Teams, Camaraderie, and a Lifetime of Being an Athlete

TAGS: team camaraderie, lifetime athlete, organized sports, sport participation, team sports, Jeff Guller, team elitefts

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In 1951, I set foot upon a baseball diamond and played in my first Little League game. Thereafter for most of my athletic and coaching life, I have been involved in team sports. First, it was baseball, then football, and then basketball throughout my school career. As a young man when asked my favorite sport, my reply was that my favorite sport was whatever was in season. Yes, in those days, sports had seasons. There were no travel teams that played one sport all year long. Because organized sports were new, parents had not yet become troublesome, loud, and obnoxious. But I digress.

It was a treat for us to have real uniforms, hats, fake spikes on our shoes, helmets, shoulder pads, and tight pants with thigh and knee pads. It was more fun than we had ever had! And now, 65 years later, I still remember some of my teammates and coaches, and some memorable games and plays therein, both good and bad. We weren’t aware of personal statistics and couldn’t do the math to figure them out anyway. It was all about the team. One for all and all for one. We didn’t mind a sacrifice bunt to move a runner to the next base, or throwing a block to spring a runner, or giving up a shot for a teammate with a better chance at a shot.


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And so it persisted through school. Playing on a team in school created a great sense of pride and accomplishment. It taught more life lessons than we imagined or realized at the time. What’s better than school colors and a monogrammed letter sweater or jacket? I have a granddaughter who is a rather gifted athlete and plays soccer all year long and has for a while. She is on an elite travel team that plays regional and national tournaments almost every week. She recently began playing for her high school and is having the time of her life. The elite team is a collection of very gifted players, most of whom will earn college scholarships. The high school team, while not as good, is more fun because it’s a real team. They play in a conference, with rivals. It’s a chance for playoffs and a state championship. Her father wants her to concentrate on the elite team, but I fully understand why she has more fun on the high school team. Unfortunately, school doesn’t last forever.

Todd and Jeff team elitefts

One day in the very late 60s I received a call from an old friend with whom I had played ball from the time we were ten years old through high school. We had gone our separate ways through college and law school. He asked me if I wanted to play a football-like game where I got to carry the ball. Every offensive lineman dreams of carrying the ball. I told him, “I’m IN!”

A few days later we met to practice and I was introduced to and fell in love with rugby. We took that ragtag bunch of ex-football players and became the Charlotte Olde Originals, which is one of the best and most respected rugby clubs on the east coast. It was rough in the early years, but we soon became a “team,” and thereafter a team to be feared. My career was cut short by an injury in a game against my alma mater, UNC, which required reconstructive knee surgery. After surgery, I returned to the sport as a coach and player with Belmont Abby College, and occasion I’d play in the “Old Boy Game” in Charlotte.

We can’t always get 18 people together for a baseball game or 22 for a football game or even 10 for a basketball game. But we can play two-on-two basketball or 6-on-6 football or doubles in tennis or racquetball. New teams. I had a six-foot, nine-inch tennis doubles partner for many years. At five feet and six inches, we made an interesting pair. We, however, were as much of a team as any other on which I had played. I had the same racquetball partner for over 25 years. We were able to function and anticipate each other without speaking. It broke my heart when he moved to Charlotte and it really broke my heart when he died of Alzheimer’s a few years later.

At age 70, it seemed to me my days of playing or coaching team sports had ended. After knee reconstruction, back and neck surgery, and a hip replacement, it became a little difficult to run, and all my racquetball buddies had stopped playing. I decided to go back to one of my first loves: lifting heavy stuff until it wasn’t so heavy.

I was first introduced to weights as a result of a football injury in high school; I did weight training in the former polio ward of a local hospital and thereafter at home. I was hooked! Not only did we not have weights in high school, we were prohibited from using them. I lifted clandestinely at the local YMCA through high school. At Chapel Hill, I lifted with the throwers on the track team, who are probably the strongest of all the college athletes. The sport of powerlifting had not yet been created. Nevertheless, we competed with one another for pride and bragging rights. For me, weight training was only and solely individual. I trained at home, at a new Nautilus facility, and at various gyms and YMCAs, but always alone. So, at age 70, when I decided to train with weights very seriously in place of other sports, I realized it would be alone. And so it began.

jeff guller team sports

I trained for a time, and as I progressed, I considered competing in the sport of powerlifting. With the tutelage and encouragement of Donnie Thompson, I started to compete. I trained with him for a time and learned a great deal. As I progressed, I gained more and more confidence. In time, I participated in my first powerlifting meet. While my efforts were respectable, more important was my desire to continue learning and compete. I began reading online as much as I could.

Of course, I was soon reading Rippetoe, Wendler, Tate and a great deal on elitefts.com. I decided to submit an article about my first powerlifting meet at age 70. The article was accepted, published, got a nice response, and I was asked to become a columnist. A happy day for me! It was not until Learn to Train 7 that I really appreciated being part of the elitefts team — and indeed a team it is. I met and became friends with some of the best men and women I’ve known. This romance for me was enhanced by attendance at a subsequent Underground Strength Session, where I met and became friends and teammates of more outstanding young men and women. This feeling of team at elitefts has meant the world to me — so much so that I feel a bond with members of the team I haven’t even met but with whom I have only corresponded.

Another team in powerlifting with whom I am associated is Nebo Barbell. I have trained there, and when we attend the same meet I am honored that they allow me to associate with them and be part of their team. Joey Smith has built a powerhouse of powerlifters with world and national records. More importantly, they are a group of men and women of outstanding character and dedication. I also recently became associated with a group with whom I train on Saturdays. They are, by and large, young, large, and strong. They don’t mind stripping most of the weight from the bar when it’s my set. They push me, they beat me up, and I love it! We participate in meets as a team and wrap and help and encourage each other every step of the way. We consist, for the most part, of dedicated powerlifters. Those who are not will have to become so or go by the wayside.

“Team” has been restored to my athletic participation. While some of my training is solitary, I am a member of three wonderful teams and relish that camaraderie.

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