The crowd of nearly 60 was captivated by two-time Olympian runner Bob Kennedy who spoke at Northview High School last night. Hosted by St. Vincent Clay Hospital, the American record holder in the 3,000 and 5,000-meter run talked about the traits of a successful athlete.
Talent, competitiveness and a passion for the sport are a necessary component. But other factors are just as important.
Kennedy believes that successful athletes surround themselves with exceptional people.
"Sometimes it's by design," he said. "Sometimes you just get lucky."
When asked how he handled negative people, Kennedy said, "as an athlete, I don't deal with it. I avoid it. I stay away from negative people. In business you have to deal with it. You work with it and go on."
Kennedy said the successful athlete makes a plan, revises the plan, executes the plan then improvises. He uses this method for short term goals of one day to three months and for long term goals.
Hard work is an absolute. But it has to be done intelligently and consistently over time. Kennedy said his former coach, Sam Bell, used to tell him that "everyone wants to be a champion but few are willing to make the commitment to become a champion". Paying attention to the details of training, such as rest, nutrition and strengthening, are essential to success.
The runner has to do it for the right reason. "Track and Field is a professional sport now," Kennedy explained. "The exceptional athlete is not motivated by the money or fame. He competes because he truly wants to find out just how good he can be."
Another thing exceptional athletes have in common is that they're all willing to risk failure. Kennedy explained that at some point, if you stay in a comfortable mode, you may not fail but you, also, won't improve. If you want to excel you have to go as hard as you can go. Go for the win. Go for the record. Sometimes you fail. That's part of it. All successful athletes have failed at times. But you have to be willing to, want to, take that chance.
In dealing with failure Kennedy said to focus on what you can change, learn from the failure and never make the same mistake twice.
"And the exceptional athlete believes, believes, believes!" Kennedy said. "He truly believes he's going to be the best. Even when he has injuries or in bad times he believes he'll be good again."
The 33-year-old Kennedy, who runs 120 miles a week, plans to try out for the Olympics again next year in the 10,000 meter race. His previous two years have been riddled with injuries. Now he thinks he's back in form. The trials start in July.
But running is not just for the professional. "Running is not a skill sport," Kennedy said. "The more we run the better we will be. You can't run at optimum level all year long. It's physically impossible. You have to pick when you want to be at your best and work toward that goal."
One student commented that some of her peers didn't understand the characteristics unique to runners. "How do you handle being around people who don't understand and think runners are strange?" she asked.
"I remember being a teenager," Kennedy said. "And I know you're more sensitive at that age. But having said that, who cares what they think? You do it because you want to do it. Not because someone else wants you to.
"If someone gives you a hard time about it, so what? You have to do what makes you happy. Maybe you should change friends."
The enraptured crowd included runners from the Northview boys and girls cross country team, Terre Haute South girls cross country team, Indiana State University runners, Indianapolis 500 Mini Marathon runners and walkers and sports enthusiasts of all ages. Northview senior cross country member Justin Scherb listened intently.
"I really liked what he had to say," Scherb said. "He was more down to earth. And he gave some good motivational tips. This was a once in a life time opportunity."
Most of the audience must have felt the same way. After Kennedy's talk was completed, the crowd asked questions for nearly an hour then lined up to get his autograph.
Kennedy said running is the greatest sport in the world. Everyone can be successful at it.