Sometime in 2012 I was sitting in a chiropractor’s office waiting room in Hamden, CT. I picked up the Sports Illustrated like I always did because that's all I really knew. At that time that's what really connected me to well, me. Sports, baseball in particular, was the pinnacle of my existence at that time. For many athletes that holds true. In some cases it saves us. In others, it distracts us. Being an athlete has a weird way of having both of those things exist simultaneously. Being away from the game now for a handful years has me thinking back to that afternoon in the waiting room. I sat there reading an article, Man In Full. It was so gripping that I had to finish reading the article in the waiting room once I came out from my appointment.
In short the article is about a high school wrestling coach, Mike Powell. He is a decorated All-American, on the Olympic circuit in 2000. Following injury he becomes a beloved high school wrestling coach, leading his squad to state titles, mentoring troubled young boys and above all leading a life in line with his values. He would workout out with his kids, take them on trips to his house to walk his dogs, he was a deity to them. They made shirts that said ‘What Would Mike Powell Do’ and flaunted their cauliflower ears around school like a badge of honor. Powell saved kids lives. Parents wrote to him saying they could care less about wrestling but they knew he would make their son a good, well-rounded young man. He would yell at his practices - "you can grind it out on the mat and still go home and read Shakespeare. You can be a macho man and still be sensitive! " He taught his boys to be family men, to respect women and to take pride in every single thing they do. Powell's life takes a turn when he is diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that makes him so weak he can barely walk up stairs. He can no longer belly up with his wrestlers and knock out 40 pull-ups at a pop. He has to take 28 pills a day and eat an anti-inflammatory diet of egg whites and garlic. The disease takes him to rock bottom. He contemplates suicide, tells his wife he wouldn't judge her if she left him. Thing is, Powell never missed a practice no matter how sick he was. He had to sometimes be taken from practice in an ambulance because he would simply collapse out of weakness but he never missed a practice.
I refer back to that article often. I'll dock my phone on a treadmill and re-read it while running. That isn't that odd though considering I'm the type of person that has a playlist of commencement speeches that I work out to as well. Powell's story is all things to me. He is the embodiment of the underdog but better because he isn't in the NFL or NBA. He's a high school special education teacher. That's heroic to me as an educator/coach. It's noble in the same way people look at St. Anthony's High School beloved coach Bobby Hurley for never leaving his high school to take a college or pro job despite any offer that came his way. Systemically my life is the furthest thing from an underdog story but I connected to so many of the values that Powell leads his life by. He is a grinder, tough as nails, but also compassionate and sensitive. He's the only guy in his women's studies class and anyone who has ever met him would still say Mike Powell is their best friend. Powell was the multi-dimensional and deeply complex person that I needed to hear about at a time when my life was so one-dimensional.
In the midst of starting What's Next I was taken back to that article. I already knew every single detail and could probably recite the story to a first grader and they would understand it. It was the title though, Man In Full. What did it mean to be a man in full? I couldn't say so then but I think I understand it now. I find myself whether consciously or unconsciously trying to embody the Mike Powell that I once worshiped in an article in a chiropractor’s office in 2012. To live a life driven by your values, that's what it means to be a man in full, a person in full. It's ironic that this point in my life reminded me to look back at that article because when I hear the stories of professionals, former athletes we interview for What's Next, I hear what that story of Mike Powell was for me. It wasn't a directive to take this step and do this and then do that next, it was simply a message that said; live your life, your professional and personal life so saturated by your values that even if you get diagnosed with a death invitation of a disease like Powell did, you can still leave a legacy. I finally found myself living a life in line with what I value more recently and I think that's what the storytelling of What's Next has the power to do for people. The stories connect you to people who can help tangibly advance you in your career sure, but the stories also have messages and triumphs and failures and lessons and heartache and celebration that I think can be more than a potential career contact, they can connect you to well, yourself.