You never know when a simple turn of events will grant you opportunities that you would never dream of occurring. This past weekend my daughter was scheduled to audition for a local playhouse but, at the last minute, she decided to attend her team’s soccer match instead. As I sat on the sidelines watching her team play (more like yelling encouragement like any soccer dad would), an older man walked up behind me. He asked if this was a practice or a match because he was wanting to stroll around the field. I explained it was a match between Santa Cruz and Stanford. He continued to ask questions. Without wanting to appear rude I turned to face him. He was all decked out in Stanford attire. I jokingly said that I could guess who he would be rooting for.
As the conversation showed no signs of abating, I reached out my hand and introduced myself. He reciprocated and I realized just who this older man was. His name was Skip Kenney, legendary swim coach for Stanford University. Skip coached the men’s swim team from 1979-2012. According to Wikipedia, “In his 33-year dynasty, he coached his teams to Pac-10 Conference titles 31 years in a row, itself a conference record, and to 7 NCAA championships.” Skip was also the assistant swim coach during the 1984 & 1988 Olympics in Los Angeles and Seoul, Korea, respectively. He then became the head Olympic men’s swim coach for the 1996 Atlanta Games. He was also inducted into Stanford University’s Hall of Fame alongside Bill Walsh (coach of the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49’ers). His list of accomplishments stretch further than the pools he coached his athletes in.
I instantly understood that in this moment a learning experience was laid at my feet. I asked him question after question about his background, his coaching experience, his “secret” behind such a successful dynasty. He replied in a very nonchalant fashion with humility and grace. I ate up every word and appreciated the willingness he had to share his thoughts and insight. Before I knew it an hour had past and he showed no sign of tiring.
Here was this man in his seventies just out for an afternoon walk who just happened to stop and ask a simple question. Had my daughter decided to go to the audition, this amazing interaction would never have occurred. I love it when events like this serendipitously happen. When you least expect it.
This leads me to ask a question: How often do we miss these opportunities? We will never know for sure but if we maintain a level of willingness and awareness the chance of future events occurring may increase our odds. Come to think of it, how many people do we walk past without extending our hand or saying hello? Sometimes just one little question to a stranger can create a lasting memory. Everyone has a story from which you can learn something. You just have to be present to receive it.