The Trinity College Mens Squash team has won 244 consecutive matches, the most in college sports history. They have won 13 straight national championships. Their coach is Paul Assaiante, author of “Run to the Roar.”
I spoke to Coach Assaiante this morning and he shared with me his favorite story of an athlete overcoming adversity, which is also in his book.
When I was coaching squash and tennis at West Point, I had a kid named George Geczy. An army brat, the son of a high-ranking officer, he was a special kid, with a concentrated stare and an acetylene voice. He was not a great tennis player; when God was handing out tennis skills, George was in the men’s room. In the winter of freshman year, he got knocked out during a boxing class, and X-rays revealed a brain tumor. It was lucky that he had gotten knocked out; otherwise they would have never discovered the tumor. Doctors operated on him that night. He recovered enough to travel to Germany, where his father was stationed. Because of residual damage from the tumor, the doctors said, he would have trouble walking for the rest of his life.
The following September, George came back to West Point. He walked with a cane. He forgot names. He did pushups agonizingly slow. For a second time, he went through all the plebe-year hazing. In the spring he came out for the tennis team. He couldn’t run, he couldn’t walk. There was no way he could hit a tennis ball. But George was driven. I couldn’t say no and kick him off the team. I remembered how, in my freshman year of college, I had appeared at Springfield College after a couple of years of gymnastics training as a schoolboy on the weekends. Springfield had a rich tradition in gymnastics. Frank Wolcott had run Springfield’s program since 1955, and by the time I arrived on campus in the fall of 1970, he was firmly entrenched as one of the nation’s great gymnastic coaches—so great that he rightly judged my abilities and cut me after I tried out as a walk-on. He kindly said I could try out the next year. I refused to listen. “You’ll have to call security every day, because I intend to keep coming,” I told him. “I’m going to make the team.” Wolcott agreed to name me the “manager” of the team and let me attend practice. By the end of the season, I had made varsity.
In the same vein, I named George manager and assistant coach, assigning jobs like collecting towels and carrying the ball hoppers. In his sophomore year, he threw away the cane and was able to get on the court, so I asked him to feed balls to players. Then he became a hitting partner for the junior-varsity guys, and then a doubles partner when someone was late. George came to every practice. He lifted weights. He hit hundreds of balls. He worked relentlessly. In his junior year, he played doubles in a couple of junior-varsity matches at the beginning of the season, and by the end of it, he was at the top of the JV. The team elected him captain for his senior year, and he played on the varsity.
So if George can do all that, imagine what YOU can do?
Thanks for reading, and thank you, Coach Assaiante.
Director of Mental Conditioning
Monroe Sports Center