A former NFL player for the San Francisco 49ers...
John Paye remembers his athletic career while working with Gary Riekes. As a teenager, John started at Gary’s home on Fernside and moved up the athletic ladder to complete his goals of becoming a successful football player. John’s love for athletics has taken him from the football field to coaching his daughter's and sister’s basketball teams, leading them to victory numerous times. Taking a break from coaching, we sat down with John to find out a little more about his life and experiences…
Tell me a little about your background. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Palo Alto at Stanford University and I’ve lived my whole life here. I was born at Stanford Hospital; both my mom and dad went to Stanford. I was born when my mom was nineteen and my dad was twenty one.
What are some of your favorite books? Movies? How have they influenced you?
Movie: The movie that I like is Remember the Titans with Denzel Washington (it’s a football movie). I like the quarterback, his name is Sunshine, he came in and won the last game.
Book: In terms of books, I like a lot of historical books. I read David McCullough; he’s written books about Truman and John Adams, so I’m more into historical books. I just recently read a biography on Dwight Eisenhower, President Eisenhower. It was neat to see how he became president. He played football for the army and he used people skills that he learned playing sports to progress up the ladder of the military. And then he was eventually supreme commander of all naval forces. I thought that was pretty cool.
What makes you laugh?
I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to coach my sister as well as all of my daughters in basketball. I laugh the most when I’m around my daughter’s basketball teams or when I was younger and coached my sister’s basketball team. I always think it’s pretty neat what happens on the basketball court and also in the small groups. I’ve had a lot of humorous stories from my girls’ basketball teams. The incident I’ll always remember, coming back from the State Basketball Championship (that we won). For some reason we ran out of gas right before getting back to Menlo, on Watkins Avenue, next to Holbrook Palmer Park. I figured it was just a little ways down the street so I parked the van. At that time we drove the van with the girls in it, and while I left to go back to Menlo to bring people back to get them to school, the girls decided to go up on the roof [of the van] and basically dented and smashed the entire roof by sitting on it. I guess the funny part was we had just won the State Basketball Championship and Menlo couldn’t say too much because we had won but then dented their car.
Tell me a bit about your family.
Interestingly, I married a woman from Sacred Heart Prep High School who was a year younger than me. We didn’t know each other during high school but it’s been kind of neat to raise three girls and a son right in the middle of this rivalry between Menlo and Sacred Heart. My sister, Kate, went to Sacred Heart for eight years before she got smart and transferred to Menlo but that’s also been fun. It’s kind of like having a house divided for college, like Stanford and Cal people.
How would your friends describe you?
Probably my friends would describe me as quiet at times but also competitive, empathetic and would do anything for a friend.
How did you meet Gary?
I met Gary at Woodside High School. Some friends of mine during high school told me about this guy they had been working out with; they invited me to come and participate in a workout at ten in the morning at Woodside High School. I asked [Gary], “well, what are we doing?”. I was told, “you just have to run one, two hundred-twenty yard dash.” I thought “well okay that wasn’t be too bad”. And interestingly, I met Gary and that’s all we did. But his concept was, “John, I want you to run the two hundred yard as fast as you can”. He taught me how maximum effort is more important than duration. I ran that two hundred twenty yard race and I was sore for the next three days. That was the start of my work ethic; working as hard as you can all the time.
How old were you when you first started working out with Gary? When did you start at Fernside?
I was fifteen years old so I was a sophomore in high school. I did a couple workouts at Woodside High School, a Tuesday/Thursday routine and then eventually later that summer I made it over to Gary’s Fernside workout spot.
What were your first impressions of Gary and the environment (at Fernside)?
At the time, Gary (he was still in pain from his back) was in a green Volvo but he couldn’t drive so he had someone driving for him. Back at his house, where we were working out, I never worked out in a house before that was just full of weight equipment. We could congregate in the kitchen, but every other room had weight equipment in it and Gary was on a couch...I think it was actually a bed in one of the rooms. He would give advice from there because he had some video cameras.
Do you remember what your first goal was? And perhaps, how did those goals lead you to play in the NFL?
I remember very clearly sitting down with Gary because that was always very important. I told Gary I felt my feet were rather slow as a quarterback so I really wanted to work on that. He wrote a program that detailed all these different drills to do with my footwork and agility. I did jump-rope and jumped onto boxes and all the foot metrics. I eventually got to be better, athletically, with my feet.
Tell me a little bit about your experience in the NFL.
I think one of the interesting things you’ll find that athletes do is go up an athletic ladder from junior high, high school, college and then I was fortunate enough to play in the NFL. Especially in football, you have humbling experiences. When I had multiple injuries, I always went back to my roots. I remember after my third surgery on my shoulder I was devastated and really felt like I should go back to my home base, which was Gary Riekes. I left the 49ers training and Gary got me back in shape for my last year in the NFL.
What were you most challenging moments? Or most rewarding?
The hardest moment was being at Super Bowl 23 but I wasn’t able to dress. I remember standing next to Christie Brinkley who, at that time, was married to Billie Joel who was singing the National Anthem. I was proud to be there but I also had a tear in my eye; I was pretty sure this would be my last attempt at playing football. I wouldn’t play again because my shoulder had just been through four shoulder surgeries.
The most rewarding moment was not expecting to be inducted or honored as a Stanford Hall of Fame athlete for both football and basketball. No other athlete has ever done it and it was the highlight of my athletic career. I was better in football than I was in basketball but to be able to play basketball and have my name next to all these great Stanford basketball players, it was an honor.
How has the Riekes Center impacted you?
I learned hard work at the Riekes Center and how to channel it into any profession. Completing that two hundred-twenty yard race, Gary wanted me to use maximum effort and take that skill to channel it into whatever interests me. I got into coaching and I’ve helped friends that have started businesses. If you give your maximum effort and you work hard, you’ll be successful in life.
Is there anything you might want to add? Is there anything else you would like people to know about the Riekes Center?
Another thing that makes me laugh is being around Gary for a year and really working hard at fifteen years old. I saw him sing, I never knew he could sing! All of a sudden he’s singing a rock and roll song and I just thought, no way! It blew me away. I couldn’t believe he could sing; I can’t sing. All I know is I was impressed with Gary’s singing. And I was just like, I can’t do that. It was awesome.