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How to Be a Hero

Life is interesting as it offers opportunities to each of us, allowing us to make choices. The choices we make shift the path we are on and often change the course of our life drastically. Many times those choices are affected by our personal preparation, or even lack of preparation. The sad thing is, the lack of preparation often limits the choices we have.

I no longer have family in the small town I grew up in but I do have a lot of good memories there. It was a good town, and a good era to grow up in in the mid-70's. I learned a lot of things that I would carry into my life. Sometimes I wonder what if I had.....? In this case, taken an athletic scholarship that I ignored. I had a choice of wrestling or baseball at two different smaller schools.How different would my life be and where would I be now? None of that matters as it is in the past, but sometimes, I still wonder.

The timing of these musing comes on the heels of a high school reunion. We do one every five years now because so many people/classmates are passing on. While in town I stopped by to visit my wrestling coach. He is the only teacher/coach I have ever visited. I know it is because he had an overwhelming influence on my life.

I stopped by 5 years earlier but he wasn't home. I left my card at his door and a few days later we talked briefly on the phone.I found out he had retired and now trained and raced sled dogs in the sprint events. He had created his own breed of dog and I'm sure used many of the training techniques he had used to create winning wrestling teams. He became a multiple time world champion with his teams. This time, I parked on the dirt road in front of his home. Through the trees, I saw some activity at the house. Yes, someone was home! I knocked on the door, waiting anxiously. An older version of Mr. Perry answered the door. It had been 40 years after all. What did I expect. He looked at me with a questioning look. Glen Williams, coach, I quickly said.

He grabbed me by the arm, Glen, come in, come in, and I did. We talked for several hours as we reviewed some of our history and reminded each other of things we had each forgotten. When I was a sophomore, I tried out for the team. Mr Perry pulled my father aside after practice one day and told him, "you need to get Glen checked out. There is something wrong with him. He's got the heart and the moves but there is no strength." He was right, I had passed out playing baseball a few months earlier but it was dismissed as heat exhaustion. I slept all the time, through class and all night, through football season. The only time I was awake was during practice. I was taken to a doctor and had to go two hours away to Denver and was diagnosed with Juvenile Type 1 diabetes. My family was told I would be lucky to live to be 40. They did not tell me at that time. This was a game changer. Adapt and come up with a different move, but don't ever quit. LESSON #1 from wrestling.

I thanked coach for that and in reality, he probably saved my life. During our conversation he told me that he did not have my address but wanted to invite me to his induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. It is in two weeks. "Do you want us to mail it to you or give it to you now?"

Easy Choice- give it to me now, I will be there.He then said, " I've been working on my talk, practicing on my dogs. Do you want to hear it?"

He then explained, "my problem is, I've got Parkinsons and sometimes it affects my emotions. I don't want to cry so I may have my son, Shawn, read it."

I replied with a quote from Mr. Perry, "Coach, you've got one minute left in the third period and you are one point down. What are you going to do?" He grinned as I said, "sound familiar? You've got this." And he did.

Two weeks later I sat at a table at the Hall of Fame dinner and induction, surrounded by many of the best wrestlers my high school and the state of Colorado had ever produced. Some were young and some were older, like me. Mr. Perry had more people there, for him, then anyone else. He had made a difference in a lot of lives. There were people from Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah. We hadn't seen each other in decades, but it was like walking into practice again. The old rivalries were gone but the embrace of being teammates remained, unchanged after all the years. The respect we all had for each other and especially for Coach Perry was only multiplied.

Coach did a phenomenal job on his talk, receiving a standing ovation. He didn't cry and he added a line or two. He added, There are many champions here. Some due to illness or injury never won a medal. Not all champions win a medal but they are the true champions in life.This confirmed to me that I may have been one of the only non-medal winners at those tables, but that didn't and doesn't matter to me. I was there for Mr. Perry. Coach Perry spent his time pushing us to be our best. He didn't chase medals or championships. He didn't aim to be in the Hall of Fame. He just knew that if we were our best, these things would naturally come. If the medals and recognition didn't come, he knew we would be better people.

Coach later told me, "I added a couple of lines for you. It's not about the medals" At that moment Mr. Perry reminded me of another coach who also had a great influence in my life. He is now 85, still gets around and loves facebook because he can keep track of "his boys". He gets so excited to see their accomplishments and that no matter what profession they have chosen, are all doing well. He is my father, who cut me from basketball in the ninth grade so I would go wrestle. Yes, I was a really good wrestler, and a so-so basketball player. Fatefully, that decision put me in a position a year later for Mr. Perry to notice something was physically wrong with me. That diagnosis led to a change in life. Adapt and try something different until you find what works. Learned that in wrestling. I stayed at my first police department as an officer/detective for 20 years. I wouldn't quit, even though there were times I should have. NEVER QUIT. I learned that in wrestling. In my mid 50's I ran 4 miles every other day at an 8 minute/mile pace. I was not going to let some 20 year old run from me and beat me. Preparation and being ready for anything. Yep, learned in wrestling. Rolling on the ground in a fight with a bad guy on the street. No big deal. I've got this. I wrestled.

The lessons learned keep coming back. I'm still adapting and shifting in life as I retired. I have PTSD and am divorced. I changed and learned to communicate in a way that works.Now my PTSD is being managed and dealt with. I have a wonderful relationship. I adapted and didn't quit. Hmmm. Learned that in wrestling.

I teach my program to police officers and wrote a book, both entitled: Bridging the Gap; An Inside Look at Communication and Relationships After Traumatic Events. I only hope that I can assist others to make a difference in their lives like my father and Mr. John Perry have done for me and so many others. Once again, learned that in wrestling. Thank you for being the true champions and larger then life inspirations you are. Neither set out to win awards, just to help those around them be the best they could be. That is what makes a hero.


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