Balls to the Wall

May 17th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

My daughter played her first ice hockey game last week. She plays left wing on an adult coed team’s first line. It’s difficult to express how proud I am of her. For years, she was a swimmer, swimming on a club team and on her high school team. I don’t know how many of you have kids on swim teams, but those of you who do know the kind of commitment it requires. Many, many days she got up at 5:00 a.m. for morning practice before school, then returned for afternoon practice after school. After she turned 16, she did most of this on her own because my wife no longer had to taxi her around town. She developed exercise-induced asthma, as well as an allergy to chlorine. Her iron levels dropped. She took medication for years to be able to compete. I know that swimmers are generally in great shape, and that the exercise is very good for you, but chlorinated pools are not. In my judgment, the health hazard offsets the physical benefits.

As she approached graduation, she made it clear that she wanted to stop swimming competitively. It wasn’t the first time she had taken a stand on the subject, and we felt that she had matured enough to make the decision for herself, and she “retired” from competitive swimming. Her athletic drive did not stop, however, and she started going to the health club once or twice a day to work out.

My family has been attending Portland Winterhawk hockey games for years. They are one of the premier junior hockey franchises in North America. While my wife and I did not regularly attend games, we did occasionally, and my daughter started going more frequently, sitting with my mom, sister, brothers, sister-in-laws, and nieces and nephews. For her Graduation present, we got her a season ticket for the 2012-2013 season, and the Winterhawks were in the Western Hockey League Finals, so she has really enjoyed the gift.

She started talking about playing hockey as soon as the swimming stopped, maybe before. Problem was, she had never ice skated. She signed up for lessons and started learning in the fall. As soon as she had demonstrated proficiency, she signed up for hockey lessons and started acquiring equipment. As soon as she had passed the requirements to qualify to play in an adult league, she signed up for a team. So last Friday night she skated out for her first game, approximately six months after her first ice skating lesson, missing a Winterhawks playoff game in the process. Fortunately (as she sees it) this Friday’s game is at 11:30 p.m., so she can go to the Winterhawks game first, then go to her game.

The other day I was thinking about the term “balls to the wall.” I had no idea where the term originated, or what it really referred to, although I had a suspicion but really couldn’t figure out where the “wall” figured in. So I Googled it and came up with a reference to train steam engines in the 19th century. Apparently, steam engines had mechanical regulators that consisted of a pair of hinged lever arms with balls on the end of each arm, and as the engine sped up, the centrifugal force caused the arms to rise, closing the valves. If you adjusted the regulator so that the arms went to horizontal (with the balls pointing to the wall) without closing the valves, you would not limit the speed of the engine. You could go full-out, top-end, “balls to the wall.”

I like to think about how my daughter is pursuing her hockey passion as balls to the wall. It’s not like she hasn’t had other things to do – she’s taking 16 credits of college, working as a lifeguard and still going to the health club five to seven times a week. Yes, I do have to clean up her dirty dishes occasionally, but you have to admire the sheer volume of activity she produces, as well as its quality. Makes we wish I had used my 19th year so aggressively. I have no doubt that she will accomplish whatever she wants for the rest of her life and I think it’s a great lesson for all of us. You hear it all the time – pursue your passion, follow your dreams, do what you love. What you don’t often hear is “make sacrifices,” but that’s the foundation for all of those things.

Maybe every day at your business or your job or your home isn’t a celebration of success. Maybe you’re tired and overworked and underpaid. Maybe you’ve re-started your dream-chasing so many times that it’s on your desktop calendar as a recurring appointment. Maybe you want something to just be easy for a change. Here’s my suggestion: Stop Whining, and go Balls to the Wall.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

www.TowPartsNow.com