|Welcome to this issue of "Dr. T's Timely Tips" by Dr. Tony Alessandra. Please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Wayne Gretzky - Physical Genius In terms of physical genius, there are also two sides to the coin. Many great athletes were not outstanding to start with, and sometimes they were even physically handicapped. The track star Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics, contracted pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio all at the same time, when she was four year old. She couldn't walk normally, let alone run, until she was eleven. George Foreman, who twice won the world heavyweight boxing championship, was embarrassed to take his shirt off as a child because he thought he was too fat. And it's a well-known fact that Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, was cut from his ninth grade basketball team for lack of ability.
On the other hand, consider Wayne Gretzky, without doubt the greatest hockey player of all time. Somehow, he was both a prodigy and an overlooked physical genius at the same time. When Wayne Gretzky was six years old, he was already competing in a junior hockey league for kids twice his age. At the age of eleven, he scored 378 goals in 69 games -- an average of more than five goals per game -- despite his small size.
The first official notice of Wayne Gretzky was an article on youth hockey in a Toronto newspaper, which ran on October 28, 1971. At that time, Wayne was ten years old -- five feet tall and seventy pounds -- and he had already been playing organized hockey for five years. He was described as "a very modest young man who enjoys hockey and doesn't mind playing every minute of the game if his coach asks him to."
Other athletes have been better known, more visible, and have had more obvious physical gifts. But no one has put more distance between himself and the competition than Wayne Gretzky. At the same time, Gretzky has managed to avoid the many pitfalls that have always beset great athletes -- from ancient Olympians to modern professional stars.
When an athlete is the greatest in his field and also retains his reputation and his integrity, his genius has an extra dimension. With the possible exception of Michael Jordan, no athlete in the past fifty years has dominated his sport like Wayne Gretzky, who was always both dominant and exemplary during his career and beyond.
Wayne Gretzky was born 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada -- the oldest of five children. During the winters, his dad Walter flooded the backyard to create a practice rink, and Gretzky started preparing for his career as a hockey player at the age of three. From then until he dropped out of high school to turn professional, the backyard rink was his real home. He skated there literally every free moment, for 12 or 14 hours a day when he wasn't in school.
The best part of it was this is exactly what Gretzky wanted to do. His father didn't force him to skate all the time. His father had to force him to stop skating. What does this tell us about genius in general and physical genius in particular? Remember that Edison described genius as one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. I'm sure Wayne Gretzky perspired a great deal on that backyard rink -- but not because he felt like he was working. On the contrary, this was what he was born to do. It was his calling. His destiny. His dharma, as the Buddhists say.
Maybe that's why he did it with such style, grace, and class, all the way through. He won almost as many sportsmanship awards as scoring titles. Virtually no one ever had anything bad to say about Wayne Gretzky -- and he treated others the same way. Consider his relationship with Bruce McNall, the former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who convinced Gretzky to move to California. At that time, Bruce McNall was one of the most interesting people in professional sports. Gretzky not only became a member of his hockey team, but also a close friend and business partner. Together they bought the world's most expensive baseball card, as well as several racehorses. But then things took a very bad turn for Bruce McNall. Within a few years, he was convicted of wire fraud and several other charges, and was sentenced to five years in Federal prison.
Before McNall was released in 2001, he had been transferred to several different locations in California, Texas, and Michigan. Wherever Bruce McNall was, one person made the trip to visit him, and that was Wayne Gretzky. On one occasion, there was a sudden lockdown in the prison that interrupted the visit. McNall had to return to his cell for three hours, but when he went back to the visiting room Gretzky was there waiting. It's not easy to imagine another professional athlete, let alone one at the highest level of stardom, who would sit around a prison waiting for anybody. But this is really an important part of Gretzky's genius. Somehow he was able to combine tremendous physical ability, and at the same time avoid the arrogance and self-importance that seems to come with it.
In 1994, Wayne Gretzky broke the last important record of his career, when he scored career goal number 802. In the same year, he won his tenth scoring title and the fourth of five sportsmanship awards. In 1996, he played for the St. Louis Blues, and the following year for the New York Rangers. Since his retirement, Gretzky has become part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League, and helped Coach the Canadian team for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
If there's one word that seems to describe the genius of Wayne Gretzky, it would be effortless. This is an illusion, of course, because all those years of skating around the backyard certainly represent effort, even if it was enjoyable. There must also have been some effort involve in waiting three hours in a prison visitors' room. But even if it is an illusion, this appearance of effortlessness makes it even more amazing.
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