- John Gross, sports reporter and photographer, will speak at the fourth annual “Lemonade & Laughter” event May 8 in Sartell.
by Dennis Dalman
When John Gross talks, his rapid-fire phrases illuminate the wide world of sports with one breathtaking story after another, sometimes one running right into the next one in a jumble of vivid memories.
Like the one-handed pitcher who pitched a no-hitter. Or like the Olympic diver who drove drunk one night and killed two teenagers.
Gross will entertain and enlighten the audience at the fourth annual “Lemonade & Laughter” event at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 8 at the St. Francis Xavier Gathering Place in Sartell. Sponsored by the Sartell Senior Connection, the event costs $3 or two people for $5. There will be refreshments and door prizes.
Gross, who lives in Minneapolis, is a long-time sports photojournalist who has worked for KSTP for the past 14 years. He is also a popular motivational speaker who combines life lessons, positive insights and lots of humor — often using sports metaphors. The title of one of his speeches is “It’s Fourth Down and You Have a Lifetime to Go.”
Gross has a knack for drawing his inspirations from sometimes unlikely sources, including tragedies. Recently, he shared some of his stories during an interview with the Sartell Newsleader.
“Most people think their lives are going to last forever,” Gross said. “They’re not.”
Many athletes Gross knows have learned to live intensely in the here-and-now, in the everyday, ordinary daily world.
He often recalls the words of Rhodes scholar and University of Michigan track star Molly Brennan. During an interview with Brennan, he asked her how she managed to achieve so much excellence. She said when she was a girl, her mother told her, “Make the most out of your ordinary days because that’s what most of your days will be.” Brennan said she took that advice to heart every day of her life, “making the most” of every day.
About a week after his interview with Brennan, Gross heard a similar bit of wisdom from one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born with only one hand — his left one — and yet who managed to triumph in baseball, including pitching a memorable no-hitter for the New York Yankees. Abbott was also an Olympic champ who is now a motivational speaker. When Gross asked Abbott how he managed to pitch so well, Abbott said his mother told him when he was a boy, “If you have to do something, even if it’s something you have to do, give it all you’ve got.”
Raised in Cedar Falls, Mich., Gross was a superb college athlete (both football and baseball) and has been reporting and photographing and filming sports since he was in his 20s. He worked for the National Football League for many years and also filmed two Olympics. Throughout his long career, Gross has been privy up-close to the most phenomenal achievements and, in some cases, the most horrifying tragedies. One of the latter is Bruce Kimball, an Olympic high-diver who won a silver medal in the 1982 Summer Olympics. During a terrible car accident, in which Kimball was a passenger in the car, he nearly lost his life and suffered extremely severe injuries requiring months of therapy. He vowed he would dive again, but just about everyone said his chances of that were slim to none. Kimball went onto win a bronze medal in the World Platform Diving Championship competition. Later, in 1988, while training in Florida for another Olympics, Kimball had too much to drink one night and decided, foolishly, to drive. At a high speed he collided with a group of streetside teenagers, killing two of them and injuring four. After pleading guilty to vehicular homicide, Kimball served nearly five years in prison, and his driver’s license was yanked for life. He went on to become a dedicated speaker against drunk driving. Nowadays, he is considered to be the best high school diving coach in the nation. Even after surviving two hideous tragedies and making such an awful mistake, fatal to others, Kimball managed to make something meaningful of his life by helping others, Gross noted.
A book authored by Gross, entitled “Chicken Soup for the Sports Fans’ Soul,” is available via amazon.com.