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Striving for Excellence and Virtue On and Off Campus
As a two-time NCAA Division I All-American and National Champion high jumper, Bill Thierfelder had long been accustomed to raising the bar in a literal sense.
Now, he does so in a metaphorical way by promoting excellence and virtue in every aspect of life. In fact, each light post at Belmont Abbey College is adorned with a banner reading “Excellence & Virtue,” serving as a reminder of what every member of the Belmont Abbey community is called to embody.
Thierfelder has frequently spoken about his insights into a virtuous life in classrooms, boardrooms, meeting halls and training facilities across the country.
Now, for the first time, he is imparting this knowledge through a book, from TAN/St. Benedict Press, called Less Than a Minute to Go: The Secret to World-Class Performance in Sport, Business and Everyday Life. He recently spoke with the Register about his new book, pursuing virtue and the state of Catholic higher education.
Why did you write your new book, Less Than a Minute to Go?
That’s a great question, since I really had no time to write it, and I have never considered myself a writer. Being president of a college is almost a 24/7 job, and my wife, Mary, and I have 10 children, so spare chunks of time are few and far between. (We are still praying for the gift of bilocation!) Add to that the fact that I’d never written a book before, and you’re talking to one of the least likely candidates for the job.
I never thought I’d write a book, but friends would encourage me to get one out. They wanted me to share, in a written format, some of the insights I’d gained over the years. I can’t claim any credit for those insights; that credit goes to the Holy Spirit. However, I did see the validity of my friends’ point. A book would be a great way to reach beyond the immediate Belmont Abbey community to share great things with others.
I knew if I wrote a book that I would donate all of the royalties to Belmont Abbey College. The final validation for writing the book came when St. Benedict Press asked me to write it and then offered to donate all of their profits from the book to the college. Unlike larger schools, we have a very small endowment with which to support our operations, so the opportunity to bring in funds for the school was an important consideration. Not only would I be able to share helpful insights and techniques with others in a new way, but I would at the same time be able to help support the college.
It was a sometimes arduous path, as I often stayed up until 3am writing. Then, on what was supposed to be our family vacation, I wrote all day and night. Without the encouragement and editorial advice of my entire family, including my 6-year-old, Matthew, it would not have been possible. In fact, by making it a family affair, it brought us even closer together.
The book isn’t only for athletes, is it?
The book is filled with examples of how athletes from various sports perform at the highest levels, but it shows how anyone, at any level, can significantly improve their performance. On the deepest level, it is also a book about how to be truly happy in this life and the next. The book shows how world-class performance and virtue are not mutually exclusive and why we will be most successful and happy when pursuing both.
Sport is a wonderful metaphor for illustrating how virtues are developed and strengthened over time. It provides an environment that can reveal insights about how our bodies, minds and souls work. While the book may be a great aid to anyone looking to improve athletic performance, it also offers tips and advice for improving other areas of life.
The first section of the book, [about] preparing the mind to win, helps us to see ourselves and others more clearly and avoid the ways of thinking that can hurt our performances. The second section, [focusing on] making peak performance a common occurrence, shows how and why peak performances happen. The third and final section, [on] playing with a passion that never ends, shows how sacrifice is essential to our success and happiness in this life and the next.
A recurring theme of the book is that, ultimately, what we do is far more important than what we say. We hope people’s words will match their actions; but in the end, the way you really know them is by what they did, not by what they said. Having given us life and free will, God is essentially asking us, “Do you love me?” Our response to that question comes forth very clearly by the way we choose to live our lives.