A couple of years back my oldest daughter moved to Louisville, Kentucky for a short stint, so Kerry took advantage of Alannah’s new address and went for a rendezvous. While there, she visited the Muhammad Ali museum and returned excitedly with the gift of a T-Shirt with a red bike on the front. Despite having written the newsletter linked HERE back in 2016, I had never heard the following story that is inscribed on the back of the T-shirt (and can be found HERE on the Muhammad Ali Center website).
When Muhammad Ali—then Cassius Marcellus Clay—was twelve years old, a thief stole his new red Schwinn bicycle outside of the annual Louisville Home Show. Clay, in tears, found a policeman to report the crime to and stated that he wanted to “whup” the thief who stole his bike.
Serendipitously, the policeman was Sergeant Joe Martin, who trained boxers. He encouraged Clay to learn how to fight before looking for retaliation. Martin’s gym was in the basement of the same building they were standing in. Clay showed up the next day to start training and he spent the next six years under Martin.
Had young Cassius not been the victim of a stolen bicycle AND had he not taken the advice of the police officer, his life would certainly have taken a different path. Cassius Clay’s stolen bike became a catalyst for his boxing career and illustrates by example how Cassius found his purpose in life at an early age.
While obviously not as profound as Ali’s, allow me to share a “Red Bike Moment” of my own. For context – please know that all 5 of my brothers and I attended the same relatively small, all-boys, Catholic, military high school in upstate NY. You may have just pictured a thousand different things. I’ll just say -there’s probably some truth in each of those images. The six of us attended the school over a span that ran from the late 70s into the early 90s, so needless to say, each of our experiences was a fair bit different. Personally, I had an absolutely amazing experience at LaSalle Institute in Troy, NY (which I’m happy to report recently went co-ed) and my memories are nothing but positive and filled with gratitude. I went on to a career as an educator/coach highly impacted by my time there and have tried to emulate many of the great men who taught and coached me.
I idolized my high school varsity basketball coach. He made me believe things I never thought possible. He helped me understand that you don’t have to score lots of points to help your team win a game. He instilled in me that stopping an opponent from scoring two points was the equivalent of scoring two points yourself. He showed me that without the beauty of an alley-oop pass, the dunk on the other end could never happen. And – because he was a man of about my height and with my general athleticism – who had played Division 1 college basketball – he (apparently without knowing it) allowed me to believe I too could do the same thing. That’s the power of the coach. Having coached a lot of kids myself since then, I always tried to be cognizant of that fact – but as I have learned, sometimes you just don’t know how much influence you’re really having. It’s an awesome responsibility. Truly.
And this is where my moment unexpectedly happened. It was early spring of my senior year in high school and we had just completed the most successful season in recent school history. I had played almost every meaningful minute of every game, but barely scored 5 points a game in doing so. I had two teammates who typically scored nearly 24 points each and a 6’9” center who often poured in 12 to 15 more. I really liked passing the ball to all three of them, and as a result, literally no colleges recruited me. There were no showcases I could attend back then, and colleges didn’t recruit 5’11” kids who didn’t show up in the box scores. So — because my older brother was attending the State University of New York at Oswego, I figured to follow suit and had a check written to attend there myself. But, on the bus into school that day, I ripped up the check — told my guidance counselor the news — and then confidently marched down to my coach to excitedly tell him that I was going to attend Manhattan College where I was going to try and walk onto their Division 1 basketball team. The immediate look on his face went from mentor to “Oh my God, what have I done?” Instead of congratulating me and wishing me good luck, I can’t say I remember his exact words, but I recall hearing something like – “Where is that check you ripped up and can we tape it back together?”. He essentially told me I was crazy and explained that there was a reason that no one at any level had offered me a scholarship, never mind recruited me to play. His surprisingly disappointed and demonstrative stance changed my life.
Less than 7 months later, I’d be starting for Manhattan College and traveling the country playing against the likes of the University of North Carolina, Seton Hall and Notre Dame. I would play all 4 years, 2 and a half of them on full scholarship – and little did I know, I would make my way into the MAAC record book that first year. (8 steals in one game).
I still love my high school varsity coach. Quite frankly, If it were not for my respect and admiration of him, I’m not sure I would have been quite so motivated to prove him wrong when he was being as honest as possible with me at the time. Red Bike Moments don’t announce themselves. They just happen. And most times you don’t realize they happen until you look back in context.
I understand this piece could be interpreted in many ways, but what I essentially want you to hear is that – real change doesn’t happen in those moments where we are comfortable or are told what we want to hear. The magic (the Red Bike Moments if you will) happen most often in those greatest moments of discomfort and challenge. There’s a difference between supporting our kids through disappointment and protecting them from it.
I would love to hear your “Red Bike Moment” if you’re willing to share. Thank you for listening to mine!
About Steve Boyle
Steve is the C0-Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports, whose flagship program is held at the Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. but now has locations throughout the United States and Canada. 2-4-1 was recently recognized by the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC as one of eight model programs in the United States for its approach to anti-specialization in youth sports. This led Steve to form the National Association of Physical Literacy – of which he is now Advisory Board Chair. Steve is also a founding member of the Quality Coaching Collective – an international group of activators around sport, movement and mindfulness. Lastly, through his role at CCG, Steve was the two-year Global Lead on Physical Literacy and Athletics for Whittle School & Studios (2018-20), which currently has campuses in Shenzhen, China and Washington, DC.