Tag Archives: athletics

The Road to Excellence Is Not Always Comfortable…

I am one of the coaches for the Cozad Swim Team. Our primary season is late May through July, and I spend the noon hour during the summer on the pool deck coaching practice as well as Saturdays at swim meets.

I love the sport of swimming and spent the better part of my formative years training in the pool. My high school tenure found me practicing four hours a day and traveling across the country to compete in swimming meets. My journey as a competitive athlete taught me so very many things, but likely the most important is that the road to excellence is not always comfortable.


While I loved my time as a competitive swimmer, being a volunteer swim coach has grown my love for the sport exponentially. It allows me to touch the lives of the youth in our community and help to shape their tenacity and character. This year our team had almost 50 members that ranged in age from five to fourteen as well as a few brave adults competing in the 30 and over age group.

I believe that one of my most important jobs as a coach is to teach my athletes to build mental strength and confidence. As the mind begins to believe, the athlete learns to push him/herself into the uncharted waters of true physical exertion. There is nothing comfortable in this journey, yet it ultimately results in the true beauty of fitness and excellence.


Regardless of any individual athlete’s God given talent, learning the life skill of breaking outside of what is comfortable in order to attain improvement is critical. I would argue that this is a life skill that reaches far outside of competitive athletics. Mental toughness and the desire to always improve (regardless of whether that journey is comfortable) is a skill that I have used every day in my adult life.

This year, I created the Pitchfork Challenge for our swim team to add a new element to practices. Each swimmer was tasked with discovering how many laps they could complete without breathing while swimming (in both Freestyle and Butterfly strokes). Each no-breath lap was immediately followed by 15 wall push-ups with no rest in the continuous effort for multiple laps.


Watching the young athletes figure out that they could indeed achieve success in the Pitchfork Challenge was a fulfilling experience. As they realized that I believed in their ability, my swimmers also began the personal journey of believing. Many of them pushed the limit, with my favorite blonde cowgirl going the farthest with 7 consecutive laps of freestyle no breathing with 15 wall pushups as the only “rest” in between laps. I had 38 athletes complete the challenge in freestyle, and 17 of those 38 completed it in both freestyle and butterfly. Additionally, there were another 6 athletes under the age of 8 that completed the challenge with only one breath.


A nice “side effect” of the Pitchfork Challenge was a tremendous improvement in both work ethic and fitness amongst my athletes. This led to an undefeated season for the Cozad Swim Team and a dominating performance at both the Plains tsumani Swim Team Qualifier and Championship meets.

Forty eight of our swimmers qualified for the Plains tsunami Swim Team Championships and those athletes brought home 166 medals (31 Gold) and 7 high point winners. Cozad brought home the 1st place team victory with 1792 points (more than 400 points ahead of the 2nd place team—a total of 24 teams competed in the meet).


Likely, the most important result of the season is the personal growth that each of my swimmers developed during the summer as they discovered that the road to excellence is not always comfortable…

I would like to take a moment to congratulate every athlete that swam on the team this summer. Each one of you played an important role in our team journey, and it brings me great pride to be your coach. I hope that in the future, when life throws a challenge at you, that you will think back to the Pitchfork Challenge and dig deep in order to persevere with excellence.



Filed under General, Rural Communities

We Are Always Stronger As a Team…

Thoughtful Thursday

AG and Omar.jpg

My oldest daughter and her training cronie…

They log in the miles while training together — trading smiles as well as a few sarcastic remarks while steadily pushing each other to greatness.

They are teammates and, as you can see in the picture, they move with coordination and unity.

I think of them today as I participate in Beef Quality Assurance and Sustainability meetings in Denver.  The beef team also strives for coordination and unity as we come together to constantly search for ways to get better.

No matter what the task,

We are always stronger as a team!

The Feed Yard Foodie



Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Win The Day!


A special thanks to Brian Bazata for all of the pictures that appear in this post…

The last time that the Cozad Haymaker Football Team brought home the State Championship title was the fall of 1991.  Twenty two years later, the Pitchfork Nation is rolling with a 12-0 record.  Our Boys of Fall head to the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium Tuesday to realize a community wide dream.

Congratulations to Coach Brian Cargill and his staff for inspiring our kids to greatness!

Congratulations to Coach Brian Cargill and his staff for inspiring our kids to greatness!

The 2013 Haymaker football players were young children when Matt and I moved to Cozad in 1997.  I remember watching many of them play catch with a football on the sidelines while their dads played flag football on a local recreation team with my favorite farmer.  Those years began the changing of the guard as one era of Haymaker players hung up their cleats and another learned a passion for the game.

Go Big C!

Go Big C!

The mantra for this year’s season is Win the Day.  I have watched these young men systematically dominate the competition one game at a time.  They play with heart—they play with pride—they play with brotherhood—they play to win.  Their confidence is contagious and they have turned our community into a family of believers.haymakerfootball6

The heart of a small town is its youth.  The community binds together to nurture its young people, and in return, the younger generation sparks optimism and creates sustainability for the town.  It is a beautiful partnership and one of the things that I love most about rural America.haymakerfootball5

When the Haymakers take the field each day, they know that they represent not just themselves but also the rest of the 4000 people that live in Cozad.  When they Win the Day, they bring not just victory but also hope for the future.  Each performance on game day demonstrates that hard work and faith are the foundations of successful teams—and successful communities.

Our boys of fall...

Our boys of fall…

My heart swells with pride as I watch these young men discover that Excellence is not an act, but a habit.

I am reminded that with each touchdown and sack that are made on the field, the heart of our town becomes just a little bit bigger and the future of our community simultaneously becomes just a little bit brighter.  Today I give a special shout out to the members of the 2013 Haymaker Football Team.haymakerfootball3

Thank you for all of your hard work and inspiration.  Be true to yourselves and play with pride.  I look forward to watching you Win the Day both Tuesday in Lincoln and each day for the rest of your lives!

Go Haymakers!


Filed under General, Rural Communities

Hats Off To The Haymaker Cross Country Team!

I love youth sports.  I especially love Cross Country.

The focus, the intensity, the determination…

I love my community–its youth, its spirit, and most especially its camaraderie.

The bond that is established in the search for victory…

I love it when youth work hard, establish goals, and realize their dreams.

Basking in the glow of the realization of a goal—obtaining a 3rd place finish at the Conference Championships—while also sharing the joy with a new friend and competitor…

I love it when I can share even just a small part of that beautiful accomplishment.

The 2012 High School Girls Southwest Conference Championships…

I know that what these dedicated kids learn on the Cross Country course will help them to be successful contributors to the country that I love so much…

The drive to work hard for both personal and team success is a critical life skill.

Thursday night, I proudly watched my favorite team place all varsity runners in the Top 15, with every one of those runners receiving ALL CONFERENCE honors.  I watched my daughter lead the Junior High team to score three runners in the top 10.  I watched a team of more than 40 Junior High and High School kids push themselves to realize success…

AG strode ahead to beat both of these girls—despite the untied shoe that threatened to fall off…

Today I am proud and my heart is full.  Although Ashley Grace’s 7th grade Junior High season has come to the end, both of us are looking forward to traveling to Ogallala to watch the high school varsity runners continue the proud tradition that Coaches Dustin and Alisa Favinger have helped the Haymaker CC athletes to build.

Sharing the dream—making memories to last a lifetime…

Today I am thankful to every one of these athletes for bringing joy to my life, and I look forward to many more proud and happy moments as I cheer on my favorite Haymaker Cross Country team!


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., General

Fueled By Beef and Determination—Destined To Win!

Fueled by beef, determination, and hundreds of miles of running my favorite 7th grade cross country runner brought home her first Junior High Cross Country victory Tuesday evening.  The course was hilly and the temperature was in the 90’s but she demonstrated a toughness that made her Mama proud.

Striding to the finish in 1st place…

She laughs that it was her “good luck shorts” that brought on the victory, but we both know that she won this race with each one of the miles of practice that she put in this summer.  The euphoria of victory is so much sweeter when it comes with the realization that the best things don’t come easy.

Every 6:30 am run this summer brought her one step closer to victory…

In her Mama’s eyes, she attained victory before the race even began.  Victory occurred when she learned to set goals and self-motivate to achieve them.   Victory came with the realization that having a passion for something and working hard to full fill that passion is what life is all about.

If you missed the precursor post regarding my daughter’s summer running “habit” click here: http://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/250-miles-stronger/

This is a very special medal, but the real prize is the work ethic that had to come first…

I tease her that it is her Mama’s home grown beef that makes her run so fast.  She rolls her eyes and says, “Mother”…But, I would like to point out that the muscles that are clearly visible in the victory picture at the top of this post are the product of a good balanced diet that includes daily portions of beef.  The girl’s got (ZincIronProtein) ZIP and holy smokes does she ever run fast!


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project...

250 Miles Stronger…

Like many avid football players and fans, my husband looks forward to the fall because of the ensuing college football season.  Last fall, his eyes were opened to a new sport as our oldest daughter was introduced to running.  A Cross Country course is a bit different from the football fields and 200 meter dashes that Matt was famous for during his athletic tenure, but watching our daughter over the past year has made him a believer.

Matt, his senior year in high school…

I have always loved Cross Country.  There is just something about taking on the challenge of a running course with nothing but a stop watch, a pair of shoes, and your pride that makes me grin.  While I have transitioned away from competitive athletics during my adult years, I still periodically search for that “runner’s high” on the roads that surround our farm.

I don’t run as fast anymore, but I still enjoy the journey…

Nothing in my decade long search for athletic excellence prepared me for the absolute joy of watching my daughter in her own athletic journey.  It is fascinating to watch her learn to set goals, work toward them, and gain confidence as they are achieved.

Last fall was the beginning of a beautiful thing…I look forward to the years ahead!

This summer her coach challenged her to run 200 miles.  The lure of the “200 mile club” sparked her competitive nature, and she came home and announced that she was going to do it.   I helped her to develop weekly goals for the summer, and then turned her loose to see what she could accomplish.

The medal last fall that taught her that hard work led to success, and the coach that helped her to learn…

I spent the summer watching her gain confidence and pride with every run that she took.  She and her loyal four legged running partner got up early each morning and ran in the relative coolness at dawn.  While she certainly gained physical strength that will be greatly beneficial as she competes this fall, in reality she gained so much more than that…

The runner and her loyal sidekick…

At the end of the summer, armed with 250 miles and a smile, she is a proud member of the elusive “200 mile club”.  She wore her shirt to the first day of 7th grade and talks excitedly about the plaque that she earned the right to have her name printed on.  She comes home from practice talking about how it is important to always “work hard and finish strong”, and I find myself blinking back the tears as my heart swells with pride.

A special shirt on a very special young lady…

I have no idea what physical accomplishments this cross country season will bring—she has new goals for the season which include breaking a 5:45 mile and winning at least one race.  As her mom and her biggest fan, I know that regardless of how fast she runs and how many medals she brings home that the life lessons that she picks up along the cross country course are invaluable.

I would like to send a huge thank you to Coaches Dustin and Alisa Favinger for inspiring my daughter to search for greatness in all that she does.

Go Haymakers!


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., Family, General

Fitness Is A Personal Choice…

I remember going for runs with my dad when I was in elementary school.  I think that I did my first 2 mile fun run in 2nd or 3rd grade.  My dad is a life-long runner and never got out of the habit when he retired from the Army Reserves.  He is still an active runner and walker today at age 67.  Fitness has always been his choice and he passed that on to me…

The habit of running paid off with two Florida Cross Country Team Championships…This championship was my junior year in high school–my teammate and I individually took first and second places and all five of our scoring runners placed in the top 20.

I also remember vividly when our family got our first VCR player.  I was in high school.  I came home from swimming practice one night with a friend, and heard very strange noises coming from the family room.  My friend remarked, “What is that?”

It was my dad, trying out his new VCR player and turkey calling instructional tape.  His sole reason for purchasing the VCR player was so that he could practice his turkey and duck calling prowess and become a more skilled hunter.  Apart from the embarrassing moments of friends stopping by while my dad practiced his unique skills, the VCR and TV remained virtually unused at my house.

Instead of watching TV, our family went for runs or did various other outdoor activities (including putting those turkey and duck calling skills to work hunting on ranches in Central Florida).  By the time that I graduated from high school, I could hunt, fly fish, run, swim, and sail with the best of them…

I shot a wild hog on my 13th birthday. My brother was my “guide”…

It would be pretty easy to say that I grew up in a very active and fit family.  Just about the only thing that we did not do well was sit still…Fitness and activity were an integral part of my upbringing and they still play a huge role in my life today.

I spend my days working with large animals at the feed yard.  When I come home, my hobby is working with and riding my horses.  I also still run, walk, and swim pretty regularly.  It seems as though the only time that I sit still is when I write blog posts!

I love to care for animals…

You could argue that I weigh 110 pounds soaking wet because I have good genetics, but I believe it to be much more than that.  I believe that my personal choice to be active and to eat a balanced diet also plays a large role in my physical stature.  There is no secret to my diet—I simply balance my food intake to include protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, while also balancing my activity level with the amount of chocolate that I eat (yes, I love chocolate dearly…).

I love to be active…

It seems as though every time the radio news comes on, someone is talking about the growing problem of obesity in our country.   In fact, I just heard the other day that Mayor Bloomberg of New York City decided to issue ultimatums curtailing the sale of beverages that contained sugar in order to combat the problem of obesity.  As I heard the radio announcement, I thought to myself fitness is a personal choice.

I volunteer many hours coaching the youth in my community because I believe that they will learn good life long habits of fitness by participating in athletics…

I teach my girls that every action has a consequence, and I believe that wholeheartedly.  Food choices and exercise are personal decisions, and they each play a role in our physical fitness.   Perhaps the answer to combating obesity is encouraging our youth to be active—fitness habits are learned early in life.

I not only “coach” my daughters, but I also lead by example and compete in the same swimming meets that they do thereby reinforcing that exercise is a life long habit…

The time that I spend with my girls achieving fitness is time that I truly cherish.  We not only train our bodies to be healthy, but we also build an invaluable loving family relationship.  Fitness and family fun go hand in hand—What is your favorite fitness activity to do with your family?


Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

Sweetheart, Why Did God Give You Legs?

I asked my favorite 12 year old this question at swimming practice recently.  You see, she is a talented runner with strong legs; however, she sometimes fails to see the need to use those legs to kick while swimming…As her coach, I consequently see the need to inspire her to use them so that she will swim faster!

My favorite 12 year old doing her favorite stroke…

My parents believed that participation in athletics as a child and young adult would instill good lifelong fitness habits in me as well as keeping me busy enough that I stayed out of trouble during those wonderful teenage years.  My parents are very intelligent and insightful people.  Inspiring me to be a life-long athlete was one of the greatest gifts that they gave to me.  I am doing my best to give that same gift to my children.

Swimming meets are family affairs—Matt does a wonderful job of supporting his girls!

With the help of a couple of other coaches in town, my favorite 12 year old appears to be following in my adolescent footsteps.  She gets up every morning at 6:30am to run three-four miles before the summer time heat sets in.  She also has swimming practice every day.  In addition, Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s she also has a team cross country run that she chooses to participate in.

Athletics teach her that the harder she works, the better she will become.

She is eating me out of house and home as my mother used to say to me, but her body is strong and lean.  She is not only learning to train it to be stronger every day, but she is also learning how to fuel it so that she can be successful in her athletic endeavors.

Good eating habits revolve around understanding the balance of nutrients that the body needs to be successful…She learns that from her daddy and I—it is our job to teach her!

I ask my girls frequently to list out the foods that they eat during the day and also place them into the appropriate food group.  Together, we analyze the balance of their daily food consumption in an effort for them to learn how to have a healthy diet.  It seems as though I can frequently be heard saying, “It sounds like you owe me fruit”, but they are slowly getting better at identifying what their body needs relative to what they feed it…

I see this most especially with my oldest daughter as the increasing physical demands that she makes on her body mandates that she figure out how to properly fuel it.  Protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are staples at our house.  While she tends to prefer protein and whole grains over fruits and vegetables, she knows that a balance of all of them is important.

The animals that I grow and care for provide her with the important ZIP (zinc, iron,and protein) that her body needs to be strong…

Throughout her athletic career and far beyond it as she moves into adulthood, this lesson of good health will set her up for success.  With every day that passes, she is learning that God gave her legs so that she could use them and a brain so that she can understand how best to fuel them!  I am proud to say that she is fueled by the beef that her mama grows for her, and this summer will also be fueled by home grown vegetables that we are growing together.

Interestingly enough, she finds the same peace weeding our garden on a nice cool morning that she does running…She’s not likely to readily admit it, but she has an awful lot in common with her mama…

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Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., Family, General