Blitz Your Life: Stories from an NFL and ALS Warrior

Blitz Your Life: Stories from an NFL and ALS Warrior

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Overview

If you’ve ever dreamed of something more in life, this book is for you. Blitz Your Life is a collection of reflections from a former NFL linebacker on a life lived fearlessly and challenges from a man with a sense of urgency for impact.


These powerful stories range from Tim’s time on the football field to the radically different life and goals that resulted from his diagnosis with ALS in 2014. Tim also shares stories of ordinary people who have faced everyday challenges and accomplished extraordinary things. Whether they sweep floors or rebuild neighborhoods or make music, all are living lives that make a difference.


At times funny and others serious, Tim encourages readers to “write” their own goals and stories while pursuing their dreams. Through his “whiteboard challenges,” he provides practical help that takes readers on a road to success. From his NFL days to his support of ALS awareness, this fighter’s message is a courageous call to find and enjoy a life with purpose.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780998325309
Publisher: Dexterity Collective
Publication date: 01/03/2017
Pages: 226
Sales rank: 564,473
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.52(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

As linebacker and Special Teams Captain for the Tennessee Titans, Tim Shaw was known for his speed, hard-hitting ability, and enthusiastic leadership skills. His seven years in the NFL included seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Chicago Bears, where he set a club record for special teams tackles. He was also named to the USA Today All-Joe Team, honoring the NFL's unsung and underrated players. As a three-year starter and graduate of Penn State, Tim earned Academic All-American honors. He also holds an MBA from George Washington University. Now an entrepreneur and investor, Tim is a frequent motivational speaker and supporter of ALS awareness. Blitz Your Life is his first book.

Richard Sowienski is associate professor at Belmont University and directs the first undergraduate Publishing Program in the U.S. He's held a variety of writing, marketing, editorial, and consulting jobs for publishing start-ups and national magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens, Raising Teens, Country America, Successful Farming, and The Missouri Review. He and his wife Rola cofounded and own a coffee shop in a wooden-shoe factory, so when Richard's not teaching or working on his novel-set in a wooden-shoe factory, naturally-you'll find him savoring light roasts at his favorite Nashville spots.

Read an Excerpt

1

Crazy Love

I’m a hitman. That’s what I would tell people who asked me what I did for a living. I hit people. Some might call that crazy. But I don’t think that qualifies me as crazy—as a linebacker and a special teams monster, my job was to stop the guy with the football, which meant knocking him to the ground.

You know what was crazy?

It was the pure joy I experienced in my heart while hitting people!

In fact, when I think about that joy, I think about a perfect hit. One of those perfect-hits came against the Philadelphia Eagles when I was playing for the Chicago Bears in 2009.

It was a Sunday night game in November and the weather was great for players: below 50 degrees but still above freezing. Cool enough for a sweat to feel good but not enough to be cold. In anticipation of the kick-off, over 70,000 screaming fans rose to their feet. I was behind and to the left of the kicker, aligned on the field’s painted numbers. I keyed on the kicker, knowing his exact step that would signal me to take off and hit the line of scrimmage running at full speed. The booted ball soared high into the air. Most NFL kickers can boot the ball about 60 to 65 yards Our kicker, Robbie Gould, would typically give me a money shot, knocking the ball a couple yards deep in the end zone with an incredible hang time of four-plus seconds. That meant, as a former high school sprinter, I could cover a lot of the football field while the ball was still in the air.

Robbie kicked it to number 35, Eagles return-man Macho Harris. He caught it on the goal line and headed up field. The return was designed to hit straight up the middle of the field, but a Bears teammate on the outside funneled him back towards me. In the meantime, I was rocketing down the turf. I could see the whole field in front of me: their blockers, my teammates, the runner and his likely path up the field. I adjusted my angle, beating an Eagles blocker. The Eagles were trying to protect Harris with a two-man wedge, but they were not looking at me, they were looking to block one of my teammates. Big mistake, because it gave me a clear shot at Macho just five yards in front of me. I launched with all my might toward him, a 238-pound missile fueled by adrenaline. I couldn’t hear the crowd yelling. I didn’t see my teammates. I didn’t see Harris’s blockers. I didn’t see anything except Harris right in front of me with his green and silver helmet lowered. All the hard work. All the training. For the anticipation of this moment.

Crack!

The sound of pad exploding on pad filled the stadium. I hit him at just the right angle and Harris was lifted off his feet and pancaked onto his back with an umphff. The hit was so pure I didn’t even feel it. I sprung up from the turf and jumped up and down, slapping my helmet like a crazed gorilla. The crowd roared their approval and the fans were high-fiving each other as my teammates joined my celebration. If you could’ve seen my face, I’m sure you would have recognized the same kind of joy as a kid getting a new bike at Christmas, an A+ on a final exam, or even a first kiss from a first love. To get that kind of joy from knocking down a guy carrying this funny-shaped leather ball, now that’s crazy. And I love it.

The Right Amount of Crazy

From the first time I got to play football in helmet and pads, I loved the contact, the pure physicality of it. I had the perfect amount of crazy—not enough to be reckless and get hurt, but enough to let go of reservations and hesitations and to play the game all out.

I blame (or thank) my dad for this craziness. My father, a teacher and elementary school librarian, is the most adventurous person I know. After graduating from Cambridge (he’s from England), he moved to Africa and lived with missionaries. As part of the VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas—the English equivalent of the Peace Corps), he taught English. When it was time to return home to England, at the age of 20, he decided to take the slow route home. He and two brothers, two sisters and a friend hitchhiked across the Sahara Desert. From Ayangba, Nigeria, through Agadez, Niger, to Algiers, Algeria, we’re talking 2,600 miles—and as you may know, it’s the hottest place on the planet with average highs over 100 degrees.

Hitchhiking, Dad explained, was a bit different over there. Truck drivers would often supplement their incomes by letting people ride along for a fee, though signs would be posted saying in French, “Passengers Forbidden.” You might have 50 people hanging on the sides or huddled in the back of a semi-trailer truck. At night, Dad and his group would sleep on the sand in front of the parked truck so when the driver started it in the morning they would hear it. Getting left behind in the middle of the desert would not have been a good thing!

Maybe his desert experience helps explain his love, his need, to head for the water whenever he can. Growing up, we would vacation every summer in Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a seven hour drive from my hometown of Livonia, Michigan. As we drove by lake Michigan, if there were white caps on the lake, we would have to stop and catch a few waves whether the sun was shining at 2 p.m. or the moon was shining at 2 a.m.

Then, during our vacations, we progressed to jumping off cliffs into the water below. The Black Rocks of Marquette, Michigan, provided great thrills. So did Presque Isle and Stony Mills.

But it wasn’t only “going down”—cannonballing off cliffs a couple stories high into the lake below—that got my crazy going. There was also a bit of craziness “going up.” Let me explain.

During the summers, my parents worked at a Bible camp, so my brothers and I became “camp brats,” not only helping with the kids and chores, but also exploring everything surrounding the camp. Across the lake from the camp, we could see a massive radio tower rising into the air. We found out it was 355 feet tall. That’s 55 feet taller than a football field! It would be like standing on a bit of metal scaffolding 32 stories high. Just my kind of craziness. So at 16-years-old, in the dead of night, a friend and I snuck out to climb the tower. I counted every rung to the top. At the top, the only illumination was the blinking red light warning pilots to keep their distance. Thinking I’d reached the goal, my friend told me that it didn’t count until I touched the red light, another 12 feet up a narrow mast. So I climbed up and kissed the light!

Of course I’m not suggesting this is what you should do. This is my particular brand of crazy. For me, that meant violent athletic explosions at precise moments.

Is there risk in letting your crazy out?

Yes.

Am I challenging people to take dangerous risks or have the guts to do wild things?

No. Not unless you’re called to extreme sports or other physically demanding, fear-conquering professions.

But I am suggesting that you eliminate the “I can’ts” and “I shouldn’ts” from your vocabulary. I’m talking about the crazy it takes to pursue a passion when it’s against all odds, to stand out and excel.

A Crazy Dive

Another high climber—and high diver—who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer was Katura Horton-Perenchief. I first met Katura at George Washington University when we were studying for our MBA degrees. Born in Bermuda, Katura said she had been diving off boats beginning at age two and fell in love with diving when she was five. From that age forward, Katura said she wanted to be an Olympian.

“The island boasts beautiful, clear blue waters and pink sandy beaches along with plenty of places for a young adrenaline junkie to get her fix of diving off high things,” Katura said.

But her diving career really took off when her family moved to Toronto while her mother attended school. In Toronto, her mother signed her up for diving lessons, as well as gymnastics, swimming, and skating. But it was diving where she found her calling. When she was eight, she started platform diving—that means diving from a 33-foot high board about as tall as a three-story building! At age nine, she was the youngest ever Provincial champion. She was Canadian Age Group champion at fifteen-years-old, winning the one-meter springboard, three-meter springboard and platform events. She went on to represent Canada at international meets for the next three years.

When it came time to choose a college, Bermuda was out of the question because they only had two-year programs equivalent to our community colleges in the United States. She decided to call the coach at the University of Texas, which had the top diving program in the country. Better yet, Texas’s coach was also the U.S. Olympics coach. After he heard about Katura’s success, he invited her to a tryout. Although she had scholarship offers elsewhere, she followed her heart and went to Texas without a scholarship. At UT, she quickly earned a scholarship and ultimately earned All Big 12 Conference honors.

Through all of her training, she did have to push back on naysayers. Katura said some well-meaning people tried to push her in a different direction, pointing out that she might be better suited for swimming or volleyball. They said she was too tall (in college she stood five feet six, about the average height of a male diver) and that she had the wrong body type.

“All the morning and evening practices, all the muscle aches and pains, it all paid off on August 22, 2004, when I stepped onto the three-meter springboard at the Olympics in Athens,” Katura said. Not only did she become Bermuda’s first female diver, she also became the first black female diver—from any country—in Olympic history.

Today she’s introducing young Bermudians to diving, serving on the Bermuda Olympic Association, and using her Masters of Public Health to track cancers on the island as Tumor Special Project Manager.

Yes, jumping off a three-story high platform is crazy. (“Any little error hurts,” Katura reminds me.) Following your dream to be an Olympian—crazy. Becoming the first black female diver in Olympic history—crazy. That’s what it means to embrace your crazy.

Of course, crazy comes in all different sizes.

Crack House Crazy

As another great example of crazy, I have to tell you about Dr. Howard Olds, and Courtney and Brian Hicks. They spearheaded a nonprofit in Nashville called Harvest Hands. Brian, the executive director of Harvest Hands, recounted how the organization got started. “In 2007, we began a ministry called Harvest Hands. The birth of Harvest Hands was shaped by the belief that God calls us to do things that sometimes appear crazy to others.”

Dr. Olds was senior pastor at Brentwood United Methodist Church and mentor to Brian. Dr. Olds led a group of members from his suburban church to a high-crime area in South Nashville where a neighborhood meeting was going on. At the meeting, Dr. Olds asked a simple question: Would the community be open to a new ministry in their neighborhood committed to working with them to make a positive impact and to be good neighbors?

“One man at the meeting,” Brian recalls, “stood up and said, ‘This all sounds good, but other groups have come and said similar stuff before. We’ll believe it when we see it.’ The neighbors were skeptical for good reason—too often people don’t do what they say they’re going to do.”

Dr. Olds asked where they would like them to begin.

“‘If you really want to do something,’ the neighbor replied, ‘do something about the crack house at the top of the hill.’”

What the people at the neighborhood didn’t know was that Dr. Olds was dying of cancer. “He was at a place in his life where he was committed to living like he was dying,” Brian said. “He was bold, and he was not afraid to take risks.”

He went back to his church and said, “We’re buying a crack house in South Nashville.”

Imagine the response of the board of trustees. Some folks expressed serious doubts: it wasn’t safe; they needed to be careful; it wasn’t a “good investment.” But Dr. Olds and his team of leaders were convinced of God calling them to do something crazy to reach the community, so they started negotiations to buy the run-down crack house and its adjoining lot. As it turns out, the owner had given power of attorney to another family member who saw an opportunity for a windfall. They settled on a price of $300,000, two or three times what it was worth. The week after closing the sale, they tore it down and began to build Harvest Hands on that same lot.

Their decision has had a lasting impact on the community and continues to bring new life to children and families in South Nashville with their after-school tutoring programs for kids of all ages, as well as teaching life and business skills through their soap-making and coffee-roasting businesses. The area has seen great improvements with new restaurants, businesses, and homes. In fact, it’s become so successful that Brian and his team now have their sights set on another neighborhood, south and east of downtown Nashville—the most dangerous, high-crime neighborhood in the city. How dangerous? They bought a warehouse and refurbished it to accommodate more classrooms, meeting areas, and a retail store for their handmade soaps and specialty coffee roasts. During construction, Brian explained that he received calls from these big, burly construction workers who were worried about their own safety. He told Brian it wasn’t safe in that neighborhood. “Exactly!” Brian said. “That’s why we’re going there.”

That’s the kind of crazy that can change a neighborhood and a city.

Janitor at the Grammys Crazy

I’ve had the great fortune of meeting amazing people who have become important in my life. One such person is Morris Chaman.

I met Morris through my friend Tim who visited Saddleback Church—the mega-church pastored by Rick Warren—in California. Leading the music that day was guest worship leader Morris Chapman. After the service, my friend and Morris talked. They became friends and stayed in touch. At one point, Tim told Morris about me. This was in 2011, before my ALS diagnosis. For some reason, Morris wanted to talk to me. He had called me a couple times, but I didn’t get around to calling him back until I was at the Milwaukee airport. I’m glad I took the time to call, because we had this instant connection. He had this ability to say the right words of encouragement and to remind me that I was loved; he lifted my spirits. When Morris was scheduled to visit a church near Nashville, I invited him to stay with me. Morris, I learned, had a remarkable story.

Born in 1938, in Central Arkansas, Morris grew up experiencing racism. Hoping for better job opportunities, he and his family moved to Las Vegas. Morris was 19 years old at the time. But even there, in spite of better-paying jobs, color made a difference. Blacks could only enter the hotels and casinos through the back door. In fact, even entertainers of color couldn’t stay in the hotels where they were entertaining, including Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, and Sammy Davis, Jr. They were put up in small cottages behind the hotel properties, or they were bussed to boarding houses in the black neighborhoods.

Morris ended up taking a job as a janitor in the Las Vegas school district. Although he had never had piano lessons and couldn’t read music, he had a great ear—a gift and passion to play piano and sing. During breaks at school, he would often play in the music room. On weekends, he would lead worship services at different churches throughout Las Vegas.

Morris continued working as a janitor during the week and leading worship services and speaking to groups part-time. One day, he was at a businessmen’s breakfast meeting and he told a joke that led to a life-changing decision. He recounted the story in his autobiography I Know the Plans:

“A man had…fallen over a cliff, as he tumbled down the cliff, he grabbed a bush, held on, and cried out for help. Jesus came to the edge of the cliff and said, ‘If you will let go of the bush, I will catch you.’ The frightened man felt his fingers slipping further down the bush. Finally, he hollered at Jesus, ‘Hey, anyone else up there?’”

Morris explained after telling the joke, he believed God was telling him to let go. So at the age of 40, he let go of the safe, comfortable life and “embraced his crazy” by going into full-time music ministry.

Soon after making that decision, Morris came to Nashville and recorded an album produced by the legendary (and eccentric) Gary S. Paxton. That opened doors, said Morris, and he went on to lead worship services throughout the country. He wrote and recorded several more albums and was nominated for numerous Grammy and Dove awards. Fifteen years after entering the music worship scene full time, he was playing at conventions in Las Vegas in the rooms that he had once been blocked from entering. This, from a man who dropped out of high school and flunked English class!1

As you can see, crazy is a mindset.

Crazy is the ability to let go of all outside forces and influences.

So what’s your crazy? What is the crazy that allows you to stare fear and doubt right in the face? A kind of crazy that can lead to accomplishments, from individual success in athletics, to success in remaking a neighborhood, to success in bringing joy and hope through music to hundreds of thousands of worshippers nationwide.

Write Down Your Crazy!

Before I began writing down my goals on a whiteboard, I wrote them down in notebooks or journals. I was going through a box of my old journals—I guess I’m sort of a pack rat—and came across a notebook page with the goals I had written down after being drafted by my first team, the Carolina Panthers. Here were some of my top goals:

  • Seek God Today
  • Make This Team
  • Lead Special Teams in Tackles
  • All-Rookie Team

I made the team and led the special teams in tackles. And I was on my way to be the leading tackler on special teams for the Bears and Titans later in my career. It began with clear goals set down in writing. Without clear goals your life is a ship without a rudder. If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll never get there.

Not surprisingly, there have been studies that support the idea that declaring your goals in writing will lead to a higher level of achievement. A couple of researchers from Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois, conducted a study on writing down short-term goals. In the study, participants were randomly assigned to five different groups:

1. Unwritten Goals.

2. Written Goals.

3. Written Goals and Action Plan.

4. Written Goals, Action Plan, and Tell a Friend.

5. Written Goals, Action Plan, Tell a Friend, and Report Progress.

The Group 1 people were asked to simply think about their goals, what they wanted to accomplish over the next four weeks. Group 2 was asked to write down their goals. In addition to that, Group 3 had to come up with an action plan, or as the study calls it, “action commitments.” Group 4 would go further by telling a supportive friend about the goals and the action plan. Finally, Group 5 was also going to give weekly updates on their progress to the friend.

After the study was finished, here’s the bottom line according to the researchers: “Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals.”2 Telling a friend about your goals and updating them on your progress also led to significantly more accomplishments.

The research backs up what I’ve known from my own personal experience, and probably what your common sense tells you as well. Do you want to increase your chances to accomplish something?

Write it down!

That’s right, write down your crazy!

Put it where you will see it often, reminding you what you're working toward.

And to be clear, not all success needs to be measured in money. Often, money and success do go hand in hand, but it doesn’t need to. For some, like Brian with Harvest Hands or Morris with his music ministry, success can be measured by lives touched, by lives put right, by lives given a chance for a better future. Morris, for example, never even asked for a set fee for his concert tours to churches and organizations. He asked for a “free will” or “love offering” from the people he ministered to. In other words, the organizers “passed the hat” and people gave whatever they felt like giving. Sometimes the collection was quite adequate, and at other times painfully small. But Morris knew he was doing something important, that he was fulfilling his dream.

Whiteboard Goals: Seize the Marker

Yes, it’s crazy to dream big, and even crazier to tell people about your dreams. It takes some work for you to let go and let your crazy out—but it all begins when you write it down. At the end of every chapter, I’m going to suggest that you commit to writing something about your future plans. Make your goals real by writing them down. Don’t simply think about it. Get out pen and paper or create a new file on your computer or—like me—get a whiteboard.

Carpe marker! Seize the marker and write down your crazy dream.

Table of Contents

Blitz Your Life Contents
Foreword 1
Introduction: Full Speed and Fearless 6
Section 1: Embrace Your Crazy
1. Crazy Love 19
2. Who Are You? 34
3. A Shoe of a Different Color 49
Section 2: Blitz Your Passion
4. Talent Meets Heart 64
5. A Playbook of Passionate Pursuits 79
6. The Easy Road 104
Section 3: Flip Off Fate
7. Slap Me Upside the Head 123
8. In Control of Joy 140
9. Lead the Way 152
Section 4: Share the Road
10. Mentor and Be Mentored 171
11. Good Investments 184
12. Then a Miracle Occurs 201
Acknowledgments
Notes
About the Authors

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