The stigma and perception of being a professional athlete and what you see on TV is 90% inaccurate for the majority. I fall into the greater pool of professional athletes that have to wake up everyday with nothing guaranteed.
I wouldn’t be able to write this without the struggles that I have relentlessly pushed through and the people who have helped me every step of the journey.
For me, it all started when I was 10 years old at Tempo Cabana apartments in Atlanta, in the middle of a grass field. I decided to jump into a pickup game of football with some older kids who were playing in the middle of my apartment complex. I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked up nervously and asked if I could join the game. I immediately began to compare myself to them, realizing that I was younger and smaller than everyone around me.
Something inside of me became addicted to the challenge. Being in the position that many would perceive as being outmatched intrigued me. The first time I touched the ball I immediately felt myself shifting into a different mode. It was as if my genetic light bulb clicked on. Some call it “flight or fight” while others describe it as being “In The Zone.”
At a young age, my parents, who were Liberian immigrants, would always argue with me calling me stubborn and hard headed. They provided me with the earliest examples of humility and what it looked like to work tirelessly for your family. After choosing Emory over Duke, My mother, Josie Curran, came to America alone on scholarship to attain her masters in nursing with no more than ten dollars in her pocket.
My father bought into the Hakky shoe repair shop franchise opening up at Town Center Mall in Kennesaw, Georgia not too long after he arrived in the U.S. He was a one man team handling management, operations, accounting etc. They worked tirelessly to not only provide for us at home, but to support our extended family in Liberia as they became displaced from a thirteen-year civil war that would claim thousands of lives. As a child I spent many nights sleeping on the floor as a result of family who came at different times.
I had to practically beg them when it came to playing football once we moved twenty minutes away from Atlanta, Ga to Snellville, Ga. They knew nothing about the game of football other than the fact that they saw a bunch of oversized guys hitting each other. My mother advised me not to play, but I took the usual route of going against the grain.
When I think about where I am now, I realize that it is this same habit of not listening at times that has allowed me to chase my dream for the past sixteen years. In high school, so-called experts told me that I was undersized in countless interviews and newspaper articles. Instead of focusing on their words, I chose to use it as fuel, challenging them and anyone else who doubted me by working tirelessly hard in the weight room, putting up ridiculous amounts of weights just to prove them wrong. There would be days when I could barely walk after a workout.
I became obsessed with improvement and controlling the things that I could control to the best of my abilities. The more others doubted, the harder I worked. I developed a chip on my shoulder that made me my own biggest critic.
Early in my career it made me feel angry. I wanted so badly for my coaches, teammates, and others to acknowledge my worth. As I grew in maturity things changed. Having to wait on my turn forced me to learn perseverance while maintaining a good attitude. I learned to be self-motivated and not base my efforts off of the expectations of those around me.
One of the most important assets I learned from waiting was faith – not only just the ability to believe in what I did not see, but to work for it as if it already existed. Because of this I have learned to embrace being at the bottom and finding a way to overcome the odds that are against me. There are certain life lessons and intangibles that are only realized when you are in the position of being the underdog.
I experienced my greatest lessons in patience while watching games from the sidelines waiting for my opportunity to come. I developed persistence while training and practicing hard even when it seemed as though no one was paying attention to my efforts.
I realized the importance of perseverance through literally being a shadow behind those who were starting ahead of me, understanding that even though I wasn’t playing that I would eventually get my opportunity when I least expected it. Lastly, my faith was built in times when it seemed as though my life long dream was all but over as a result of a setback in my personal life.
The difference is that I am mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger than ever. I am currently a free agent, still nurturing and developing the dream that I discovered as a child, but I have now realized that it is bigger than just me. Off the field, I have used all of the experiences and lessons that I have learned from them to help others by writing my first book entitled “Free Agent” and by becoming a motivational speaker. I am working with high schools in Georgia to develop curriculum for students. Any support to my gofundme campaign can help impact thousands of lives.
I have realized that this dream was not only meant to be used as a way to acquire fame and wealth, but a tool that I was blessed with to inspire and empower others who will eventually go through the same experiences I once had. This one is for the Underdawgs.