Archive for category profiles
I enjoy reading words of inspiration as much as you probably do. I believe in the power of positive thinking. I love practicing the art of creative visualization. (My man Jordan Spieth, last week’s winner of the US Open Golf Championship, is the ultimate practitioner of creative visualization.)
Having said this, I have to say something more. You probably guessed I’d go on for a bit in this week’s blog. It takes more than a stranger’s words to affect lasting, positive change and success in any endeavor. It takes loving support from caring mentors. The ideal personification of this support comes from a set of caring, loving parents. Let’s take Jordan Spieth again as an example. He seems to have an ideal relationship with his loving, caring, teaching parents plus a monumental talent that have helped him to win two major golf titles in his young and promising career.
Jason Day, a young professional golfer from Australia, battled bravely through dizziness and nausea caused by vertigo to finish high in the US Open final standings. Jason, unlike his contemporary Spieth, did not have a strong connection with his parents while growing up. He had a troubled youth before meeting Colin Swatton at Kooralbyn, a golf-centric boarding school in south-east Queensland. Jason’s mother had to borrow money to send her son to Kooralbyn in a desperate attempt to do something about his delinquent behavior after his father died of stomach cancer when Jason was 12.
Colin Swatton was a golf instructor at Kooralbyn when he first met the head-strong, rebellious Day. Swatton’s non-confrontational style won Jason over. When Swatton moved on to teach at Hills International College, Day followed him. From there, Swatton became Day’s golf coach, mentor, close friend and full-time professional caddie. Jason Day is now one of the top-ranked golfers in the world with a family of his own and the admiration and affection of his peers.
After I’ve read a self-help book the inspiration and advice usually fade within forty-eight hours. Formulaic self-help exercises quickly become dry practices that yield little or lasting benefits. I picked up a few Wayne Dyer books a year ago and two things became immediately clear: (1) Wayne has a lot of nice things to say and (2) I could not practice or live what Dyer says if I tried for a million years.
So what does it take to move forward, achieve, and grow? To amplify what I said earlier, it takes a special personal relationship. It is a relationship that always accepts and honors who you are and where you are. It can be a parental, mentoring, teaching, romantic, or friend to friend relationship. In the case of the first three, the relationship begins with the child, mentee, or student receiving more at first. I’ve learned that over time the best of these relationships blossom into mutuality where both parties reap significant rewards. There’s an energy and information exchange in these relationships; call it love, call it caring and concern, call it chemistry. Whatever it is, it’s a radiant, magic elixir. It produces extraordinary human beings; some famous and others who live and work quietly outside of the limelight.
I live in Aventura, a city in the northeastern tip of Miami-Dade County. While the US Post Office refuses to officially recognize us, we exist, complete with our own police force and city bureaucracy. I offer these facts to verify my official status as a South Floridian, a person living in Miami or Aventura, depending on your point of view.
In addition to the weather, one of the major benefits Floridians enjoy is our basketball team—the Miami Heat. I used to take my daughter to heat games, but that was when she was younger and it was possible to score a good ticket (legally) on the Heat Ticket Exchange for anywhere between eighty and a hundred bucks. Those days are gone, but I’m no less enthusiastic. Watching the games at home is just as much fun, now that we have big TV screens.
The Heat Organization is one of the finest cultures ever created in the world. It starts at the top with team president Pat Riley and trickles down. The players and coaches don’t give lip service to values like diligent practice in the gym and on the court, accountability, community service, sacrifice, and unselfishness. These men live those values every minute of their lives. You don’t read about Heat players racking up DUI tickets, using drugs, beating up wives or girlfriends, bullying, or any of the insane behavior associated with highly paid professional athletes. It doesn’t happen in the Heat organization despite the constant pressure of high expectations, criticism, and scrutiny the players and coaches live with. These men are role models. They love and support one another, and enjoy coming to work every day.
When one of the Heat’s high draft picks could not stop smoking marijuana, the team traded him. Now that same guy is back, playing better for less money, minus the marijuana, plus character and maturity developed in the Heat family atmosphere.
I hope the Heat wins a third consecutive championship, but if they don’t, I’ll still love every one of them. How could you not love these guys? Each player has a unique story of overcoming obstacles, building character, and ascending into the rarefied air of Heat team membership. Udonis Haslem is one of these stories. Despite an outstanding high school and college basketball career, no NBA team drafted him. He played for a year in France, hated it, but still played well enough to try out for the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. Haslem came to the Heat training camp 25 pounds lighter, made the team, and hasn’t looked back in eleven seasons.
Win or lose—take a lesson from the Heat players and organization, among the best in the world.
I remember the day my father asked me to become a partner in the stable. He was sitting behind his desk in the temporary office space we rented then, dressed in a camel colored sport coat and checkered cotton sport shirt. He looked straight at me with his bright, keen eyes and proceeded to make an offer that took me back to my secret weekend excursions in high school with my best friend, Danny. We were seventeen, a year too young to pass through the gates of any gambling establishment. That didn’t stop us. Danny and I were tall enough to look the part. On Saturdays, we drove to the “flats” at Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore and the “trotters” at Roosevelt Field in Long Island at night. We would bet two dollars a race and have the time of our lives.
My father, B. Morton Gittlin, was an unpredictable genius. At sixty-one, after selling a wallpaper manufacturing and distribution business he had built from a small company into a national market leader, he began purchasing thoroughbred horses. Completely in character, he shocked me with his offer to become a partner in a racing partnership he intended to name “Three G Stable,” assuming I agreed to become the third “G.”
I never suspected my father had an interest in thoroughbred racing. We used to play a lot of golf together on the weekends when I was growing up. I cannot fathom how or when he found the time to sneak away to the track with my mother. He certainly would never have gone to the racetrack during the week. He was too disciplined and focused on building businesses into powerhouse companies to fritter away time during working hours. I imagine he didn’t share his secret passion for the horses with me when I was a minor because it involved gambling.
My own secret interest in the horses took a long break after high school. Danny, my dear friend and co-conspirator, attended a different college than I and we grew apart. I was eager to move on with my life and put childish interests behind me. Thirty years flew by filled with adult activities—marriage, a family, and a career in marketing next to my father in the family business.
I accepted Morton’s offer to join Three G Stable as a full partner. It was an entity created out of my father’s love for us as well as his love for the sport of kings. The stable gave us something to keep us together and have fun with after we sold the wallpaper business.
There is nothing more exciting than seeing a horse you own pounding down the stretch in the lead. My parents and I were fortunate to experience the exhilarating feeling of victory often in the twenty years the Three G Stable was in operation. We owned and enjoyed a number of remarkable, stakes-winning horses. One of them reminded me of my father. His name was “Storm Predictions.”
We acquired Storm Predictions by claiming him out of a race as a two-year old. Many of the more experienced owners and trainers at Calder Race Course laughed behind my father’s back for claiming Storm Predictions. Although the young horse was winning races, it was common knowledge he had some problems. The breeder couldn’t sell “Stormy” at the two-year-old-in training auctions because he had what the veterinarians called “sawdust,” or bone particles in one knee. This is an ominous condition for most horses, indicating a tendency towards bone and joint injuries. My father didn’t care. He saw in Storm Predictions the rare courage and talent of a potential champion. The other owners and trainers saw a horse with a limited future.
As a three-year old, Storm Predictions won the Palm Beach Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream Park competing against the best horses on the East Coast. Then, our gutsy gelding won the Inaugural Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby, a race for three-year olds on the Kentucky Derby trail. Ridden by an unheralded journeyman jockey, Storm Predictions won with a flourish of speed at the top of the stretch, upsetting the heavy favorite in the race.
As a four-year old, “Stormy” won the Americana Handicap on the turf at Calder, as well as a number of “overnight” stakes and allowance races. The gelding banked close to $400,000 in purse money during his racing career. The horse cracked bones in his shins and suffered from joint aches and muscle pains of all sorts. Nothing stopped him. We just gave him long rests when necessary. Storm Predictions always came back running hard and winning. We gave Storm Predictions away to a caring farm owner when his racing days were over. The gelding lived a long and useful life after his years at the track as a pleasure riding horse.
My father, like Storm Predictions, was no stranger to adversity. After clearing the inevitable hurdles of a successful business career, he endured many physical setbacks in retirement, including a hip replacement, throat cancer, and emphysema. Nothing stopped him. He just kept enthusiastically pursuing his interests and enjoying life to the fullest, until the effects of exposure to asbestos as a boy caught up with him at age eighty-three. Even then, he didn’t want to give up. On the last day of his life, lying in a hospital bed, his body whittled down to skin and bone by Mesothelioma, my father threw off his covers and announced he intended to walk to the bathroom unattended. We practically had to hold Morton down to spare him further pain and embarrassment.
I still dream of my father and the horses. We call him “Morton” now, instead of Dad, or Pop, or my husband, or my father-in-law. We call him by name because he was such a unique individual. Anyone who knew my father well knows what I’m talking about. Morton has been gone five years now, and I miss him terribly. We sold all of our horses and disbanded the stable shortly before my father’s death. The world of thoroughbred racing, like my father, has moved on. Hialeah Park, once a haven for fabulous Flamingos and the finest thoroughbred racing in the East during the winter, is now a relic that hosts a brief quarter horse meeting. Gulfstream Park, another south Florida track, was razed and rebuilt into an enormous shopping center and gambling parlor. Gone are the fan friendly grounds where patrons spent the day with family members in a country fair atmosphere.
I remember taking my five-year old daughter to the petting zoo and putting her on the backs of Shetland ponies for rides at the old park. The spacious, open-air grandstands and box seats where fans used to bet, eat, drink, and watch the races all day long, are now an unfriendly complex of cramped, concrete buildings.
Thankfully, I still have my memories. I remember Morton and the horses. I remember the chain of love known as Three G Stable that linked me together with my parents, wife, and young daughter, in those glorious, fun-filled days gone by.