I'm really excited about being here tonight. In fact, I can't think of anything else I'd rather do tonight than speak to the World Championship Kansas City Royals. Well, actually I can, but it's immoral and illegal.
All kidding aside, it's a real honor to be able to address the best baseball players in the world. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive when Branch Rickey III asked me to talk to you tonight. Being somewhat concerned about that fact, I asked Branch what he wanted me to talk about. He said, "Tell them the same thing you did last year; they won't know the difference."
Now, I don't know who he was trying to insult, me or you, but I'll just assume it's you. Still, I'm going to talk to you about something completely different this time, even though I realize you won't know it. I'm going to talk to you about adversity -- about overcoming setback. You know, I firmly believe that in order to be really successful in sports and in life you have to learn to deal with adversity. If you study the really successful people in the world, both past and present, you will find that they are people who keep trying even when they consistently fail. Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest president the United States ever had, is a prime example of a man who refused to let failure defeat him. Consider the record of failures Lincoln compiled over the years:
In 1831 he failed in business.
In 1832 he was defeated for the Legislature.
In 1833 he again failed in business.
In 1836 Lincoln suffered a nervous breakdown.
In 1838 he was defeated for Speaker of the House.
In 1840 he was defeated for Elector.
In 1843 he was defeated for the Senate.
In 1856 he was defeated for the vice-presidency, and
In 1856 he was again defeated for the Senate.
Finally, in 1860 he won something. The Presidency of the United States.
Isn't that incredible? Lincoln's not the only person to rise above his failures and become successful. In fact, history is full of such examples.
Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read.
Isaac Newton failed a number of times in grade school and high school.
Walt Disney was fired as a newspaper reporter because he was not a "creative thinker."
And did you know that he was also given a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps School?
Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.
Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.
Jim Plunkett was cut from his high school football team.
Both Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes were defeated a number of times as amateurs.
Curt Leslie lost the first eleven contests that he entered in powerlifting.
Bill Russell was cut from both his Junior and Senior basketball teams when he was in the ninth grade.
Roger Staubach was at best a mediocre football player in high school.
O.J. Simpson was such a bad running back in Junior College that they made him a defensive tackle.
Sholly Mann was completely paralyzed as a child but went on to win two gold medals in the '64 Olympics -- at the age of 15!
Believe me, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of people who have achieved greatness by overcoming failure and/or adversity. The world belongs to such people. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when he said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge amid controversy."
You know, most people invariably assume that adversity is inherently bad. I don't believe that for a second. Show me a man who hasn't had adversity in this life and I'll show you someone who hasn't lived. Adversity constitutes a sign of life. In fact, I would venture to say that the more adversity you have, the more alive you are. Adversity helps you grow; it builds character and endurance.
I would like to tell you about an extraordinary man named Troyon Myree. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to meet some pretty awesome men. Larry Holmes. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Paul Anderson, Dick Butkus, Lee James, Carl Lewis and Mike Tyson, just to name a few. In my opinion, when it comes to sheer courage and determination, Troyon stands head and shoulders above all the rest. At least, that's the way I see it.
I first met Troyon in 1988 at Tony's Gym in Albany, Georgia. It was an amazing thing. I imagine at some time or the other, when you meet someone new, you may get that certain special feeling that I do . . . but when I meet someone who is unique, I get vibrations from them. It's a marvelous feeling, like something beautiful is happening between us, and and it's going to be very good. That's the way it was with Troyon. I liked him immediately. He was a strange mix; big and powerful with the body of a Greek god, yet he was gentle and kind and so full of wonderful things to share. He was simply a magnificent human being.
We quickly became good friends and trained together for close to a year. I made some phenomenal gains that year, not so much physically as I did intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I have to contribute most of that growth to Troyon. He was so positive, so loving, and so caring. His entire life seemed to be one of giving . . the way I want my life to be, and I am sure the way you want your life to be. My vibrations were right. It was very good.
At the end of the year, Troyon was transferred to Okinawa, Japan, to continue his career as a military communications specialist. I received one letter from him after he left. I've kept that letter to this day. Let me tell you some of what he wrote. His words are poignant and inspiring.
"Judd, when you begin to realize the potential of God within you, nothing will be impossible to you, not even a 600 or 700 pound squat. Our Lord said, 'If ye have the faith as a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible unto you.' When a person is defeated in his mind or is overwhelmed by a defeating situation, he is doomed unless he can perceive and cultivate the inner powers that God has given him . . . I refuse to even entertain the thought of quitting. Never quit, Judd. Believe in your greatness and you will become great. As we have discussed many times, nothing is impossible.
P.S. I'll be back before you know it, so save me a spot . . . God Bless you."
After receiving this letter, I didn't hear from Troyon until this past year. I was working out at the Gym when I heard this faint voice behind me, "Judd, did you save me my spot?"
When I turned around, there was Troyon . . . sitting in a wheelchair . . .
He was paralyzed from the chest down, hands almost nonfunctional -- a quadriplegic; the most devastating condition a person can endure and still survive. When I first saw him I was horrified. Hell, at first I didn't even recognize him. His once magnificent body had been transformed to a mass of nonfunctional protoplasm. It was both heartbreaking and scary.
But within seconds, I started getting those vibrations. The ones that tell you it was going to be good. Again my vibrations were right.
Just three days after I received the aforementioned letter from Troyon, he was stricken with Buillain-Barre syndrome. This disease is a virus that attacks the body's nervous system and its ability to ward off other diseases. It strikes suddenly and restricts respiration, speech, and movement of the arms and legs. It's noticeable effects normally are limited to slight physical defects, such as a limp or slurred speech. In Troyon's case, however, the disease was more severe. It had rendered him speechless or almost a year and without use of his arms and legs for three years. The good news was that over time there was a chance for recovery. Of course at the time, Troyon believed he would recover . . . how does it go? "If ye have the faith as a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing shall be impossible unto you."
It wasn't just his condition that Troyon had to deal with. Eight months before his illness, his brother died of a sudden brain hemorrhage. Then one year later tragedy struck again when his father was killed working as a security guard at the Red Roof Inn in Homewood, Alabama. For most mortal men, such crushing blows would be overbearing, but Troyon doesn't function like most mortal men. He is a different breed of man. He sees light where others see darkness.
Let me tell you what a few excerpts say from another letter I received from Troyon recently.
"At first, I constantly questioned, 'God, why me?' I felt I was being punished. But I learned to appreciate myself as I am and my life for what it is.
"The first impression people get of me is a man in a wheelchair, but people have been forced to get to know me from the inside out, instead of the outside in. What happened to me was a growing experience. It taught me about adversity and going on. Nowadays everything teaches me more about what true life is all about . . . not taking ANYTHING for granted.
"I know I'll lift again, and I know I'll get my body back to where it was, but more importantly, I've put weightlifting back in proper perspective. It's fun and challenging, but there are more important things in life. I'm lucky because now I realize that I have the opportunity to teach other athletes the same. Life is really beautiful when you take time to appreciate it. I'll be back though; I still love lifting."
Now, I know this is going to blow your mind, but Troyon is back bigger and better than ever. Last year he ran a full marathon and this year he plans to compete in an Iron Man championship. I don't know about you, but I couldn't do the latter without a motor boat and a car. I guarantee you, Troyon will do it. He refuses to let setbacks set him back. Actually, I owe Troyon a lot. When I came back to take a shot at breaking the 600-lb barrier, Troyon was my major inspiration. Every day that I went to the gym to train during my comeback I thought of Troyon; his courage, his determination, and his will. By living vicariously through Troyon I learned that I could be anything I wanted to be . . . provided I first had faith, and was willing to work hard and make sacrifices. And let me tell you this, I found that when you sacrifice something in order to reach a goal that you feel is important, the pain of the loss is negligable.
I also learned that happiness comes only when we push our hearts and minds to the furthermost reaches of which we are capable. I learned that the meaning of life is to matter, to be all that you can be. No man ever taught me more -- before or since.
Here's something you might find interesting. One of my most embarrassing and disastrous moments in life turned out to be one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I have to tell you this story. It's funny as hell and it's a prime example of how adversity can lead to growth and development. You may have heard this story before, my mother has told it to just about everyone in the world.
This is a once upon a time thing . . . so brace yourself. Now, I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but when I was in high school I was a basketball player. Actually, in all modesty, I was an awesome basketball player. At 5'6" and 137 pounds, I was the white version of Spud Webb before there even was a Spud Webb.
I had exceptional ball control skills with either hand, a deadly jumpshot from 20 feet, and yes, I could dunk . . . with either hand. I spent the majority of my youth working on honing these skills. Basketball was just about my entire life at that time. During my senior year in high school, I averaged 23 points, 11 assists, 7 steals, and 7 rebounds per game. That same year, in a summer league which a majority of college players, I averaged 47.6 points a game. Like I said, I could play . . . and I knew it!
After I graduated from high school, I chose Southern College in Statesboro, Georgia, as my next step to showcase my basketball skills. I picked up at Georgia where I left off in high school. That's right, I was AWESOME! In fact, by the time the season opener rolled around I had been elevated to the varsity team, becoming the only freshman in the school's history to play varsity.
It was that opening game of my freshman year that significantly changed my life. The single event in my life that was responsible for me becoming a world class athlete and in turn helping others to do the same. I remember it vividly.
I was in the locker room getting ready with the rest of the team. I was really psyched. In fact, I don't ever remember being as emotionally charged for a game as I was then. My entire family and my high school sweetheart had driven over 1,000 miles to see me play. I remember thinking that if I got into the game there was absolutely no way that anyone was going to stop me. During my career I was always confident, but this was different. I wasn't confident, I was convinced. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last long.
When we went out on the court for our warmups, I almost had a heart attack. There must have been over 5,000 spectators in the stands. Never in my life had I played before that many people. In high school, the most people I ever remember playing before was about 500, and most of those people were my friends. All of a sudden it seemed as if everything was closing in on me. My heart started pounding like a jackhammer and I was having trouble breathing normally. Worse yet, my muscles felt tight and tense, and it suddenly seemed as if all my energy was drained from my body.
During my warmups, about the best you could say was that I functioned like a motor moron. I threw several passes away and couldn't even make a simple layup. I must have looked like a guy who had just seen a basketball for the first time. It was the first time in my life that I felt the paralyzing effects of fear and anxiety. It was a frightening experience! I was being robbed of the grace and skill that I had worked so hard to develop, and there was nothing I could do to overcome this emotion that was destroying me. In all honesty, I couldn't wait until the game started so I could take a position on the bench. Once there I figured I would be able to regain my composure. When the game started, I took a position at the end of the bench where I felt somewhat more secure, but I was still a far cry from confident and relaxed.
In the first half, our team swarmed all over the opposition. It was a good six minutes into the game before they made their first point, and by the time the half rolled around we had opened a comfortable 23 point lead. In the second half we were just as dominant. At one time we had as much as a 30 point lead. Not surprisingly, Coach Radovich started substituting freely. I hate to admit this, but I didn't want to get in that game . . . I was scared. Then, with about three minutes left in the game, I heard my name called as if from afar, B-I-A-S-I-O-T-T-O! Once again anxiety seized me. By the time I walked from the bench over to Coach Radovich I was shaking like a leaf. "Biasiotto, I want you to get in there and get tenacious." I was so nervous I almost asked him what number "Tenacious" was. After I gained my composure as best I could, I slipped off my warmups and ran onto the court. When I reached mid-court, the noise from the crowd was deafening. I could not believe the reception I was getting. The entire place was going crazy. I figured it was because I was a freshman playing in a varsity game. The I glanced into the stands where my mother and father were sitting. They were both turning blue with laughter as was everyone seated around them. I must have stood there for a good ten seconds before I realized that something was wrong. It was about this time that one of my teammates informed me that I didn't have my pants on. To my complete horror, I had slipped off my basketball shorts along with my warmups. There I stood in front of God and 5,000 fans in sneakers, socks, and jock.
When I returned to the bench to get my pants, Coach Radovich was rolling on the floor with laughter. "Biasiotto," he said, "you're showing your ass again." To make matters worse, the nest the the local paper had huge headlines: "Eagles Crush Rams 89-54; Biasiotto Put on Fine Floor Show." Not the kind of headlines I had imagined before the game.
At the time I was only sixteen years old -- just a kid. I thought my whole life was over. I wanted to transfer schools, but my father wouldn't let me. I wanted to kill myself, but he wouldn't let me do that either. It was a nightmare. But there was a light in that darkness -- as there always is. You see, the experience made me realize that if I wasn't able to control my emotions, I'd never be a good athlete. Consequently, I spent a good portion of my college career investigating techniques to enhance human and/or athletic performance. There is no question in my mind that the knowledge I acquired during that time was directly responsible for the majority of what I have accomplished today. In other words, what was my worst nightmare turned out to be a blessing. And believe me, I'm not the only one whose life was positively affected by adversity. There are literally millions of people in the history of the world who have turned adversity into opportunity. In fact, I'd venture to say that adversity is responsible for most of the really great things that happen in the world.
Let me tell you a little story . . .