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Ken Dryden '69 returns with Bill Bradley to muse on sports, service and leadership

Motivation, living under pressure and learning from your failures were a few of the topics that two former top athletes-turned-politicians -- including former Cornell hockey star Ken Dryden '69 -- talked about in a visit to Cornell Sept. 10.

ESPN host Jeremy Schaap '91 moderated the discussion, "Lives on the Run: Sports, Service and Leadership," with Dryden, a member of the Canadian Parliament, and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) in Bailey Hall.

"In many ways [sports, service and leadership] don't obviously connect; it's the person who connects them," Dryden said at a press conference before the event. "It's the personal motivations and drives in one that come out and get expressed in the others."

"Basketball shaped me very early in my career," said Bradley. "By age 16 there were certain values I had internalized like discipline, leadership, responsibility and civility, and these are the values that continue in whatever [I] do."

Also at the press conference, Schaap spoke about the pressures the two men dealt with throughout their lives, since Dryden and Bradley became very successful early in their athletic and professional careers.

"People wouldn't just talk about their athletic skills, which was self-evident; they would talk about their intellects," said Schaap. "Everything they've done for the last 45 years has been scrutinized, and neither have really had a misstep. [That's] pretty impressive."

Dryden led Cornell's Big Red to the 1967 NCAA hockey championship and became an NHL superstar, winning six Stanley Cup championships in an eight-season career with the Montreal Canadiens. After hockey, Dryden served as Canada's minister of social development, 2004-06. He was first elected a member of the Canadian Parliament in 2004 and re-elected in 2006 and 2008. Bradley, a three-time All-American basketball player at Princeton who became a star professional basketball player for the New York Knicks, served three terms in the U.S. Senate.

Dryden and Bradley said they got used to pressures and expectations. "You deal with it -- it's a part of the fun," Bradley said, but the key thing is to "understand those expectations, but to not have your life determined by the content of those expectations." He encouraged students to find their own path within themselves.

Dryden talked about integrity, his love for Canada, his appreciation for its multicultural population and his career in government. He noted that, as a child, he always expected to become a lawyer. "A career in government was the ultimate career if you had the chance. There is just something important about doing public work," he said, adding that he never expected to play hockey, let alone play hockey at Cornell, but that choosing Cornell was one of the best decisions he ever made.

When asked about some of difficulties of government service, Dryden said: "We are great at finding divides, and we all think we are right, but if we can discover someone else's story and understand it, [we] will find that [we] are connected to that story, that story is about [us] as well."

The event was sponsored by Sigma Phi Society's Oliphant Speaker Fellowship Series program with support from Lawrence Tanenbaum '68.

Graduate student Marcus Walter is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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Joe Schwartz