In January, I had the incredible privilege to meet Karen Crouse, a sports writer for The New York Times. Crouse was the keynote speaker at my PR agency's annual offsite in San Francisco. In our work, we focus heavily on telling the right stories for our clients. In her work, she is committed to telling stories about athletes in a way that has never been shared before. She told us, "Before any meeting, I do a massive amount of research. I try to ask the one question no one has asked yet."
During her speech, she talked about the inspiration for her first book, Norwich.
The title refers to the town of Norwich, Vermont, home to King Arthur Flour and as it turns out, multiple Olympic athletes. In the acknowledgments at the back of the book, Crouse writes:
"I had heard about a tiny town in Vermont from which US Olympians flowed like maple syrup? It didn't matter that I had never stepped foot in Vermont and had never written a book: Alia Hanna Habib, a literary agent at McCormick Literary, instilled in me the confidence that I could do it."
She credits competitive swimming with laying the foundation for her ability to research and write this book. She says:
"As I walked through the glass doors of the George F. Haines International Swim Center, I smelled chlorine and eau de mildew, the bouquet of my childhood. Forty years fell away like a loosely knotted towel. It was an hour before first light, and the teenagers from Santa Clara Swim Club were turning over laps like numbers on an odometer in the largest of three pools on land where prume-plum orchards once bloomed. Before I ever set foot in Vermont, I could identify the distinguishing characteristics of the Norwich Olympic tree, because in its roots I recognized my own."
The book tells the stories of Betty Snite, Jeff Hastings, Mike Holland, Brett Heyl, Andrew Wheating, Hannah Kearney and Kevin Pearce, all athletes raised in Norwich. Chapter by chapter, you learn that Norwich is not just a breeding ground for world class talent, but a community that nourishes the whole person, rewarding effort over achievement.
When Crouse spoke to our 125 person team, there was one story that stuck out; a story that each of us has continued to reference over the past four months. It involves track and field star Andrew Wheating and it goes like this:
"Between bites of a breakfast sandwich, Andrew talked about the constant tension he feels between the purity of running and the business of track. He divided runners into two groups. The first is the ten-point group, so named because its members are inspired to win so that they can help their team succeed. Then there is the one-point group, composed of athletes whose motivation is to beat everybody for their own glorification."
Though the story above was in a conversation about track, it can be applied to so many life situations. Some people relish being part of a team and collective success, while others are truly only out for themselves. Crouse inspired each of us to really think like a ten-point player.
A few weeks after hearing Crouse speak in California, I received a signed copy of her book. I was in awe knowing this supremely gifted writer used her pen to write my name. Her note to me couldn't have been more perfect:
In our current political climate, it can be hard to remember that there are still amazing, small town communities. These pockets of love, support and kindness do exist.
If you're looking for a book to add to your summer reading list, plan on Norwich. It will renew your belief in the power of good over evil.