This week I have been reminded how blessed I am to do what I do.
In the middle of a busy week of catching planes and getting to meetings, I was inspired and encouraged by something amazing–a group of Native American kids from reservations all around the country coming to together to connect, learn, grow and develop the skills needed to be leaders in their communities.
On Wednesday I was honored and blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with the N7 group at the Nike campus. N7 is Nike’s outreach program to empower, inspire and equip Native American and Aboriginal populations in North America. While visiting the Nike campus the kids got to attend workshops on health and wellness, design their own t-shirts and a shoe, and engage in some great team building by playing a lot of basketball.
Wednesday morning I went to go hang out with the kids while they were designing their t-shirts and a custom shoe. It was great to see the enthusiasm and creativity with which they diligently pursued their design projects. As their scheduled speaker later that afternoon, I was standing before those same kids, talking to them about making positive choices and overcoming obstacles. While I was up there–looking out over that crowd of bright-eyed young people who seemed to me to be staring the future in the face, unflinching, undaunted and unafraid–I was overcome by the relentless impression that this was an extraordinary event. I couldn’t shake the surreal feeling that my mind had gone back in time and I was in shock to see myself as a grown-up….it was as if the 12 year old kid in me looked around and said “How did I get here? How is this possible? I’m just a kid from a messed up home, struggling through life using sports to fit in, be a part of something, and help me survive the pain of abandonment and fatherlessness. How did I end up here–talking to kids about how they can make smart choices and use challenges to make them stronger? HOW did this happen?“
And it wasn’t just a fleeting moment, the whole evening went on like that. One experience in particular further added to the mental time warp I was caught up in that evening. I was talking to one of the chaperons and we got on to the topic of Arizona State Football and he told me that he played for them and I said “Yeah! I remember! You played with Nathan LaDuke–he was my idol! My dad and I saw all of your home games.” When it hit me that I was standing there talking to Jim Warne, who had played on my favorite team when I was a child, the-12 year-old-kid in me was completely tripped out.
Taking another look around the room at the kids and their dedicated chaperons and one of my childhood sport heroes, it hit me–I’m still that kid.
Every student there at N7 had challenges, some of them huge challenges, that they will have to overcome. When I was their age I had already been abandoned by my mother, my father had died and I was permanently paralyzed. That is a lot for a kid to face.
But here’s the thing, please don’t miss this, are you paying attention?
Even though I had the cards stacked against me in a big way—I WAS NOT ALONE. Never was I alone. It sure felt like I was very alone a lot of times. But when I look back I can see that there were a lot of people who cared about me, watched after me, encouraged me, took care of me and loved me. That made all the difference.
The experience I have just described was a real shift in PERSPECTIVE for me. Ever since becoming a full-time athlete I have always been passionate about doing all that I can to encourage, inspire and, well…just, in general, help kids who face great adversity. I had always thought that my drive to do this was because I knew what it was like to be a kid and have a lot of things in life working against you. And that certainly is a part of it–I do believe that having gone through all that I have has given me a great deal of understanding for kids in tough circumstances– but I don’t think that my passionate drive to help challenged youth came from my having been one–I think it came from the thankfulness I feel that when I was that kid, there were a lot of people who looked after me, encouraged me, believed in me, pushed me, refused to give up on me and just plain loved me.
And now I’m on the other side of that; now it’s my turn to do all that I can to encourage, inspire, motivate, support and help kids who are facing serious issues and obstacles in life.
The 306 mile run through Death Valley that I am doing to raise funds for Operation Blessing’s Clean Water Projects is directly related to this. 306 miles is going to be tough, very tough–it will no doubt be the hardest thing I have ever done. But raising awareness about the clean water crisis and raising funds to dig wells—all of it to help kids facing the worst of circumstances is so great a concern to me that it will keep me going . No matter how tired, hot, dehydrated, sleep deprived, frustrated, torn-up or exhausted I get out there I will not stop…thinking of those kids who have to try to live without a local source of clean, safe water will keep me going. My passion to help kids in need and my thankfulness for all those who helped me when I was a kid fuel my determination.
In my book I talk about this concept, which I call “Getting Beyond Yourself “:
Those 306 miles of brutal desert will be hard, but I won’t be out there alone. The memories I have and thankfulness I feel for those who invested in me when I was kid will be behind me, spurring me on. The desire I have to be that kind of light in another kid’s life will also keep me going.
I am kind of at a loss of how to close this post–I am just so overwhelmed by thankfulness right now. I really think that the events of this week have opened my eyes anew to the powerfully positive impact that each of us can have in the life of a child facing seemingly insurmountable challenges.
If you would like to join me in making a difference in the lives of children who do not have access to clean water please do so by making a donation to Operation Blessing’s Clean Water program.
Fueled by a Thankfulness Which Will Never Stop,