Inside the Heart of a Competitor

 

I was blessed to be in attendance for this game, this experience Sam so eloquently and passionately describes here. I sat in the stands with the football coaches, who I can honestly state are my good friends … They installed SportsLeader this past season and did an amazing job. They are incredible men. Men you would want coaching your son.
 
As Sam took some of his final shots during the game, I caught myself looking at the coaches after the shot … Every single one of them had tears in their eyes, every single one of them was moved, was pulling for this young man, this member of their team … with their whole heart, mind and soul. They could not have shouted louder … they LOVED this young man, they LOVED this member of their team. They wanted his happiness more than my poor words can describe.
 
He wasn't just a number or just another kid on the team. He was THEIR player and they were so proud of him it could not stay inside.
 
I obviously was pulling for Sam with every cell in my body as well but I must confess that seeing his coaches care about him this much … This was one of my proudest moments in my 9 year history with SportsLeader. This was what SportsLeader was truly about … the strengthening of the coach-player-manager relationship beyond any score or any other statistical element … Virtue and LOVE in the platform of sports.
 
Please take the time to read this testimony and let it move you. Let Sam rekindle the WHY you coach, the WHY you are involved in the lives of young people and may you come away stronger and more motivated to do it with all your heart.
 
Virtue = Strength, Lou
 
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Hello Everyone, 

Sorry I have not written in a while. It has been a very busy past few months for me. Lou has asked me to write about my favorite moment this year. Many of you have read my articles talking about my football experiences as the manager for McNicholas High School, containing my most memorable and emotional times with my football family, but I have never shared with you any experiences from my 4 years as the basketball team manager. 

Many times I have stated how badly I wanted to play. Being a manager was the last thing I wanted to do on the team. I would rather be the last man off the bench who hasn’t played a second all season than hand out water. Well this season, although it was not in the most ideal capacity for me, I was able to live my dream and play one varsity game. Those 5 minutes and 39 seconds were the most memorable ones of my life. I would like to share with you the moment as well as before and after….

On February 12th I was given my one and only opportunity to play in a high school varsity basketball game vs. St. Henry from Kentucky. For me just getting to play was a dream come true. More or less a goal completed. I knew it was where I belonged, on the court with my teammates, some of whom I have known since grade school. For the 86 games I managed for the Cincinnati McNicholas Rockets basketball team, I never felt comfortable, I always felt like I didn’t fit sitting on the bench or filming the game. 

Walking into the gym at 5:50 with my warm suit and gym bag on February 12th , 2013 was first time in my four years as a member of the basketball team that I felt RIGHT.
 
I have always been an athlete despite my limitations, I accepted my position as a manager because I knew my teammates needed me and that I wouldn’t be able to compete at the same level any more. It was an overwhelming feeling to finally put on my #11 jersey, stretch out my legs, and get focused before the game. It all came naturally. I’ve always been just one of the guys, but this time I finally got my shot. It was the most amazing feeling, to finally feel like you are doing something that was meant to be for years.
 
I knew that by just playing, dressing, warming up, and being announced I was accomplishing something special. But to me that wasn’t enough. I’m a competitor, I wanted to compete not just play. For 18 years I have earned every privilege I have been blessed with. From walking, to running, to jumping, the list goes on. It all came with a price. (Success always does).

Lucky for me I have always had something to compete against, something to try and beat, a constant force trying to hinder my accomplishments: My Cerebral Palsy. I refuse to let it stop me. My goal is to try and perfect myself in every aspect of life and maximize every opportunity God places in front of me. I looked at this once in a lifetime moment, to play the game I have loved since I was 4, as a chance to compete despite my CP and inspire others to never let anything stop them from living their dreams and becoming successful….

In these situations managers are usually given open looks or “free” free throws through courtesy and class of the other team refs. There is nothing wrong with this at all. I actually draw much of inspiration from them. But that wasn’t what I wanted. My coach, Tim Monahan and I have had numerous conversations over the years leading to the game. Sometimes he would say, “Sam, if you don’t score I we can have the refs call a foul and send you to the line for free throws.”  Each time I said, “Coach, I do not want to be given anything. I am going to earn every second of time and every open look. I am a competitor, I plan to compete every second I’m playing. May not be the fastest, biggest, most talented but I promise you I will be the hardest worker on and off the court that you have ever seen.”  Fittingly enough one of the officials for the game was a friend of my father. Unknown to my knowledge, before the game he told my Dad he would call a foul so I could go to the line and shoot free throws.  My Dad responded absolutely not, that is the last thing Sam wants. 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams of scoring. I visualized it every day since May of my freshman year. But thinking back, my overall goal was to compete with everyone. To keep up, to make an impact on the game. And I believe I did that. Through the end of my junior year to February 12th of my senior year I was in the gym every day. Shooting, dribbling, running, or lifting. Whether I had to wake up at 4:45am in the summer so my Dad could use the car to get to work or having to wait for my older brother to come home  so I could workout at 10pm, it didn’t matter to me. I had a goal and I would do whatever it took to accomplish it. If I couldn’t make it to the gym I would do my workouts in the summer heat to push myself to the limit. I knew the harder I worked the easier the other work would be. 
 
My friends would ask me in class if I was ok because I looked exhausted, not knowing I went to lift before school. As the temperatures began to drop I would run outside for a mile or 2 before school in order to test my endurance 3 days a week. I’d stay 2 hours after practice making sure I made at least 50 3 pointers and 50 Free throws, no matter how fatigued I got or how much homework I had. When times got tough and I felt worn out I thought about my doctors who said I couldn’t walk, who said I couldn’t run, or play sports. Every coach that benched me, cut me, every time I was picked last on the team, every person who told me I “Can’t." I used this to fuel my fire. I declared war on the expectations others had of me. I refused to let them and my disability define me. I didn’t want to be known as Sam Becker- the kid who has Cerebral Palsy, but he doesn’t look like it. I want to be known as Sam Becker- the 18 year old who has overcome Cerebral Palsy, who has a tireless work ethic, and who will reach his ultimate potential in life because of it. 

At the same time I knew how well off I was. 13 years of physical therapy, a few operations, and hundreds of doctor appointments and thousands of dollars have paid off. Most people, if any, can’t tell I have CP. One freshman football player thought I was the team’s star running back (which I found flattering and hilarious) until my Dad spoke about me at the Father-Son Jersey Night. The assistant wrestling coach saw me in the weight room and asked me “why don’t you wrestle.” 
 
These are just a few examples of how I have overcome my challenges. Because of this I knew I was playing for more than myself. I was playing for every kid with CP, every devastated parent, my friend Logan Shannon with Muscular Dystrophy, and every person who had career ending injuries like my friend Danny Poole (a promising D1 lacrosse prospect who tore his ACL 3 times) and current Freshman Coach Matt Kern. Without all these people I wouldn’t have stepped out on the court that night. I wanted them to share in my joy. I hoped to inspire them despite their circumstances, but I knew I owed them more than just playing a game. Because of this I decided to start a fundraiser called “McNick for CP.” As a school we raised $3,247 selling Neon Yellow T-shirts, split the pot, and open donations. 100% of the proceeds went to the Cerebral Palsy Unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where I received treatment. Our student section “The Launch Pad” filled the stands with the shirts forming a sweet sea of neon. It was unbelievable.  

Another special part of the evening was all the people who came to support me and the fundraiser. I was truly honored and blessed. Alex Meacham, my old trainer and former UC walk-on graciously bought the team matching shoelaces to go with the shirts while also advertising my story through social media. My football coaches all came in, family friends, grade school friends who I have known since I was 2, (including Logan Shannon) alumni, past teammates, kids from rival schools, and people who heard about it over social media. Most special to me was when my 19 year old brother Max drove 8 hours home from college to surprise me and my family the Monday before. Max and I are only 14 months apart in age so you can only imagine all the sports we use to play together growing up and all the good times we have shared watching each other in our given sporting events. 
 
A few days before the game we talked on the phone and he told me how bad he wanted to be there. All of his local friends were bragging to him about how they were able to go to my game. I couldn’t imagine myself playing my one and only competitive game without Max there. I came home from the gym Monday and I hear the door open and Max was there standing with Skyline Chili like it was no big deal. I couldn’t have asked for a better surprise. Not only did he come, but he also got all of his college friends from area universities to come as well. Max is a very gifted athlete. He was a 3 year starter for McNick’s soccer team and was selected as one of the top 100 lacrosse players in the Midwest for his class. He now plays soccer for Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte. I could tell seeing me play meant a lot to him. He told me he wouldn’t have missed my game for the world.

The day of the game I was so nervous I could hardly contain myself. My classmates were talking to me about how many points they wanted me to score, how excited they were to watch me, and how great the fundraiser was. I decided to eat lunch with my Football coach Paul Romolo who was is also my Mentor for SportsLeader. It allowed me to relax and embrace the day. It was funny all my teachers understood if I needed to take a little break from their class. They knew I’d make up the work.

I’m sure many of you can relate to how I was feeling to some extent. You work so hard for so long for one moment in time. When that moment comes it is overwhelming. As humans we build up natural expectations in our minds to satisfy what we want that moment to be. In many cases February 12th was everything I dreamed of and more, but I would be lying if I said there were some goals I sadly did not accomplish. After thinking, struggling, and praying about it I realized the reasoning for the events of the night were very simple. It was God’s Will.  
 
As I have said in my previous articles, God has a plan for me.. If you have not figured out by now, to my disappointment I did not score a single point in my 5 minutes and 39 seconds of play. I had 5 great looks from 3 point range. All 5 I should’ve made. None of them were given freely to me. All 5 shots I have made hundreds of times over the years. This was initially devastating to me. To tell you all the truth, it still hurts a little. At first I couldn’t understand why I didn’t make them, why couldn’t God help send at least one in the net.  I put in countless hours of work to make sure I could score. But for some reason I didn’t. 
 
As the final buzzer sounded and my high school basketball career ended I put my jersey over my head and began to cry. I probably would’ve done that scoring or not. I felt as if I failed. I wanted so badly to score so that maybe somehow I could inspire that little kid with Cerebral Palsy or that injured athlete who needed hope to carry on. I thought that if they saw me on TV by some chance that they would believe they too could play high school sports. Maybe even in a greater capacity than I did. Like I said in my first article for SportsLeader, I wanted to help all kids with a physical disability, especially CP, to look on me as someone they could look up to, relate to, and be inspired by. I did not want to score for my personal satisfaction, I wanted to score for them, for my brother who traveled 8 hours to watch me, for my friend Logan who cannot walk, for Danny, for my parents who has financially sacrificed so much in order to get to where I am, for all my friends, and for all of my teammates/coaches who said they were playing for me, well I wanted to score for them! In my mind I felt like let them down….

As my face was hid under my Jersey I felt people lifting me up on my shoulders. The first 2 to get there were my friends Brad Rice (football teammate) and Patrick Henry. Instantly the rest of the crowd followed. Although we won the game by 5, I didn’t understand why they were celebrating because I didn’t score. As they let me down I was focused on getting to the locker room just like any other game. I did not see the monsoon of people waiting to congratulate me. Countless number of my friends and family came up to give me a hug. It was all a daze. I was  overwhelmed by the event as a whole I didn’t know what to do. 
 
I hugged and apologized to Logan for not scoring and told Alex that a let so many people down. I remember St. Henry’s Coach shaking my hand and congratulating me, telling me I must have been a great kid to receive all this support. Still not understanding why.  The whole team came down from the locker room to celebrate with me and the people in attendance. From the bottom of my heart I appreciated the love and support of everyone in the gym, but personally I felt like I had my one chance and I was crushed it didn’t go the way I wanted. I wanted to score for those families severely affected by Cerebral Palsy. As I have said I wanted to give them hope and inspiration, not just money. I felt like God gave me an opportunity no one has ever had considering how far I’ve come, and I didn’t capitalize. All the countless hours I spent in the gym, the gauntlet I but my body through, the 1000s of shots I took that captivated my life for the past year to 4 years seemed like a waste.

Max took me to out to eat after the commotion settled down in the gym.  He said Sam, “You may not realize it now or in a few months but someday I hope you find out what you did in that gym tonight. You accomplished more than you ever could’ve by scoring, the whole crowd was cheering for YOU, not because you scored but because you competed, you didn’t back down, you raised thousands of dollars and inspired so many people, that is more important than anything."

My phone was blowing up that night and for the next week.  Friends, family, and spectators were telling me how inspiring I was and how great of a job I did. People were reaching out to me on Twitter as well, but I never felt like I deserved all the attention. I spent countless sleepless nights talking to my Dad about the game. I couldn’t understand why the game didn’t  work out the way I wanted it to after all my hours of work and sacrifice. The hardest part for me was knowing that even though there were still 2 guaranteed games left in the season I wouldn’t get another chance to play. Because that was really all I wanted. TO PLAY.  

After weeks of the game captivating my inner attention I finally realized the true beauty of the night, the reason why people have congratulated me, and why people have reached out to me.  It was because I didn’t score. It was everything I did besides scoring. While I was focused on my stat column others were focused on the $3,247 I raised in a matter of weeks, the unification of the school, the cheers from the crowd, and the inspired play of teammates. They saw a young man who selflessly gave his time and energy to a program and school for 4 years finally live his dream he has worked endlessly for. For the 5:39 I was out there they saw a man who despite being “limited” by a disability never back down.   I went for loose balls, recorded a steal in the 3rd quarter during a one point game (contributing to a 6-0 run in the heat of the action), I boxed out kids 6 inches bigger and 60 Lbs. heavier than me, I also played aggressive committing 2 fouls (1 I disagree with)…..At the end of the day I lived my dream. I competed. I proved once again that players can make an impact outside of what the stat book showed. 

My Dad always quotes St. Paul, “Fight the good the good fight and finish the race.” Something I didn’t understand until now. I fought the good fight against everyone who has ever doubted me, benched me, cut me, or limited me. After years of lifting, shooting, dribbling, and running early in the morning in harsh conditions, I finished the race when the scoreboard read “Rockets 56   00:00    Guest 51”. I achieved my goal. I was a high school athlete. I competed, not only against St. Henry’s but against the odds of Cerebral Palsy. The game did not begin on February 12, 2013, it began October 19, 1994 when doctors told my parents I may not live through the first hours of my life. I found that be being able to run out on the court that night in my number 11 jersey and competing at a high level was a culmination of the all the hard work, love, and support I have received over the years from my loved ones, teammates doctors, coaches, trainers, and even from you guys reading my articles on SportsLeader. 

Over the past few months I have had a difficult time finding satisfaction in my playing that night despite all of the support, press, and CP opportunities that have my been presented to me, which I am truly thankful. I was this way until I discovered a quote from Vince Lombardi: “Winning means you’re willing to go longer, work harder, and give more than anyone else.” This quote has brought me a peace of mind. Although I didn’t score in the game, I scored in the game of life. I have come to the realization that if you put your mind to a good cause and work as hard as you possibly can to accomplish that goal, you cannot lose. No matter how it turns out

I encourage all of you to follow your wildest, far stretched dreams. Never let anything or anyone stand in your way. I guarantee you, if you put in the time and the hard work, God will meet you half. When you are given a shot at something. Take it. Don’t look back. And Make the most of it……..

P.S.

I ask you all, please pray for the healing of my good family friend Nick Schoening who is fighting Post-Chemo Leukemia. Nick is father of 2 kids one being a Freshman at McNick and another a 6th grader to be, who is also my brother’s best friend. Nick was also one of my biggest supporters leading up to my game, cheering me on every time he saw me running in our neighborhood. He also started a standing ovation for me in the 4th quarter of my game. Please pray for his safe recovery. Thank you all for your support and love over this past year. It means the world to me. I would love to hear your feedback, feel free to contact me through email, Facebook, or Twitter. Again Thank you all 


God Bless,
 
Sam Becker
samxbecker10@aol.com
@SamBecker11