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Blame it on Howard Roark

Day 2 of my 21 day Writing Challenge

The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I excitedly began an internship with Procter & Gamble. At the time they had a food division, which sold to restaurants, and for 2 summers I had a small territory I called on. I also made cold calls and did special projects out of the Denver, CO office.

The first summer, I was assigned to a sales rep who mentored me and showed me the ropes. As we got to know each other, he found out that I wanted to be an architect and he asked if I had read a book called The Fountainhead.

I’d never heard of it. After he gasped in disbelief, he told me it was about this architect named Howard Roark who believed in what he was doing so much that he was willing to not do it if it meant he had to conform and abandon his standards.

Having been accused of being stubborn and accused of thinking I was right all the time, that brief synopsis was all I needed to track this book down and see what it was all about.

I loved to flip and at that time I was a non-competing member of Arizona State University’s gymnastics team. Gratefully Coach Don Robinson allowed guys like myself, who were not on scholarship but were passionate about becoming better, to train in his gym with the team gymnasts.

Being able to train with “real” gymnasts and “real” coaches was a dream come true for me. Our high school team coach was a diving coach who knew just enough to keep us from killing ourselves but not enough to perform miracles and create Olympians. After I got a job in high school and could afford it, I started going to a “real” gymnastics gym that I had to take 2 buses and walk about a mile and a half to get to. This only lasted a month or so partly because I was intimidated and all I really wanted to do was tumble. The class I was taking involved all of the apparatus. Immaturely, I figured anytime we were not tumbling was a waste of my time.

To be at ASU in a gym with accomplished gymnasts and coaches who cared about developing more than just my gymnastics was beyond what I could have asked for. I loved every single minute of being in that gym. I soaked up all I could from the coaches, from my teammates and from the books and tapes and experiences Coach Robinson exposed us to.

So I found a fifty cent, paper back copy of The Fountainhead at the thrift store and read it over that summer. Do not ask me what it was about and expect a nuanced answer with detailed analysis. Not gonna get it.

Very simply, Howard Roark changed how I viewed my situation as a dorm living, resident assistant, fraternity member, gymnastics loving, happy to just be here sucking the marrow out of life, wanna be somebody special 20 year old.

Howard Roark is an architect but the story is more than that. It’s a story about standing up for something. He was standing up for his own ideals and sometimes that’s all you’ve got to stand on. That is what resonated with me.

So, I became a gymnaschitect. Yep, I went there.

Blame it on Howard Roark, my coach Don Robinson and others. Because of them, I was beginning to realize I could be and do whatever I wanted, so a gymnaschitect I became.

I “designed” and “built” a gymnastics routine that came from my heart and expressed my deep love for flipping and gratefulness for the chance to do it. I’m not sure it was even a conscious decision as much as It was just a desire to express on the floor all the joy I was feeling inside. It was a miracle that I was even at ASU and to be able to do gymnastics, work for room and board, study, advocate for others and more was like heaven. I was experiencing the best times of my life up to that point and I could think of no better way to show it than by giving it my all in spite of not being a “real” gymnast. All of this preparation was happening and I hadn’t even made the competing team yet.

Once I finalized the blueprint, the routine I created with help from my coaches and teammates earned me a spot with the varsity team. Like every iconic structure ever designed, I wanted my creation to move people. Usually male gymnasts start in one of the four corners of the floor exercise mat. I started smack dab in the middle of the floor. My first season competing I would start with my arms raised and I would slowly bend my right arm and lower my hand as my head would bow to the right and my forehead would meet the fingers of my right hand in a sort of funky salute then I would raise the arm back up and start flipping. Some people liked it, some didn’t.

During the 1985 season, every time I performed that routine I was expressing my exhilaration for being fortunate enough to have the parents who raised me, the obstacles which challenged me and the family, friends, teammates and coaches who supported me.

I was standing up for them...blame Howard Roark.

As for architecture, the program at ASU was quite competitive and required long hours and deep commitment.

Same with gymnastics.

I chose the one that allowed me to design and build routines.

No regrets.

Members of ASU Men's gymnastics team standing in front of  a palm tree in Tempe, AZ
ASU Men's Gymnastics Team 1986

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