A Life Well-Lived
By Mark Hull

It was a reminder of how fast time passes. I sat with my family at the funeral of a legendary coach and family friend. The most influential (and the most accomplished) coach in my life, Olympic medalist and Wrestling Hall of Fame member Russ Hellickson, got up to speak to the family at the funeral. Here’s what he shared about LaVerne Pieper, his high school coach:

There is no more powerful force in our human universe than influence. Verne Pieper showed me that. State championships and state champions do not grow on trees. Thousands of coaches have tried and failed to do what Coach Pieper made a way of life in Stoughton. He planted the seeds of potential in our minds. Over time he showed us how an impossible, improbable, unimaginable accomplishment could be done… and repeated! That is not an accident! We all learned that success is always earned. He showed and taught us how to win, but also how to lose with dignity and honor. Sportsmanship is life’s most difficult lesson, and Mr. Pieper had it down cold. There is no greater testimony and verification of a life well-lived than the life altering acknowledgments from so many others. It is impactful confirmation of the profound conforming influence of strong, consistent, fair, and reassuring guidance. That’s my first wrestling coach in a nutshell.

I believe we all, at times, stand on the threshold of greatness in our own lives, in want only of the wisdom and love and direction from an unselfish soul, who lives a life driven to change ours. If that happens… we have been blessed. I know I won the Verne Pieper lottery! He tested my resolve, and helped mold my character, and made my reach extend far beyond my grasp. I am one of many voices who emotionally applaud Coach Pieper’s influence in my life. He touched my life like Midas, and golden opportunities have fallen before me since that time. I am honored to call him my coach, my mentor and my friend.

I tried often to convey my deep appreciation for his leadership and motivational guidance at a pivotal time in my life. I have been grateful all my years from then, that Coach Pieper lived a life that gave so much purpose to mine.

Verne Pieper’s purpose transformed the life of my coach. Though I never had the privilege of being coached by this family friend, I become a grandchild of that legacy. It is the desire of the 3D Institute to empower you to live and coach in such a way that the same would be said of you.


Some other things I learned in conversation at the funeral:

Russ told me the story of being the leading tackler on his high school football team and possibly in the conference. Despite his impressive statistics, he did not make the “All-Conference” team. During the wrestling season to follow, he faced the guy who beat him out for “All-Conference.” He said that at the start of the match he went for a double-leg takedown, but then drove the guy off the mat and into the scorers table. As he was going back onto the mat, Coach Pieper grabbed him by the arm and said, “Russ, what are you doing? What did this guy ever do to you to deserve that? You are a better wrestler than that and you are a better wrestler than he is. Now, go out there and take him down and pin him. But you will not embarrass him.”

Verne’s son was an excitable, emotional kid. He was also a state champion wrestler. Earlier in his championship season, he lost a match in a big dual meet. About ready blow, Verne put his arm around his son and said, “This whole gym is just waiting for you to make a scene. Why don’t you just go sit on the bench and cheer on your teammates.”

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