In the summer of ‘69, my Marine Corps reserve unit was in Puerto Rico for training at the Roosevelt Roads Base on the eastern side of the island. One day while on the bus transporting a number of us from one area of the base to the another, I became engaged in a conversation about football with some of my Marine buddies. One thing led to another and soon I told them just how far I could punt a football. As we were passing by a vacant parking lot I boasted that I could punt a football “from one end of that parking lot to the other!” The distance looked to be about 60 yards, and since I’d punted that distance before, and I was sure I could still do it.
“I bet you can’t do that!” said one guy said and soon two other guys were chiming in and wanting to bet me that I couldn’t kick that far. I calculated how far I had kicked a ball before, along with the potential roll on the asphalt, and surmised that it would be a piece of cake. So, I eagerly said, “OK, I’ll bet the three of you five dollars each that I can!” We all agreed that just as soon as we got off duty that day, we would check-out a football from Special Services and I would show them my brilliance as a punter.
Just as soon as our duty day ended, I made my way to the barracks to change out of my uniform and into some gym shorts. While doing so, a close friend of mine from my home town of Waldo came and told me that the word was out about my bet and asked if wanted to take on any more bets. And, I said, “Sure!” as I thought it was a sure thing!
In just a few minutes my friend came back to me and said, “Ben, the whole squadron (of about 150) wants in on the action! Just how much do you want to bet?” I quickly tallied up how much money I had with me and knowing that I, along with those betting me, had to put the cash up front, I told him, “Just $100.”
Feeling quite confident, I checked out the football and we all made our way over to the parking lot where the show was to take place. And it looked like the whole squadron of 150 had showed up, which pumped me up even more!
I did my usual stretches, centered myself, and then made a kick. It was a great high spiraling kick - and my heart soared along with the football. Unfortunately, when the football hit the ground and rolled it was a fair distance short of the end of the parking lot! I was flabbergasted! I couldn’t believe that my beautiful kick wasn’t enough to send that football to the other end! It wasn’t until I stepped the distance off that I realized that the parking lot was 100 yards - not 60. For sure, that parking lot looked smaller from the bus!! I did a couple more kicks but couldn’t break 70 yards. I conceded and said goodbye to my $100.
I was rather embarrassed at my failure and I took some ribbing from some of my fellow Marines for some time. I also remember that I got a lot of pats on the back from many of them too. Did I lose the respect of my peers? No. Actually, a lot of them respected the effort (as well as being impressed with the distance I actually did kick the ball!). No doubt, I had given it my all.
This experience taught me a couple of things. First, before I say I can do something, I need to be as sure as possible that it’s something I can do! It taught me to get as many of the facts as I can before I make a commitment. And trust me, today I definitely know how long that metaphorical parking lot is before I bet any hard earned money!
And, it also taught me something that may seem somewhat contradictory. It taught me that it’s okay to take a risk. In today’s world, there is a big aversion to taking a risk. I understand it is definitely easier to settle with the status quo, keep your mouth shut and your head down. But where does that get you?
There is a great quote from one of my personal heros, Theodore Roosevelt that says, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
I know where I want to be - daring to do mighty things! I feel more alive for having made the effort, even if it means that, from time-to-time, I won’t kick that football as far as I’d like to. And for me, the rewards have been worth all the risk.