Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pep Talk: "Way To Go, Amy and Joe!"

“Good morning, God, or good God, it’s morning,” were the words eloquently uttered to me a while back by a treasured friend, Joe Sabah. One of the founding fathers of the National Speakers Association, he’s still going strong as an octogenarian despite suffering a stroke about a decade ago.

He walks with the aid of a cane and types only with his right hand, but nothing slows down this dynamo. Maladies may strike his body but nothing except enthusiasm for life emanates from him. Thus, the mentor to many a speaker chooses, “Good morning, God.”

His words come back to me after sending a text to another friend whose wife has suffered a life-changing spinal cord injury: “Best of luck on the next phase of this unexpected journey. Prayers for you all!”

Less than a minute later, I got a response to my text, a simple, “Thank you.”

The correspondence was with former Denver Broncos’ punter Tom Rouen about his wife, Amy Van Dyken-Rouen. The six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer recently had an ATV accident while coming home from dinner. She was thrown from the vehicle and suffered a complete severing of the spinal cord in the lower back area. She has complete use of her arms, and is rehabilitating at Denver’s Craig Hospital in hopes of defying the odds and regaining use of her legs.

Van Dyken-Rouen also has an incredible spirit. It played a huge role in her athletic success. Competitive. Feisty. Spit in the lanes of competitors back in her swimming days. Energy in a room changes when the former Colorado State swimmer star appears. If anybody can defy the odds, it’s Amy.

Life’s unexpected twists and turns. An accident. Stroke. Illness. Divorce. Layoff. Firing. Those “What the hell is going on around here?” moments we struggle to understand.

My mind wanders to a moment long ago, involving Rouen. It was before his professional career, when he was an All-American punter for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

The scene was the Orange Bowl in Miami on January 1st, 1991. The Buffs were playing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the second straight year. With a victory, the Bill McCartney-coached team could once again win the national championship. Lou Holtz and the Irish had defeated CU the year before.

Back then I was a young television sportscaster for KCNC-TV in Denver. It was my job to cover CU athletics. I was, “The Buff Guy.” I’m standing just outside the south end zone at the once proud, but by then decrepit, stadium in south Miami as Rouen boomed a punt deep into Notre Dame territory.

At the time, the Buffs were clinging to a slim lead, and many questioned the wisdom of punting the ball to Notre Dame’s dangerous return man, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. But that’s what happened. What happened next was quite memorable.

Ismail caught Rouen’s punt deep in Notre Dame territory, made a few moves, got a few blocks and ran the darn thing all the way back for a touchdown. Or so he thought.

What the All-American didn’t realize is that around midfield an official had thrown a flag. Clipping on Notre Dame. To this day, Notre Dame fans I run into insist it was a clean block, but replays show that while close, the officials’ call was correct.

Anyway, back to the story. Ismail and two of his teammates are lying in the back of the south end zone of the Orange Bowl. I’m standing less than a foot from them. They don’t know about the flag. I leaned over, tapped Ismail’s shoulder pads and offered, “Hey guys, there’s a flag down there.”

I will never forget the looks on their faces. Shock. Disbelief. One of those “What the hell is going on around here?” moments.

Luckily for them, it was just a football game. Amy Van Dyken-Rouen and her hubby, the punter who kicked the ball to Rocket, face a game of far greater magnitude. I hope they can keep a positive attitude. I pray they can be patient and persevere. That they can, most often, awaken with Sabah’s motto, “Good morning, God” and not succumb to the temptation of “Good God, it’s morning.”

The journey rarely goes as planned. We get kicked. We get clipped. We get thrown. We struggle to understand why. We’re human, after all.

Realistically, the only thing we can truly control on this roller coaster called life is our attitude. It will play a huge role in how we handle the dips. Van Dyken-Rouen’s already looking for positives. Yep. She posted on social media sites about the great seats and parking spaces afforded the handicapped at sporting events. You go, girl.

An accident may rob Van Dyken-Rouen of the use of her legs. But like Sabah, nothing appears to have a chance of stealing her spirit. We would be wise to emulate Amy. Joe, too. Way to go, Amy and Joe!

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