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Open Windows, the Start of a Journey

So the family and I started climbing 14,000' mountains in Colorado back when the kids were little. We did the Presidents, which are three easier climbs all yoked (so you can reach summit on all three without descending all the way to the bottom), and named after former presidents. It got me hooked and since then we keep going back. I think I have either 17 or 18 in now. But I love doing them for a variety of reasons and I bring them up here because I think they apply to life and football.

The peak above is Longs Peak in Colorado near Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The picture on the home page is one that I took this summer on a trip with George to Colorado at the top of the peak near the visitor center in RMNP. We did some whitewater rafting and then climbed Mt. Shavano. After that we drove up to RMNP and did the "Fall River Road", which is a gravel one-way road that runs up the side of a mountain to the visitor center there. It is a beautiful drive and was always one of my mom's favorites, although she was scared to death of the steep drop offs along the way! But we love going up there and the panoramic view that awaits, and then the drive back.

George and I climbed Longs a few years ago. It is a long hike and while still rated a Class 3 (climbs are rated 1-5 with 1 being the easiest and 5 the most difficult), it is very challenging in parts and seems every year someone makes a mistake and dies while trying to make the climb. It has many components to it and is great. We enjoyed it so much that it is clearly our favorite and after this year's climb we had a profile of Longs Peak tattooed onto us!

I write about mountains on this the first week of the 2016 season because that is a metaphor for the work George has been doing (and the work we all do each day of our lives, at least some of us!). So why do we climb? Why did we get the profile of this mountain tattooed on us? What possible value is there in spending the time and energy to climb these beautiful structures only to reach the top exhausted and worn out? I know the family has wondered about that as we do it over and over and everyone just keeps coming with me.

For life–which is in any way worthy, is like ascending a mountain. When you have climbed to the first shoulder of the hill, you find another rise above you, and yet another peak, and the height to be achieved seems infinity: but you find as you ascend that the air becomes purer and more bracing, that the clouds gather more frequently below than above, that the sun is warmer than before and that you not only get a clearer view of Heaven, but that you gain a wider view of earth, and that your horizon is perpetually growing larger.” ~ Endicott Peabody

I have done these climbs, as I find that the hike itself is a form of purification. The climb for me helps to level out all the craziness in my life. It makes the world have order, it takes all of the crazy broken pieces and helps them to fit together again. And once we have climbed, we receive the gift of standing at the top (together!) to enjoy the view, even if only for a few moments, which helps me to live on in the rest of my life once I am off the mountain. And like most of life, while the destination is important, it really is all about the journey. Who you walk with, where you go, what path you take, and how you do it. The hike up with George (or family) is isolated and is just us and the mountain, and I love that.

But the moments on the top are important. Those moments on the top stay with me and give me a vision, a belief, a hope, that all of what I seek is still attainable. The view confirms for me that these things in life are still within my reach, if only I keep climbing, keep getting up each day, putting one foot in front of the other, keep ascending, moving forward, carrying my load while trusting that the trail will lead to the summit and some day I will make it.

And even with the pain of ascending the mountain, we know that our time at the top is but a brief moment, and that then we must begin the long and painful walk back down. But there is something in all of it that holds us from within, something that touches us and makes all of it more than just a climb.

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” ~ Rene Daumal

So each of us climb our mountains. Looking for some peak off in the distance and wondering what we have to do today to make it further up the climb. In football, George (and the entire Iowa team) has been climbing a mountain all this time, not just at Iowa but their entire life (like all of us). George was barely recruited and got to Iowa as an after thought (but still very excited to be here). Of all the things I am proud of about George is that he never complained and he understood that you have to show up each day, do the work, invest, "break the rock" with a solid smack each day, and hopefully you will make it. Well he has done that and here we are.

He came out of high school around 180 lbs and this week weighed in at 250. He is just as fast now as he was then and so much stronger. He has "developed" as they say in the "Iowa way" and he never faltered. Just kept getting up, going in, growing up, working the plan, eating, and trusting the process.

So at this very moment and exact point in time, this is the mountain upon which he has set himself and the summit he now approaches. The peak is within his view but yet he still has more to do. He has scaled all of the trails and overcome the false summits to have placed himself at this moment, in this specific place, ready, prepared, and hungry to complete the task. And we celebrate his efforts and are very excited about the 2016 season.

As a parent (and all of you with kids know this) we carry them with us in our hearts and want so badly for their dreams to come true, and trust me we are dreamers. I believe deeply in dreams, goals, visualization, and have preached that to George over all these years. You must see the success you want in your mind before you can attain it. We dream and we dream big. And as parents, we dream for our kids. So now reality meets the dream and we shall see what becomes of it all. We sit quietly (sometimes not so quiet : ) and just have to watch as they go live their lives (and play their games). And as a football person, having no more control or input into things just sitting there, can be difficult. But I am so grateful that George has had this opportunity and still has this season before him. To see what more all of the dreaming (and hard work) can do.

So here we go. Miami of Ohio and the 2016 Iowa Football season is upon us. May the climb be safe and may we all gather together at the peak that we have kept in our dreams for all this time.

Below is a brief intro from the little book I am working on ("A Father's Season"). A little back ground for the football stories.....

An Introduction

  1. Who am I?

I grew up in Iowa and eventually played football at the University of Iowa. I was a co-captain on the 1982 Rose Bowl Team and was part of the Hayden Fry “awakening” of Iowa Football in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I was also on the Iowa staff assisting with the offensive line when Iowa won the BIG 10 in 1985 and went to the Rose Bowl in 1986. I have also coached high school football and most recently spent three seasons on the staff at Oklahoma with my good friend and college buddy Bob Stoops. Football has been and is a core part of who I am.

While I have been in and around football at different levels over the years since the 80’s, the most important football experience I now most strongly identify with is that as the father of my son George Kittle, a tight end on the Iowa football team. As important as it was for me to play football (and make it to a Rose Bowl), and to coach football (and make it to the Rose Bowl), being a father of a son trying to earn his way on to the field and to help his team win, has mostly been an entirely new and different experience.

I say “mostly” because football is football and he has had to go through many of the same things that I did as I was coming up, graduating high school, picking a school, and working to get on the field and contribute, as well as trying to win a championship. But experiencing this 2015-16 Iowa team during the season through the eyes of a father was a challenging yet enlightening and wonderful experience.

  1. Why am I writing this story?

This 2015 Iowa team rallied from what many in Iowa, and throughout the nation, felt was an Iowa program that was slowly eroding. I mean no offense to anyone within the Iowa program, but after some sensational seasons under Ferentz, the last 4 years had been below expectations and at times mediocre at best. So the 2015 season was more than just a rally or a break through. Remember this is a team that most people felt would struggle to make it out of the bottom half of the Western Division of the BIG 10. No one gave them any serious chance of winning the West, let alone going 12-0 along the way and earning a shot at the BIG 10 title.

So I write as a former Iowa player very proud of his university and team. I write as a former coach who understands the slim margin of victory Iowa has to work with and who is so very happy for the entire staff and program for this amazing year. I write as a fan so glad Iowa has returned to its core and earned respect again. And I write as a father very proud and happy for his son, who also has been fortunate enough to have the experience of being a player, a coach, and a father of a player in the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl. I offer some insights, thoughts, stories, and hopefully a few lessons I have picked up along the way. Along with a great deal of hope in the senior season for my son George.

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