Breaking Down Barriers


First of all I want to congratulate all of my fellow skaters competing in the US Single Distance Championships and American Cup in Milwaukee this weekend.  All of you deserve a hand for the hard work, preparations and execution of your racing.  I wish I could have competed on the fast ice amid the great racing, track records and many personal best times.  I will be racing again soon after I recover from my over-training.  I am making good progress.

Also, my thoughts and prayers to all those that have been affected by hurricane Sandy.

Common knowledge says we get slower as we age.  I have blown that concept completely out of the water.   I am faster as a speed skater now at age 56 than when I was a teenager on the national team.

I have qualified for the US Olympic trials at age 19, 49, 53, and I am in the process to do it again at age 56.  I have broken down many barriers in my life, speed skating is just one of them.

My barriers to progress come in many different forms.  First there are the external barriers.  I was told at age 16, I would never be an airline pilot.  I did not have perfect vision.  Had I listened to the eye doctor I would have never reached for my dream. This was a perceived external barrier. After a 35 year career, I am now at the top of my field as a 747 Captain.

Then there are my own internal barriers.  Some barriers might be unconscious.  Some barriers may be conscious.  Some barriers might be cultural.  Some might be hereditary.  Some might be regional.  Some may be rooted in history.  Some maybe rooted in my own past.  There are as many barriers as there are people, and ways to create them.  The key to pushing the limiting beliefs we have, that become our barriers to success, is not limiting the concept of success.  By taking responsibility for my success, then expanding my concept, I naturally break down my barriers to my goal achievement.  I need to give myself permission to be great.  This programs my entire being into being as great as I can be, and sets me up to be successful.

In my experience getting slower is more a choice than anything else.  If I choose to do the work, I get the results. If I choose not to do the work, I get slower.  There is a point of diminishing returns and reality.  I can push that back much farther than anyone could imagine.

What are some of the barriers you would like to break down?  I would love to hear all about them…

Captain Conner landing in January at O’hare Airport Chicago, IL after flight from Hong Kong, China

2 thoughts on “Breaking Down Barriers

  1. Bruce, I would love to hear more of your story of breaking though as a pilot, which is a world-class level achievement. This column is an inspiration for Master’s skaters, but I think some of the younger skaters need to overcome the barrier of not “breaking through”.

    I have some comments on this… First, it took me 3 years as a nationally ranked high school cross-country runner to “slay the beast” that was the Missouri State Cross country meet at Hough Park Golf Course in Jefferson City, MO. Freshman year I didn’t even know I was competing for “State” until my coach told me I had made it. State? What did that mean? With no expectations I placed 73rd. A decent performance for a freshman out of 150 or so runners. Inspired, I ran over 500 mies the next summer and won our city’s District meet hands down. I was expected to get all-state honors (top 15). Performance anxiety got the best of me that year. It wasn’t enough to just qualify for State; I put incredible pressure on myself to possible WIN State. Which meant I tried to run out in the front. With a 10:00 split at the 2 mile mark this was faster than my 2 mile time on a track. Of course, in the third mile I blew up, never having run 2 back to back 5:00 miles. Dejected, I even walked a few steps up the last hill. Move on to junior year. The venue repeat did not help. It was deja vu over and over again, and “IT” happened again my junior year. A bad dream. Nauseating. All 3 years were overcast and cloudy; all 3 years were windy and I faced fierce competition. 3 years and no state honors.

    But my senior year I finally broke through. Yes, it was cloudy and, yes it was windy, and yes it was cold- but I went out and just had fun. I placed 32nd; not the top 15 with all-state merits, but for me it was a victory. I won each “mini battle” along the very familiar course. In the end I sprinted past 10 guys in the last 300 meters. I kept training through the winter (along with skating) and in the spring I was able to help our school place 3rd in the 4x400m relay. Later in the meet I placed 5th in the 800m open. Because of injury and some nutrition issues in track season, my senior year was my only State track experience. With God’s help and some patience I did not give up on my running after so many failures in both cross country and track. The 2 track events at State are standing records at my high school 3:26.– in the relay and 1:58.66 in the 800m–21 years later and counting!

    A basic quality of maturity is patience. After seeing many of this weekend’s great America’s Cup performances and head-to-head races, I also got the chance to say hello to so many of the skaters who once trained in Milwaukee but are now in Salt Lake. However, one thing I noticed after talking to skaters (regardless of the level of performance or training location) was that the overall attitude was not exuberant or even positive. I think our Olympians and aspiring Olympians need to take a deep breath and realize that one meet does not define a career or even a season. I understand that a lot has been invested into cranking out a good performance… a lot, lot, lot. Bruce has already eloquently outlined the many supporting cast members behind every athlete. I get that… I lived that for many years.

    But we have to understand that with continued strength training, increased flexibility, and continued improvements to our technique the only result is to get faster. We must trust that the process will work. This is especially true of a 20-something athlete, who may think the end of the road has come because of a lackluster performance. What makes the psychology of sports so tricky is that a great performance can be perceived as poor just based on expectations. I urge all of the young readers of Faster As a Master to stay the course in their training. You have a plan; you have a process. No process or plan is perfect. Sure… it may need to be tweaked a bit, but this is no time to put your blades and skin up for sale on Ebay. If you are struggling, find a second outlet. Learn to play an instrument. Get a Kindle or Nook and start reading. Take a class in something you fancy. Unwind. The type “A” personality is prevalent in elite athletes and can sometimes hinder us from delivering our best performances. Of course, the most fulfilling “outlet” (if you can even lower its status to outlet) is to discover a relationship with God and get to know the savior Jesus. If you already know Him, then as believers the goal is to deepen that relationship even as we strive to realize the best skater within us.

    The bottom line is that we must have a positive attitude to compete regularly and keep training with a purpose that brings a joy to the journey. Even after a poor performance, a positive attitude can help you weather the storm. Smile. Talk to a friend or coach. Please don’t sulk. A positive attitude is a bonus for those who are supporting you because no one likes a sour-puss. You’ll enjoy your victories much more when you can stay upbeat in your defeats. ; )

    Never believe the lie that no one cares about you, because none of use makes it anywhere worth merit alone.

  2. Mark, Thank you so much for your story and wisdom. I will tell you more on this blog as well as personally about the many barriers I have broken through. Thanks for keeping the discussion going about these important subjetcs that apply to so many parts of our lives. John Wooden said that “Sports does not build character, it reveals it”. I believe that through sports we become honest with ourselves and thereby we find out who we really are. Thanks.

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