Raising a generation of role models
February 18, 2014
Growing up, I often looked to the generations that came before me for role models.
There was my grandpa's age group — the Greatest Generation — who fought the Nazis and world domination by the evilest of forces to secure our freedom on the homefront. Growing up in the Great Depression, he and his siblings didn't have luxuries like smart phones and $100 shoes kids have today.
His family barely had food on the table.
I hear a lot of people in my generation say they work hard to play hard. My grandpa didn't have that kind of free time. His generation worked hard to work even harder. As a truck driver, my Grandpa Bud worked 80-hour weeks so he could afford to volunteer as a firefighter. He always worked two jobs when my mom was a kid and would do repairs for neighbors or collect Christmas gifts for needy families.
My kind of role model.
I always thought my parents' generation, the Baby Boomers, was equally as hard-working. My dad often put in 70 hours a week to put food on our table. He opted for a 30-years-and-out retirement at only 52, then turned his strong work ethic into a second career opportunity where he has since worked up to team leader. My mom worked a tough job for 32 years requiring her to clean large schools, use heavy equipment and be on her feet for eight-plus hours a day until about three years ago.
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I say they've earned their retirements.
My role models were thankfully easy to find — they were right there in my family. But since I slipped on my first sequined costume, I wanted to be in the spotlight as a tap dancer. I was an instant fan of the dancers who came out of my Grandpa's generation. There was the sugar-sweet Shirley Temple singing and dancing to "On the Good Ship Lollipop," a song I memorized word-for-word. Like Shirley, I wanted to make some noise, too.
Luckily, I had the garage for a dance studio.
There was also the famous dance pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who made tap dancing look so natural they could do it in their sleep. Their rise to the top took determination and talent. But, most importantly, hard work.
I wonder if they ever were caught sleepdancing.
As a young tennis player, I looked up to sports role models such as Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert-Lloyd. They taught girls like me in the '80s we could be whatever we put our minds to, especially if we worked hard and played smart. I remember when I played tennis with my best friend Dawn, I would be Martina and she would be Chrissie.
If only I had Martina's slice forehand.
As positive role models — who didn't find the trouble some athletes do today — Martina and Chrissie helped me develop a serious love for the sport. I was self-taught at tennis, later playing in high school and college. Leading by example, these role models in my young life helped me develop a greater appreciation for the generations of hard workers who came before me.
For that, I am thankful.
Watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi this month, I've been proud to see U.S. athletes become similar role models for today's younger generations that I had as a kid. I'm delighted to see a young skier from my home state of Indiana — born the year I graduated from college — be a source of inspiration for many. American freeskier Nick Goepper, of Lawrenceburg, Ind., proves that an alpine athlete doesn't have to grow up in the mountains to become an Olympian. He started skiing at 5 at the small Hoosier resort Perfect North, where I've skied at night.
When I moved to Colorado, I thought everyone skied at night.
The 19-year-old's hard work and dedication are undeniable. He watched ski videos and entered big air contests, sticking his first double flip just six years ago. Goepper built his own terrain park in his backyard with skate rails, logs and Astroturf. When most kids are getting their driver's licenses, he traveled alone to Mount Hood, Ore., to attend Windells action sports camp, training with world champions.
It didn't take him long to rise to the top of the sport himself.
Just last month, Goepper won gold in slopestyle at the Winter X Games in Aspen. Last week, he helped the U.S. sweep the men's ski slopestyle event in Sochi by winning bronze.
Teammates Joss Christensen scored gold, and Gus Kenworthy won the silver.
I've never won an Olympic medal. Nor have I skied in the Winter X Games. But like Goepper, I'm a Hoosier. And I'm proud of it. I can relate to a country childhood being raised to know if I work hard, I can achieve success. Goepper credits his parents, Linda and Chris, for teaching him the values of a strong work ethic. And for teaching him that if he put his mind to it, he could be anything he wanted to be.
That's the generation I want to see.
— April E. Clark wonders what a double flip on skis feels like. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.