2004 – 2008
Lopez won the New York state cross-country final in his second year of high school in America. This enabled him to qualify for the national regional high school championship. He placed twelfth in the region.
In 2004, his senior year, he did even better. After winning state again, he finished in the top six of the national regionals. This qualified him for the Foot Locker National High School Championships. Though he did not win this national event, he did well enough for college recruiters to come calling.
Now a new problem rose up its ugly head. Lopez’ SAT scores kept him from qualifying for a Division 1 scholarship right out of high school. He had to look at a junior college or a non-Division 1 college. Having had his fill of the cold, Barb drove Lopez and his adopted brother Dominic (who had also just graduated) south.
On their second day of driving, they arrived in Virginia Beach, Virginia. As soon as they drove on to the campus of Norfolk State University, Lopez thought, “This is the place for me.” The campus was beautiful. The school was just the right size, not too small and not too large. Plus, it happened to be a predominantly black school which appealed to him. He did not want to stand out in this new place.
Barb arranged for him to meet the track coach but intentionally did not mention that Lopez was the number one cross-country runner in the state of New York. For her, academics and finding a place where Lopez would actually graduate meant more than anything else. Lopez still planned on running in the 2008 Olympics but he had to take care of first things first. That meant preparing to graduate college on time.
Lopez chose not to run cross-country in his first semester at Norfolk State. Nevertheless, he trained harder than he ever had before. He ran down at the beach nearly every day with the senior star of the cross-country team, Tom Hightower. As they ran, Lopez told Tom about his big, Olympic-sized dreams. Tom was a little skeptical at first. After all, Lopez was a freshman with the build of a football player claiming to be a runner who happened not be running on the cross-country team!
One day, as they were eating pizza in Tom’s apartment, Lopez told him: “In two years, I can apply for citizenship. After that, I am going to try out for the United States Olympic team.” Tom said: “I believe you. I think you can do it. But, if you want to run in the Olympics, Norfolk isn’t the right place for you.”
“What are you talking about?” Lopez asked.
“You are better than this place,” Tom said. “Lopez, you are an exceptional runner. You have more natural ability than anyone I have ever seen. But natural ability alone is not enough. There are a lot of good runners out there who never live up to their full potential. You need to go to a school that can teach you to get the most out of yourself.
Management Lesson # 16 — Know your people. Effective senior IT leaders know their people. Lincoln revealed the cornerstone of his own personal leadership philosophy, an approach that would become part of a revolution in modern leadership thinking 100 years later when it was dubbed — “Management By Walking Around” — by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their 1982 book — “In Search of Excellence.” It has been referred to by other names and phrases, such as: “roving leadership,” “being in touch,” or “getting out of the ivory tower.” Whatever the label, it’s simply the process of stepping out and interacting with people. It is simply the process of establishing human contact. We need to know how our people will respond in any given situation. We need to know who will have a tendency to get the job done on his own, or who will be more likely to procrastinate and delay. We need to know who can be counted on in an emergency and who can’t. We need to know who are the brighter, more able, more committed people. We need to know who shares our strong sense of ethics and values. The most important asset a business organization has is its employees. So why not spend some time and money striving to more thoroughly understand who are your really great employees?
“Where do you think I should go?,” Lopez asked.
“Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. The school sits at a high altitude, which helps distance runners. They have a coach who knows his stuff. He can get you to the Olympics.”
This decision was not so simple as waving a magic wand. First, Barb had to agree to the transfer. “Joseph, I don’t care where you go to college, as long as you get your degree. That’s all that matters to me.” Next, Coach Hayes at NAU wanted him but could not commit to a scholarship since Lopez had to first successfully pass a math test to qualify for a scholarship. Finally, when the Norfolk State coach found out who Lopez (and Dominic were), he offered scholarships to both.
In the end, Lopez chose NAU. Barb asked: “What if you don’t get into school there?”
“Don’t worry. God wants me to go there,” Lopez answered.