THE AVOCADO TREE

My oldest son just turned 18. When he was four I took the pit from an avocado, stuck toothpicks in it to keep it from completely falling into the glass of water I suspended it over with just the bottom half immersed. The object was to show him one of the miracles of life and growth. Very soon the avocado pit sprouted small, thin roots, and each day my son and I would enjoy and  observe the increase in the size of the roots. After a short while it became obvious that the glass was not big enough to contain the root growth. So we placed the avocado in a larger glass and soon it was too big for that. After months of this exercise I transplanted the avocado pit into a small terracotta pot along with some loam and fertilizer. By now we had both roots and a plant, rich and verdant with life and an ever increasing source of wonder to my son. Once it outgrew the small terracotta pot, we repotted in in a larger one and set it outside the house in a sunny exposure. Within a year we were in the process of repotting ourselves into a new home. The question came up as to whether we were going to leave the avocado plant for the buyers of our house. My son immediately vetoed any such generosity. Once in the new house I planted the avocado bush in a sunny spot at the new house. That was more than 10 years ago and now the avocado plant is a tall tree that towers above our house and produces so much fruit that my wife keeps her teacher colleagues amply supplied on a weekly basis, and the same goes for some of  the neighbors on our street.  It has survived hurricanes that split it. It has overcome the myriad Florida pests and the occasional winter’s freeze . Through all of this stress and duress it has stood tall and produced in an amazing abundance.

John Smith is my candidate for the 2012 Olympics “AVOCADO TREE AWARD”. It was a mere four years ago when he hit, what was for him, a nadir of sorts. After working with athletes in 1988 ( Steve Lewis ), 1992 ( Quincy Watts ), and 1996 ( Marie Jose Perec ) that all won gold in the 400 meters, followed by the world record holder ( Maurice Greene ) at the 1997 World Championships in the 100 meters, by 2008 he was down to one Olympic  medal ( bronze ) in the 400 meters. He left Beijing saying to me:

No more Mr. Nice Guy ! I am going home and work my ass off to get my numbers back up.

John, the random dance of chance says there will be years like this. Most everyone else would be pleased with a bronze in the 400 and a gold in the 4 x 400. No one can keep it at this level every Olympics and World Championships.

Yeah,……well you just watch me !

Hey man, I am on your side. I know what you can do and so does everyone else who knows anything about the sport.

Yeah. Well it aint about “everyone” else. It is about ME. I got to get back up to MY own standards,…. no matter what anyone else thinks.

Okay young Turk.  Have at it

But things did not immediately get better from him on a broad scale. Except,… in 2009 Carmelita Jeter, being very disappointed at not making the Olympic team in 2008 after having a great break out 2007 at the World Championships ( Bronze in the 100 meters and a gold medal from the 4 x 100 preliminary round ) had her agent contact John about coaching her. Despite her having a fabulous 2009, running the second fastest 100 meter times of all time, still he found it hard to attract the elite athletes his record would suggest he should. After Jason Richardson won the 110 hurdles and Carmelita’s dominating sprint performances at the  Daegu 2011 World Championships, John became what he and I term, “the flavor of the month”. By the fall of 2011 his training group attracted, Richard Thompson ( 2008 Olympic 100 meter silver medalist ), Walter Dix ( 2008 Olympic 100 meter bronze medalist ) and Ryan Bailey to join Carmelita and Jason.

At the 2012 Olympic Games, John’, like the avocado tree, bore big fruit. People he directly coached were involved in five Olympic medals( Carmelita Jeter, Jason Richardson, and Ryan Bailey ),….. more than any other coach. Additionally, people he had coached, and planted the seed with years earlier, were Dennis Mitchell who coached Justin Gatlin to the Olympic 100 meter bronze and the 4 x 100 silver. Jon Drummond, who was responsible for all the U.S. relays, that won two gold medals, one world record,and two silver medals is another John Smith avocado seed formerly coached by him. Like that avocado tree I planted back then, John has personally succeeded, sometimes against considerable stress and duress, to bring fruit to those around him. As a coach, there is not too much more to be accomplished. But knowing John, his reaction will be the same as it was in 2008:

I am taking my ass back home and getting my numbers up !

Brooks T. Johnson

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