Remembering Paul Sesker

IMG_5605Though I certainly could have made excuses to put it off, today I again jumped back into my workout routine. I have some lofty goals for this year, and life beyond, and turning into an old pot-bellied decrepit dude just isn’t going to cut it. The weather here really wasn’t bad today, but it wasn’t nice either. Intermittent snow, blustery wind, sloppy conditions all around. A nice day to sit on the couch, if you’re into that sort of thing… and I don’t want to be. 

So I forced myself out, hopped on my bike and rode the two and a half miles into our local track. I go back there to run from time to time, just for the memories and to draw strength from days gone by. Not to sound all Uncle Rico, but being a runner in high school was a source of great pride. Between workouts and competition I left a lot of blood, sweat and tears on that old track. Now twenty plus some years later, it seems significant to be doing it still. 

And within those memories there were some really great lessons. Some true character development that has carried me through difficult situations in life. Developing mental toughness and learning to fight through adversity. Fortunately we had a couple of really tremendous coaches in Dave Vogelgesang and Paul Sesker; two guys that knew how to push the right buttons in inspiring kids to be their absolute best. 

As most of you reading this will know, Coach Sesker passed away last summer. Like many of you, I think of him often. He certainly was a character! Even on the track today, fighting the wind on the backstretch, I could imagine him grabbing me by the shirt collar, pulling me to the side and saying, “…someone needs to tell the Chamber of Commerce to shut these fans off!” That was one of his favorite go to expressions, and we’d hear it often during the various windy Relays that make up an Iowa spring track season. 

I wrote the following piece for our local newspaper, The Tipton Conservative, last fall. I’m not sure if it ever ran or not, if it did I unfortunately missed it. So as this years track season progresses without that spunky old coach roaming the infield I thought it might be worthy of a share, just in case some of you missed it too. While he’s no longer here in person it seems a pretty safe bet that Coach Sesker is still cheering from somewhere, and beaming that great big smile, especially when his “timber toppers” take the blocks.

 

REMEMBERING PAUL SESKER

Tipton lost a legendary coach and teacher on August 1 when Paul Sesker passed away following a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Sesker spent over forty years in the Tipton Community School District, working full time as a social studies teacher from 1975 until his retirement in 1997, and coaching track, baseball, girls basketball, and football during his tenure. He continued to assist with the track programs through 2016 and was widely recognized as one of the top hurdle coaches in the state. During his time Sesker touched the lives of thousands of local youth, many who credit him with lasting impacts to this day. A former paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, Sesker might have been labeled a perfectionist. He had little tolerance for mediocrity and refused to let kids settle without giving their full effort. But despite a sometimes hard-nosed approach, he ultimately always had the best interest of his students and athletes at heart.

 

For those of us that knew him, it is Sesker’s whit, spontaneity, and unique style that will be remembered most. My introduction to this came one blustery afternoon in Solon. It was my freshman year at the Spartan Relays and some friends and I were walking the infield between races, possibly horsing around more than we should. Out of nowhere Coach Sesker appeared, scooped me up in a bear hug, and proceeded to carry me across the field. That crazy old man (as I saw him then) didn’t say a word. He just carried me dangling and helpless all the way to the far end zone, dropped me without explanation, and continued on his way. I stood there, embarrassed and confused, wondering what had happened… and what was wrong with that guy.

I recently shared this story with Dave Vogelgesang, and he laughed knowingly.

“Yeah, Paul knew how to get a kids attention,” he said.

As longtime Tipton Athletic Director, Vogelgesang was involved in hiring Sesker when he first came to the district. The two coached together and built a lasting friendship. A trove of Paul Sesker stories, when asked to share Vogelgesang gets a gleam in his eye born of a decades long understanding. He tells of the joy Sesker would take from watching hurdlers, or “Timber Toppers” as Paul called them, at the Drake Relays. He speaks of the danger of sitting too close to Sesker at wrestling meets, when unable to contain his enthusiasm Paul would begin acting out moves in the stands. He tells of the mental toughness Sesker instilled in kids, especially his own children, and a favored story of how Paul’s son Craig had to fill in for an injured runner at the state track meet. Craig rose to the occasion, shaved seconds off of his best time and pushed the team to victory. But the best stories, Vogelgesang concedes, are of what Sesker could do with the average kids who had big hearts. 

One such case involved a young man who nearly went his entire high school track career without winning a medal. He wasn’t particularly gifted, but tried hard and in four years never missed a practice. As a 110 meter high hurdle runner, he worked under Sesker’s tutelage, and at times gave the coach fits. On race day, each time without fail, the runner would take off strong and hang with the pack through the first five hurdles only to lose stamina and fade down the stretch. Yet Sesker never gave up on him. He coached him just the same as he had his many state champions. 

It was the conference meet of the young man’s senior season when the unthinkable happened. In what was expected to be the final race of his career, he somehow ran just fast enough in the prelims to sneak his way into the finals. It was quite an accomplishment, really, and a nice testament to his commitment through the years. But with the slowest qualifying time he drew an outside lane, and the victory appeared to be moral. 

When the gun sounded to start the final race, the best hurdlers in the conference took off in a dead heat. There on the outside was Tipton’s representative, and like so many races before he held strong through the first five flights. Only this time in the run up to the sixth hurdle, he didn’t falter. He three stepped that, and then the seventh and the eighth. Then he started to pull away. Though it seemed time stood still, seconds later the finish line string snapped and Tipton had its newest conference champion.

“My God you should have seen the celebration that day. I thought Paul was going to have a heart attack!” laughed Vogelgesang.

Amazing things can happen when you pair a kid who wants desperately to succeed with a mentor who refuses to give up on them. According to Craig Sesker, that’s what his father was all about. 

“He absolutely loved the kids. It was all about them. It didn’t matter if you were the star player or the last player off the bench, if you worked hard, had a good attitude and bought into his coaching philosophy, he would do anything for you.”

Dave Vogelgesang and Craig Sesker are both quick to point out that Paul continued to coach through recent years, even with his health in decline.  In 2016, at the age of seventy nine, you would still find him each spring afternoon down at the track coaching junior high hurdlers. Vogelgesang remembers how the kids would all rush to help him pull his walker from the back of his truck as he arrived each day for practice. They had immense respect for the beleaguered old coach, and just couldn’t wait to get him out there to put them through the drills.

Sue O’Donnell was head coach for some earlier junior high track teams, and also recalls the impact Coach Sesker had on the kids. With large numbers in her seventh and eighth grade programs, she brought Sesker, Vogelgesang, and Marv Miller on as volunteer assistants in 2007. The runners were completely enthralled and inspired while working under this group of coaching legends. Both classes won conference championships that year. 

“That, in itself, was awesome,” said O’Donnell, “but the absolute best memory I have of that season is after the conference meet. When the winning team usually takes a victory lap, my boys lined up to hug Paul. It was spontaneous… to say thank you.” 

There is no doubt that Paul Sesker leaves an enduring legacy, and one that is multifaceted. On one hand his life exemplified the profound impact that teachers, coaches, and mentors can have on young hearts and minds; and should encourage our community’s role models as a reminder of the difference they themselves are making. Then of course there is the direct impact that Sesker had on the thousands who came of age under his watchful eye. The scope of this became clear when news of his death spread with a solemn murmur around town, followed by an outpouring of hundreds of Facebook posts, sharing stories and offering condolences to his family. 

Still, it’s natural when someone passes to wonder if they really knew what they meant to the world; if they understood the full extent of their influence. I believe that Paul Sesker did. He came to realize it through victories lived and moments shared. 

“I saw tears come down his cheeks,” said Sue O’Donnell of her team hugging Sesker in celebration. “He was so touched by the genuine love and respect. It was a perfect moment.”

“Paul was just on Cloud Nine,” Dave Vogelgesang remembers from the aftermath of Tipton’s unexpected hurdling champion.

“It was awesome,” recalls Craig Sesker of stepping in to run his best race of the year and propel his relay team to a state championship. “My dad had a huge smile on his face after the race.”

I too was fortunate to share in one of these special moments with Coach Sesker. Two years after that awkward encounter in Solon, I found myself at the Loras Invitational in Dubuque getting set to run my first ever 400 meter dash. I’d only competed in shorter sprints to that point, but Coach Vogelgesang wanted to experiment and penciled me in on a whim. I stood nervously amongst a group of teammates before the race, talking strategy and seeking advice. Once again Coach Sesker appeared and pulled me out of the crowd.
“You go out there and you run like hell,” he told me. “All out, all the way. Don’t think about it, just run.”

So I did. I won my heat and finished with a time that finished second overall, runner up only to one of the top quarter milers in the state. 

After the race my legs felt like jelly. I stumbled my way back to our team camp where there was already a buzz. One of our runners had tweaked a hamstring earlier in the meet and needed to pull out of the 4×400 relay. 

“What do you think, Meier,” asked Coach Vogelgesang. “Got anything left?” I never had a chance to answer.

“Yep,” said Coach Sesker slapping me hard on the back. “He’ll do it.”

What seemed mere moments later I was passing several runners on the final turn then kicking hard down the homestretch to anchor our relay team to a runner up finish in the 4×400. Leaving the track I was on the verge of collapse. An average kid with a big heart, I’d given it everything I had. I’ll never forget staggering under the floodlights, when just as my legs began to give out a figure appeared and caught me. It was Paul Sesker. He held me by the shoulders, looked me square in the eye, and flashed a proud smile. Then without a word he hoisted me in a bear hug and carried me across the infield.

It was the best feeling in the world.

 

 

*Special thanks to Sue O’Donnell, Craig Sesker, and Dave Vogelgesang for their contributions to this story.

 

 

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Sparrows in Winter

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“I do not live happily or comfortably
with the cleverness of our times.
The talk is about computers,
the news is all about bombs and blood.
This morning, in the fresh field,
I came upon a hidden nest.
It held four warm, speckled eggs.
I touched them.
Then went away softly,
having felt something more wonderful
than all the electricity in New York City.”

-Mary Oliver, “With Thanks to the Field Sparrow, Whose Voice Is So Delicate and Humble”

 

Photo Location: Cedar County, Iowa

Cedar River Sunrise

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“The great miraculous bell of translucent ice is suspended in mid-air.

It rings to announce endings and beginnings. And it rings because there is fresh promise and wonder in the skies.
Its clear tones resound in the placid silence of the winter day, and echo long into the silver-blue serenity of night.

The bell can only be seen at the turning of the year, when the days wind down into nothing, and get ready to march out again.

When you hear the bell, you feel a tug at your heart.

It is your immortal inspiration.”

– Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Photo Location: Cedar Valley Park, Cedar County, Iowa

While I haven’t always been big on resolutions, I do have many goals for 2018, both personal and professional. One of those being to re-establish my online photography presence, and part of that will be through a daily photo and inspirational quote shared across my social media platforms. Please keep an eye out for these on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and feel free to like, comment or share!

Warmest wishes to everyone out there for happiness, health, love and inspiration, and a year full of wonderful adventure in 2018!

Josh Meier Photography Best of 2017

Well here we are again, New Years Eve, always a time for both reflection and intent. And for photographers it’s an occasion to dream of shoots in the year to come, and to look back on work from the one about to pass. One thing I’ve really come to look forward to at this time each year is Jim Goldstein’s annual Best Photos of the Year blog project. In this, Jim invites anyone who wishes to participate to create a blog post highlighting 5-10 of their favorite images from the year, then graciously compiles a list of submissions, linking back to each photographers work. It’s a wonderful opportunity for networking and a chance to see some of the truly amazing photography that people are putting out year after year.

While I’ve enjoyed viewing submissions to Jim’s project from the shadows for several seasons now, last winter was the first I actually contributed myself. And finding it difficult to narrow my favorites down to a list of ten, I ended up creating one post with my Favorites from 2016, and a second with Honorable Mentions. (Click HERE and HERE to view those.) This year, over abundance was not a problem…

2017 brought some really big changes as in January we welcomed our first child, our son Caden. Life has been an absolute whirlwind since. Somehow I managed to keep up with weekly market appearances and had only a slight drop off in the number of art shows I did, but finding time to get out and shoot was a different story. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I’m guessing 2017 allowed me less than 40 hours of actual time in the field. While I did get out to Northern California for a family trip and was able to sneak a few shoots in, the rest of my efforts have been concentrated very close to home. Generally within 30 miles (and in some cases closer to 30 steps!) from my backdoor. That’s life with a newborn, and you just have to take what you can get. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t capture a few shots that I’m pretty proud of.

With all of this in mind, and since many viewers who find this via link from Jim’s blog will already be familiar with the more iconic western scenes from California, I thought that this year it might be fun to share all Iowa images for this project. It’s always a goal of mine anyhow to show people (or remind those who live here) of the natural beauty that, contrary to stereotypes, we are blessed to have here in the Hawkeye State. All images below come from Eastern Iowa, and in fact, all were shot in Cedar or Johnson County.

So without further ado, I submit my favorite images of 2017…

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Cedar River, Cedar County

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Cedar River, Cedar County

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Meier Family Farm, Cedar County

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220th Street, Tipton

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Morse Road, Cedar County

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Lake Macbride State Park, Johnson County

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273rd Street, Tipton

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Coralville Reservoir, Johnson County

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Rock Creek, Cedar County

 

Thanks so much to Jim Goldstein for all of the work he puts into organizing this project every year. I know a lot of people really enjoy it, and his efforts are greatly appreciated!

Just as this past year brought big changes, 2018 looks to have more in store. But I’m feeling more inspired than ever, and look forward to getting back to shooting with much greater frequency, and re-establishing my online presence too. I’m always eager to connect with other photographers or nature lovers, so look me up on any of these social media platforms.

Facebook- Josh Meier Photography
Instagram- Josh Meier Photography
Twitter- Josh Meier Photo

 

Oh, okay, I can’t resist… Here’s one more…

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Happy New Year Everyone!

 

2018 Josh Meier Photography Iowa Calendar

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It’s that time of year again, and I’m happy to announce that my 2018 Calendars are now in production and pre-orders are being accepted! I’m really excited about this years offerings; again two versions- one being all Iowa scenes and the other “All Over” with images from the US and International locales. You can get a preview of the Iowa Calendar images here, as from November 18-29 I will be making daily updates to this post, highlighting a new months image and providing a little backstory for each photo.

(Click here for “All Over” preview)

Calendars are $15 each plus 3.95 shipping. For additional information or to order, PLEASE CLICK HERE…

Pictured above is the cover photo for the Iowa edition. It features a lovely stand of purple coneflowers, found along the Macbride Recreation Trail near Solon. Iowa was once covered in tall grass prairie and summer bouquets such as this would have been found in abundance across our sweeping expanse. Unfortunately this is no longer the case, as it is estimated that less than one tenth of one percent of our virgin prairie remains. On the bright side though, there is an appreciation here amongst nature lovers, romantics, and conservationists for what once was; and with it a growing prairie restoration movement.

 

January-

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In keeping with what is always one of my greatest photographic ambitions, I love to share photos of Iowa side by side with those from other beautiful destinations, just to show people that despite stereotypes we live in a very special place here. Therefore I often have some overlap between my two calendars by including a couple favored Iowa scenes in both versions.

The January 2018 image is one of these cases. This image, the lead off feature for both calendars, was taken at sunrise on New Years Day, 2017. It was shot on the Cedar River at Cedar Valley Park (located between Tipton and West Branch) and is the result of ice that had broken up when the river thawed, and then refroze in a cold snap. I could think of no better way than to usher in a new year than to be out in nature before dawn; and watching the landscape come to life as Canadian geese stirred with the rising sun and a bald eagle soared above.

February-

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The February image in my 2018 Iowa Calendar features Little Paint Creek in Yellow River State Forest of beautiful Allamakee County. Known as the Driftless Area, the landscape here was never touched by the glaciers that shaped much of the Midwest, and boasts stunning characteristics unique to the region. Towering bluffs, cool flowing trout streams and heavily wooded hollows make it an outdoor lovers dream. If you’re an Iowan who has never ventured to this area, you have yet to fully appreciate what beauty our home state has to offer. I highly recommend that you get yourself there soon!

March-

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Here is another image serving dual purpose in my 2018 Calendars, gracing both the cover of my “All Over” edition and featured for the month of March in the Iowa version. As I mentioned the other day, it has a little extra sentimentality for me. It was taken on my Dad’s farm west of Tipton, and this lone cottonwood has watched me grow as I have passed beneath it countless times since my days of youth; wandering “back in the hills” as we always called it in search of adventure through the rolling pastures and along the banks of Rock Creek. I have photographed this tree many times before, but this past winter it again became a focal point because of its beauty and easy access- just a hop, skip and a jump out my door. For the week or so prior to my sons birth I set out every morning ahead of the dawn, intent on photographing the sunrise, just in case that would be the day he was born. I just had it in my mind that it would be cool to provide him a photo of sunrise on his literal birthday. Ultimately my plan didn’t work out. My wife went into labor on January 29 at about 4:30 in the morning, he was born at 7:34, and neither one of them had the patience to let me run out and shoot the sunrise in between! So no, I didn’t get a shot from that day… but I have some great ones from the days prior, and this turned out to be one of my favorite images captured last year.

April-

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The April shot from my 2018 Iowa Calendar features a view of the Coralville Reservoir, as seen from the spillway at Lake Macbride State Park. Located between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, the Macbride-Coralville recreation complex is a favorite local hangout, offering ample outdoor opportunities ranging from fishing, to hiking and mountain biking. It is a real treasure in this part of the state.
Despite what you may have seen on the internet, the flow here is not a waterfall. Not a natural one, anyway. Again, it’s a spillway where the outflow from Lake Macbride pours into the reservoir. It’s manmade, as are about half of the so-called waterfalls on the written for views “tour Iowa’s best waterfalls” list that has made it’s rounds on Facebook the past couple years. It’s still a very beautiful site and worthy of a visit, but those misleading clickbait articles annoy me… I’ll step off of my soapbox now.

May-

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The May image featured in my 2018 Iowa Calendar is another from the beautiful Driftless Area in the Northeastern corner of the state. Malanaphy Springs can be found in its namesake nature preserve just a few miles outside of Decorah. A gentle, well maintained trail leads you through a scenic hardwood forest about a mile to the spring; and there you arrive at the top of this lovely waterfall pouring about 10 feet to the Upper Iowa River below. We don’t have a lot of natural waterfalls in Iowa, but this one is the real deal and between the gorgeous falls and the pleasant hike to it, it’s my personal favorite. Next time you’re in the Decorah area take some time and check it out!

June-

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Continuing with the breakdown of images that make up my 2018 calendars, the June photo is another that earned it’s place in both the Iowa and All Over versions. They don’t get much closer to home that this, as it was taken on 220th Street west of Tipton, about 50 yards from where I sit typing this now. Free time has been virtually nonexistent this year with my wife engrossed in PhD work and a newborn son commanding lots of attention, so unfortunately my photo opportunities took a serious hit. I could honestly count on my fingers the number of times I’ve shot outside of Cedar County in the past 10 months. But on this summer evening with the passing of a wicked little storm, I sensed a change of light in my periphery. I rushed to the window to witness this most amazing sky then looked to the west and saw that the sun was dropping beneath the cloud cover. Cris and Caden had each other occupied allowing me a few minutes to grab my camera, race out to the road, and fire away. It was a wonderful reminder that you don’t always have to travel to exotic locales to be awed by the wonders of nature. Sometimes you just have to steal a minute and step outside your door!