“I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a “transformer” in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.”~ Stephen R. Covey
Last week I wrote about U.S. Olympic hero Wilma Rudolph. With the Olympic Games starting this week, I thought I would continue along that line with writing about an Olympic hero that I have a personal connection with. I thought it would also be fitting this week to follow a quote by the late Stephen Covey, who the world lost last week.
Shakespeare said the world is a stage. For a restless young boy growing up in the remote Texas panhandle, that stage can be pretty small at times, so when there is a connection to an Olympic legend, that’s a pretty big deal to a little kid. For me, that connection came in the form of Olympic Shot-putter Randy Matson. Randy was born in Kilgore, Texas, but grew up outside of Pampa, where his father was an oilfield pumper.
Many consider Matson to have been the greatest shot-putter ever, simply because of the degree in which he elevated the sport and its records. He was a typical Texas panhandle giant of a man at 6’8” tall and weighing 280 pounds. In the 1964 Tokyo Olympic, at the age of only 19, Randy won a Silver Medal. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, he brought home the Gold Medal.
During a two month span in 1965, Randy broke the world record three times amazingly adding over 2 feet to the world record. From 1965 through 1971, Randy entered 79 competitions and won 73 of them. After graduating from Pampa High School, my alma mater, Randy went to Texas A&M, where he had a legendary athletic career. He was drafted by both the NFL and the NBA, but turned them both down to continue his Olympic dreams. When Randy retired in 1972, he was the only man to ever throw the 16 pound shot put more than 70 feet. He threw it 71’5”. No one else was even close.
Now, to get to the point of just what made Randy Matson so special – persistence. As I mentioned earlier, Randy’s dad was an oilfield pumper. In those days, in remote areas such as the Texas panhandle, Oil companies often furnished houses to the pumpers that overlooked the massive oilfields, so they could live closer to where they worked. One such house was located on the Vanderberg Ranch south of the thriving metropolis of Bowers City, Texas (population 18). Randy Matson was raised in that house on the Vanderberg Ranch and when I was a teenager, I worked for the Vanderberg’s.
Anytime we would be going by the old Matson house, Fred Vanderberg would begin talking about Randy. He said when Randy was growing up there, between the age of 12 and the time he graduated high school, anytime you went by, you would see Randy somewhere out there in a pasture throwing a shot put. He said sometimes you would see him over a mile away from his house and you knew he had been out there throwing that shot put since sun up.
That is the kind of persistence Mr. Covey is talking about in his quote. That kind of persistence requires a deep passion, far beyond the norm. But if you can be that persistent – if you can develop and maintain that kind of passion, you can be that change catalyst – that “transformer” that Covey mentions – just as Randy Matson was the change catalyst in the shot put.