A Decision to Dunk

Posted: May 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
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iPhone 5-8-13 001

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

On Tuesday, I took advantage of the beautiful weather by going for a run to my local park. When I arrived, I took a break on the basketball court and took a picture of the hoop with the pond in the background.

And at this moment, I made a decision.

When I was 21, my dad and I would walk in the evening to the park where I spent countless days and nights playing basketball. We would shoot around and then I would spend the remaining daylight pursuing my goal:


I’m not exactly built to dunk. I’m 5’10”, over 200lbs, and I have the wingspan of a T-Rex. However, I was (and I suppose I still am) a deceptively good athlete, meaning people are surprised I have any athletic ability at all.

Explosive jumping ability was not born into me, but I was still very close to my goal. I could grab the rim, and I could get high enough to jam the ball into the rim, but not through it. I was mere inches away, but by my mid-20s, I declared myself “too old” to accomplish this feat and accepted that I would simply never dunk.

On Tuesday, I changed my mind:

I am going to dunk.

Of course, I recognize how counterintuitive (ie: ridiculous) this sounds. If I couldn’t dunk during my “athletic prime” when  I played basketball constantly, then what chance do I have now, particularly since I was only able to hit the backboard on Tuesday?

I have a good chance, but I base my odds more on my mind than my body.

One of the charming aspects of teaching college is being around bright, enthusiastic young people who are pursuing their dreams. It is refreshing when students declare what they want and believe with every ounce of their being that things will turn out that way. I was one of those students at 21. I used to say I would be a rich and famous writer by the age of 25. Nothing made me believe otherwise, except for turning 26. (I’m kind of a famous writer now, though. How many ‘LIKES’ does the Flaneur’s Turtle have on Facebook?)

I was a fairly typical 21-year-old. I worked hard – I was going to school full-time during the day and working full-time during the night – but still, my concept of “hard work” was lackluster, and my concept of how to make dreams happen was clearly and lazily off the mark.

And my quest to dunk proves that.

Ten years later, I realize that some training (particularly plyometrics) would have gotten younger me over the rim to my goal in a few months, or even sooner. That’s how close I was. But I didn’t identify my goal, figure out the solution, and then dedicate myself to carrying out the plan.

At 21, a few inches seemed insurmountable. I had myself convinced that I was working hard at my goals and dreams, but if I couldn’t do something with relative ease, I either didn’t try or gave up.

At 31, an entire foot seems inevitable. If I’m far away from my goal, I’ll figure out how to achieve it, and the hard work will just make the payoff sweeter.

To achieve goals, to make dreams come true, to have something special in your life – it takes hard work, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. It takes figuring out how to make things work and then ACTUALLY trying to make them work.

If 21-year-old Paul had honestly bought into that philosophy, I would have dunked a decade ago. But now I have bought in, and that’s what gives me a shot to throw it down.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Meh. Dunking is not all it is cracked up to be. It is a classic case of diminishing marginal utility once you have done it.

    • J.D.DuFresne says:

      It’s not about what the goal is, it’s about having the goal. The hard work, determination, and striving for that goal is what this is about, it has nothing to do with dunking being an amazing and gratifying feeling every time one does it.

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