When I say that I graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield Minnesota, most people would either think I am making it up or not know where it is. A small college located on the only hill amidst cornfields for miles, the history of St. Olaf stems from Norwegian immigrants. As students, we were reminded every year why the immigrants left Norway when the college cafeteria would serve Norwegian delicacies such as ‘lutefisk’. Please note that when I say ‘delicacy’, I am gagging. Lutefisk is purported cod boiled in lye to be served during the winter months when the fjords are frozen and the fishing boats couldn’t get out.
Even though it is a small liberal arts college, the St. Olaf choir and orchestra are internationally known. The St. Olaf sports program is not. As an NCAA division 3 program, the term “student-athlete” definitely favors the ‘student’ over ‘athlete’.
I begin with this explanation to provide an understanding that, as a cross-country and track runner, I participated in a small program that would be an after-thought to most colleges or universities. At the time I participated, we would travel by van across town to another small college to train on their track after they were finished for the day. During the spring track season, we would relocate from the athletic center to the ‘Manitou Hilton’ to be a few miles closer to the other track. Don’t let the name ‘Manitou Hilton’ fool you. It was a small old house retrofitted to serve as a locker room for the football team during the fall and track team during the spring. As I recall, there wasn’t much heat which is why it couldn’t be used during the Minnesota winters. It was torn down not long after I graduated. Under-funded, mostly unknown, and usually cold, I loved my experience.
As a team, we created our own traditions. The ‘Press Box’ breakfast was held annually with an early Saturday morning workout. Unbeknownst to freshmen, a jar of lollipops and a note “suckers for the suckers” was the ‘breakfast’ while the rest of us slept in. The typical Friday post-workout tradition was to jog into the football stands in formation and sing the school fight-song in unison with the football team. And yes, I can still sing ‘Um Ya Ya’, much to my wife’s embarrassment. “Us in the bus” was chanted any time we rode the van to a workout or meet. But all of these fun memories pale to the real value of my time with the team.
Thirty years later, some of my best friends were members of those teams. Over the years, we’ve lost track of some teammates and most of us have moved to different parts of the country. But we can still get together for workouts or barbeques or poker games. We can still laugh and cry together. We’ve been in each other’s weddings and we’ve been among the first to arrive at the births of our kids. We share in each other’s successes and lament together at the failures. And all because of the foundation built on the traditions of our team.
As you read this, I would ask you to think upon your ‘team’. Maybe it’s your little league baseball team, college physics club, or your current work team. What makes you stick together? What are you doing to find and foster those ‘traditions’, those connections that will keep you focused and together? You may not find the thirty-year connections that I have been blessed with, but you may find those teammates with whom you can overcome any challenge the boss throws your way.