In my last blog post I shared valuable tips on how to keep mentally fit during these trying times. Today, I am sharing a piece by my colleague and good friend Lance Wilson about maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Lance recently published a book of inspirational stories that illustrate that we truly have a choice in how we respond to any situation: Dashboard Bagels, Dishing Up Food for Thought. A chapter that really hit home for me is Swim on, John, which uses his friendship with Chief Judge John Roll to show that no matter how busy you are, you can (and should!) take care of your own physical and spiritual wellness. As a side note, I worked with Judge Roll in Tucson when he first came on the federal bench, and I can attest to what a truly inspiring man he was. Here is a condensed version of the book chapter to hopefully inspire you, too.


Dashboard Bagels book cover

Finding a healthy balance between work demands, family obligations, and personal interests is the subject of countless articles and talks these days. While a noble and worthwhile goal, unfortunately I found few people who achieved this successfully in my 35 years working in court administration. What I mean by a “healthy balance” is when work is an integral part of one’s life, with time for family, exercise, hobbies, etc, being equally important. One person who figured this important balance out is the late Honorable John M. Roll – my friend and early morning lap swim partner.

If there are noble ways to die, throwing yourself on top of a person standing next to you when gunfire breaks out certainly must be one of them. This is what I have been told Judge Roll did outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011. That was the morning when Jared Loughner opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd in an attempt to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Judge Roll was shot in the back and died. The manner in which he left this life is testament to his selflessness and how inspirational he was to others. I write now to share other inspirational insights I learned from Judge Roll through our friendship; lessons of balance and wellness.

What did Judge Roll do that fateful morning before he was murdered? The first thing he likely did was to attend Catholic Mass as he did almost every Saturday and Sunday morning…there were actually many times in his life when he attended Catholic mass every day! Then, assuming he followed his normal morning routine, he swam laps for a full mile.

I met Judge Roll around the year 2000 while serving as the Clerk of Court for the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. Judge Roll was a United States District Judge in the District of Arizona. He eventually became Chief Judge; the position he held when he was murdered. We would wind up together two or three times a year at meetings or conferences and we quickly identified a shared passion for early morning lap swimming. Prior to these gatherings, we would connect with each other and one of us would research where to swim laps. Sometimes our hotel pool was long enough and open early enough for us to get in a workout before most people got out of bed. I trust the statute of limitations has expired on this confession, but if the hotel pool was long enough to swim laps but was not open early enough, we had been known to climb over the fencing. Please do not share this little secret, as it is not my intention to tarnish Judge Roll’s stellar reputation. Other times, we drove to a nearby YMCA or fitness center to satisfy our mutual early morning passion.

What inspired me most about my lap-swimming partner was that, even with the incredible responsibility of being Chief Judge of one of the nation’s busiest federal courts, he still took time to practice his spirituality and to exercise every morning. Think about how often you have heard people exclaim “I’m too busy to work out!” or “If I only had more than 24 hours in a day, I would have time to do… [fill in the blank].” My response is: “Everyone has only 24 hours in a day, and if my friend, Judge Roll, could make time to stay healthy by swimming a mile every morning, I think most of us can find time to squeeze in some exercise.”

A favorite memory of mine regarding Judge Roll occurred at a conference in Hawaii a few years ago. We ran into each other in the lobby of our hotel and Judge Roll asked where we were going to swim. I smiled and pointed to the beautiful, calm, blue Pacific Ocean beyond the beach. He looked at me with innocent wonder and asked, “Really, can we swim out there?” I made some smart aleck retort, like: “It is water, isn’t it?” We proceeded to do our laps together in that enormous salty pool Nature had created. Judge Roll was like a little kid enjoying the ocean for the first time. Every day he wore a huge smile on his face, and one could sense his childlike wonderment at how much fun it was to do distance swimming in open waters. As I told Judge Roll’s wife at his memorial service in Tucson, every time I put on my swim goggles for my morning workout, I think of Judge Roll and say a silent prayer in his honor.

Now that you have a better understanding of my relationship with Judge Roll, permit me to explain this painting I did in his honor.

Swim on John.Painting

The painting’s bright and varied colors represent the glowing spirit with which Judge Roll lived his life, his wide-ranging interests, and his vibrant personality which lives on today. The water depicts the gift of life, and the gently rolling waves reflect the Judge’s calmness and consistency. I painted the bright rays of sun shining through to symbolize Judge Roll’s positive attitude. The dove symbolizes the sign of peace, as he was a man of peace. And, lastly, the swim goggles being carried off into the sunset by the dove represent our shared passion for early morning lap swimming. Together, I hope the different aspects of this piece serve as a tribute to his commitment to living a well-balanced life.

The main lesson I learned from Judge Roll was about how we all can create balance in life if we strive to do it. He tended to professional obligations in an exemplary manner while at the same time making time to take care of himself spiritually and physically.
When explaining her passion for healthy eating, Michelle Obama said: “What I am asking is that you consider reformulating your menu in pragmatic and incremental ways to create healthier versions of the foods that we all love.” To honor Judge Roll’s legacy, I have a similar request: reformulate your daily life menu in pragmatic and incremental ways to create a healthy balance in your life. How can you do this? Here are some tips:

• Commit to finding a healthy balance in your busy life. Yes, take your work responsibilities very seriously, but also make time to take care of yourself emotionally and physically.
• Do not take yourself too seriously. Those who think the court or their office would suffer some great harm if they took a vacation or took time for themselves are likely ones who get so stressed out that they are no good for anyone, including themselves.
• Live life with a passion and zest. Develop interests outside your professional obligations and make time to do those. This is a great way to re-energize and to avoid burn out.
• And, finally, embrace this quote attributed to Bertrand Russell: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

Lance Wilson is an author and consultant based in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He is a Past President of the Federal Court Clerks Association, and recently retired from his position as Clerk of Court for the U.S. District Court of Nevada.  He is available for book readings/signings, motivational speaking, and leadership consulting.


Wow, what a wonderful excerpt from the Dashboard Bagels book! Lance’s advice is spot on.  You might think that it is impossible to start or follow up on your normal wellness routine, but Lance and I believe you can always be creative to find a way to do so. Go for it and you will be all the better – and everyone you interact with will appreciate your efforts, too.  If you are interested in reading more of Lance’s inspirational stories, Dashboard Bagels is available on Amazon and at Etsy.com/shop/StarvedRaccoon (please order from the Etsy site if you would like a signed copy).  I heartily recommend this book.

One thought on “Swim On, Judge Roll, Swim On – A lesson in living a balanced life.

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