WHY BABY BOOMERS WERE MORE COMPETITIVE THAN GEN Y, or How getting fired helped Bill Rodgers become a great champion

Runners Digest Radio Logo     In a book coming out Oct. 22 from Penguin Press, The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature and the Future of Forecasting, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan writes:  “Our highest priority going forward is to fix our broken political system. Short of that, there is no viable long-term solution to our badly warped economy. In America we are being pulled apart politically in ways unrivaled since the aftermath of the 1929 crash.”

Mr. Greenspan could just as easily be writing about the sport of running.  In my previous post, THE FESTIVALIZATION OF SPORT — Respite from the competition of life, I posited that today’s younger generation seems less competitive than previous generations, though, as always, there still exists a cadre of robust hyper-competitive types, for sure. One of my theories was that today’s youth are more stressed in their everyday lives than were the Baby Boomers in the 1950s & `60s, and therefore less free to explore recreation performance for its own sake – not to mention how the expectations of yesteryear and those of today do not nearly match up with one another either.

Elisabeth Krasicka (Mom), at age 20 HOW DOES IT FEEL My friends, my friends Can you explain to me? How does it feel? How does it really feel To be young and free? How does it feel, To walk happy and gay, To the tune of One’s heart, On a warm spring day, Without fear, Without bombs, That are burying fast One’s present, Future, and past? My friends, my friends, Can you explain to me? Is it merely by chance That you can give the answer, While I can only ask, How does it feel, To be young and Happy, And free?

Elzbieta Krasicka (Mom), at 20
HOW DOES IT FEEL
My friends, my friends
Can you explain to me?
How does it feel?
How does it really feel
To be young and free?
How does it feel,
To walk happy and gay,
To the tune of
One’s heart,
On a warm spring day,
Without fear,
Without bombs,
That are burying fast
One’s present,
Future, and past?
My friends, my friends,
Can you explain to me?
Is it merely by chance
That you can give the answer,
While I can only ask,
How does it feel,
To be young and
happy,
and free?

HOW DOES IT FEEL?

In the aftermath of World War II many nations of the world were still digging out of the devastation while individuals were left to deal with the psychic remains of shattered lives (see Mom’s “How Does it Feel?” poem) >>>>>>

Some who saw their world destroyed, like Mom, were fortunate to find refuge in America which sat free and clear in its economic supremacy, allowing their Boomer children the freedom to blithely dedicate themselves to leisure time activities well into their adult-onset years.  The irony is that while the youth of today remain at home much longer than Baby Boomers did, we Boomers had the luxury to remain more infantile longer.

For instance, when I moved from St. Louis to Boston in August of 1973, I shared a two-bedroom, one bath apartment in Allston, Mass. with three friends.  We paid $160/month, $40 each.  I had just finished up at Washington University in St. Louis, a well-regarded liberty arts institution. In looking through some old papers in the attic of my parent’s house in 2008, I found a receipt for my final semester at Wash. U. from the early 1970s, $1250.

Compare today’s tuition and rent costs with those of the early 1970s where a two-bedroom, one bath apartment on the same street I lived on in Boston is now $1525/month, while a semester at Wash. U. is $22,420. Those figures, alone, show where much of the anxiety lies for the young grads of today.

In this excerpt from the archives of my old Runners Digest Radio show in Boston, we go on-the-run with marathon legend Bill Rodgers, four-time Boston and New York City Marathon champion of the mid-to-late 1970s. During our run Bill talks about his transition from ex-college runner to resurrected marathon runner.  Check out the circumstance that led Bill back to the sport, and allowed him the freedom to fully explore the talent that lie dormant in his immediate post-graduate years.

Bill Rodgers, 2:09:55 American Record, Boston 1975

Bill Rodgers, 2:09:55 American Record, Boston 1975

Like all generations before us, we now-aging Baby Boomers reminisce with the Windex of selective memory that wipes clear the smudged window to our youth. But no matter how selective that memory might be, there is little doubt that we were allowed a latitude of freedom that no longer exists, and which may explain why the kids of America in the 21st century seek a less strident forms release, while asking for a measure of understanding as they look through a  pane of now cracked glass at the choices and world they inhabit.

END

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5 comments on “WHY BABY BOOMERS WERE MORE COMPETITIVE THAN GEN Y, or How getting fired helped Bill Rodgers become a great champion

  1. Well said, Toni. There is more feedback recently that the “Everyone’s amazing. Everyone’s a winner. Everyone gets a medal” era is being questioned by the very generation who was raised that way. If everyone is amazing and everyone is a winner, then nobody is truly special. People strive for specialness, but most people are not fools; they know if they earned it or not. Read Bill Rodgers’ “Marathon Man” to see how driven and competitive he was (and yet was still a nice guy with good friends). Thanks for your blog, Toni. I enjoy them all.

  2. Toni,

    I always love your posts but this one especially hit the nail on the head for me. I don’t really have much optimism for the future (I am 23) but I think that’s part of the reason I train. And I don’t mean to imply that we have it harder than other generations – quite the opposite in fact. We certainly didn’t live through the Great Depression or fight a World War. It just seems like we really are resigned to a future of entrenched power systems, debt, and the decline of the middle class. In the face of what sometimes seems like inevitable decline, it’s nice to know that there is something out there that I can still control, work hard it, and find results in. There is always truth and achievement to be found in those spent miles.

    Thanks for never letting me forget that. You’re the best, Toni.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Thanks for the reply, Eric. “There is always truth and achievement to be found in those spent miles”. Exactly. That’s what people who don’t try hard don’t get and are missing out on. It isn’t the pace or the race, it’s the purity of the effort in excavating the truth that lies deep within each of us that only we as individuals can uncover. Running is just a particularly good tool for the job. That’s why we sing its many praises and laud its constant cause.

      People misconstrue the intent of this discussion. Ours is not to belittle the slower among us, rather to encourage the exploration for its own sake.

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