ran for Iowa in the early 70's and we had it all - a beautiful indoor track, an outdoor facility that was right next door, the Finkbine golf course for our cross country meets which was only a hop-skip-jump away, our team locker room as nice as the best in the Big Ten, a clean towel and workout clothes in our lockers each day.
Heck, we even had a sauna!
On road trips at Iowa I always had my own bed, traveled to meets on chartered buses and not ones that were painted yellow, given so much meal money on trips that I used it to buy food at the grocery store for the entire week, eating like a king whenever we hosted a high school athlete on visits.
How could it get any better?
But life was to change. My initial years of coaching I worked at schools with AD's that seemed to think a pathetic indoor track (or none at all) was more than adequate, that it wasn't an issue sprinters/jumpers had to work outside in November and December layered in thick clothing, or that air travel was an approved mode of transportation - though not for us.
We worked with operating budgets a fraction of most DI schools, usually at least a $1000 of my meager salary (I knew I should have continued to coach in HS) used to pay for a variety of items - vaulting poles, indoor weights, crossbars, shoes, clinics, etc. Fortunately I could deduct it on my taxes!
Like a poor family, we just learned to do without.
Yet, for as little as we did have, there was one thing I always impressed on my UIC athletes - a positive attitude. An appreciation for everything they were given.
They were thrilled when we got a charter to meets instead of the UIC campus shuttle bus, excited to eat pasta at Olive Garden and not Fazoli's, delighted when we stayed overnight at hotels with cool names like The Alexander or The Westin, instead of the low-rent hotels with a number in the name.
I came up with a simple allegory at UIC to describe our situation. A reminder to athletes about how to deal with inequity and the unfairness of life.
"Some people are given a bouquet of roses and complain about thorns - always whining about this and that. Never happy with what life has given them even though it is better than most. We can't act like that. We have to rise above and make the best of what we have."
Then I held up an empty plastic bag.
"Pretend this is a bag of s**t. That it is my bag of s**t." Everyone burst into laughter. "I could bitch and moan, complaining I always get the short end of the stick, that our lot in life sucks. But that attitude is never going to get me anywhere. It will only drag me down and accomplish nothing."
"So when life hands you a bag of s**t (I bounced the plastic bag up and down), smile and embrace it. Don't complain. Just say, I'm am one lucky guy. This is the best bag of s**t in the world. It has an unique bouquet, an interesting hue, is unlike any other."
"Smile and say, I hit the jackpot!"
The speech always got laughter...and a few shocked looks - especially from the freshmen. But if my athletes learned nothing else at UIC, I hope they learned that when the world gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And that a positive attitude can help you surmount any obstacle.