I’m all-in for watching the Super Bowl. There’s nothing better than the big game on a big screen, where titans collide in athletic competition.
But it’s not football champions I want to speak about here.
In this week of weeks among sports, I want to celebrate the benefits and power of human perseverance. I want to highlight the lives of two men – one alive, and one passed on, two warriors who deserve a spotlight like Super Bowl stars.
On Tuesday, George Chmiel completed a 3,000-mile run across the U.S. to pay honor to U.S. military veterans, bring attention to mental health issues they face and raise funds for veteran charities.
Starting on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Chmiel’s 14-state trek from San Diego to New York City was accomplished in only four months. He ran for 92 days, averaging about 32 miles a day.
Jeff Kyle, co-founder of Guardian for Heroes, explained to Fox News: “When I first heard that some crazy guy – George [Chmiel] – wanted to run 3,000 miles across America to raise money and awareness for veterans, I was a little set back. I couldn’t believe that a ‘civilian’ with zero military background would put themselves through that much pain, physically and mentally, just for us.”
ESPN reported, “On just the second day of his quest to run across the United States from San Diego, George Chmiel was slowed by a knee injury. The next day, he suffered a partial tear of his right Achilles tendon.”
Yet, George pressed on, from a walk to a trot, until he could finally run again.
That is why Jeff Kyle called Chmiel a true “patriot.”
Chmiel is no sheepish patriot or competitor, in sport or life. He is a gladiator at tackling human achievement and overcoming obstacles.
As BeastModeForTheBrave.org explained, “George is a highly qualified endurance athlete having completed 100-mile races on six continents, including 155-mile, self-supported ultra-marathons in The Sahara Desert (Egypt), The Australian Outback, The Atacama Desert (Chile), The Annapurna massif (Nepal), The Gobi Desert (China), and Antarctica. He’s also completed 21-marathons, with a PR of 3:04:25, Ironman Lake Placid, The Vermont 100, The Hong Kong 100, and multiple other endurance events. He’s one of 150 people in the world to have completed the 4Deserts series, having finished in the top-seven of all 4 races. He has never DNF’d an event” (DNF = “Did Not Finish”).
On Tuesday, as Chmiel crossed his finish line at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in Manhattan, after a grueling last 33 miles through freezing storms hitting the east, he exclaimed, “It was incredible, so powerful. It didn’t really feel like I was ending the run. It just felt like I was part of this magnificent celebration of our veterans and the unity in this country that we need so badly right now. It was amazing.”
Well done, George! And kudos for discovering a key to life: using your abilities and accomplishments to bless other people, especially our brave service men and women.
Speaking of true champions, I was also introduced this week to an amazing man and movie, “Greater,” the true story of 22-year-old football player Brandon Burlsworth.
Burlsworth was an offensive lineman who played for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the mid-to-late ’90s. He advanced to a starter for offense, defense and special teams, but not before overcoming a host of mental and physical obstacles.
I don’t want to give away key components of the movie, if you haven’t seen it yet. But, suffice it to say, the film is about far more than sports.
In the beginning of high school, Burlsworth was bullied and socially awkward. He even lacked what it took to be a football player. Before he reached his 6-foot-3, 308-pound stature, Burlsworth was “a 6-foot, 160-pound high school freshman,” a “big, gangly kid” who “wasn’t very coordinated” and, quite simply, “wasn’t very good” at football, according to his coach at Harrison High School, Tommy Tice,” Fox Sports reported.
Tice candidly added, “He had no natural talent.”
Grant Garrett, a member of Burlsworth’s same recruiting class and his eventual close friend, explained, “Brandon … didn’t have a social life, so to speak. We’d all go out, drink beer, watch football games, party, dance, drink, all those things college kids do. Brandon would never do any of that. He’d go to coach and go, ‘Coach, what do I gotta do to play?’”
Burlsworth mentally and physically pushed himself beyond many human constraints until he became a star athlete. With a lot of hard work and determination, he grew into a fighting machine. And after earning first-team All-America honors as a fifth-year senior, he was drafted to the Baltimore Colts. (Here’s legendary Coach Tony Dungy speaking about Brandon.)
But fate would have other plans. He was cut down in his prime. (Please see the movie for details.)
Brandon’s exemplary life became his inspiring legacy. And his character, endurance and discipline became a rallying cry for the team. The Arkansas coach Houston Nutt would often tell his players to “do it the Burls way” when he wanted them to push their limits, play hard and do it right.
They even made a movie about him that millions would see, including me.
What makes the movie “Greater” even more remarkable is that it was made for only a few million dollars, and it was written and produced by a fellow University of Arkansas graduate who didn’t have any other film credits to his name. It may not be a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s received the highest accolades from We the People.
I’ll be watching the Super Bowl this next Sunday, but I’ll also be thinking about Burlsworth, and how many others are out there who are just like him – those who would commit not to give up but “do it Burl’s way.” Maybe even someone reading this column.
The great Vince Lombardi was right again, on all three accounts:
The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.
It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.