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When my mom was pregnant with me, she would hop the fence at a local university in Austin and walk the track, praying for the baby in her womb. She wasn't a believer in any particular religion at the time, but as she circled the rubberized track, gazing at the infield where the track and field events took place and looking up at the empty stands where people would gather for sporting events, she asked God to keep me safe, make me healthy, and give me purpose in my life. Though her spiritual beliefs were murky, when it came to the most important thing in her life—me at the time—she turned instinctively to God. I have always wondered whether God heard those prayers offered up from that 400-meter oval and answered my mom by making her first child a track and field athlete.
My dad enlisted in the military soon after my birth, and we were transferred to San Francisco in 1983. The move must have provided some personal relief to my Japanese mother and African American father. Their interracial marriage had been subject to some discrimination in Texas. We moved onto the army base at the Presidio with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from our house. Our home, which was light and airy, backed up to the hills. Every morning I woke up and saw a mountain lion perched at the top of a hill. Deer walked into our yard, squirrels and raccoons came to the back door, and we threw bread to them. A bobcat roamed the neighborhood, too, and a skunk stole food from people's trash cans. I was young and life was full of magic.
My dad worked in the military prison, and one of my earliest memories is walking through the jail with him one day. Dad explained that those men sitting in their cells were good people who had made bad decisions and were suffering the consequences. The scene did not make a big impact on me then, but later, during my brushes with the law, I thought back to those guys, stripped of their dignity and their freedom. At times it seemed that this had been the true vision of my future—an alternate and more powerful vision from the one my mom had earnestly prayed for during her pregnancy. It was a repudiation of her hopes and dreams and mine. Soon I would sense these competing visions for my life and feel the strong tension between destruction and destiny.
My dad was a strong and welcome presence in the household, and unlike other members of the military, he never had to go on extended tours of duty away from home. I was with him every day. As you would expect of a man in his position, he was physically fit, and he picked me up and played rough-and-tumble with me, the way dads do. We talked about the animals I saw in the neighborhood.
I loved seeing my dad and my mom together. She was slender, with long black hair parted in the middle and hanging down to the middle of her back. I thought she was the prettiest woman I had ever seen. When my brother, Nikolas, was born in San Francisco four years after I was born, he came into a happy family. Those good times, however, were all too brief.
After my dad got out of the military, we moved to Hawaii, where my mom had grown up and where her family still lived. My mom's large extended family suddenly became the dominant presence in our lives. My mom was born in Japan, where my grandfather was in military intelligence for the U.S. during World War II. I had seen him and my grandmother only once when they visited us in San Francisco. We called him Jiji, a derivative of the Japanese word for grandfather—ojiichan, which was hard for us to say. My grandmother was known to us as Baba, short for obaachan, which is Japanese for grandmother.
Jiji was like a traditional samurai: strict, strong-willed, knowing right from wrong and not letting anyone tell him otherwise. To this day I regard him as something like the shogun, or leader, of our family. He was loud and forceful and had no problem yelling at people to get his point across. Yet I knew that he loved my brother and me, and he was generous to us, buying us toys or clothes or whatever we needed for school. He owned a successful small business and several rental houses, and I had the feeling that in everything he did, he was fighting for his life. He was not afraid to work hard to provide for his family. He drove a Cadillac and kept everything he owned in perfect working order. The lessons I learned from him played a major part in my becoming a champion.
My family lived in Palolo Valley on what Hawaiians call the "town side," or the Honolulu side, of the island, where my grandfather owned three houses on one lot. Two of them were rented out to nonfamily members, and we moved into the house in the middle. The view from the house was of a verdant hillside that ascended to the central mountain range on the island. We caught the bus for a quarter and went to the beach, where we swam and played.
Our weekly routine, though, was mostly dictated by the family business. My grandparents' company, Kewalo Pickle, sold foods prepared according to Baba's original recipe. They pickled kimchi, a type of Korean spicy cabbage, as well as cucumbers and daikon, which is like a big, white, ugly radish. They did it all in a shop housed in a former train warehouse in Honolulu's Chinatown. My grandparents lived in a condo not far from the shop. My dad worked for my grandfather, so we went to the shop very early every morning. My brother and I slept in the back of the car on the way there. We ate breakfast at the shop and then went to school. More often than not, we came back to the shop after school and spent most of our weekends there too. My mom always had a secretarial job elsewhere in town.
Initially I had no responsibilities. I hung around the shop and played with my cousins. We were free to roam, more or less, supervised by many aunts and uncles who worked there. We even bathed in the big stainless steel vats on wheels because we were hardly ever home. But as we grew up, my grandfather taught us to work. Soon I was peeling daikon, loading the packing machine, measuring the food, cutting the hearts out of the cabbages, and sticking the various vegetables into the cleaning machine, the slicing machine, and the packing machine. The packing room was everybody's favorite because it was the only air-conditioned room in the building.
I became comfortable with the rhythms of the small processing plant, and I enjoyed the praise I got when I did a good job. I also liked using a knife to peel and cut the vegetables. To this day the feeling of grabbing a long white daikon off the conveyor belt, peeling it, and tossing it in a bin has stayed with me. Put a knife in my hand, set me in front of a conveyor belt, and I could do the same thing for hours on end, working to the rhythm of the machines in my memory.
The end results of all our labor were thousands of small clear packages of pickled foods bearing the Kewalo Pickle label—and our family's honor. Kewalo Pickle was Jiji's pride because everybody on the island knew it was his company. As I was able, I helped my uncles deliver the food to grocery stores all over the island, packing the boxes, replacing inventory, and making our packages look nice so people would buy them. As I got older, I became very aware that whatever I did, good or bad, reflected not just on me or my parents but on all of my family members and the business. Yet this knowledge rarely affected my behavior, especially when I reached adolescence and decided I was my own man.
I worked in the family business or with my relatives in other ways from the time I moved to Hawaii all the way through high school. My auntie would call and say, "Can Bryan Ezra come down and help out today at the shop?" Or my uncle would ask me to help him with deliveries. Or my grandmother would have me help her in the garden, pulling weeds, cutting grass, building greenhouses, and rearranging plants. If I wasn't working in the garden or the shop, my grandfather always had another job he wanted help with—building something my grandmother needed or repairing something at one of his rental houses. He taught me how to plumb, weld, use a grinder, handle a drill, and work with most tools. I was painting and roofing homes even when I was in grade school.
My mother and my aunts used to tell me, "One of these days you're going to really appreciate what your grandfather is teaching you." And I used to say, "Not a chance." The older I got, the more I hated the work, and I particularly hated being forced to work with Jiji on Saturdays when my cousins, who were all girls, often were allowed to go to the beach instead. Jiji woke me up at 7:00 a.m. to help him, and I'd be steaming because I knew that my cousins were cavorting in the ocean while I peeled daikon or fixed a leaky roof.
Of course, I couldn't have asked for a better education. I learned so many things from Jiji, and much of my mental toughness comes from the lessons he taught and the stories he told while we worked together. I saw in his example that things should be made perfect whenever possible.
Now, on the track, I work to be technically perfect. I do things again and again until I get them right. I expect myself to be able to visualize it and then do it. That's what my job is, and a lot of that expectation comes from Jiji, who was a perfectionist in his work. Because of him, I'm not afraid to get dirty or take on a job or a challenge. I was learning things that would help me become a successful husband, father, and athlete, even though I didn't understand that at the time. Without those early lessons I am reasonably certain I wouldn't have done nearly as well in any of those areas.
Home life became difficult as soon as we moved to Hawaii. My mom and dad seemed to be looking for answers, seeking happiness but not finding it. They started to fight a lot, and their fights became physical. Gone were the peaceful days of our San Francisco life. The predominant mood went from innocence and fun to anger and violence.
For one thing, my parents began smoking marijuana together. The presence of the drug brought sadness and more tension. At a young age I knew how to roll a joint, just from watching them. One evening they went to buy marijuana with my brother and me in the backseat. We drove slowly through a neighborhood that even I as a child knew was a bad place. My dad gave my mom some money and stopped the car. A man came up to the passenger window, my mom gave him the money, and he handed her a bag.
"Check it," Dad said. "Check it to make sure it's good."
Mom opened the bag, smelled it, and said, "It's fine." Then she put it in the glove compartment. We drove off, but before we had gone very far, my dad pulled over to check it. He discovered that it was fake or inferior.
"I told you to check it!" he said and then cursed at her. That started another one of the big fights that Nik and I had come to expect—and dread.
Life got worse, faster than I was able to handle it. When my parents fought, my brother and I learned to retreat to our bedroom and shut the door. I often held him while we heard dishes breaking against the wall in the kitchen, my parents screaming, doors slamming, and my mom crying. My brother was scared, and I tried to reassure him by saying, "It's going to be okay." But I had no confidence that things were going to be okay.
Nik and I almost never fought with each other. Our personalities were opposites. I was confrontational and told people exactly how I felt. He was quieter and kept his feelings inside. I always felt the need to protect him because of his tender heart and younger age. We wouldn't come out of our room until the yelling stopped for good, which usually happened only when my dad decided to take a drive. We emerged carefully to see what damage had been done to the house.
On a couple of occasions my dad's anger turned on my brother. Dad was still waking us up at 4:30 a.m. to go to my grandfather's shop, and Nik, who has never been a morning person, sometimes started crying. One time my dad whaled on him with a rolled-up newspaper to the point that Nik got a bloody nose. I felt helpless as Nik cried and cried.
Something had changed drastically in our family. The heaven of my earliest years had turned into a confusing hell from which I could see no escape.
Through it all, I felt that my dad and mom loved us, but their behavior toward each other made no sense to us. After a fight, my mom would pull us aside, hold us together in her arms, and say, "I'm sorry, boys. Mommy and Daddy still love each other. We're just having a hard time right now."
If they loved each other, why did they spew so much hatred at each other at times? Why did they try to hurt each other physically? Why didn't they sit on the couch and hold hands and have quiet evenings watching television, like other parents did? Dad still hugged us and messed around with us like dads do. He was still my hero because he was my father. But the atmosphere of stress and uncertainty in the home was simply horrible.
As I grew angrier and more unsettled, I got in serious trouble at school by fighting and often actually hurting other kids. The problem began in kindergarten. Sometimes the fights had a reason, a cause, or a trigger, but other times they didn't. The trigger was in my heart, where anger reached a point that it had to be released.
I attended a kindergarten that was entirely indoors, and I played basketball in the gym at recess. I had played a lot of basketball at the shop with my uncles, who had put up a hoop, and I was used to being around older people who knew the rules of the game. But the kids at school had no idea it was a game with rules. I would be dribbling the ball, and one of them would take the ball, foul me, or not dribble. Infuriated, I would say, "You can't do that," but they didn't care. They were playing; I was competing.
I got so mad that I would tackle them and punch them hard with my fists because I felt they had wronged me and wronged the game. I didn't like people breaking the rules. After tackling them, I sometimes held them down on the ground and bit their cheeks hard enough to do damage. The school had no choice but to call my parents. Soon the administrators told my mom, "If there's one more incident, we're going to have to ask Bryan to leave for good."
That one more incident happened one day at recess when I tackled a boy for violating the rules of a playground game. I bit him, squeezed him, hit him, and generally worked him over until an adult pulled me off the boy and took me to the principal's office. I remember sitting there, just the principal and me looking at each other across her desk. Molten fury filled me, and I didn't know what to do except to release it in volcanic eruptions of violence.
"I'm going to call your mom, and she's going to be really upset," the principal said as she picked up the phone and dialed my home number.
Watching her dial, I felt the magma of rage boil over. While the principal was talking with my mom, I used my fingernails to scratch down my face so hard that strips of skin peeled off in long, vertical lines.
The principal had been looking down at papers on her desk. She glanced up at me and stopped talking. She was so horrified that she might have even dropped the phone. I had expressed myself in the only way I knew how. What I did to my face matched my feelings inside. That was my last day at that school.
I finished the year at St. Mark's. I don't remember getting in trouble there, maybe because there was a large outdoor playground that offered a lot more room to run. I did better in school, and my mom told me she was so proud of me when I graduated kindergarten. The school had a ceremony with an open house, and I showed her all the things I had made. I remember the pride emanating from her as I received a little graduation certificate. She smiled down at me with one of those big, heartfelt smiles full of hope. Somehow the year had been salvaged, and we both breathed a sigh of relief.
Excerpted from REDEMPTION by Bryan Clay Copyright © 2012 by Bryan Clay. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Chapter 1 A Dream Begins 11
Chapter 2 A Cauldron of Black Emotions 19
Chapter 3 How Track and Field Saved My Life 33
Chapter 4 Seizing the Future 57
Chapter 5 God First! 75
Chapter 6 Sudden Success 93
Chapter 7 Disaster on the World Stage 107
Chapter 8 The Lessons of a Champion 119
Chapter 9 Return to Win 135
Chapter 10 Inches from the Gold 151
Chapter 11 Embracing Fatherhood 175
Chapter 12 At the Top of My Game 183
Chapter 13 Unbelievable Pressure 201
Chapter 14 A Time to Win It All 217
Chapter 15 New Victories 237
Posted November 26, 2012
Bryan Clay’s story is inspiring as well as sobering. As a parent it reminds you that your actions and reactions do affect your children in ways you sometimes don’t realize, and it gives you hope and faith that God is in control no matter what. God has a plan for each of our lives even when we don’t trust Him and follow Him.
Bryan Clay lays his life out for all to see. He shows you dark side of his youth, the faith of his mother, the struggles of his family and the grace of God through it all, not just his trip to the Olympics and 10 steps to his gold medal. This book is its own medal to all the youth workers, teachers, and individuals who invest in our children’s lives. You never know what kind of influence you may be to them and on who they may become. (rev. M.Free)
DISCLOSURE: We were provided a complimentary copy of Redemption by BookSneeze on behalf of the publisher Thomas Nelson and the author in order to facilitate our honest review. Opinions expressed are solely those of the reviewer. There was no obligation to render a positive review.
Posted September 19, 2012
For most of us, it's just a dream. For a few athletes every four years, it's a reality. One such athlete, Bryan Clay, is the subject of a new book Redemption, written with Joel Kilpatrick. Clay's life wasn't easy, and his Olympic path was hardly certain. He won the silver medal in the decathlon in 2004, followed by a gold in 2008.
The overriding theme of the book is his mother's devotion to God and prayer. Clay had been an angry child, acting out violently as early as kindergarten. When his mother becomes a born-again Christian, she prays a lot. She eventually determines that track is the perfect sport, in part because it doesn't involve physical contact with other athletes.
I found this book inspiring. There are many children today who could use some focus in life, a caring, praying parent, a dedicated coach, an outlet for their aggression. And even those of us who are adults, and who will never be world-class athletes, have the ability to achieve great things, if we are willing to pray, focus, and work hard.
As always, a great thanks to Booksneeze, who provided this book at no charge in exchange for my honest review.
Posted June 29, 2012
I received a copy of REDEMPTION: A REBELLIOUS SPIRIT, A PRAYING MOTHER, AND THE UNLIKELY PATH TO OLYMPIC GOLD by Bryan Clay and Joel Kilpatrick. I was intrigued by this since the Olympics are coming up; however, the book really didn’t hold my interest.
I really enjoyed how this is a true story. I love to know that I am reading is fact. Bryan Clay took home the 2008 Olympic gold medal and 2004 Olympic silver medal in the decathlon. I must admit that I don’t normally watch the Olympics, so I had to look up what the decathlon is – feel free to snicker at me now. The book follows Bryan as he describes his life story to the reader. It came across very smooth, as if Bryan and I sat at a table together, discussing his facts. Uncomfortable topics, like STDs, are written as a matter of fact, no sugar coating or glorifying. I found it fascinating to watch him grow and see his athletic abilities build. Christ remained in his foundation, a steadfast reminder of who he wanted to be.
I just, personally, couldn’t get into the story. I am not really into sports, so I believe that distanced me from the story. I highly recommend this to sport fans and anyone interested in the Olympics.
Posted May 30, 2012
Bryan Clay’s inspirational story starts with an angry kid who always fought with classmates and peers. He never tried to succeed in school and was headed for disaster physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.
When his parents divorced he missed his Dad greatly. His mother remarried and became a Christian, but she and Bryan’s step dad quarreled often, leaving Bryan even more upset. He resented his mother’s prayers, especially her saying for years that God had told her Bryan would win an Olympic Gold Medal.
Even after sports helped him channel his anger, Bryan didn’t believe his mother. At the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, he didn’t really believe her. But he felt God speak to him, that he should do his best and leave the results to God.
Now, this young man credits God often and easily with all he’s accomplished. His intense discipline in training for the decathlon carries over to his discipline in seeking God.
Bryan has won multiple major awards, including the silver medal at the Olympics in 2004 as well as the 2008 gold. In a few weeks (June 21, 2012, etc.) he’ll try out for the Olympic team and an unprecedented third gold medal at the Olympics. He knows the results of his preparation and performance is in God’s hands, however.
An amazing story that challenges anyone to become more than they expect.
Posted May 28, 2012
I have just finished reading the book Redemption by Bryan Clay. I want to recommend this book to you. From beginning to end this book inspired, motivated and encouraged me. From Bryan's life, we can learn that no matter where you start in life; you can finish strong. We see that we all have a purpose and a destiny, even when it looks just the opposite. Never give up, never quit is yet another lesson. Bryan said often in the book, "God doesn't expect me to be perfect. He expects me to give my best, and He'll make it good enough." That is so good. If you want to take your life to the next level, if you are dealing with overwhelming circumstances, then this book if for you. I highly recommend it for all ages.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 18, 2012
I loved this book. Loved it. I couldn’t put it down! Bryan Clay holds two Olympic medals (silver and gold) in the decathalon and this is his life story. He humbly describes his beginnings–always in trouble in school, definitely on a path to being in serious trouble as an adult–and shows how the love and grace of God changed him forever. He tells his story at a great pace (no pun intended) and keeps the reader intrigued throughout the book.
As he is a decathlete, much of the book discusses track and field and the lessons that he has learned throughout his training. These lessons are spread throughout the book while also including stories about his major life lessons and decisions. Bryan is a remarkable individual who went from being completely undisciplined and careless to being one of the most disciplined and steady individuals I’ve ever met.
Bryan went to my alma mater (Azusa Pacific University) and he was a senior when I was a freshman. I watched him (on TV) in 2004 when he won the silver medal in Athens and in 2008 when he won the gold in Beijing. Because of this connection, I loved the book even more.
I highly recommend this book! Whether you are an athelete or not, this book has lessons to share that apply to anyone and everyone. Pick it up today!