Read Companions in Courage Online

Authors: Pat LaFontaine,Ernie Valutis,Chas Griffin,Larry Weisman

Tags: #BIO001000

Companions in Courage (8 page)

BOOK: Companions in Courage
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

But this struggle paled against what Campbell would face next. In 1998, just ten minutes into the second game of the season,
against the University of Oregon, Amp broke his neck while making a tackle. There was talk of paralysis and odds against his
even walking again. Fans in Michigan were both sympathetic and knowledgeable, remembering all too well the story of Mike Utley
of the Detroit Lions, who suffered a career-ending and paralyzing injury in a game at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Amp had surgery that fused his sixth and seventh vertebrae with bone and a steel plate. The doctors drilled a pair of holes
in his skull and fitted him with a halo brace to lock his head in place. The surgery was successful, but the prognosis was
not good. Yet Amp kept and nursed his lifelong dreams.

To some, his aspirations seemed to be a simple denial of reality. Could he not see his physical condition, sense its limitations?
Amp had different ideas. Even as he struggled to walk, he wanted no part of the whispered fears that he’d never play football
again.

His parents, Johnnie and Pearl Campbell, were watching the fateful game on TV in their Florida home. Within minutes the doctors
were on the phone saying their son was lucky to be alive. They said he would recover but his career was over. Johnnie’s memories
were all too vivid. He had had a hip replacement at the age of thirty, the result of years of construction work and lifting
concrete. He too was disabled. His mother had been his nurse and caretaker—now it was time for him to tend to his son.

He moved into an extra bedroom in Amp’s apartment with Amp’s girlfriend, Denise, and daughter, Kiera. He would help Amp dress
and tie his shoes. He would feed him spoonful by spoonful, just as he had when Amp was a baby. As Amp’s recovery progressed,
his dad drove him to his classes. “I would wander into some of the classes and listen. I learned a few things,” Johnnie says
with a smile. His devotion fed Amp’s hope and courage.

Despite the physical pain, Amp often said the real pain was not being able to play with two-year-old Kiera. “When I told her
I couldn’t pick her up and do the things I normally did with her, she started to cry,” Amp says.

Each day Amp faced the enemy within—the urge to give up. Each day he struggled with life’s simplest chores. But as he did,
he became more convinced he could not allow pessimism to seep in, to take up residence in his thoughts.

He tapped into the same spirit of determination that had brought him this far. Just imagine what it is like for an athlete
of his ability to be helped to walk just a few steps at a time. Imagine sleeping with a halo neck brace, instead of a football.
Still, Amp took up his rehabilitation program with fierce courage. His playbook now consisted of daily weight lifting, stretches,
and mental focus exercises with a new and demanding coach—a physical therapist.

Months and months of commitment paid off. Amp’s body grew stronger and his sense of direction more positive.

Nick Saban, who was the Spartans’ coach then, tells the story of Amp coming to the dressing room soon after he was able to
get around. The team had lost its first two games and Amp wanted to meet with his teammates before the Notre Dame game to
encourage them. Seeing his courage and fight was no small part of their victory that day. Saban recalls, “I’ve never pulled
for a player the way I’ve pulled for Amp. What he has done makes me feel better than beating the 49ers or beating Ohio State
last year when they were Number 1. No matter what happens from here, we’ve won.”

They named Amp a captain for the duration of the season of his rehabilitation, a recovery that stretched the bounds of credulity.
Later that season, when Amp was in his rehab program, the team wanted him to go out on the field for the coin toss. Amp recalls
that his mood was quiet and introspective. He says, “I didn’t want to walk out there with them.” But when Amp, in his number
3 green jersey, neck brace and all, walked onto the field, applause poured down. Amp’s eyes teared up and he remembers, “I
felt very emotional. I started crying, listening to our fans build me up that way. I’m real glad I went out there.”

They won the toss and the game, and Amp moved one step closer to his own victory.

And then, the very next season, Amp returned. That’s right. He returned—ready to play. In the season opener he hoped for an
uneventful start, a tackle or two, just the chance to get it in gear again. Against, of all teams, Oregon.

It was tied 17–17. The six-foot 200-pounder, healthy and alert, picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

Remember how Amp set a high school record by scoring twenty-three touchdowns on returns? This was the best return of all.

13
Joetta Clark Diggs

A
gain. Joetta Clark felt the desire building within, and she was determined to run the 800 meters at the 1999 Mill-rose Games
again.

That’s not so hard to understand. Champions always feel there’s one more great race somewhere within them. Joetta Clark first
competed in the Olympic trials twenty years ago as a seventeen-year-old, eventually establishing an enviable record as well
as a collection of trophies and ribbons. She had competed in three Olympic Games and had won numerous USA Track & Field Indoor
and Outdoor titles. By 1998 Joetta had run in twenty Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden and had been the Millrose 800-meter
champion six times. Her track career at the University of Tennessee reflected her fifteen All-America honors.

After starting to run at age ten in both the Essex County, New Jersey, camps and playgrounds program and in high school, Joetta
first came to prominence with her seventh-place finish at the Olympic trials in 1980. Her father, Joe Clark, the well-known
tough high school principal portrayed in the movie
Lean On Me
, directed the youth program, and his influence on Joetta was part of her competitive drive. “Dad taught us to do the best
we could in anything we attempted and to always be prepared,” she said.

While her father resists admitting that he downplayed sprinters, Joetta remembers it differently. “Dad thought sprinting was
for lazy people. At that time black Americans weren’t running distances or cross-country, and he wanted us to say we can do
those events.” She also remembers that part of Dad’s motivation was in his opinion that “long-distance running builds character
and those virtues, values, and resolves that will ultimately catapult you from moments of despair to the perfect cadence of
success.”

Whenever I read about a father’s influence on his children through the sharing of the values that he both believed and modeled,
I’m encouraged and heartened. When my three kids struggle through their experiences in life, I recognize the vastness of my
responsibility. I’m not sure how tough I am, but I read that Joe Clark, who carried a baseball bat through the school halls,
sees himself as even tougher than he is depicted in the movie. His take: “I was an unswerving, determined, quixotic crusader.”

Well, as uncompromising as he might have been, he certainly influenced Joetta.

By age thirty-six, Joetta had accomplished much, off the track as well as on it. Away from competition, her life continued
to center on giving back to others. She founded a company that concentrates on helping corporations develop mentoring programs
to assist high school students, and in 1997 she was appointed as a commissioner for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

So why the push to run the Millrose in 1999? On September 15, 1998, Joetta’s car was demolished by an eighteen-wheeler. She
was driving on a New Jersey Turnpike on-ramp when the truck merged into her lane, smashed into her mid-size car, and sent
her spinning backward down the highway. Her car rolled and settled some seventy-five yards away. She was trapped and had to
be rescued.

“When you’re pinned in your car like that and you try to move your leg and you can’t… and you try to move your arm and you
can’t,” she recalled, the emotions of being back in that moment rising, “you don’t think you’ll ever be able to do anything
again. I certainly didn’t think I would be able to run Millrose.”

The damage was severe—a concussion, torn stomach muscles, two torn vertebral disks, and damaged nerves in her left eye. Bedridden
for three weeks, she could not tamp down the competitor inside.

“I needed a target,” she said. And so this Companion in Courage set her sights on the women’s 800-meter race at the 1999 Millrose
Games.

She courageously worked through the weakened leg condition and the headaches from the eye injury. She resumed jogging just
before Thanksgiving. In January 1999 she visited her brother, J. J., who had coached her in the past, and he told her she
would be recovered enough to run Millrose. Why put her body through both rehab and training? She summed it up quickly: “I’m
a tough competitor.”

And compete she did. When the starter’s gun sounded it was a weakened but confident Joetta that shot from the blocks alongside
the best in the United States.

“I was scared,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what to expect, so I just ran aggressively. I wanted to run to show how thankful
I am to all the people who helped me. This will be a thank-you to them.”

The field was packed with great athletes, and the crowd sensed the significance of the race. Joetta started strong and led
for three laps. With all her courage and inner strength, she ran a great race, but her tired body faded near the finish. With
most of the field behind her she crossed the line less than half a second behind Meredith Valmon.

Second place? I don’t think so. I think Joetta Clark won a bigger race by getting back on the track. She married Ronald Diggs
in September 1999 and closed her incredible running career with still more amazing achievements. She won her seventh Millrose
800-meter title in February 2000 and made the 800-meter U.S. delegation in the 2000 Olympics a family affair, finishing third
(1:59.49) in the Olympic trials behind her younger sister, Hazel Clark (1:58.97), and her sister-in-law, Jearl Miles-Clark
(1:59.12). Joetta finished eighth in the second heat of the semifinals in Sydney. What a competitor. What a Companion.

14
Derek Stingley

I
love sports. You would think that as a professional athlete I would tire of the weekly battles on the ice, the court, the
field, or the course. I don’t. I love the up-close-and-personal stories that make each athlete’s life and performance more
meaningful. I have always been drawn to a person’s story and its effect on and off the field. I am touched by the stories
of athletes who give support to one another and the understanding they have of what each of us goes through.

One of the most meaningful pieces of memorabilia hanging in my office is an autographed number 16 jersey of Joe Montana and
a football signed by Joe, Dwight Clark, and Jerry Rice. I’ll always remember the Montana-to-Clark play, known as “The Catch,”
that started the San Francisco 49ers on their way to five Super Bowl wins.

During my recovery from an injury with the New York Islanders, Joe Montana understood my physical and mental battle. He autographed
and sent the jersey with a letter of encouragement and support. He reinforced my already larger-than-life perception of him
as someone who is not only a superstar but a superhero. Joe gives back to others because of his love and understanding of
sports.

Another athlete who symbolizes such a giant spirit is Derek Stingley. His athletic ability and drive is built on the spirit
of his father, Darryl Stingley. In 1978, as a New England Patriot, Darryl took the kind of violent defensive hit that brings
football fans to their feet in appreciation. But this time it was a one-in-a-million shot that quickly hushed the cheers of
the crowd to silence and prayer. Darryl was paralyzed for life. Derek was seven years old at the time.

“I was too young to understand what it meant,” Derek recalls. “I found out what happened when I saw him for the first time
in the hospital. I wanted him to get up and he never got up. That was the hardest thing I had to face as a boy.”

As a father, my private thoughts often include the hopes and dreams I have for my kids. I want to be around to love, support,
and be a part of their journey. Darryl was no different. When he allows himself to revisit the injury and his fears of the
moment, he says, “At that time Derek was a very young kid and I thought to myself, ‘What would happen to him?’ I remember
just going into prayer and asking God if he would spare my life and allow me to see my sons and their families grow.”

He was spared. He lived on. There was some good in this, and he dug deep to find it. “If I was to be bitter for twenty-two
years, I wouldn’t be as healthy as I am now. That could only put poison in your system and your mind.”

He was around, and he was there to give back to his family and others. Today he leads a foundation that mentors inner-city
youth in Chicago.

“Positive things have resulted from this, but the most positive thing I can think of right now is my son Derek and the way
he has arrived with the opportunity to be an NFL football player.”

And arrived he has. Derek, now twenty-eight, made it on his own. He did not play college football but took off on a career
in baseball. He played in the Philadelphia Phillies organization for three seasons and saw nothing but a dead end ahead. “I
didn’t see my career going anywhere. I knew I wanted to try something different,” he says.

Despite his lack of experience, Derek earned a spot on the roster of the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League. His
talent served him well. In 1998 he was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Hard work paid off. Derek showed good
stuff to coach Bill Parcells in a tryout session, and the New York Jets signed him to their practice squad in 1999. His stint
with the Jets didn’t last long, but Derek continues an impressive career with the Firebirds.

BOOK: Companions in Courage
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

B000FC1MHI EBOK by Delinsky, Barbara
ARAB by Ingraham, Jim
The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith
La última concubina by Lesley Downer
The Fellowship of the Hand by Edward D. Hoch