Mohammed Ali is certainly well known for his toughness. And when I saw this quote by Ali "Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even," I immediately thought of Fritz Seyferth. Even though Fritz was not a prizefighter, throughout his life, he demonstrated an unusual degree of mental toughness-stick- to-itiveness, drive, energy, grit-all those factors that help individuals to achieve goals despite the various internal or external barriers or challenges placed before him.
For instance, after completing the third grade in a California public school, his family moved to a school system in Pennsylvania. The school authorities wanted to place young Fritz in the second grade because of his inability to read. Not only did Fritz enter the fourth grade, he learned to read and write as a result of the creative teaching model created by his mother and extra assistance provided in school. Thus, he become proficient in reading and writing and attained a bachelors in engineering from the University Michigan, and an MBA conferred by the University of Connecticut.
On another occasion, in the ninth grade, he was on his school’s second string football team. At the time, he was discouraged and thought that he might not be good enough to make the varsity team going into the 10th grade. His emotional unhappiness and insecurity resulted in him not attending the winter football practices. When his father found out that he was not attending practice because of his negative thinking, he said, “Son, you can fail in trying, but never fail to try. Get a haircut, go to your coach, apologize to him for missing practice, and see if you can still go out for the team.” Fritz did as his father asked and three years later, as a senior, he was a Co-Captain on that football team.
Although Fritz was not admitted to an Ivy League college, he enrolled at the University Michigan. Without a football scholarship, he went out for the freshman football team, and believed by his play, that he would receive a scholarship. Then, coach Bump Elliott was let go and Fritz now had to prove his worth to new coach Bo Schembechler and he did. Even though there were highlights like scoring four touchdowns against the Minnesota Gophers and being drafted by the New York Giants of the NFL, there were disappointments like not making the traveling squad for a game with Michigan State. His father attended Michigan State and had a Sparty emblem displayed on his windshield and attended that game, in East Lansing.
Fritz learned, extremely well, the value of teamwork and doing what’s best for the team. It didn’t mean that a first string senior fullback should not share the backfield duties with an underclassmen. It was important to check your ego at the door, if you wanted to play for coach Schembechler. And who can argue when Schembechler’s teams, with Fritz, achieved a 24-1 record, in the last 25 games, in regular season team play from 1969-1971.
The importance of being part of the team, discipline, being able to focus, taking responsibility, persevering, grit and dealing with fear was never more salient when Fritz embarked on a two-week wilderness [traveling somewhere in the Yukon heading north to the Arctic circle] led by Michigan’s hockey coach Red Berenson. On this one particular trip, one of the Wenonah Spirit canoes, somehow got wedged, stuck, because of the raging waters, against some very large boulders. With the trapped canoe crisis, the team decided to turn Fritz into a torpedo as he propelled in the cold water toward the disabled canoe. If he hadn’t been harnessed, [his fellow comrades held him by a sturdy rope] he would’ve been easily crushed. Fritz’s job was to somehow lasso the troubled canoe with his rope and carabineer so the team onshore could dislodge the canoe. Fritz lived to tell the harrowing story.
Fritz learned, from his parents, Bo Schembechler, Red Berenson and others many salient things: about finding meaning in one’s life; the unimportance of the almighty dollar; how to focus; about solving the hurdles or barriers in goal achievement; the importance of the team; hard work; discipline; giving back to society; leaving a legacy; and that man can sometimes allow his thinking to get in the way of success. In fact, if you’re a CEO or COO, and have a situation look him up as I cannot think of a better person to assist.
Go Blue Go!