Here’s the story of a kid who had everything in the world going his way and then multiple sclerosis entered the picture.
As a kid, I was seen as a gifted in the classroom and in the athletic arena. Math was my best subject. It just came easy. In fact most subjects did. Again, I was just fortunate and apparently blessed! Just like the classroom abilities, I was known throughout my small town as a good athlete. My favorite sport was basketball. “Magic” Johnson was my favorite player. So of course, I wanted to be the point guard. In fact, I played point guard until my Freshman year. That year, I made the varsity team but in order to be a starter I had to adjust and play a different position. So, I did and started for all four years. Our team was pretty good, too (except that first year)! We won the Class 1A State Championship my Junior and Senior year!
Despite my prowess on the basketball court, my sport of choice, rather opportunity, became football. I received little attention in basketball, but I began receiving attention in football after my Sophomore year. I didn’t start playing organized football until 8th grade. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy football. I was just stubborn and wanted basketball to be my sport and I just knew I would play in college. I was so convinced that I briefly quit football after my Sophomore year. A conversation with my high school track coach made me reconsider my decision. I am SO glad I did. Vanderbilt University offered my a scholarship after my Senior season and I eagerly accepted!
So, here I am now a Freshman at a Division I school in the Southeastern Conference. I thought I was going to be a wide receiver, but I had to make another adjustment and learn a new position, halfback/tight end. During that first year, I learned that I was not as good as I thought I was, but I made the adjustment. I was never the star but I did go on to earn varsity letters and a quality education. That education allowed me to pursue my passion in teaching and coaching.
After graduating, I taught math and coached football for almost 20 years when I had to retire. In 2002, my wife and I were expecting our second child. What we were not expecting was my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. That diagnosis would require yet another adjustment in my life. MS is a debilitating disease which slowly causes disability in a person. For me, I was able to slow the progression of my disability until 2015. That’s the year when I started to rely on the use of a mobility scooter and walker to move around campus. Once my dexterity and mental abilities began to worsen in 2018, I would retire a year later. Through it all, everyone would tell me I was the most positive person they had ever been around.
Charles Swindoll said “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.” Believe me when I tell you, you won’t be able to stop the inevitable. Life happens all the time. It happens all around you. Sometimes it happens directly to you. Other times you may just be a bystander. No matter when or how it happens, you will have the choice to choose how you respond. I, personally, choose to believe there’s always a positive behind however life happens. For that reason, I choose to smile.
Look, life happens! You cannot let how it happens or how you react define you. Life is gonna happen. Choose to have a positive outlook. Choose to smile.
OJ, I'm so thankful that you shared your story! As a believer, I'm reminded in the Bible and how God encouraged me to get on a different path in life too! Forever, I wanted to be on a path of winning games, being the best athlete or having the best game, finding happiness in relationships and just overall, being on "Gary's path." That path was interrupted in 1996 when I was in bed miserable. I would tell people that even eating food didn't give me a high anymore. I needed to make changes. Luckily for me, I was given the opportunity to try another position/sport or in my case, path to get on. That path was God's Path! It was in that same year that I told God I'm sorry for trying to do things my way and wanted to give Him total control. I surrendered my heart to him completely and allowed Him to be in charge. Though I wasn't perfect, I tried. The results of my changes in all areas of my life allowed me to go through life as an athlete and a person, knowing that I gave my best. I finally felt contentment. Last thing. I'm reminded of a verse in Proverbs 4:11-12 that says, "I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble."
Thanks again for sharing a part of your story and encouraging me that we can make those changes- and do it all with a smile!