The Magnificent Gift Fay Vincent Received From a Legendary Swimming Coach
By Ken Reed
It’s the season of sacrifice, of helping and serving others, of gifts and acts of kindness that can never be repaid.
Former MLB commissioner, Fay Vincent, recently shared a personal story in that vein, a story filled with the human spirit.
Vincent fell off the ledge outside his dorm window as a college freshman while trying to escape from his fourth-floor room after his buddy locked him inside as a prank. He broke his back and was paralyzed.
After several operations and five months in a hospital, Vincent came home to New Haven, Conn. It was then that famous Yale swimming coach Bob Kiphuth came to visit. He came to encourage Vincent and see how he might aid in his recovery.
A recovery plan was hatched. Kiphuth would come to the Yale gym early every day during the summer of 1957 and open it up to help Vincent go through a rigorous rehab routine that he had created. Ever so slowly, Vincent began to improve.
“Bob taught me the priceless lesson of determination even in the face of poor odds,” wrote Vincent.
“I simply had to keep working hard even if progress seemed uncertain. Bob gave brief sermons on why the health of the body was so vital. He wanted me to do my best with what I had — though he never acknowledged my limitations. We slowly grew to realize my improvement would be limited. Then he subtly helped me realize I would have to accept what could not be changed.”
Vincent would never run again. He accepted that his dream of playing baseball or football wouldn’t come to fruition. Instead, he threw himself into the life of the mind. Eventually, Vincent was able to walk again, at a slow pace. He became a partner in a top law firm, chairman of Columbia Pictures and the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Kiphuth went on to win more than 500 dual meets and coach a United States swim team at five Olympic Games. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.
“[T]hat summer with Bob Kiphuth was a magnificent gift,” wrote Vincent. “My success reflected my time with him.”
The Vincent-Kiphuth story is a great example of how one human being can help another. And it’s a nice story to reflect upon during this holiday season.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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