Tom Cooney, former Loyola University track and field coach in the 70's, often used a quote that captured one of my thoughts into a neat aphorism.
"There are two types of people in the world - problem finders and problem solvers."
We've all been around those individuals who seem to focus on finding faults and short-comings, always eager to point out to everyone what is blatantly obvious. Yet, they never seem to put as much effort into discovering a solution to the problem, somehow believing that just identifying the issue is the more important of the two.
Fifteen minutes before the 2008 Horizon League race on the IUPUI track I was giving last minute instruction to my decathlete, glancing repeatedly down the straight for a starter with the telltale orange armband. Instead, the Butler coach raced down the track, greeting us with some bad news - the starter wouldn't arrive until 4pm when the rest of the races begin.
What? No starter?
Hmm. While some bitched and moaned I suggested ideas. Find a store that sells blanks...not to be found in Indy. Locate another starter that could show up...it would take far too long. Call a high school coach to borrow a pistol...they would all be in class. How about if we check the clerking office at the end of the track?
Myself and two other coaches jogged down to the office at track level, searching the room for a starting pistol. Hallelujah! The Butler coach found one...but there were no shells in the magazine. Dang it! The .22 caliber was worthless without the means to create a concussion for the timing system transponder.
We redoubled our efforts in the 10'x 30' space, desperately scouring every nook and cranny, hoping to find some errant shell hidden below stacks of paper or in a corner under the counter. All we found were two .32 caliber shells which wouldn't fit in the smaller magazine and an airhorn with very little fluid inside.
The idea hit me in a flash.
"What if I fired the airhorn at the same moment I hit the transponder against the metal cannister? Would that set off the timing system?" The coaches looked at me like I was nuts. "Why not?" We shrugged shoulders and jogged down to the starting line.
Here goes nothing. I rapped the metallic transponder tube against the airhorn, and sure enough, the digital clock started at the end of the track. Awesome! The coaches looked at each other and turned to me with big grins on their faces. I guess I was the starter.
"Runners take your mark."
I stood to the side, holding the transponder and airhorn in front of me like I was striking a metal triangle with a drumstick. The hurdlers were motionless. I took a deep breath.
It was far from perfect but it worked. I suspect I was the only collegiate coach who had ever started a 110m hurdle race with an airhorn. Even though this starting procedure would never be considered legal, I smiled to myself knowing that MacGyver would have been proud of me.