"Problems are guidelines, not stop signs.”

— Robert Schuller

When sports fans congregate and talk about which athletes might qualify as the G.O.A.T. — The greatest of all time — names like Michael Jordan and Tom

Brady always come up and the arguments begin to fly.

Their achievements are legendary but in the conversation about the best ever, they’re not even close. The absolute G.O.A.T. was born in 1888 in an area that would eventually become Oklahoma.

Life was hard and full of tough challenges, opportunities were rare, and few escaped that existence. He did, when others discovered what he was capable of doing in the area of organized sports.

They called him “Bright Path”

It was his Native American name in the Sac and Fox Nation, but the world came to know him as Jim Thorpe. He rode his skills as an athlete to worldwide fame.

Modern day sports stars stay with one sport only. Thorpe displayed major talent in four — track and field, baseball, football, and basketball.

Following his victories in the pentathlon, a series of five events; and decathlon, a series of 10 events in the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe played six seasons in major league baseball. While baseball wasn’t his strongest sport, he appeared in 60 games and batted .327, after joining the Boston Braves in 1919. This was at age 32, quite old for an athlete in that era.

He made his mark in football

Thorpe became a two-sport pro athlete when he joined the Canton Bulldogs football team in 1915, helping them win three championships; and later played for six teams in the National Football League.

Protection for football players was minimal in Thorpe’s time. Padding was thin, helmets were made of leather, and there were no face masks. He excelled at a time when many careers had a sudden ending in a pileup of bodies.

Thorpe ran the ball and caught passes as well as anyone, and was a bonejarring tackler on defense. Wouldn’t you like to see Tom Brady do that?

On top of all this, he also was an excellent punter and place-kicker.

A remarkable career

Thorpe played professional sports until age 41, and was included in the first class inaugurated into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His earned a reputation for being tough as nails on the field of play. A noteworthy example of this occurred during the Olympics, before his days as a professional athlete.

How do you see obstacles?

If you Google “Jim Thorpe, different shoes,” you’ll learn the drama that took place before he won the pentathlon and decathlon events.

On the morning of one of his competitions, Thorpe’s track shoes were stolen.

Without his regular shoes, would his performance be affected?

He was able to borrow one shoe from a teammate, then found another after digging through a garbage can. The shoes were mismatched. One was larger than the other, so he had to wear extra socks to make it fit.

To win under those circumstances was proof of not just Thorpe’s great talent, but also a testament to his grit and determination.

It got me thinking, would Michael Jordan have been as great if his shoes were different sizes, and the same for any other athlete who figures into the greatest of all time conversation.

Obstacles aren’t a stop sign

Robert Schuller’s message above reminds you and me that obstacles don’t have to defeat us. We can use our intelligence, our effort, and our sheer refusal to quit in order to come out ahead.

There was no guarantee for Thorpe that day. His mismatched shoes could have caused him to stumble and lose. That didn’t keep him from giving it his supreme effort, winning against elite competition on the biggest athletic stage in the world.

Somebody once said, “Winners never have to explain anything.” Others say,

"You can have reasons or you can have results...but you can't have both.”

If we’re facing an uphill climb to what we want and something happens that could block our progress, will we give up and tell people our excuses, or will we go for the win and let others tell our story — and what we had to overcome to earn the victory?

Jerry Roberts helps workers recognize when obstacles can be opportunities. He comments on business and the workplace daily at 7:20 am on The Ray Gibson Show on The Point, 93.3 FM. He can be reached at guamtraining.com, or email jroberts@guamtraining.com.

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