What Does Not Kill You Will Make You Stronger

It is life’s greatest opportunities that are so often missed in the midst of living life.

As we passed Bowers Field (the River Field of my youth), I began to recall the day when I experienced the triumph of winning three field events (shot put, discus, and hammer throw), during a dual freshman track meet with Princeton University.  What a great day for a kid from suburban Southern Freehold Regional High School.  Success in the rarefied atmosphere of the Ivy League, was a real high point in my life.

As our train rolled south, I began to shift mental gears.  The emotional highs of the athletic world, and the alcohol-clouded comradely of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house were slowly replaced with memories of the struggles I experienced in the classroom.  I was so busy living the good life that I failed to buckle down and do the necessary studying to maintain my standing at the university. I was so busy dressing like an Ivy Leaguer that I failed to study like one. 

Trust me when I tell you that I was not a very good student.  I skipped class a lot.  I drank far too much with my fraternity brothers.  I lifted weights, when I should have been hefting textbooks.  Finally the time came when the piper had to be paid for all of the dancing that I had done.

A number of us spent the two weeks before our final exams pulling what seemed like an endless series of all-nighters.  I can recall drinking endless cups of coffee, and lived on those fabulous large, soft chocolate chip cookies that were popular in Philadelphia at the time.

However, as the exams came and went, my feelings and emotions began to sink, like the proverbial ocean liner, The Titanic, after it hit the iceberg out in the North Atlantic many miles off the coast of Nova Scotia.  My football coach assured me that he would have a word with my professors.  I had been invited to varsity camp for my sophomore year, and he stated that he did not want to lose me.

On that note, I left school in May of 1966 to spend a summer hefting soda cases for a local beverage distributor.  I had no idea that my life was going to change in just a few short weeks.  The next few weeks were spent working as a loader on a soda truck.  The work was tough, but it was just the ticket for keeping me in shape for the football season that I saw just out ahead of me.  Not to mention the fact that I was jogging around the track at my old high school.

I knew that I would have to hit the ground running when I went to football camp.  I did not want a repeat of the injuries I received when I arrived at Penn in something less than good shape.  I had learned one lesson from my failure to prepare my body for the rigors of college football.

One afternoon in June of 1966, I returned home from work to find my mother crying and my father yelling at me from the instant I entered the back door.  What could be the cause of this?  Then I noticed that my father was waving a letter in the air and uttering a series of profane oaths about me being a failure and a dumb ass.

When I could finally snag the letter from his grasp, and take a look, the reason for the anger and sorrow became instantly clear.  I was informed in no uncertain terms that I had been kicked out of Penn for being a dumb ass.  My academic efforts had allow me to achieve the lofty academic level of a .8 academic average, on a scale of 1 to 4, 4 being an A I had achieved a very low D. 

The university suggested that I take a year off to think about the folly of my student activities at their institution.  The suggested that they might even look favorably upon my attempt to return after a years’ worth of learning the lessons taught by immaturity.  During any other time in history, this might not have been as bad as it seemed.  But in 1966, guys like me were either in college, in the armed forces, on a student deferral, or branded as 4-F, unfit for military service.

As you might imagine being in shape for three different athletic teams meant that I was in pretty fair physical condition.  So the chance of being branded as unfit was probably not in the cards.  Given the need for young men to carry rifles in Vietnam, it only took three weeks for the folks at the draft board to decide that my student deferral (1-D for Reserve Officers Training Corps service) should become 1-A, ready to be drafted into the U.S. Army.