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Adams: Reflections after a Year of my Miracle on Ice Talk and the Power within THEIR Story

It has been a year since I developed and started delivering my Talk on the Miracle on Ice/Lake Placid and what we can learn from it.

I have done it about 100 times with about 60% at corporate events and the rest split between college, high school and church events.

It has been 35 years since I delivered my first Talk, as senior class President at my high school graduation. In the years since I have loved speaking on attitude and peak performance, but there is something about this Miracle talk that has a power. I truly believe within the template of what Herb Brooks and those young men did in 1980 and the remarkable back story of Lake Placid, is the template for anyone or any group to achieve anything or overcome anything.

I have now read over 2000 articles, 15 books and interviewed many people in person. I have been to Lake Placid multiple times
and have told them that in all my years I have never found a place with as many mystical and inspirational stories.

Here’s a place created by the guy who invented the Dewey Decimal system that shocks the world by getting a Winter Olympics in 1932 that features a bobsled team led by a young man who would be the first American to die in WWII even though he stood to inherit millions from the family business but could not stand by as England was bombed by the Nazi’s in 1940 and enters the Royal Air Force in 1940 and is killed in action at the age of 29.

Lake Placid, a place with a spirit so strong that they have put someone in every Winter Games since 1924, despite having just 2800 people. A place so beautiful that legendary singer Kate Smith called it her favorite place on earth. Kate, a singer that raised over $600 million in war bonds in WWII with her singing of God Bless America.

Lake Placid, a place where the 1980 Winter Olympic Committee was led by the town’s preacher at the local United Methodist Church, who got that job after being shot in the stomach as a town policeman years before, prompting a shift to the ministry. A town where the dentist did the marketing for the Olympic bid.

Lake Placid, a place where in 1980 the U.S. athletes stormed in on Scott Hamilton in the village and told him they wanted HIM to lead them in the opening ceremonies, because they heard how he had been adopted a birth, had quit growing amidst concerns of cystic fibrosis (not) and who was a whopping 5 feet and 100 pounds in 1980.

And then there is the Miracle on Ice. I continue to be fascinated by Herb Brooks, who I think was a genius. In my opinion what he did was the greatest job in coaching in U.S. history. Where my corporate America audiences relate to him was that he had degrees in psychology and economics and ten plus years in insurance sales before he ever got into coaching. Both the Repulican and Democratic parties would later pursue him for office in Minnesota, and he would not do it. Ironically, Jesse Ventura, a pro wrassler, would later become Governor.

unnamed-1As Herb’s son Danny says, Herb would have been a great trial lawyer or general. Lord have mercy, I would have loved to have seen him as President. Look out. What I love sharing is the humanization of him. Yes, he was a fierce leader and coach, but a deeply caring man. His best friend was a man named LeRoy who owned a simple lawn care business. Years after the Miracle on Ice, Herb put on jeans and spent 2 weeks riding around in a beat up van working for LeRoy, who was down staff.

What I loved about his team is that they came from humble, somewhere between low to middle income class home, who believed in the American spirit that if you worked hard, dreamt big, and became a team that would love one another, you could beat a goliath as big as that Soviet team – the greatest ever in their sports history.

What I love is what goalie Jim Craig has said, that it was NOT a miracle, but earned! As kids those players would skate for hours after school and up to 10 hours on weekends. Some where 5 foot 7 and 5 foot 8. They developed the skills to topple the Soviets and win gold, and anyone out there that wants to excel in Sales, music, wood crafting or anything can be inspired by their example.

This was a team where Mike Eruzione would score the winning goal against the Soviets and become a national hero. Growing up, his grandma would open the oven to thaw his feet after hours spent outside playing hockey on his sister’s figure skates with pink bells because they could not get more skates until they had saved up enough S and H green stamps.

I love how audiences gasp when learning about the almost mythical make up of the Soviet team, that had learned the sport from a coach that studied chess, ballet and circus to develop their jazz on ice that was a spiritual experience to watch. Practicing three times a day eleven months a year, they knew each other within their cells. The players were good people, who were born into a Communist regime. After the loss to the Americans, several of the players humbly came to the U.S. team doctor, who hailed from Latvia, and asked him to take them to main street in Lake Placid so they could buy their wives presents.

The story keeps going 35 years later. Player Mark Wells, who has battled fierce back problems, finally got the ice rink in little St. Claire Shores, Michigan named after him last year. The mayor in 1980 had promised to do it, but never did. Last year the current mayor, Kip Weldy, was going through files and saw the neglect. He called Mark and asked to meet him and told him they were going to name the rink after him. Mark sobbed. It meant so much to him.

They have continued to inspire us. At the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, just months after 9 11, Olympic Committee president Mitt Romney made the call to have them light the torch. It was a tough call because Eric Heiden had been Michael Phelps-like in 1980 when he won five gold medals in speed skating. But Romney knew we needed to see all those players up there tightly next to each other, lighting the flame as a team.

unnamed-2Look at that picture above. How all 20 were able to fit on that stand built for one person was a miracle itself. Five foot 7 guys next to 6 foot 4. TEAM. When Dave Christian, a prolific scorer, was asked by Brooks to switch to defense he said he would do whatever was best for the team. When Mark Wells, a bigtime scorer, was asked to simply harass players on the ice, he did it for the team, and it would be him that would shut out Valeri Karmalov of the USSR, who liked to score beautiful goals and was one of the six greatest players ever, in the huge 4-3 win on February 22nd, 1980.

The players are like the rest of us. Just because they won gold doesn’t mean the rest of their lives have been gold plated. Mark Pavelich, who made the pass to Eruzione for the 4-3 lead against the Soviets, had accidentally shot and killed his best friend since kindergarten in a hunting accident during high school. Then, a few years ago he and his wife had built a dream home in Minnesota. While possible searching for cell service on the second floor, she fell to her death.

Nine days after Herb Brooks died in August of 2003, his longtime friend and goalie coach Warren Strelow was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. That night his wife had a vivid dream where Brooks came to the house to check on him. She said he needed help soon. Brooks said he would do what he could. She said he would call him when she knew.

He said there were no phones where he was…

The next morning the doctor called saying that during the middle of the night they found a perfect match for Warren.

One of the big requests I get from meeting planners is their need to fortify their own team spirit. Herb Brooks took a group of young men from bitter rivalry teams – Univ of Minn vs Boston U, Univ of Minn vs Minn-Duluth, Univ of Minn vs Univ of Wisconsin (a rivalry so bitter a Wisconsin fan with the flu went up to a Minnesota official and sneezed on him hoping to give him the flu!), Univ of Minn vs N Dakota. It would have been easier for him to build a team of Hatfields and McCoys, rival gang members from L.A. and staff from MSNBC and Fox News. Yet in seven months they became so close that the Boston players cried when it was over as their Minnesota buddies would be gone.

And then there was Steve Janaszak, the 1st team All American the year before as goalie at the Univ of Minnesota who had led them to the national championship. Brooks told him he was going to go with Jim Craig the whole Olympics at goalie. Of the 240 players on 12 teams in Lake Placid, Janny was the only one not to player. He never poisoned the waters. He got up early for extra practice, pushed Craig to higher limits, and like Jesus washing the feet of the disciples sharpened the skates of teammates during intermissions of games.

You know what is sad? I recently researched a list of the ten most famous people from Minnesota, and there was no Herb Brooks on it. The young man who played Stiffler on American Pie was on it, as well as the kid who was in Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. Yet, no Brooks.

What usually happens is that many audience members remember that back in 1980 we had some young kids that beat the mighty Soviets behind the intense coach and it made us feel good as a nation. But it was so much more than that! And within their story and Lake Placid is a message we really need in America again. We are as divisive as we have been in a long time. That team brought Republicans and Democrats together. They led to more U.S. flags being flown since the end of WWII. They started the slide that would end Communism in the Soviet Union, saved the Winter Games from being cancelled, and made a country believe in itself again.

We need their spirit. We need the spirit of Lake Placid.

Charlie-Adams-e1378206959986-150x150Born in Oxford and educated at Ole Miss, Charlie Adams is a motivational speaker who specializes in sharing the fascinating back story of Lake Placid and the Miracle on Ice. His 90 minute to 2-hour presentation is filled with patriotism, the American dream, and the power of team. It is delivered to corporate, educational and church audiences. He can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com.

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Adam Brown
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