There’s something about old people that reminds me of the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” I see the Hare as a symbol of today’s fast-paced “googley” culture versus the old-school Tortoise who plods along at a consistent, hard-working pace. The Hare is racing through life clinging to his cell phone and taking cues from the celebrities of the day and the latest viral videos. He is planning to win the race because he’s bought into the dream of instant fame and the status of social media. He might even stop a few times along the way to upload a selfie. The Tortoise, on the other hand, is an older guy who wisely knows the importance of “slow and steady” and a job well done.
Meet Dr. Tom Amberry – the tortoise. Dr. Amberry had been a podiatrist until he retired in 1991. That’s when he started looking for a hobby to stay active and combat boredom. A friend suggested he try free-throw shooting because he had played college basketball, and he might be good enough to compete in the free throw shooting event in an upcoming Senior Olympics. So Dr. Tom started going to the gym to practice hundreds of free throws each day. Soon, he felt good enough to enter the Senior Olympics and won that event. But “good enough” wasn’t satisfying for Dr. Tom – he always strove to be the best he could be. In his quest to improve his skills, he studied videos and read books on basketball shooting and talked to coaches and basketball experts. What he discovered, was the importance of focus and concentration that could take him to a higher level than just consistent practice. Day after day, he honed his technique and worked to improve his consistency.
Less than two years later, he would set a record that boggles the mind. I played some basketball in high school and used to be pretty competent on the court. But I always felt good if I could make 8 out of 10 free throws. Ten in a row was nearly impossible. On November 15, 1993 Dr. Tom strode into a gym and put the basketball world to shame. The Guinness Book of World Records confirmed his feat of 2,750 consecutive free throws!* And he did this at age 72!* But it gets better. Dr. Tom didn’t miss his 2,751st free throw!* Another event was using the gym so he had to stop at that point – a point that was more that 700 better than the previous record!* Dr. Tom was an 80 percent free throw shooter in college – but he had refined his skills to where he was a consistent 98 percent shooter. He thought NBA and college players just didn’t have the discipline to achieve that kind of performance. “They’ll miss their first free throw, then decide it’s time to focus and concentrate to make the second,” he said. “They are more concerned with three-point shots and dunks than anything else.”
Dr. Tom has the philosophy that the free throw is a gift and that you should take advantage of that gift. And, it went along with his other philosophy that if you are going to do something, make sure you do it to the best of your ability. Like the Tortoise in the fable – little by little, day after day, putting in the effort to hone his skills he was able to create a record that is astonishing even to NBA basketball players and collectors of amazing facts. This goes against today’s media-driven culture. People today should take notes from Dr. Tom. Find your passion, do it well, and be consistent at it. The payoff is much more wise, satisfying and long lasting. And, oh yes, old is good.
(Note to my Journalism professor) -- * I believe I can take the liberty of exclamation marks when I am describing the most amazing fact ever