Embodying Resilience – The Ohio State Football Team

“Life sucks and then you die” goes the phrase. Resiliency converts “sucks” to “is awesome.” We all face challenges in life and it’s about how we adapt and conquer them that matters.

As I traveled the world I saw lots of evidence of the “sucks” part of that statement above. I also saw abundant evidence of the “is awesome” part as well. I saw survivors of war thriving after picking up the pieces of their former lives. I saw people who could have retired in peace but instead chose a more difficult path of starting a non-profit organization to help others. I saw former enemies living and loving side-by-side in peace. Inspiration was everywhere.

One thing I always missed as I traveled was college football – that’s American Football for you international readers. I attended Ohio State University as an undergraduate for many reasons, but football wasn’t one of them. It didn’t take long for me to get swept up in the undercurrent of football fanaticism though. Even more surprising were the international students who came knowing nothing about football and who left as the team’s biggest fans!

Ohio State won a national championship while I was a student. We defeated the Miami Hurricanes in January 2003 despite being a long-shot contender. Since then we reached the national championship game in 2006 and 2007 and lost both. We had up and down years otherwise. A scandal in 2011 forced out the popular coach Jim Tressel and raised many questions about the football program in general.

Ohio Stadium - Photo courtesy of Jon Ridinger

Ohio Stadium – Photo courtesy of Jon Ridinger

A new coach, Urban Meyer, came on the scene. He has won championships in the past and has Ohio in his blood. He recruited well and had great success as the coach heading into the 2014 season.

Then tragedy struck.

Braxton Miller - Photo courtesy of Adam Glanzman

Braxton Miller – Photo courtesy of Adam Glanzman

The quarterback Braxton Miller, who many thought might win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest individual award, re-injured his shoulder and would be out for the season. His replacement, J.T. Barrett, took over with greatly diminished expectations.

They stumbled early and lost at home to a mediocre Virginia Tech team. Then they came together as a team and won…and won… and won. Across the country people downplayed our accomplishments, saying that our conference was weak and our opponents were unimpressive.

At the end of the season we beat a highly touted Michigan State team in their stadium, paving the way forward for us to be taken seriously.

Then tragedy struck again.

Against archrival University of Michigan, J.T. Barrett broke his ankle. He had proven himself a strong leader and one of the most potent offensive forces in the country until then, and once again the expectations were diminished.

Ohio State vs. Michigan - photo courtesy of MGoBlog

J.T. Barrett being tackled in the Ohio State vs. Michigan game – photo courtesy of MGoBlog

Then tragedy struck again.

In the week between the Michigan State game and the game against our archrival University of Michigan, player Kosta Karageorge went missing. Students canvased campus with missing posters and the police followed leads. During the Michigan game his image was shown on the Jumbotron asking anyone with information to call the police. Sadly, he was found soon thereafter. He died of an apparent suicide.

Heading into the conference championship against Wisconsin we were underdogs with unknown third-string quarterback Cardale Jones at the helm. We won 59-0 and stopped the best running back in the country in his tracks.

Then, much to the dismay of many, we were selected as the fourth and final team to compete in the inaugural college football playoffs. We were assigned to play Alabama, the storybook powerhouse team of the past few years with a #1 ranking across the board. We were underdogs. Alabama had the best wide receiver in college football. Again and once again we prevailed: 42-35.

Then the stage was set to play Oregon for the championship. Their quarterback won the Heisman Trophy and was considered by many to be the best player in college football last season. Their tempo was lightning-fast and they put a lot of points on the board. Again, we were underdogs. Again, we won: 42-20.

I guess it goes without saying that I have missed watching and being immersed in the world of college football. But in all seriousness, this story of overcoming tragedy after tragedy, setback after setback, all while attending classes and dealing with the normal physical and mental wear and tear a season of football throws at you.. it’s the stuff of legends and full of lessons we can learn from.

When asked how his team overcame all of these setbacks and prevailed against all the doubt, coach Urban Meyer said he was coaching the closest-knit team he’s ever been a part of. When star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had standout performances in the final three games, was asked how he was able to perform at his best he pointed out how hard the offensive line worked to create opportunities for him to succeed. When third-string quarterback Cardale Jones was asked how he rose to the occasion of leading his team to victory under adverse circumstances he pointed to his teammates and the coaches.

I share this story because I’m incredibly proud of my team. I also share it because it highlights so many of the positive messages I discovered around the world in my search to figure out what happiness really is.

First, adversity. Adversity’s only antidote is resiliency. When life gives you lemons you have to make lemonade. Dictionary.com defines resiliency as “the power or ability to return to the original form.” Life is full of adversity and resiliency is how you bounce back. But in life we don’t aim just to bounce back; we aim to grow and come out further ahead despite adversity. This team embodied the essence of resiliency.

Second, passion. All of the players on the team are passionate about football and Ohio State. Their hard work and hours of practice enabled them to outrun and outlast the competition. Every player on the team dreamed of winning a national championship. Passion and hard work lead to happiness and success.

Lastly, the greater good. Every team goes out and tries to win in any sport. But when the players truly care about the person next to them more than they care about themselves, when that kind of spirit is embodied in a team then amazing things happen. The same is true in life. If you see yourself as part of a community, or even humanity as a whole, then you are a conduit to accomplishing things far greater than yourself.

I’m proud of my Buckeyes. Their story embodies resilience and the up and down journey we all face as we pursue happiness. Others may doubt you and you may even doubt yourself, but if you are determined you too can be a champion.

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