The Spam came out early at Chick Hislop’s motivational speech to Cody High School athletes last week.
A former Olympic coach and U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame inductee, Hislop explained that the can of processed meat he held aloft represents more than just protein for muscle seekers: it’s the coach’s mantra.
To achieve success, Hislop said, one must maintain a “super positive attitude mentally,” or SPAM.
“With a name like Chick, if you didn’t have that you’d be in trouble,” Hislop said, drawing laughter from the crowd of youngsters assembled in Sweitzer Gymnasium.
Hislop had a lifetime of experience to back up his assertions about the power of positive thinking.
Over an hour, he shared stories from a coaching career that saw him train everyone from teenage athletes at mid-sized Ben Lomond High School in Ogden, Utah, to Weber State University distance runners and elite steeplechasers competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Many of the stories came from Hislop’s 2016 book “On Track for a Life of Excellence,” copies of which he gladly signed after the speech.
“The stories are about [the athletes]. They’re really about what they did, and I had little influence over them,” Hislop said of his book.
That humble attitude dovetails with the lessons Hislop tried to impart to the youth, who turned out for his talk.
Demanding maximal effort from every member of his team and keeping focus on the unit, rather than the individual, he said, were the keys to his success.
“I never get mad about a lack of performance – I get mad about a lack of effort,” Hislop said.
A guru of hard work and repetition, Hislop credits his coast-to-coast network of athletic acolytes to a hard-nosed, no-excuses approach to coaching.
One of those acolytes is Cody’s own recently retired district judge Steven Cranfill, whom Hislop was in town to see. In the 1970s Cranfill benefitted from Hislop’s tutelage as a track and field athlete at Weber State.
Several visits Cranfill has paid to Hislop over the decades are testament to the coach’s lifelong influence on the judge.
“There were times that I’d maybe slack off a little bit and I’d think ‘What would [Hislop] say?,’ and I’d get back after it,” Cranfill said after Hislop’s speech.
Cranfill is not alone.
Hislop’s training has touched scores of lives over the years, including Ben Lomond grad Dr. William DeVries, who performed the world’s first implant of an artificial heart in 1982.
When Hislop met him, however, DeVries was a kilt-wearing class clown type known to his teammates as “Skinny Billy.”
Jokester though he was, Hislop detected a more serious strain in the young man as well. Hislop said DeVries’ goal-setting ability set him apart from the pack and that he rode determination, more than natural ability, to a state high school championship.
That championship performance may have landed DeVries the athletic scholarship to the University of Utah that ultimately allowed him to pursue his medical ambitions.
It was also what allowed DeVries to tell Hislop after his freshman year, “If I want to be as good as I can and get into med school, I have got to stay on track and concentrate all of my time on being an outstanding student. I will not have time for athletics.”
Indeed, particular athletic accomplishments are often eclipsed in Hislop’s book and in his speech. Rather, his focus is on the grueling effort that goes into crafting a successful endeavor of any kind.
Hislop experienced such a slog in his own early life, and he shared that with the youth in Sweitzer.
As a boy, he struggled with a stutter that led other children to tease him.
He didn’t let it stop him. Instead, Hislop became a member of his high school’s debate team and attacked his impediment head-on.
During debates, “[I] would grab [my] hands and hold on to stop them from shaking,” Hislop said. In spite of the nerves, he memorized hundreds of pages of material and became a formidable debater, and then a teacher.
“By the time [I] went to college, most of the other students never realized [I] had a stuttering problem,” Hislop recalled, speaking in front of an audience of 50-plus.
“There will be times in all our lives when we will be down,” Hislop said. The key to making it beyond those moments of doubt and despair is to think “What can I do to help?,” and focusing on others rather than the self, he said.
His wisdom struck home for at least one young listener.
“Next year I won’t be able to come out and run with the [cross-country] team, and I’ll probably go through a pit,” graduating Cody senior Allen Hart said after getting a copy of “On Track” signed by the author.
“It was cool to hear different stories of different athletes going out and doing their best – I can’t wait to read the book,” Hart continued.