There are few instances when the spoken word has really moved me to action. There have probably been even fewer when I was moved to a perspective change. I’ve met motivation before, sure, and inspiration isn’t hard to find—any IG wellness account or yoga “instructor” in a downward dog will do that—but coming across content that really makes you want to change is rare.
Last week, at the NACDA (National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics) annual conference in Washington DC, that happened. A certain speaker, both in what she said and how she spoke, got me.
She was bubbly but she wasn’t fake. That’s the first thing I remember about Coach Valorie Kondos.
Initially I was worried, sizing her up, because she had the look where she might be a, ahhh, come on, you can do better than that—I said, HOW IS EVERYONE DOING THIS MORNING!
She wasn’t, thankfully. Overly buoyant initial impressions aside, that was not Coach Kondos.
(Quick note: if you do ever start a presentation or speech in that way—imploring grown men and women to collaboratively convey emotion—know that people hate you.)
I was sitting in the middle of group of about 2,500 people in a large exhibition hall when she came to the stage.
My table, comprised of roughly ten other individuals like myself—ASU bringing the heat—had just taken a quick break from our discussions when she was introduced. In Varsity Blues style (message me if you don’t get that reference) I had a Sudoku booklet opened in between a neutral looking notebook. The puzzle was “Expert”. When Coach Valorie Kondos was announced I was trying to coerce a “7” into a box/column combo. Hearing her name I put the book down, leaving it open so the Development Officer from Arizona State could see “Expert”. I shifted in my seat and centered toward the front of the large room.
She had a linear story—how she began her career and what transpired to get her to where she is now—but she didn’t focus on those events. Not really. As head coach to seven national championships teams for women’s gymnastics at UCLA, it would have made sense for the talk to follow that guide. That was what we all expected. But that was not the form she took.
Instead, she spoke about cancer.
She spoke about her diagnosis and the initial perspective that sparked an epiphany. The epiphany was encapsulated in a statement:
“Be anxious of nothing, be grateful for everything.”
“Cancer,” she furthered, grabbing the podium, “after those words came to me, was a gift.”
I remember thinking that. Like, the actual verbatim thought of “fuck” extended. Cancer as a gift?
The exhibition hall, still occupied to a near capacity, must have been experiencing similar internal dialogue. The place was silent. That type of talk, I guess, has a way of grabbing you.
Talking about a terrible, terrible thing, she was smiling. I described Coach Kondos earlier as buoyant. In this instance, broaching this subject matter, she was a literal definition of the adjective: bobbing and bristling with energy. An ailment of a nefarious variety, and she felt called to joy.
“Be anxious of nothing, be grateful for everything.”
These words came to her and she read them again in a bible she keeps at her home. They brought forth the perspective change that shaped her as a coach and as a person. She lives it today. Cancer, something she beat, created a personal standard that has become personally affixed.
“Problems as opportunities.”
That was an actual note I scribbled in, in between pauses. As a coach, it can be a staple mantra of a program. As a person, in any avenue of living, it can become both socially and personally transcendent. I think it embodies best what Coach Condos was after.
Through her lens, paraphrased and in summation:
Cancer brought an awakening. By finding ways to be grateful of something that should have brought her pain, problem and hardship lose their sting. In fact, they become opportunity. It is impossible to feel sorrow when you experience appreciation or gratitude. The mind and body, in substantive chemical and neurological form, won’t simultaneously allow it. Going to chemo became “going to the spa” to see friends. Sickness and discomfort made her more aware of the love she receives from her husband and family. Reality was perceived differently. Life inherently becomes more fun when you look for good in everything. It also does not mean you disregard or live with your head in the clouds. No. In acknowledging the difficult, and what is pain, you realize that always there lies a chance to grow. Cognizant of that growth, in perpetuity, improvement is readily accessible. Pain improves what you may not have fully appreciated and failure is only bringing you closer to success; only a perspective change is required. It took cancer for Coach Kondos to see this. Now she lives it. Problems are only opportunities. She also winked at me several times during her resentation, I’m sure of it.
Outside of a few things I scribbled down and phrases that instantly imparted, I do not remember exact verbiage from her speech. What I do know is exactly the way I felt listening and the things I’ve done since.
I’ve shifted my perspective. In simple application, like Coach Kondos stressed, I’ve chosen to see things differently, discerning opportunity where before I surely would have only seen shit. This is always an option. In all instances, life affords opportunity. Life can be lived in zest, and it assuredly will if you live in gratitude. Always.
I’ll end with a heavy, serious personal example, so you know the living perspective is real. Value can always be found, even in the darkest, most debilitating situations.
- Nancy (my mother) wants to move to Baton Rouge.
- Good. It is never a bad thing having another set of eyes and ears analyzing your life decisions. It will make me better. I am 28 and single and that’s disappointing. I need to hear that more, in person.