Jeff Seckendorf spent his career working in the film industry as a director, photographer and cameraman. He helped to create dozens of movies, music videos and close to 1,000 commercials in New York, California and around the world.
He was successful in his business; however, it was difficult and demanding work. At age 52, Jeff left the glamour of film behind to go diving.
“One of my producing partners said I spent 15 years trying to get into the film industry and 15 years trying to get out,” he explained. “My full-time job always seemed to be looking for work, and my part-time job was actually working.
“I was looking for a way out, but I didn’t want to just quit and have nothing to do. It was more about ensuring I had purpose,” he said.
Jeff had been a long-time scuba diver and also worked as an instructor. Before moving to California, he had piloted small airplanes and gave flying lessons.
“When I got to California in the early 2000s, there was really no place Southwest Airlines did not serve at that time for $49,” he explained. “So I eased off on flying and got back into scuba diving.”
One of his fellow instructors was interested in starting a training agency from scratch. Jeff was intrigued by the idea because there were only 20 similar agencies in the United States where people could attain global scuba training and certification.
“Here was an education project that I could dig my teeth into,” he said. “So we started doing that together in 2008, and I bought it out fully in 2018. I was traveling around the world teaching instructors how to teach the methodology we used.”
Training the trainers
That experience opened the door for Jeff to develop a program to train corporate trainers.
“I started a company called The Training Cycle. It was a very simple and elegant method of teaching corporate trainers,” said Jeff.
“One of the most interesting books on training adults that has ever been written is the ‘Aviation Instructors Handbook,’ which was produced by the Federal Aviation Administration,” he explained. “As a younger flight instructor, I learned so much about the psychology of teaching adults and managing people in stressful situations by creating a controlled environment to handle emergencies.
“All of that was very applicable to scuba training, too,” he added. “A lot of the consciousness we teach at the scuba school came out of the world of teaching people to fly small airplanes. It’s a similar demographic in a lot of ways. For me, it’s often more fun to teach about teaching than it is to teach about scuba.
“The ‘aha’ moments are the same, but at a very different level,” said Jeff. “It’s all about bringing someone to a point where they understand the message.”
When instructors do not know the art of teaching, then they usually resort to teaching the thing, whatever that may be. The problem is that instructors are often very adept at the subject matter, but they need help conveying the information in a simple or easy-to-remember way.
“For example, pretend you are trying to teach someone how to kick in a particular way when scuba diving,” said Jeff. “If you are trying to teach an instructor how to teach that method, but don’t really know how to train the trainer, then you end up teaching the instructor how to kick.
“Instructors need to get a level above whatever they are teaching,” he explained. “We need to show instructors how to manage student expectations, develop their skill set and use other tools to be good teachers. Teaching teachers is probably the most fun thing you can do.”
It’s a challenge for Jeff to ensure instructor development courses at Unified Team Diving never turn into diving classes themselves. They have to take training to the next level.
“The students are spending a bunch of money and coming here to learn something new. They are usually passionate about the method of diving we do as well as our method for teaching it,” said Jeff.
“The actual craft of getting these people to where they understand how to teach and transfer information, as well as how to get people to retain it, is challenging,” he explained. “Education is nothing more than creating a change in behavior. However, if you change behavior, but there is no retention, then everyone has wasted their time.”
Consequently, Jeff’s school focuses on making sure new instructors know how to present material in a way that can be easily retained.
“You can stand in front of a chalkboard and teach your head off all day long going blah, blah, blah. But, if the students don’t remember it five minutes later, then everyone’s time has been wasted,” he said.
Jeff had been riding a bicycle his whole life and even started racing in triathlons in his 50s. But, as he closed in on his 60th birthday, he had an epiphany that he should probably stop running.
“I was strong, healthy, had good knees and still had good hips, but all of my older friends who were running had been injured one way or another,” said Jeff. “So, I stopped running, which also meant I could no longer compete in triathlons. I knew I needed to replace it with something.
“That’s when I discovered racing a bike on an indoor track in what is called a velodrome,” he explained. “It is a small oval track that is 250- to 330-meters-long, which means it takes three or four laps to cover a full kilometer of distance. We ride in circles. While we are technically racing each other, we are actually racing against the clock.”
Track racing requires a special type of bicycle. It has one gear and the pedals are attached directly to the wheels. That means there is no coasting, nor is there any way to brake the bike. As long as the wheels are turning, so are the pedals.
“I believe it is the purest form of cycling,” said Jeff. “All of my hobbies are complex, whether it is flying or scuba. My hobbies require a lot of equipment.”
Racing on a track is vastly different from street racing. It’s impossible for participants to get lost, and there is no vehicular or pedestrian traffic with which to contend.
“When I started, I tried a little pursuit racing and mass-start racing. But, my body seems to gravitate toward longer events,” said Jeff. “I have an engine that just works better over longer periods of time than it does in events which last only a few minutes.”
Setting the hour record
There are different types of records people can pursue when racing on an indoor track. One of them is called the “hour record.” It requires participants to exert themselves at full strength for one hour to see how many laps they can complete in exactly 60 minutes.
“I believe it is probably the hardest thing you can do in cycling,” said Jeff. “A traditional race can speed up or slow down as it develops an ebb and flow from start to finish.
“When attempting an hour record, you can’t slow down,” he added. “People have been attempting new records since the 1800s, and the challenge is insane. It will take five years to prepare myself for this challenge.”
Jeff said the world record for his age group is traveling 44 kilometers, or 27 miles, in 60 minutes. He is the current record holder for his age group at the San Diego track.
“I have twice set the course record at the world’s six-hour time trial championships for my age group on a fixed-gear bike,” he explained. “It’s complicated because you have to bike without coasting for six hours in a row.
“There are pit stops, but those generally involve rolling in to change water bottles and heading back onto the track,” he added. “The last time I did it, my foot was actually on the ground for way under a minute during the entire six hours.”
A matter of endurance
Jeff got into track racing just because of the endurance factor. As a triathlete, he would bike five to six hours to cover the 100- to 120-mile distance. However, Jeff wanted to hunker down to see just how far he could bike during that same period.
“The 12- and 24-hour time trials are really survival events more than anything else,” he explained. “But, the six-hour event is a race. The growing pains on that race are dramatic. You have to deal with the saddle, stay in an aerodynamic position and move at peak ability for long-periods of time without coasting.”
There are a lot of variables that can also impact such a feat, including air pressure, temperature, altitude and elevation.
“Many people are doing this event in Mexico at 6,000 feet, which means lower air density, so they go faster. But, with less air, you can’t go as hard,” said Jeff. “There are all these micro-marginal parameters that make the event interesting. I love the science of it as well as the aerodynamics and mechanical aspects.”
Coaching is essential
To be in top condition to even attempt an hour record involves an enormous amount of training and usually requires the assistance of an experienced coach.
“I have an amazing coach, Ben Sharp, who had helped guide several people to these kind of records,” said Jeff. “It’s a very structured program on the bike. He set up a calendar for the week that involves lots of intervals and careful planning regarding how we are going to slowly improve my fitness and strength. We are three years into a five-year program.”
Jeff will be 70 years old when he attempts the hour record. To prepare, he is spending a lot of time at the gym engaged in strength training, too.
“Everyone should be at the gym anyway because it is probably the most important thing you can do,” he explained. “I’m involved in strength training, resistance training, functional strength training and compound movements.
“I don’t believe in using machines at the gym. I don’t think people should isolate an individual muscle without working the connectors and stabilizing muscles around it,” he added. “I would never do a leg press when I could do a squat. A leg press is just too isolating and it has nothing to do with reality.
“Whereas, when you are doing a squat, a deadlift with a bar, or engaged in lunges and jumps, it uses a bigger collection of muscles that translates into things like walking up a flight of stairs,” said Jeff. “I use free weights at the gym and a personal trainer so I don’t get injured. The accountability is better, too.”
When it comes to eating, Jeff tries not to consume anything he can’t pronounce.
“If it says chicken or beans, you can eat it. But, if the label says it contains a bunch of scientific terms, that means it came out of a chemistry lab, so I don’t recommend eating that,” he explained.
“We are in a grocery store four times a week. Whatever we want for dinner, I’ll run by and pick it up that day so I know the food is fresh and new,” said Jeff.
With the goal of traveling as far as he can in a specific period of time, a lot of Jeff’s success will come down to efficient aerodynamics. With two years to go, he is evaluating all different types of equipment to make himself more aerodynamic on the track.
“We are doing aerodynamic testing on the bicycle frame, body position, hand position, clothing, helmets and wheels. The equipment is a moving target,” said Jeff. “I’m trying to do this on a functional budget. I am still working, so I have some disposable income for this project. But, I have to be careful because, if I blink, the spending can get out of control.”
The process can be complicated when the governing body for bicycle racing, the Union Cycliste Internationale, changes the rules, which tends to make frames obsolete so racers must start over.
A typical bicycle for track racing can cost between $6,000 and $16,000. However, a high-end bicycle for use on the road can also cost between $2,000 and $12,000.
“If you were just wanting to have fun and go for a ride with a small group of riders, you wouldn’t need to spend $12,000 on a bicycle,” Jeff explained. “If you were serious about competing, you might want to spend a bit more for a better bike. But, you can still get a quality racing bicycle for much less than $12,000.”
One reason the bicycles are so expensive is the material used to construct the frames. While a typical Schwinn bicycle most people over 50 grew up riding may have weighed around 40 pounds, the type of bike Jeff uses on the track weighs closer to 15 pounds due to the carbon fiber materials.
The Institute of Purpose
Jeff’s desire to pursue a cycling hour record at age 70 led him to join forces with a friend to create the Institute of Purpose.
“We both knew it was a cool name for a business, but we didn’t know what it would look like,” said Jeff. “We bought the URL and I started to sketch together a website. Since then, it has gone through lots of different iterations.
“It is a passion project for us. Right now we are not attempting to monetize it,” he added. “Basically, it is a repository for videos of people talking about their purpose in life. Every time I meet somebody interesting, I record a 30- to 50-second video of that person describing his or her purpose.
“The website is a place for people who want to do something else with their lives because they are bored or just not challenged, and may need a little guidance,” said Jeff. “By watching the short videos, perhaps they will say, ‘Well, I could do that.’”
This project motivated Jeff to look at ways he could turn his bike race into something purposeful for other people.
“I don’t want to stand in front of a group and say, ‘Okay, you have to train for five years, work past your limits, and suffer to do that.’ That’s not my goal,” Jeff explained. “I want to energize people enough to get up in the morning and do something they thought they could never do.”
Regardless of what it may be, Jeff wants to encourage people to do whatever they’d like to explore in any form, whether it is biking, gardening, quilting, darts, bowling or even golf.
“People live and die by golf. It’s a very precise, technical, crazy sport that I know nothing about,” said Jeff. “But, if you decide you want to do something good by learning to play the best golf you can, then you need to know the process to get to that level.”
It is a process people can apply to other parts of their life as well. Through lots of practice, they will get better at anything they do.
“Then, whenever people decide they want to do something new or different, it’s not really that complicated or difficult because they have already done something 20 times harder than whatever they are attempting to do now,” said Jeff. “That’s why I wanted to try something really difficult. I may succeed or I may not, but it doesn’t matter.
“The process of training to develop myself as a cyclist and human being applies to everything else in my life,” he explained. “It helps me to become a better husband, better grandfather, better employer, business owner and all those things. That’s what having purpose can do for you.”
So, by setting a challenging goal and working toward it, the process can be applied to other parts of life as well.
“With the Institute of Purpose, we are trying to encourage people to do something purposeful that might be difficult and challenging,” said Jeff. “But the process of preparing to do it and creating a mindset around it, as opposed to the goal and outcome itself, can be used for anything else in life.”
While Jeff may be committed to a process to succeed as an individual bicycle racer, the very act of trying to be the best he can be is motivating him to help others, too.
“If you listen to the videos on the Institute of Purpose website, you will realize every single person says, ‘At the end of the day, my purpose is to help others,’” said Jeff. “Some try to help by working directly with other people, and some try to do it through influence.
“Does my purpose have to affect individuals on a daily basis? No it doesn’t,” he explained. “Hopefully, the people I come in contact with can develop a vision as well. Perhaps they’ll say, ‘He’s doing this really crazy, hard thing, so maybe I should do something, too, but not quite that hard.
“If your goal is to help others through purpose or guidance, then you don’t have to help a million people. You don’t even have to help five. You can help just one,” said Jeff. “Two might be a little better, but even one is good.
“I think we have these lofty goals where we want to make a movie, write a book or change the world,” he added. “But remember Margaret Mead’s great quote, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
“That’s key. One or two people can make a change. They may not change the direction of the universe, but it may change someone in your cul-de-sac, which is still very good,” said Jeff.
“If it’s a crappy day for weather and I’m in my garage with the door open and training on an indoor bicycle when a neighbor walks by, he could be motivated to hurry home to get on his bike,” Jeff explained. “That’s still having a purposeful influence on someone who had already made a mental excuse to just skip exercising that day because the weather was bad. But he knows if Jeff is out there exercising, maybe he should try it, too.”
Reaching Generation OW
In all he’s doing, from bicycle racing to teaching trainers to developing the Institute of Purpose, Jeff is trying to reach what he calls Generation OW. That stands for older and wiser.
“I would be labeled as a baby boomer, and there are a number of other generations out there, but the labels mean nothing,” Jeff explained. “I was looking for a way to define the audience for the Institute of Purpose and we settled on Generation OW because it encompasses anyone who wants to be wiser when they are older.
“My 12-year-old grandson fits that category because he’s 12 going on 40,” he added. “My grandson is younger wiser. He knows what we are doing.”
There is not enough training available to people to help them discover or pursue their purpose, said Jeff.
“The Institute of Purpose, in its most rudimentary form, is an education website,” he explained. “If you don’t have any idea what to do in the morning, then listen to some of these people. We feature a variety of people who are doing almost everything. Some are retired, some are working, some are pursuing interesting things, but others are not. Yet, they all have an idea regarding what they like to do.”
The Path to Mastery
The Institute of Purpose has developed a free course titled “The Path to Mastery.” It’s a program that came out of Jeff’s work in corporate training.
“It’s rather simple in that it involves figuring out something you’re good at now and getting better,” he explained. “Regardless of what you’ve ever done, if you became really good, it was because you completed a four-step process involving discovery, training, practice and teaching.
“Discovery is as simple as saying, ‘Oh, that looks like fun.’ So you try it and discover you have an affinity for that type of thing,” said Jeff. “The next step involves training to learn how to do it right, do it properly or do it better.
“Then comes practice. That could be two weeks or 20 years to get really good at something,” he added. “But, to attain mastery, you have to be involved in some type of teaching, coaching or guiding others. Teaching becomes the place where you can’t bluff any more. You can’t fake it. You have to know it inside and out.”
The Path to Mastery program approaches purpose from the idea that everyone has something they are very good at doing. Now, to master a new thing, people just have to follow the same four-step process they employed in the past.
“If you want to take up running, the first step is to buy a pair of running shoes and try it. If you like it, then talk to other people to learn how to do it even better,” said Jeff. “Get a coach and learn how to properly train so you don’t get injured, then practice.
“Eventually, you will get so good that you can start coaching others yourself,” he added.
To connect with Jeff, people can visit www.instituteofpurpose.org. There is a contact form on that website to send Jeff a message. He promised to post updates to that website regarding his record-setting attempt at the cycling hour event.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.