The Measure of a Man · 14 June 2014

Photo by Tyler Smith courtesy of Fred Luke

English writer, Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

By this yardstick, we all know great people. They are the good Samaritans of the world. The salt of the earth. The people who would give you the shirts off their backs. The people who are your friends in need. Friends indeed.

And yet, popular culture tells us that the great people are those who have accomplished much. The sports heroes, the rock stars, the movie stars, the CEOs. For some reason, we believe that fame and fortune are the measure of a man or woman.

But deep down, we know better.

I have had the privilege of being around a great man for the past few years during track and field season. He has accomplished much in his sport of choice, but his greatness is not measured by those accomplishments, but by his character.

I met Fred a few years ago at a track and field meet. He was coaching his athletes and I was coaching mine. We started off just being cordial and having mutual respect as fellow coaches. We saw each other several times throughout the season and even sat next to each other at the state meet as our throwers got their awards. They went one two, with his thrower beating mine on his final throw.

Over the next couple seasons, I picked Fred’s brain on how to coach my throwers. He would give me tips here and there on how to get more from my athletes. I listened and soaked up everything I could (after all, I was never a spear chucker). Every meet with that rival school was a chance to learn more from Fred. It has been fantastic.

Fred says that part of why he gives tips to other coaches and athletes is because he feels it is part of his blessing to share what he knows. This past season, that sharing has helped one of my best athletes, Kathryn.

As always, Fred gave me tips on how all my athletes could get better. But one meet, I had to be away from the girls’ javelin competition. We were hosting the meet and for some reason, I had to be on the other side of the stadium. So I asked Fred if he could watch my two girls, Kathryn and Judy, in the competition and coach them that day. I told them to listen to him, because he was my coaching mentor.

When the meet was over, Fred gave me a rundown on what the girls could do to improve. But he went above and beyond. He had filmed them and sent me a detailed breakdown on little techniques they could improve. He even sent me still shots from the film that showed good things they could focus on. I marveled at what he had given me. At what he had given my athletes.

I always knew Fred was a great man. He had given my athletes and me so much help and encouragement throughout the years. And he had nothing to gain by it except stronger competition in the years to come. He knows that giving his knowledge and expertise away helps us all. Coaches and athletes are grateful that Fred gives because he loves the sport and the athletes, regardless of which school they come from. That he gives because it is who he is. (With Fred’s help, Judy set a new freshman record and Kathryn finished the season second in conference, first in sub-district, second in bi-district, ninth in state, and set a new school record along the way.)

Then one day, I discovered how truly great Fred Luke is.

At one of the meets this year, Fred introduced me to one of his former University of Washington teammates, Ken. After that, I saw Ken watching the javelin throwers at a few other meets. One day, I told him how much I appreciated all the help and coaching Fred had given me through the past few years. He smiled knowingly. Then, he asked me, “Did you know that Fred was a two-time national champion? Or that he went to the Olympics?”

Ken went on to tell me that Fred Luke was and is still an accomplished javelin thrower. He was a two-time national champion in the seventies and competed in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where he finished eighth. He is still a spear chucker, competing at the masters level. More importantly though, Fred is passing on his expertise as a high school coach.

I must admit that I was star stuck. I had been talking to an Olympic competitor and gleaning information from him for three seasons and did not know his accomplishments. I had been around greatness (as popular culture defines it) for a long time and did not even know it. Fred was too humble to let me know of his accomplishments or that he had been in the spotlight for a time. He even blushed a bit when I mentioned that Ken told me about his greatness, and later told me that he was uncomfortable with all the attention he got way back when. Humility is an endearing quality that the truly great ones have. And Fred has it in abundance.

I suppose I am still a bit star struck when I call Fred a great man. After all, I have met many coaches in the track and field world who have helped me even though they have nothing to gain except a stronger sport. They are great people too. They have accomplishments that they are humble about too. They are the good Samaritans and the salt of the earth too. They all remind me that the measure of a man is certainly not defined by his accomplishments, but by his character.

Star stuck or not, I still assert that Fred Luke is a great and humble man. He has accomplished much with his javelin throwing and his coaching. But more importantly, he helps me to remember the words of Samuel Johnson: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Published 5 June 2014 in Take 2 | The Seattle Times



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