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On July 5, two young athletes in two different sports squared off against their respective games' biggest stars. Andy Roddick, 26, faced tennis giant Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. And Anthony Kim, 24, played alongside Tiger Woods in the final round of the AT&T National tournament.
Both youngsters fell short of winning, their proximity to greatness serving only as a front-row seat for the exploits of champions. Federer defeated Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set of a match many consider the finest Wimbledon final ever. Woods shot 67 to best Kim by four strokes.
But the impact of those experiences on the budding stars may prove the most important gift of their young careers. They did not simply lose to great champions; they saw up close how great champions win. Roddick witnessed Federer's machine-like consistency, his unyielding patience and steadiness as the fifth set dragged on longer than any in Grand Slam finals history. Kim watched Woods masterfully manage his game, rallying from a bogey at 11 to shoot 1-under over the final seven holes and win by a single stroke.
Few have ever questioned whether Roddick and Kim possess the talent to become perennial champions. But many have wondered if they care enough to make the necessary lifestyle sacrifices. Roddick turned over a new leaf just six months ago, trading in his regimen of pizza and french fries for a diet consisting mainly of skinless grilled chicken, a change that helped him drop 15 pounds and still appear fresh late in the fifth set at Wimbledon. His amazing performance, though falling short of victory, may convince the former junk food junkie to lay off the grease for good.
Kim, likewise, has made lifestyle changes, shedding his reputation as a party animal. His new approach is apparent on the course, too, where he no longer appears satisfied to simply look good and hit it long. His near miss at AT&T National prompted no self-congratulation.
Indeed, both athletes made comments indicating that these narrow defeats would be preludes to better things: "I know I'll be knocking at the door again, it's just a matter of time," Kim said. "I'll be back," Roddick echoed.
High-profile deaths have dominated news cycles of late. But the passing of one low-profile Iowa football coach also deserves attention. Ed Thomas, football coach at Aplington-Parkersburg High School for 34 years, was shot and killed in the school's locker room June 24 by a disturbed former player. He was 58.
Many in the community will remember Thomas for his coaching accomplishments. He collected 292 victories, 19 state playoff appearances, two state titles, and four runner-up finishes. He also coached four players who went on to the NFL, a league that named him High School Coach of the Year in 2005.
But Thomas will also be remembered for his faith and the kind of life it compelled him to live. Within hours of his murder, students at the school affixed a massive sign to the fence surrounding Ed Thomas Field: "Coach Thomas will be remembered in our hearts as a man of great faith in God."
That faith pressed Thomas to lead his community's rebuilding efforts last year after a tornado destroyed 200 homes and killed eight people. So loved was the man that some 2,500 people attended his funeral, this in a town with a population of less than 2,000. Said Green Bay Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman, who played for Thomas, "His greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ."