Former Steeler enjoying life after NFL
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — At age 73, most people are retired and looking forward to enjoying their twilight years.
If you’re former Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive lineman Jon Kolb, who spent 13-years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and won four Super Bowl championships — he was a member of the Steelers’ Super Bowl IX, X, XIII and XIV championship teams — you spend it in Tanzania, located in East Africa while climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a five-day trek up the mountain, two days down and my son and his soon to be fiance joined me. When we reached the top, he proposed to her and what a special moment it was for all of us,” the former Steelers’ assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center.”
Long considered one the NFL’s strongest players and an early competitor in the World’s Strongest Man competitions – he competed in the 1978 and 1979 events – the Ponca City, Oklahoma native and Oklahoma State Cowboys’ All-American relishes inspiring quotes that he uses in his everyday life and as head of his local non-profit, ATP (Adventures in Training with a Purpose).
“ATP is the gasoline for muscles but it’s also training with a purpose,” added Kolb, who resides in nearby Hermitage and has served as an adjunct professor in the Human Performance and Exercise Science departments at YSU and Beaver County Community College in New Castle. “We work with people that have chronic conditions ranging from Parkinson’s disease to MS, ALS and now COVID-19. On the news, we’re telling people how many new COVID cases there are each day but we’re not telling them how many are crashing mentally or emotionally.”
A man dedicated to his Christian beliefs, Kolb referenced a quote from his favorite theologian, Albert Schweitzer, when he said, ‘The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.’
“Albert Schweitzer said ‘There’s a lot of people with a heartbeat and a pulse but there is no life,’ “ he said. “As I was climbing that mountain, you have a lot of time to think because you’ve taken a lot of steps, none that are level and none the same as the last one’s you’ve taken. Some are 2-foot steps, some 3-feet and some 6 inches. Generally, there’s a cliff on one side that goes down 100-300 feet so the whole thing is the challenge. The people in Tanzania speak Swahili and they have a term that I have adopted. It’s called ‘twende juu,’ meaning ‘Let’s go up.’ Coming down that mountain was just as hard because your toes are jammed into your boots.
“They have a word for going down the mountain and a word for doing nothing so what is your approach in life? Is it twende juu and let’s go up? Is it let’s go down or do nothing so what is your twende juu? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Kilimanjaro, but our ATP program, which is located at the YMCA’s main branch in downtown Youngstown, is here for you and we have YSU students working with everyone. Plus, we’re going to be doing a sports camp in the future.”
Growing up in Oklahoma, Kolb also referenced a phrase used by the late Oklahoma Sooners head coach, Bud Wilkinson, who guided his team to an NCAA record 47 consecutive wins from 1953-57, an NCAA record that still stands today for the highest level of play in college football.
“They asked coach Wilkinson his true definition of football,” Kolb said. “He responded by saying ‘football is 40 young men, running around on a football field desperately in need of rest while being watched by 40,000 people in the stands desperately in need of exercise’ and I never forgot that quote. It has stayed with me since the third grade.”
Kolb called the Pittsburgh Steelers organization one of the very best professional sports ownerships.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers are the classiest people I have ever been around,” he said. “Every NFL team nominates someone from their organization that works with non-profits, especially with a Veteran’s organization and mind you, I haven’t played for them in nearly 40 years yet they nominated my group this year so I am truly honored.”
Kolb, who protected Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s blindside from his familiar left tackle position, said the Steelers’ rivalry with the Browns was fierce but a rivalry that forged many friendships away from the game.
“I consider Cleveland’s Walter Johnson and Jerry Sherk, a fellow OSU alum, two of the very best defensive tackle duos in the NFL,” Kolb said. “Mean Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes had a great reputation for the Steelers, and we’re supposed to hate the Browns but eating breakfast at 5 a.m. on former Browns player Billy Andrews’ dairy farm in Louisiana remains a special memory.
“When I played my last game and they announced my retirement, I received a really nice letter a week later congratulating me on my career and retirement. That letter was penned by Browns head coach Sam Ruitigliano and I’ll take that to my grave. Do you think I’ll ever forget that? I treasure that as much, if not more than my four Super Bowl rings.”
Next Monday, Tom Pavlansky, longtime Lakeview High School head football coach will serve as guest speaker.