I still have my off-season workout packets. Just looking at one triggers a rush of memories from summers past. Those deceivingly thin, yet dense red booklets containing my daily plyometrics, sprints and weight-lifting exercises. Forget a summer reading list: this was my bible, and I adhered religiously to its guidelines each summer. I can still feel my racing heart, oxygen-deprived lungs and sore quads…
One summer, I managed to squeeze a little vacation into my athletic training. Or rather, a “vacation” was scheduled for me. I went on a cruise with my parents, brother and extended family. My cousins and I all got tee-shirts to wear on the trip baring the phrase, “Krasna Kids,” just in case we weren’t already completely stoked about going on a party cruise with our parents. I do admit to enjoying the getaway though, as it was nice to catch a few rays and build up my Vitamin D stores before beginning what would be a sunless school year in Ithaca.
My memories from that trip, however, aren’t of the fabulous shows, extravagant meals or of the exotic island stops. They are of the ship’s outdoor basketball court.
It was difficult to shoot, particularly when the boat was moving, because of the gusting nautical winds. So I’d strategically work on my shot when the boat was docked at a port. Everyone in my family (except for my Dad, of course) thought I was crazy for missing out on the beautiful beaches, shopping and scuba diving excursions. But I had goals for that season — for me, myself and my team — and I was not going to let anything get in the way. Not even the blasting winds of the Caribbean.
I distinctly remember one morning workout out on the cruise. My Dad and I often refer back to it in conversation, because what I learned during that shooting session would have an impact on how I approached my training for the rest of my life - on and off the court. It was the morning that I developed a real work ethic.
I was practicing foul shots, and shooting like Shaq. Extremely frustrated with my lack of accuracy, I wanted to stop and switch to a different drill. But, good ole’ Dad — who missed out on the scuba diving excursions, too — suggested that instead, I continue with the foul shots until I could drain ten of them in a row.
Determined, I took him up on his challenge.
I was feeling pretty crappy about my game when over the next hour and a half (and what felt like a century), the closest I’d come was six in a row. I’d probably made about 200 total shots since starting the drill, but I wasn’t focusing long enough to complete a ten-shot streak. I wanted to quit so badly: throw in the towel, and head to the beach with the rest of the Krasna Kids. But I sucked it up, and eventually, I finished. I made 10 in a row. And at the time, it felt like the greatest achievement of my life.
In my rookie season, I finished 11th in the country for free throws made (115), and lead the Ivy League in free-throw shooting percentage. I also set the Cornell individual season record (87.1 percent), en route to helping the Red sink a team-record of 74.1 percent from the line for the 2004-2005 season.
My perseverance on the basketball court that summer reconfirmed an important life lesson — something that the best of the best already know, and something that I am starting to discover in lots of different areas of my life: Great teams are made during the season, but great players are made during the off-season. The harder you work, the luckier you get. And, practice makes perfect.
Okay, so maybe it was more than one lesson I learned that summer. The point is that all Cornell athletes are talented, or else they wouldn’t be there. And they all work hard during the season, because the Cornell coaches and sports conditioning staff won’t accept anything less. The great plays, jaw-dropping moves and record-breaking achievements that occur during the season are merely manifestations of the hours of dirty work — the blood, sweat and tears that were already registered during the off-season.
The difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary… is just that little “extra.” And for many varsity athletes, the transcendence from better to best happens over the summer.