Let’s do this together

Kevin Armstrong

Kevin Armstrong

By Kevin Armstrong: President, Methodist Health Foundation

Remember that kid in school who was the last one picked for any game or sport?  The one who was overweight, slow, not very coordinated?

I was that kid.

From grade school through high school I was big enough to play center on the football team.  The position worked well:  I could fill a pretty big hole and I didn’t have to run much.

“Pursuing a universal definition of play is probably folly. And I suppose the definition of play will change as we age.”

At least not during the game. Trouble was, I had to run laps every day at practice.  Most of the team ran two laps before practice.  I usually ran three.  Coach’s rule was that the last three players to finish laps at the start of practice had to run an extra lap at the end of practice.

I got to be good friends with Dave and Tommy.  We were the three slowest guys on the team and we huffed our way around the track after everyone else went home.  Dave’s dad, who happened to be our coach, stood on the sidelines yelling, “Come on you guys, run faster!”

Run faster?

All I could think was, Do I look like I enjoy this speed?  I’m running as fast as I can!

I joined a football team in grade school to have fun with my friends.  To play.  But my skills were mismatched and my motivations probably a bit misdirected.  Team sports teach many important leadership skills but I had to turn elsewhere for play.  Or, at least for what I understood then to be play.

“When it comes to play, anybody can yell Run Faster! The playmates we are likely to remember cheer, Let’s do this together.

Pursuing a universal definition of play is probably folly.  And I suppose the definition of play will change as we age.  Playing at the age of twelve was different than playing at the age of 50.  One moment on that football field long ago, however, has remained as a touchstone for my definition of play.

The fastest runner on our team was a guy named Steve who one day joined us for the third lap.  I assumed Coach sent him over to pick up our tempo but even the coach looked surprised to see Steve still on the field.  He found our pace, ran alongside us, and lifted our spirits with four simple words:  “Let’s do this together.”

When it comes to play, anybody can yell Run Faster!  The playmates we are likely to remember cheer, Let’s do this together.

Airborn — feet off the ground

Gail Thomas Strong

Gail Thomas Strong

By Gail Thomas Strong, Vice President for Community Engagement, WFYI

A colleague told me he needed someone my age and size to work with him as he shot a commercial. No face, just the back of me swinging on a swing. It seemed an easy thing to do, and in the spirit of cooperation, I agreed.

“I was a child myself, eagerly running for the swing on very long chains that my grandfather wrapped on a limb of a very sturdy oak tree.”

I arrived at a beautiful wooded playground and enjoyed the dew on the ground, cool air, deep green leaves. I sat down and began to swing, settling into the seat, stretching my legs to avoid scraping my shoes on the ground, and chatting with my coworkers. It wasn’t long before my legs were stretching farther with pointed toes. I began to pump….and the memories began.

“I spent hours on that swing, going as high as I could while seated, changing the experience by facing the opposite direction, or twisting the chains so I’d spin.”

My first thoughts were for the sweet hours at playgrounds when our children were little, first in the baby bucket swings as they swayed back and forth. As they got older I recalled how big their smiles were when I’d stand in front of them and tell them to try to touch my hands so they would learn how to move their own legs back and forth.

Then I thought about when they were older and I’d hear “push me higher!” Next was the power they felt as they launched themselves off the swings in an attempt to land on their feet. I shared those stories with my colleagues; one is a young dad, and the other a grandpa. They had their own stories.

What came next was unexpected.  I was a child myself, eagerly running for the swing on very long chains that my grandfather wrapped on a limb of a very sturdy oak tree. I spent hours on that swing, going as high as I could while seated, changing the experience by facing the opposite direction, or twisting the chains so I’d spin. When my friend would come to play, one of us would sit and the other would place her feet on either side of the hips and stand above so we’d get legs and bodies moving to try to go faster. On brave days I’d run, land on my feet on the seat and do my best to use the momentum to get started. I did my fair share of leaping off the seat, too.

Gail Thomas Strong’s childhood drawing

Gail Thomas Strong’s childhood drawing

As I walked off the playground, it was with a sense of calm and contentment. I’d forgotten that joy and freeing feeling. I’ll be going back.

Join us and reclaim memories of your childhood during the Spirit & Place
Festival, Nov. 2-11, as we celebrate “Play.”