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God in My Corner
By George Foreman, Ken Abraham
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 George Foreman
All rights reserved.
THE PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
Everyone needs a second chance, even if your name is George Foreman. You might know me as the guy on television who advertises the George Foreman grills, Meineke Car Care, or Casual Male Big & Tall clothes. If you follow sports, you may know me as the world's heavyweight boxing champion who lost to Muhammad Ali and then came back twenty years later to win the heavyweight title again at forty-five years of age.
But what few people know is that something incredibly strange happened to me on the evening of March 17, 1977. That supernatural experience defined my life so dramatically that it divided my identity into two Georges. The old George lived prior to that day, which I'll refer to as "my first time around." Ever since then, I've been the new George. God gave me another chance at life, and I've been determined to do it right this time.
When we start out in life, we often travel down some wrong roads, hurting ourselves and others along the way. Most of us have to hit bottom before the lightbulb turns on and we realize that we've blown it. It's at that critical moment that we must seize the opportunity and change directions. We must start traveling down a different road, leading to a new destination.
My second chance arrived unexpectedly in a Puerto Rican dressing room after a heavyweight boxing match. What happened to me in that room is so incredibly bizarre, it's unlikely you've ever before read anything like it. Simply stated, I died and went to the other side. The experience impacted me so profoundly that three decades later I can't go a single day without thinking about it.
THE CRISIS I COULDN'T FIX
December 1976. The phone rang in the middle of the night, rousing me out of a deep sleep. Through foggy eyes, I strained to read the clock on my nightstand.
It's nearly three o'clock in the morning. Who in the world is calling me at this hour? Don't they know that no one is supposed to disturb me when I'm preparing for a fight?
In three months, I was scheduled to fight Jimmy Young in a highly touted heavyweight boxing match in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had been training vigorously on my ranch in Marshall, Texas, and everyone on my training team and household staff knew the rules: No one was supposed to distract me while I was in training. The word around camp was: "Don't bother George. If something good happens, it can wait. If something bad happens, keep quiet about it around George. If someone dies, don't tell him."
A boxer has to stay in the right frame of mind to prepare well. Boxing isn't just about the grueling physical training—running mile after mile, hitting the punching bags thousands of times, and sparring round after round. A huge part of boxing is mental preparation. If you lose the bout inside your mind, you'll lose it in the ring, too. That's why orders were given to not interrupt me for any reason. But whoever was calling at this late hour obviously chose to disregard the training rules.
My mother had come to my training camp to cook for me, and was sleeping in my bedroom while I slept in another room in the back of the house. Apparently, the ringing telephone woke Mom up as well. Rubbing my eyes trying to fully wake up, I picked up the phone at the same time my mother did in her bedroom.
I recognized my sister, Mary, crying on the other end of the line. It shook Mom when she heard her sobs. "What's wrong, Mary?" she asked, worry clearly evident in her voice.
Mary composed herself well enough to reply. "My son was playing outside and had a seizure," she said. "By the time we got him to the doctor, he was in a coma. The doctors don't think he's going to make it. They say if he does come out of the coma, he won't be able to walk or talk." Mary broke down in violent sobs again.
The boy she was talking about was my five-year-old nephew, George Edward Dumas. Little George was one of my family's favorites; he touched a soft spot in my heart, and he looked up to me like a father. Although I was deeply concerned about George's condition, I didn't want to hear another word. I knew I had to stay in my "zone" and stay focused on training.
I quietly hung up the phone, pretending the conversation never took place. As I lay in bed with my head on my pillow, my eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling, I thought, I didn't hear that. This can't be happening. I have to stay focused.
No way. As soon as I heard my mother hang up, I jumped out of bed and ran to her bedroom. "Momma, you tell those doctors I'm George Foreman, the boy's uncle. You tell them whatever it costs, I'll pay for it. Tell them to fly in the best doctors, and I'll take care of the bills. You tell them who I am."
"Son," she explained, "they already have the best doctors."
I wouldn't take no for an answer. "Mom, you pick up that phone and call them right now. You tell them that I'm George Foreman, and I'll take care of everything!"
"Okay, George. I'll try."
I marched back to my bedroom carrying a huge load of worry. I nervously tossed and turned, realizing my nephew would probably die. If he survived, he would never be normal. I mulled the situation over in my mind. That boy didn't bother anyone. He's in a coma and can't wake up. If he does awaken, he's going to be paralyzed and will never be able to speak or walk again.
Unable to sleep, I couldn't rest until I knew what the doctors had to say. I threw back the sheets and stomped back down the hallway. "Momma, did you call them?"
"Yes, I called and told them. Son, you're just going to have to pray."
In stunned disbelief, I slowly trudged back to my room. When someone tells you the only thing you can do is pray, that's bad.
Then it hit me: All of George Foreman's money can't resolve this crisis. All of my fame, fortune, and friends couldn't fix this problem. I was powerless to do anything to help. That little boy's future was out of my hands, and the doctors' hands, too. They had done the best they could, but sometimes the best human efforts aren't enough.
That's when a lot of people turn to prayer. When humans can't fix a problem, they'll cry out for divine assistance. If there's a God, maybe He can help. For somebody like me, prayer was a last resort. I had never really prayed before, simply because I didn't need to. I didn't believe in all that religious stuff, anyhow. My money always fixed all of my problems.
I didn't need God. I was George Foreman, Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion of the world. I had tasted the best this world has to offer, but I had also experienced the worst, growing up in a poor section of Houston.
I knew firsthand what it was like to live in poverty. My alcoholic father, J. D. Foreman, worked on the railroad and didn't live at home most of the time, leaving my mom to provide for her seven children. Her salary of $26 per week didn't stretch far when eight mouths wanted food. I was a big boy, so I was always hungry. It wasn't till years later, after I started boxing, that I could remember my stomach feeling full after a meal.
Mom sometimes brought home a single hamburger for her kids and herself to divide. It was such a luxury; I grew up believing hamburgers were only for rich people. She would tear it into eight pieces, and we all got one bite. I savored the few seconds it stayed in my mouth, dreaming of the day when I might get to eat an entire hamburger by myself. Every other Sunday, she made us pancakes and allotted one small piece of bacon to each child.
Breakfast usually consisted of a bowl of cornflakes covered with watered-down milk. Hardly the breakfast of champions. School lunches weren't any better. Most of the time I carried a mayonnaise sandwich to school with me. Every now and then, my mother would slip in a thin piece of luncheon meat. I drank water with it, wishing I could afford one of those little cartons of milk that cost six cents.
Sometimes, when I was playing with the neighborhood kids, their parents would call them home to eat lunch. I had no lunch waiting for me, so I would peek through the windows and watch my friends eat. My mouth watered as I'd see them tear the crust off their bread. Then they'd pull the chicken skins off their drumsticks because they didn't want them. I thought, I would love to eat what they don't want. I wished they would have asked me to take their scraps out to the dogs so I could get a bite to eat too.
My mother, Nancy Ree Foreman, had grown up in poverty, being the daughter of a sharecropper who made his eight children work for him. Although she was intelligent and desperately wanted an education, she never had the opportunity to pursue it. Her father continually made her promises he didn't keep. "Just help me out this year, and you can go to school next year." But "next year" never came, and my mother never received the education she so sincerely desired.
When I was still a little boy, my mother became very sick; she was coughing constantly, wheezing, and generally feeling awful for prolonged periods of time. When she finally consented to seek medical attention, the doctor told her that she had contracted tuberculosis and needed to go to the hospital right away. My mother thought it would be a short stay, but as it turned out, she had to remain in the hospital for more than a year!
During that time, I was pretty much on my own, so I spent most of my days and nights out on the streets, getting into trouble.
In my early years, my mother was the only one who could control me. My dad wasn't around much as I was growing up, since he and Mom had broken up their marriage. My mother was tall and slender—not a large woman at all—but she was strong, and she believed in that adage, "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Usually, my mother didn't take time to find a rod when it came to disciplining me; she'd reach for whatever was close by—a belt, a big shoe, or whatever she could find—and she'd clobber me with it. Mom could throw a powerful punch too! And she wasn't above using a judo chop or a swift kick to "motivate" me or correct me when I did wrong.
But with my mother fighting tuberculosis in the hospital, I ran wild, constantly getting into fights out on the streets. Yet somehow, even with her diminished stamina, my mother heard about my unsavory activities and contacted someone from social services. She told them, "I'm here in the hospital, and I know my children are having some problems at home. But I could rest well if they would just watch this one boy of mine." My mother had seven children, but you can guess which child she was most concerned about.
The social services representative contacted a wonderful woman by the name of Bonner to help look after me. Ms. Bonner lived way out of town, but she came into the city looking for me, hoping to spend some time with me. She took an interest in me and tried to help me stay out of trouble while my mom was in the hospital. One day Ms. Bonner told me, "George, I'm going to come over on the weekend, and I'd like you to come back home with me to cut my grass. I'll pay you for working."
"Can I have a couple of my friends come along, too?" I asked.
"Sure you can," Ms. Bonner answered.
That weekend, Ms. Bonner picked up two of my friends and me and drove us out of town to her place. She took us to the shed and showed us the lawn mower. "Okay, George, you can mow the grass. You other fellows can do the trim and follow behind him to rake up the cuttings."
"Well, Ms. Bonner, my buddy here," I said, pointing to one of my friends, "his dad has a lawn mower. He knows how to do it better than I would. Maybe I should let him mow the grass."
"No, George," she said, "I want you to do it."
"That's right. You are in charge, George."
"But his dad has a ..."
I looked at Ms. Bonner, then at my buddies. I said, "Okay, guys; let's get going." We worked at Ms. Bonner's all day long, and I felt so good when she handed me some money as payment. More importantly, I felt good about myself.
I didn't realize it fully at the time, but looking back on that experience, I now understand that Ms. Bonner was allowing me to be somebody. For the first time in my life, a non-family member was telling me, "You can do it, George. I believe in you!"
To this day, my life is indebted to Ms. Bonner. That little dash of self-esteem she helped to foster in me is still with me today. Ms. Bonner made me feel so good about myself, and part of the reason I am who I am today is because of Ms. Bonner.
Ms. Bonner stayed in touch with me until my mom was discharged. Unfortunately, when my mother got out of the hospital, I went right back to my old ways of stealing and beating up people.
Mom didn't have time to attend church when I was a boy—she was always working, trying to earn enough to keep us alive—but she recognized the value of church, and she believed we'd be better kids if we could get enough Bible in us. Every so often, she'd thrust a Bible in my direction and say, "Here, George. You need to get in that room and read this Bible."
I'd take the Bible, flip through the pages and look at the pictures for a while, and then return the Book to my mother.
"See there. Don't you feel better now?" she'd ask hopefully.
"Oh yeah, Mom. I feel a lot better now," I lied.
By the time I was sixteen years of age, I was a vicious, savage teenager, picking fights in school or wherever I went. Not surprisingly, I dropped out of school in ninth grade and started looking for a job. But not too many people want to hire a ninth-grade dropout. Eventually, I took a job washing dishes in a restaurant.
I figured that my only way out of poverty was to use my fists and fight my way out. Sometimes I beat up two or three people a day. I was brutal, too. One time I walked up to a guy who hadn't done anything to me, and without warning, I punched him right in the face, just to be nasty. He hit the dirt like a rock. I walked away with him still laid out semi-conscious on the ground. Because my conscience was so encrusted with hate, it didn't bother me to see people bleeding or knocked out cold. Many times, I mugged people just to get some drinking money. I was really good at beating up people, although it never dawned on me at the time that one day people would pay to watch me fight.
My older brother Robert—we called him Sonny; his friends called him "Rags"—was a hardworking family man with a wife and two children. Ten years older than me, Sonny lived in a nice house and earned a good living by working for a moving company, Wald Transfer and Storage. Sonny recognized that I was heading in the wrong direction, so he offered to help me get a job with Wald.
"It's hard work," Sonny told me, "but if you do a good job and the bosses like you, they may put you on full time, and you can be a regular." I really wanted to be a "regular," too, since if my boss hired me full time, the company provided a uniform with my name embroidered above the pocket.
I went to work for Wald and quickly discovered that my brother was telling me the truth—it was hard work, with long, grueling hours, often from eight in the morning till midnight, but I earned $1.25 per hour for loading and unloading heavy furniture. That was more money than I could count! Wald specialized in "office moves," moving the file cabinets, desks, business machines, and other heavy items from one office building to another. The items were big, bulky, and heavy, but I was young and strong, so when I saw my bosses watching, I'd give it all the extra "oomph" I could muster. Before long, I'd made a good impression on them as well as my coworkers. After work, my new friends helped me spend a good portion of my earnings on alcohol. What was left, I used to help my mom.
One day, the boss informed our crew that we had a high-priority office move that we needed to get done quickly. We'd have to work from early in the morning till midnight every day until we could get it all done. The first day was bad enough, with all that heavy lifting and carrying. After the second day, I was dead tired, my back was sore, and I was ready to quit. By the end of the third day, I was exhausted. When we took our dinner break around five o'clock in the afternoon, the boss instructed us to be back in an hour. I was so worn out, I went home and fell asleep. I didn't wake up until the following morning.
I was so ashamed of myself, I never went back to work at Wald, not even to pick up my paycheck. I knew that I had not only disobeyed my boss, and probably forfeited any chance of getting the uniform with my name on it, but I'd also embarrassed my brother, Sonny. The other guys on the crew teased him incessantly. "Rags' brother couldn't carry the load. Rags' brother took a break for dinner, and old Rags' lazy brother never came back."
Excerpted from God in My Corner by George Foreman, Ken Abraham. Copyright © 2007 George Foreman. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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