Author Suggests Dropping the ‘Bucket List’ for Something Even Better
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In November 2009, Tom Thompson became the oldest person ever to play football in NCAA history. Suiting up for the Austin College Kangaroos, the then 61 year old earned gridiron glory when he successfully kicked a PAT (point after touchdown) against Trinity University.
But the big question was why did he do it? What possessed a man close to retirement age to want to risk life and limb just to mark something off the old bucket list? For Thompson, it was simply a matter of deciding that it is never to late to re-imagine what you want your life to be.
In his new book, Get a Kick Out of Life, co-written with Christopher Neck and Alice Sullivan, Thompson encourages people of all ages to live a happy, healthy, and productive life while not losing sight of the God-inspired dreams He has given you.
I recently sat down with Thompson to discuss his experiences as America’s oldest collegiate place kicker, the key principles for living a happy and healthy life, and his advice for people who feel they are too old to make their dream a reality.
To start, why would you at the age of 61, want to play college football?
If you followed college football, back in 2007 there was a gentleman by the name of Mike Flint who at the age of 59 went back to finish his senior year in college. Well, I’m an author in the health and fitness industry and leadership, so I contacted a co-author having read my story to discuss writing a book based on the premise that if you maintain fitness for the rest of your life, when you get to be older, you might be able to do that sort of thing. He agreed and then in our concept talks, I said, you know what? Even though I’ve got a terminal degree, I might still have some eligibility. What do you think about me going back to college to try to make a football team as a kicker? He said, sure, because it wasn’t him. So I sent off some emails, and to make a long story short, I ended up going to Austin College in Sherman, Texas. The NCAA wasn’t cooperating, so we had to kind of navigate that.
The NCAA told me I had to do a year as an undergrad before I could be part of the football team, and that was to fulfill the NCAA rule for the transfer clause. I did it and a lot of people would have stopped there and said, “Yeah, I’m 59-60 years old so I’m not doing that.” But the reason I did it was to help people. It wasn’t for me to check something off of a bucket list. As much as I wanted to play football in college when I was a kid, this was something completely different from that. The book that we were going to do became Get a Kick Out of Life.
Why did you pursue kicking? Had you played this position previously or did you think it was the “path of least resistance” to actually get on the gridiron as a player?
Not really. In high school I was a position player. I was the tailback and cornerback, and I ran back punts and kickoffs. Also, if the punter got hurt, I would go punt. If the kicker got hurt, I’d go kick. But I never did it. So at 59 I had to learn how to kick a football. So that was a challenge.
Did you have a hard time to adapting to this new breed of college student after being away from sports for so long? I have to imagine that sharing a locker room with much younger guys could be somewhat of a different experience than what you may have been expecting?
Yes. But what happened was I realized that education is a gift from God in the process. It’s not something you have to do. It’s a gift. And I said, “You know what, I can treat this like a business seminar.” So I mentally got geared up for that, and in 22 months I was through and went onto (University of) North Texas to get a masters in kinesiology.
So, out of this experience you have written a book called Get a Kick Out of Life. What are the key principles or building blocks that you want to convey to people?
I think we can all agree that we should love our neighbor, but we might all do it differently. So how do you process that? This is a book that tries to reach the broadest group it can and show them that by enhancing your fitness, enhancing your time, and in enhancing your spiritual life, your quality of life gets better. You are also able to narrow all the junk in your life, your life variables, down to three areas. If you’re trying to spin 500 plates, when in fact they all are tied to those three things, it’s hard to do. You want to say, “Let’s focus on these three areas” and then actually do it. These three areas take care of everything.
In your book, you encourage readers to live happy and fulfilled lives. From your perspective, what does that process look like?
Let’s take an element out of each. With physical fitness, people need to understand it’s not about how you look, it’s not about what you can do, it’s really only about quality of life. You need to exercise regularly. That doesn’t mean compulsively but regularly. The lie is you’ll look like you did when you were in your 20s if you work out or go on this diet or that diet. That’s not real. The whole thing gets back to quality of life. I’m going to turn 70 soon, but I feel like I’m around 59. If people want to change their life, there’s two things they have to do to even have a chance. The first is you’ve got to change how you think, and the second thing is you’ve got to submit your will to that new way of thinking. If you would agree that fitness is good for you, but you don’t think it’s what you should do, you won’t do it. So you’ve got to start thinking differently. And then you’ve got to submit your will to that. One of the things we suggest in this book is what we call “The Ten Minute Method.” If you’ve been sedentary, which is someone who hasn’t exercised in three months or more, just go to a gym; find the easiest cardiovascular machine you can. It doesn’t matter what kind, you choose. Get on it, go for ten minutes. Nobody cares how hard you do it. Then, get up and leave. Come back the next day, do the same thing and do that Monday through Friday. When you start the third week, add a minute each time you’re in there till you get up to 30 minutes. You hold that from now on. You do that at least four times a week, five times a week, somewhere in there. Then you begin to introduce strengthening and conditioning workouts and flexibility workouts. But you don’t do anything to overtax yourself.
For the mental aspect, it’s really about you focusing on what you’re going to think about. What is it that you think about? People don’t understand that thinking is harder than they think it is, because if you really just sit and think, you’ll get all this wool gathering that you do mentally. You will think about a million different things as opposed to the things that you need to think about. For me personally, I would say one of the biggest things has always been time management. If you have 25-30 things to do today, only focus on the top five. If you get the top five done, consider it a success. We are so accustomed to multitasking like it’s such a great thing and getting things done and having to check things off to be successful. But that just isn’t true.
You seem like a person who has led a colorful life. That usually comes with a fair amount of success but also and equal amount of failures. What is your advice to a person about not giving up on their dreams?
The first thing I would tell a person is to take an inventory of your dreams. Look and see what it was that you dreamed about as a young person or anywhere in your life, but what are the important dreams to you. Those God-given dreams are the things that you want to think about. The key piece I found is what’s called “teachability.” That’s where you gain relevance. If you can be taught, you can teach. There are people that teach that can’t be taught, and they’re not necessarily the best teachers.
In your book, you write about the difference between a bucket list goal and a quality of life goal. So, if you could, help me understand the difference?
First of all, a bucket list goal implies it is a goal for the individual. There’s nothing in there for anybody else, and then once it’s over, it’s over. You’ve checked that off. I haven’t been at Austin College (playing football) since 2009, so nearly ten years. I’m still there and I’m still doing things that are relevant as a kicking coach and as a professor. As far as someone older who is still interested in pursuing their dreams I would like to get back to talking about teachability. Teachability can only get enhanced if you’re in a process that is forcing you to be taught. That’s the reason that I value education so.
After people have read Get a Kick Out of Life what would you like readers to take away from the experience? What is your greatest hope for the book?
The thing to take away from is it’s something that can give you peace of mind in knowing that there’s a way to, not just a “why to.” It’s a book that shows you how to and then gives you an opportunity to create your own “way to.” And that’s the thing. People want to own the changes in their life, and they’ve got to understand that change is not a simple thing. It’s very hard. God tries to change us all the time and we’re the ones that don’t want to change, because He’s trying to tell us to change. We have to decide, okay let’s do it your way. I was saved long ago. My life didn’t become my life until I made Him Lord, and that’s the other thing I want people to gather is that once that occurs, then the best begins to occur.
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