During the recent NBA Draft, I heard a story that caught my attention and I wanted to share it with you.
Today, a lot of what we hear about professional basketball players focuses on their larger-than-life egos and their even larger paychecks. Amidst all this media hoopla, it’s easy to forget about the little kid with the big dream of playing pro ball. The kid who lives and breathes basketball, who can be found practicing in the playground all year long, whether there’s snow on the ground or he’s baking on a sun-soaked asphalt court.
On June 26th, 2014, this incredible dream was about to become a reality for a 20-year-old, Baylor University sophomore named Isaiah Austin. Oh, did I mention that Isaiah is 7’1”? In preparation for the draft, Isaiah had already participated in team tryouts and completed his mandatory physical. Isaiah was a promising top collegiate prospect and he was certain to be snatched up by an NBA team. He was on track to be one of the “chosen few.”
But life had other plans. A week before the draft, Isaiah’s mom received a call that would abruptly end his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. The call was from a doctor confirming that a cardiac abnormality that they had discovered during Isaiah’s pre-draft physical was in fact a genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome. Marfan syndrome is a condition that affects the connective tissue throughout the body and if not addressed, can lead to serious complications — or even death — if Isaiah was to pursue professional basketball.
When Isaiah’s family shared the news, he was initially — and understandably — crestfallen. But this young man’s strong family ties and deep-rooted faith have taught him a number of valuable lessons that strongly influenced and shaped the way he ultimately handled his situation.
Isaiah had learned to overcome life’s hurdles at a very young age. At the tender age of 12, Isaiah was accidentally hit in the eye with a baseball. At the time, his doctors told him that his retina was loose and there was a chance of tearing or ripping in the future. Well, the future happened earlier than anyone suspected. As an eighth grader, during a pre-game warm-up, Isaiah lost complete vision in his right eye and despite four subsequent surgeries, he did not regain his sight.
Isaiah was dejected by the surgeries’ failure and his impaired vision, but his mom told him that if he truly wanted to play basketball, “you can make it your excuse, or you can make it your story”. The ending of this story was in his hands.
Isaiah learned to play the fast-paced, multi-directional game of competitive basketball with only the use of one eye, compensating for his lack of peripheral vision and depth perception by practicing, focusing and anticipating on the court. Interestingly, Isaiah kept his condition very private, only disclosing it to his Baylor coaches after committing to the school. And, Isaiah’s Baylor teammates found out after a few weeks of practicing together. To both Isaiah coaches and teammates his story was inspiring to say the least.
Whether it’s in our day-to-day lives or in our role as a family caregiver, how many times do we allow difficult situations to define us, to become our excuse instead of our story? But Isaiah’s journey reminds us of the importance of defining our own situation and focusing on what we do have control of and what we want in our lives. As a family caregiver, taking care of your health and personal needs must be a central part of your story and caregiving must not become your excuse. No doctor, friend or family member can chose this for you. You have to choose to be the author. Knowing this is freeing because you have a choice that can ensure your needs are your priority!
A closing word on Isaiah Austin… On June 26th Isaiah did realize a dream of hearing his name called at the NBA Draft when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver drafted Isaiah as an honorary member of the NBA, the first time this was ever done. Commissioner Silver has also offered Isaiah a job with the NBA once he graduates college and Isaiah will now participate in the NBA Cares Program, a community outreach initiative that addresses educational, important social issues and health and wellness for youth and families worldwide.
After his Marfan Syndrome diagnosis, Isaiah’s mom told him that he is still among the “chosen few,” and although it may not be through playing professional basketball, his story can still serve to reach hundreds of thousands of people. To that end, Isaiah has also committed to becoming the spokesperson for Marfan Syndrome.
Isaiah is not making Marfan Syndrome his excuse, instead he will integrate it into his story and inspire those who are facing obstacles to embrace a more proactive, more positive and more grateful approach to life.
Help yourself. Help others.