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Is that why you hold your arm that way?

Fearless

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xc-raceRunning is an activity that I always enjoyed… but going outside meant exposure to individuals who are not quite tolerant or accepting. The title is a loaded question born out of genuine curiosity for something that I generally do not think about, especially with the friends and family members that I have known all my life. As my first blog post, I want to keep this short, succinct, and focused on an introduction to myself on what truly matters most.

At the core, what I want for myself and everyone within my sphere of influence is the ability to do exactly what we want when we want and fulfill our wildest dreams. I know it is an optimistic view that has yet to be clashed with the practicalities of the real world. Most importantly, fitness is a key element of what I want to do and how to influence others in a practical manner. I do not need people to become cardio bunnies or pump iron but I would greatly appreciate the change in mindset as I take small steps towards addressing the major healthcare issues currently affecting my neighborhood.

As a side note, I would love to discuss the culture of disability (and being different) from a mature standpoint that is not bitter. I know this is a touchy topic and perhaps I will post a video about it on YouTube.

Impact and Influence: Who Inspires Me, Sharing the Shareables

Hey there!

Matt Villegas, SPT (student physical therapist) here with one last hoorah as a third year student in my third and final clinical internship before I become a full-fledged Doctor of Physical Therapy.

This is a different kind of post to share more about who has influenced me because… one of the things that leads to depression is when you stop being enchanted by stories… and unfortunately, that happened to me quite a bit throughout my experience as a Doctor of Physical Therapy student, especially during my clinical internships (but I am deeply grateful for my Clinical Instructors who were amazing clinicians and people helping me grow as opposed to the horrible CIs I hear about from nightmare stories shared by classmates and fellow DPT students). I will be the first to admit that these are men who I looked up to as role models going through difficult times. I state this because there are most definitely excellent female role models, including Maya Angelou, Ellen Degeneres, Anna Akana, Kina Grannis, Sandra Bae, Oprah Winfrey, and Amelia Earhart (I went to an elementary school named after her). I am willing to share my story now because, unlike the people I looked up to who were… too patient, I am not going to wait until all is “said and done”. I’m willing to show my blooper reel so that people begin to understand the deep struggle and allow them to influence me by emphasizing and magnifying my highlight reel. I sincerely welcome you to share about your influences in the comments section because this is definitely a dialogue worth sharing and a mindset worth thinking.

Before I get into the meat of this post, one story I want to share is the thing that sparked me to dial back into my academic studies during college. The keynote speaker for a medical conference at University of California Irvine shared a story (it wasn’t his) with the intent of encouraging youth to pursue careers as healthcare professionals. The story was about Miasma Theory and John Snow… the physician who grew up poor yet actually knew something (Game of Thrones joke). By challenging the old-fashioned notion that “bad air” caused illness in the poor parts of town, John Snow became a founder for modern epidemiology by exploring the true root cause and investigating water sources, notably wells within a specific area. The reason why I share this is because… if this had not happened, I might not be here now as a DPT student about to graduate who had known about the profession of Physical Therapy all his life. I knew from hearing that talk that I had something of value that to this day scares me shitless because I knew that I could grow into the type of person it takes to become a role model for individuals facing the darkest and dire of struggles. My mission is to disrupt the current state of mind of Physical Therapy and our internal biases, especially in the Pediatrics setting in which we should worry about teenage parents with kids living with different abilities yet don’t give any ounce of thought for the boy with the brachial plexus injury who, like his mom, learned to hide his pain from growing up in an unsafe home to the point that he could fool mandated reporters of child abuse.

On a happier note, first and foremost amongst my influencers, Gary Vee is a genuinely generous entrepreneur who advocates for offensive positivity and being productive so that actions align instead of complaining about the world yet sitting on the couch watching Netflix. He grew up poor as an immigrant yet hustled his way to the top through sheer hard work. It’s not for everyone but that’s how he did it. I could say much, much more but he pumps out a ton of content so go check it out if you are interested. Here’s a good example:

Next up, Frank Shorter is an Olympian gold medalist in the marathon who immigrated to the United States when he was young. Unfortunately, his father was a highly-regarded physician who abused him and his siblings. This was revealed in a 2011 issue of Runner’s World. The timing was critical because I was going through my own rough period during college of struggling through the journey as a Pre-PT student trying to make up for past mistakes of failing a class and dial back into my roots of distance running (I ran all 4 years throughout high school during the Cross Country and Track & Field seasons), tackle the bucket list challenge of running a marathon, look up training plans online, and overcome my personal anxieties with being homesick and constantly made fun of when running outside. I never ran a race after my high school years yet something rekindled that fire and knowing Frank Shorter’s story was just the kind of motivation I needed to push on through my bouts of injuries and facing challenges I never experienced before… like going out on a 20 mile run for 3 hours straight.

If there is any super hero I would like to be, it’s Professor X as played by Sir Patrick Stewart. He was the wise mutant who battled through the pain from other people’s minds and his own in order to bring hope amongst the outcasts. Patrick Stewart has been a huge influence in my life, especially during the days of Star Trek: the Next Generation with Commander Picard demonstrating what it meant to be a leader. Why? The first video below features him revealing the horrors of growing up in a violent household riddled with domestic violence and the second video showcases his response during a Q & A Session.

Patrick Stewart on Violence Against Women

Patrick Stewart with a Passionate Response at a Q & A Session

Chef Jeff Henderson is hands-down the most amazing individual in this post who showcased his story in his biography Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove. He literally transformed his life from being a drug-dealing felon to working his way up the ranks the legit way as a chef in Las Vegas. His story resonates with me personally because I met him in person when I was a college student at University of California Irvine taking on leadership positions, especially joining an Administrative Internship seminar program and learning more about on-campus events and opportunities. Secretly, I admired Chef Jeff’s story because I understood what he meant about privilege and wanting to be more. The deepest reason why is because… I never committed crimes beyond a speeding ticket or “earning” detention in middle school for not having a textbook cover yet… I would have nightmares of being arrested with the crap I went through as a kid who too often felt excruciatingly uncomfortably in the wrong place. Selfishly, I wanted to learn how he became successful and learned to live with himself.

In a slightly different light, Ishmael Beah shared his personal story in his biography A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. When I was in high school facing the fresh horrors of my past yet striving to be more when all I felt was… something less than human, this story resonated with me on a frequency that I rarely ever experience. How could someone who grew up killing others live with himself? I felt so horrible knowing the things that I knew yet I didn’t feel comfortable sharing anything at the time and I still get extremely uncomfortable now… even after pumping out blog posts and podcast episodes to elaborate on my story. Again, Ishmael Beah is a prime example of a powerful individual turning his life around for the better. I discovered his story when I used to watch Comedy Central’s the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, especially when my Advanced Placement (college-level) Government class sparked my interest in politics because of my tainted past with my paternal grandfather who was once the corrupt mayor of Manila (the national capital of the Philippines).

What are the “shareables” that you can watch right now? 3 movies: Good Will Hunting, Antoine Fisher, and Finding Forrester. Good Will Hunting is a popular movie starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Robin Williams. Will Hunting is a young genius janitor with severe PTSD who catches the eye of a highly regarded advanced mathematics professor yet… through squabbles and troubles with the law… ends up with a therapist who was the professor’s college roommate. Despite a rough past with present struggles, Will manages to change his life and pursue his love… a girl he met at a bar who traveled across the nation for medical school. Antwone Fisher features Derek Luke and Denzel Washington in a true biographical drama film covering the journey of Antwoine who… despite growing up abused and molested, pushes against all odds to come out on top by joining the Navy, undergoing therapy (after his temper gets him into trouble), journeying into a romantic relationship, and finding his biological family (who he lost contact with because his father got into trouble and was murdered). Finding Forrester features Rob Brown (who plays Jamal Wallace) and Sean Connery (who plays William Forrester) in the story of a smart athletic boy who loves reading yet hides his passion in order to fit in amongst his friends. On a dare, Jamal sneaks into an apartment building, finding William Forrester, an elderly gentleman who enjoys privacy and although he secretly is the author of a well-known novel, he did not publish another book. In a series of events, Jamal pursues education at a prestigious school with a basketball scholarship while developing his writing skills with Mr. Forrester. Amidst struggles and conflicts, the true talents of Jamal Wallace are revealed challenging the racial biases of a bitter professor.

Last, but definitely not least, Sungha Jung is literally a rockstar who may be younger than me yet is exceptionally talented at playing the guitar. Him going out there and sharing videos of great covers and his own musical talents inspired me to push myself when I would take guitar lessons in middle school and high school. On top of that, he was the epiphany of what it meant to me to be the cool, humble, talented Asian dude. Honestly, if it weren’t for him pumping out so much content for me to listen to and dream of playing on the guitar, I would have had an extremely tougher time during my rough years as a kid, especially when I was deeply depressed. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi resonated with me as Sungha precisely fingerpicked each note.

Always my puppy; a better love story than Twilight

Isa-Puppy

Hey everyone!

I hope you are ready to learn about my puppy, Isabela. Unfortunately, she is not doing too hot at the moment and will likely pass away soon …but I’d just like to share this, especially since she just had her 12th birthday this year (2006-2018). She was my birthday present from my older brother back in 2006 during a surprise home visit from college (University of California, San Diego)… from a wild trip with his buddies down to Mexico. She was only 2 months old when I first met her… a $10 puppy barking in the back of a truck, paid to a shady guy who likely never knew her… from a dude who was trying to impress a girl and failed miserably but… at least Isa found a home.

I was just a teenager in high school taking AP Chemistry, in my off-season between Cross Country and Track & Field, and enjoying playing violent, ridiculous online matches of Syphon Filter on my Sony PlayStation Portable as I walked downstairs from my room to see what all the fuss was about. My mom was the one who originally was ecstatic and enthusiastic about keeping our new puppy in our new home that we FINALLY got after spending several years living with my mom’s parents (NOT a bad thing …but still we needed space) after my parents divorced.

Isa-Spayed

I don’t often argue or fight for any reason… but Isabela, she was one of those reasons. My mom had a change of heart and tried getting rid of Isa. My uncle (mother’s younger brother) wanted us to get rid of Isa because my older sister was about to have a baby (my eldest niece). The above photo depicts a snapshot of the medical procedures that my mom and I would do for Isa (WAY beyond $10) to get rid of the tapeworms, get rid of t he dew claw, spay her, get her up-to-date on immunizations, and attend paid lessons at Petco to train her. Although she was once a wild energetic puppy who chewed up my Stunna shades (they were knock-offs but still… decent-looking aviators), she did calm down and never hurt the girls (my nieces).

Isa-Tired

I walked with Isa. When I say “walked”, I mean… we walked for hours even when I felt a little tired in my legs from running during practice. One time, I went out for a run and my brother held the leash. She was able to keep up with me for a solid half mile before the fatigue got to her and I broke off blazing. The above photo shows how tired she would be after one of our walks. Isa was a smarty-pants, heading off to the kitchen tiles to cool down before drinking from her steel water bowl.

Isa-and-me

To finish off this blog post, there is one story I would like to share. I sometimes share online about how I used to be home alone studying for my AP classes (college-level courses during high school). When she was still a puppy, I was still learning how to be a dog owner. I did my usual things coming home from school and practice. I headed upstairs to shower, leave my clothes on the ground, and whatnot. I was a bit startled when I heard the bathroom door pop open to the dark hallway. My puppy whimpered, strolled in, and sat on my pile of clothes as I finished up showering. So I guess… that’s what I mean when I say “a better love story than Twilight”. Thanks for reading!

 

 

The underdog story

Truth from one of the best people in the profession of Physical Therapy… and being on the list of influencers within the field is just the start for recognizing Dr. Vincent Gutierrez’s work. Here’s to the ones who have amazing personal stories of fighting through tremendous obstacles to achieve meaningful success. Anyone can want something better but here is someone who is special because he seeks it without begging AND is more than willing to help individuals like myself (DPT student and yearning Physical Therapists) learn to think critically without falling into the seemingly inevitable trap of becoming the complacent, complaining bitter healthcare “professional”.

Dr. Vince Gutierrez, PT

The Underdog Story

How many of you stood in line to collect government cheese? That used to be a joke I would hear from those that were part of the “have” culture, but being raised in the “have not” culture made the line for government cheese a reality. The cheese was a brick of cheddar cheese.  Picture the industrial size that you would buy from Sam’s club or Costco, but it wasn’t near as good.  We had to use the old wire cutter in order to slice it.  We would race home and start cutting the cheese (not like that) with the wire cutter and the kids in the neighborhood would be full.  I never told my dad this story because he would’ve been upset with us taking handouts.

That’s were I grew up.  Our playground was a parking lot.  Our games of choice were whiffle ball and if you…

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PTSD and Depression; Facing down my demons

Before I begin, I will be repeatedly posting important information throughout this blog post.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

I am doing this blog post because someone out there needs to know that she/he is not alone. Maybe it isn’t you feeling this way (and I hope you never do) but I would greatly appreciate if you would be willing to share this out during this holiday season (at the time of posting and in the future).

——

I have a great ability to remember my past, especially my long-term memories. It’s a blessing and a curse because…

I have PTSD.

Matt-Alameda

These are raw, intense emotions from my childhood and they force me to tread carefully… kinda like Bruce Willis tiptoeing around broken glass in the first Die Hard movie or like Cobb in Inception being secretive about the memory of his wife. Although I usually do a decent job of not letting the mask slip, with the stresses of Physical Therapy school, these demons grew in intensity to a point that was almost uncontrollable and almost unbearable.

At the time of writing this, my next clinical internship will be in a Pediatrics outpatient setting, meaning that I will be working under supervision with kids. I would hope that it goes without saying that I need to be at my best… and control my demons… for the sake of the kids.

Again, before I delve deeper…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

——

I decided to do something about these demons while practically telling no one. There was a week period between my first clinical internship in Las Vegas and the beginning of my final coursework at Touro University Nevada in Henderson. I saw a chance to try something I never did before but… little did I know how foolish I was.

For the first time in my life, I decided to completely rip the mask off instead of silently suffering. I had COMPLETELY let my guard down and allowed the darkness to seep in with all its intensity. I vividly remembered everything in an attempt to purge myself and share those stories in this episode of the Capable Body Podcast. There is a part of me I never tell anyone about… that drives my intensity but steals away my genuine smile and empathy. It’s a part of me I tried to seal off for a long time …and why I’ve only had one girlfriend. I don’t care if this sounds crazy. I know it is. I am extremely fortunate to have great influences and to have worked through things to calm it down. It was so intense and driving me to paranoia that I… admitted to my faculty advisor and professor that I was trying to kill myself by whispering in her ear during her going away potluck party. It really was THAT bad and I am glad to say that I am much better now despite the work in progress with more to be done.

So… how does it feel? Again, before I delve deeper…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

——

So… what happened?!? What did I foolishly overlook? I shared my stories and thought that all was good but… I couldn’t pull myself back out this time. I couldn’t swing back to “everything is okay” mode …at least not instantly. I knew what this meant but… nothing could have ever prepared me for what was next. I don’t care if it sounds crazy and I don’t care about “portraying myself as a hero”. I just want to share vividly what occurred.

I faced the Devil himself. I faced the Darkness …almost like Perseus going in to face Medusa but… I was completely unarmed and completely powerless.

It was like sinking… slowly… in quicksand… in a dark, dark room. Yet I was almost incapable of any cries for help. Every action required every ounce of energy to squeeze out. It was the WORST feeling in the world and I couldn’t even EXPRESS how I felt while in that state.

The Darkness steals your soul, cuts you off from your memories, and cuts you off from your ability to think. It makes you powerless and feel like a shell while denying any opportunity at feeling happiness EVEN when you know for a fact that you should, such as the joy of a friend finally getting into Physical Therapy school. It is SO powerful and came close to convincing me that the REAL me was a mask.

Unfortunately, not everyone comes back out and survives. I’ll share another story but first…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

——

Matt-RC-Carl

This is a photo of me with my cousin Carl (on the right; not blood-related but my aunt’s nephew) and my childhood friend RC (on the left; who I met because of my aunt’s daycare center and who was honestly more of an acquaintance but I’d like to honor his memory as a friend if that’s okay). Unfortunately, RC took his life  several years ago.

Before I go into the story of the moment I learned about his suicide…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

——

I was working as a Rehab Tech at Mercy Retirement & Care Center and covering for my boss for the very first time. It was a big moment for me. I was extremely nervous because I did not know if upper managment was going to say anything or if I would make a mistake. I did what I was supposed to do and more (if needed). But then… I got a text while I was working in the office. It was my mom. She shared with me the news.

RC wrestled with bipolar disorder… and drugs and eventually took his own life.

I didn’t know how to think or feel or respond. I was going to ask about a funeral but… that’s not really what happens when you are Catholic. I just… kept going on as usual until I could process things. I won’t go into the details of what happened next but… I hope it’s alright if I share the rare moments when I had a chance to see RC.

Before I end this post with how RC influenced me…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

——

That photo of RC and me was the last time I saw him. In all due honesty, I was… extremely down during that time because I had recently graduated from college at UC Irvine and moved back home. My plan was to save up money while having my sights set on getting into Physical Therapy school. When asked about my plans, most of my family had that tone with a subtle ounce of doubt but… when it came to RC, he genuinely encouraged me, especially when I doubted myself. I am proud to state that I am extremely close to making that seemingly impossible dream a reality.

In the past, there was something that RC and I deeply enjoyed… running. We went to different high schools and were not in the same division despite living in the same county so I rarely saw him. However, he did a race that I never did at a time when I was completely and utterly humiliated. Mt. SAC (San Antonio College) was the mecca of Cross Country meets for runners in California. Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was a leader without a title and worse… reduced to a cheerleader while my mom (who was extremely busy working two jobs to support me while there were times when I would study at home alone in high school) offered to do the long drive from the San Francisco Bay Area down to an inland area near Los Angeles for the sake of the team. My brother was livid when he found out how things went down during my senior year when I should have had a shot at that starting line. What gave me hope was learning that RC was there as well. I had a chance to watch him race but, more importantly, I had a chance to chat with him serendipitously when we made a pit stop at In-n-Out Burger in Valencia, CA. He always tried to make the world a better place. If there is anything I would like to do, not just to prove that I am truly worthy of that varsity letter from high school cross country but to honor RC’s memory, I want to earn my keep by earning a spot at the Boston Marathon, which is the mecca of distance running events. I know I have it in me. I ran a marathon before but was extremely disappointed in myself. Here’s to changing things for the better no matter how long it takes.

Last but not least…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page at https://www.sprc.org/.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Put this number in your phone! Write this number down! Put it on a post-it to place on your fridge! Jot it down on a white board! In the emergent state when this is needed… in that haze and dark cloud, you LOSE your ability to THINK and FEEL, and EVERYTHING requires a HUGE amount of energy to attempt.

Entrepreneurship in Healthcare

Alamo

Hello readers!

Thank you so much for following me and enjoying my content! Just to preface, this is a shorter blog post but… this is a much needed one to SET the TONE that has been long overdue within a profession experiencing an identity crisis in the face of the healthcare climate. I am… “going there” but I swear I am feeling humbled and thinking much clearer in real life. Cheers!

——

Entrepreneurship?

Here lies the opportunity to be truly free from finances and time AND develop the ability to sustain it while continuing to grow. Here is a chance to truly do what you have been meaning to do AND be rewarded for fulfilling your purpose WHILE maintaining integrity and NOT shooting down others in the “rat race”. Yes… FORTUNATELY, healthcare IS a business and it is time that the right people are in the profession to address the NEEDS of the PATIENT, NOT the PAYOR. If you are going to meet crazy “productivity standards” to “line someone’s pockets”, then make sure those are YOUR pockets. What we do as healthcare professionals, especially Physical Therapists, is HIGHLY valuable. Here is the opportunity for our self-worth as a profession to NOT be determined by $$$ but rather by the GRATITUDE from the lives of the people who we want to impact.

What does this mean to me?

For me, I finally have a fair shot at the privilege of escaping an environment filled with toxicity… once and for all… and be able to leverage my story in order to help others achieve that for themselves. I can be myself wholly, fully, unequivocally, unapologetically WITHOUT any masks or facades AND be rewarded for this painstaking behavior.

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Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the Belive.tv interview that I am doing (or did depending on when you read this) with Paul Gough, one of THE legends in the field of Physical Therapy, especially amongst private practice owners.

Last, but not least, level up!

Heal any moment! How a job in a great community shaped my healthcare professional views

Mercy-Wars

Sharing a short Tumblr re-post (and caption) about how excited I was to have a fulfilling job. What is most exciting is that I am on the brink of entering the Physical Therapy profession and embarking on my career journey. I will explain more during this week’s vlog. Cheers!


I am blessed to have a full-time job with benefits and a retirement plan. Who knew a Skilled Nursing Facility could be so awesome? Yet Mercy Retirement & Care Center is heaven on earth, caring for priests, sisters, and brothers. How ironic that within 3 months, I went from unemployed to highly valued job material, providing help at Salem Lutheran Home (which was sold to another company). Despite upper-management not recognizing me, I have earned the respect of the entire staff. All the staff members and patients are extremely friendly. I have never been so excited to go to work. I hope my career workplace as a Doctor of Physical Therapy will be just as excellent.


Compare that to what I shared afterwards regarding the photo above…

I hope I have the opportunity to work with an awesome Rehab Team in the near future. Can’t say enough about how lucky I was to work at a healthcare facility with great staff (especially CNAs, housekeeping, life enrichment, maintenance, and the culinary team), great management, and, most of all, great residents. #TBT

Edit: Can’t forget the cute mascot, a small white shih tzu dog who I would end up chasing around the building. Never knew the job responsibilities included walking the dog.

Lead without a title; lead with your heart

Matt-the-leader

It was just another day. Just another afternoon high school Cross Country practice …except this time during my senior year under a new coach. I trotted off to the bathroom after a warm-up jog and was shocked to hear the news upon my return. I was not named one of the team captains.

I asked my teammates what happened. I didn’t know how to react. Was it because I went off to the bathroom? No? What was it? Why were the junior guys named team captains? Not me? After being loyal and running day in, day out for all of my high school days? The one thing I wanted, especially after earning the recognition of most improved runner? Why?

The thing is… no one necessarily felt comfortable with the decision but we all wanted to respect our new coach’s decision-making. That’s what our former coach would have expected of us. We were a team that had grown together and we would respect the new leadership.

What did I think? Well… I knew that with the academic burden through challenging times and not putting in enough miles… I wasn’t cut out for varsity. I knew that the new coach was taking things in a different direction and I was willing to listen because of how much I loved being part of the team. I loved being part of something after growing up… different, which is a pretty big deal as a young boy who never participated in any type of organized sports before. I loved growing up with my teammates since my freshman year and enjoying the journey. Like I mentioned before, I was once the most improved runner and the one thing that I wanted afterwards was to be team captain. Coming from down… I wanted to be a leader but it would have been to cherish the values that held the team together, grew the team together, and push the limits… not my ego.

I had every reason to be angry and yet I chose not to be because I knew that was not a reflection of myself… that was not in my character. That was not what my former coach would have wanted. That was not part of the values instilled in this team.

I remember that night. I remember how I felt so distracted and how I reached out to teammates via Myspace or Facebook. I found comfort in how they believed in me regardless of title. I found comfort in how they reached out to my former coach and how he did not agree with the decision… how he would have named me a captain. He believed in me. My teammates believed in me.

I’ll repeat that last statement. They believed in me. That’s why I found comfort in continuing to serve within my role as a teammate and lead without a title. I could act with dignity, not bitterness, and respect the wishes of the captains because they respected me as a veteran who had been through thick and thin with this team since freshman year. Our parents all knew and heard what happened… and how dismayed I looked, though I mustered up the best that I could to continue to enjoy the sport and the team. It hurt not being able to share that genuine smile I once had.

One thing that surprised me and that I could not express enough gratitude for at the time was how the team pulled through for me during my senior awards night, the last opportunity for any moment of recognition. They (teammates and parents) pulled my former coach out of retirement and from another state to come down specifically for me. Coach Brian was a father figure to me. He instilled the values in me that you see today of doing things with intention and with heart. He was instrumental in challenging me while allowing me to enjoy myself and earn the camaraderie of my teammates. He was influential and played a major role in the happiest times of my life… practices in the Oakland hills, carbo loading team gatherings, Halloween parties, summer running camp.

Coach Brian came down specifically for my time in the spotlight to thank me for everything that I did, share the stories of way back when I would watch my older brother during meets, and award me something… a varsity letter EVEN THOUGH I was only on junior varsity because of what I had symbolized for the team. I was ashamed at the time because I knew I did not deserve this award in the traditional manner. I earned it because it was the last chance for the team to thank me with something I never had. It was the last chance to offer me something when I could not have the title of team captain.

In conclusion, this message is for you. When you have a belief system and values that are stronger than steel, you are capable of anything! You will be recognized and awarded eventually! Believe in yourself, not because of your ego but because of your values! People will notice! People will definitely notice and reward you when you least expect anything! You can bend the rules, defy odds, and shatter expectations! All this while the naysayers who do not know the real you shrug you off as “just a kid” or “just a student” or “just a new grad”.

Others will attempt to advise, “Prove them wrong!”

I am here to remind you of a long-forgotten truth…

You don’t have to prove shit! Be you!