One of my favorite writers, Seth Godin, recently wrote a blog entitled “This or That?”
Don’t follow, lead.
Don’t copy, create.
Don’t start, finish.
Don't sit still, move.
Don't fit in, stand out.
Don't sit quietly, speak up.
Not all the time, sure, but more often.
I doubt that Roger Hamilton ever read that, but he lived it. Roger was a superstar football player, a motivational speaker, a quadriplegic, and my friend. When September arrives, I always think of him. There’s a chill in the air, you can hear the faint sound of the football game from our backyard, and it’s his birthday on September 6th. Roger passed away last year and I miss him.
I’ve heard lots of stories about Roger. During the Marion Giants 1968, 1969, and 1970 football seasons, Roger scored 358 points and had 54 touchdowns for school career marks. He led the Giants to an undefeated season in 1969, Marion’s first since 1902! The school’s record during Roger’s 3-years of play was 28-2. He was arguably the greatest runner to ever play Grant County football, and because of that, was inducted into the Grant County Sports Hall of Fame.
But, that’s not how I know Roger. In fact, when he was running touchdowns, I wasn’t even toddling around coffee tables yet. But, the stories live on. Maybe some of you reading this even have some stories of your own.
I actually didn’t get the pleasure of meeting Roger until 2002. Jack Brady introduced us and we became fast friends as he ‘toured’ with the Project Leadership team at that time and spoke to nearly every student in all of Grant County. And, boy, did he have a lot to tell those kids.
Not long after Roger’s football glory days at Marion High School, he started to make some poor life choices. The worst left him paralyzed from the neck down after a tragic car accident. So, from our first meeting until he passed away in 2011, Roger was maneuvering his R2D2-like wheelchair via puffs into a very long straw.
Try to imagine the silence in an auditorium full of kids as they’d see Roger roll onto stage blowing into the straw once or twice to manipulate his speed or direction. It was humbling to say the least. And it was on that stage that he’d talk about his notorious football career, what could have been, and the reality of what was. He talked about the choices that led to those 358 points and the choices that led to that wheelchair. He talked about his faith, living every day to the fullest, and the opportunity that each of them had to do the same.
Roger didn’t have much. But, he had a great message to share with others. And he was willing to share it with anyone who would listen. I admired him for that. So often we think about helping others after our kids are grown or after the big promotion or after things slow down a bit. Or we think we’ll donate to charity after the house is paid off or after the kids graduate from college or after we feel like the contribution can be significant enough to make a difference.
Roger didn’t wait. And he taught me not to wait. He worked with what he had and touched many lives forever. And, that’s why I’ve decided to run my first 5K this weekend in honor of Roger Hamilton, his life, and his birthday. I’m so glad he was born.
Those of you that know me well know I’m not a good runner. I’m not as bad as Phoebe on Friends, but I really only run for the health of it. So, it’s going to be a challenge for me. I know others running in the Color Me Rad 5K in Indy this weekend will be running to get their best time or to win in their age category. Me, I’ll just run for Roger, plan to finish, and make a charitable donation in his name when I do.
It’s not much, but it’s something. And we should all do something, not all the time, but more often.