Tony's Book on Amazon.com.
Born without hands or feet, Tony proved you can do much more than you initially believed.
Two events in my life changed how I perceived what was possible. The first was running and
winning the Original Ultimate Runner Competition (10k, 400 meters, 100 meters,
a mile, and marathon all ran on the same day).
By running many events in one day, I learned that the body, mind, and spirit could do much more than we initially believed. To run a marathon is a challenge. Running four events the same day before a marathon was daunting but possible.
The second event that changed my perception of what’s
possible in life was working in the Paralympic Movement for many years. Seeing up close and personal the genuinely extraordinary accomplishments of
world-class disabled athletes forever changed how I viewed what’s possible in
I served as Tony Volpentest’s sports agent for many years and, eventually, his coach after my good friend Bryan Hoddle moved on to other pursuits.
Tony was the fastest Paralympic sprinter in the world and the world record holder at 100 and 200 meters. Tony won two gold medals in Atlanta under Bryan's tutelage.
I later coached Tony to world championships in the 100 and 200 meters and a world record in the 200 meters.
I have never forgotten something I watched during one preliminary round in the 200 meters at the Atlanta Paralympic Games.
What I witnessed that day represents the best in the human spirit and has influenced my coaching.
While Bryan and I were waiting for Tony to run in his 200-meter heat, we watched a young man blast out of the blocks into the lead in the first heat of the 200-meter rounds.
As the young man turned the corner, his prosthetic leg fell off as he rounded the curve. The many years of work to get to this point were over. The young man was not going to make the finals of the Paralympic 200-meter championships.
What happened next was unbelievable. As I write this post, thinking about what I saw still makes me emotional decades later.
The young man hopped on one leg back to the middle of the curve, where his prosthetic leg had fallen off. He picked up the prosthetic leg that fell on the ground and somehow placed it under his arm with no assistance.
The young man then hopped on one leg with his prosthetic leg under his arm toward the finish line. With his displaced leg, this young man jumped on one leg to the 200-meter finish line. He crossed the finish line emotionally and physically spent.
There was no dry eye in the Atlanta Olympic stadium as this courageous soul crossed the finish line. The standing ovation of the crowd seemed to last for minutes. I have never seen a better example of the human spirit in action.
When I am tired, frustrated, and want to give up on an important goal, I sometimes think about that young man jumping on one leg and carrying his prosthetic leg through the finish line.
Because of my life experiences like the one mentioned above, my greatest strength in coaching is that I can see God-given potential in people. I can’t explain it well, but I see the good in people and what they can become.
Part of the reason I believe so strongly in others is that I have seen and felt what the human spirit could ultimately achieve in the right circumstances in many different life situations.
Like I tell the students I coach, “you can always do more than you initially believed.” Always.
Leave nothing at the finish line of your most important life goals this year. Believe in your God-given gifts. He gave them to you for a reason.
You can always do more than you initially believed. Sometimes you need to take that first step of faith regardless of how impossible a situation seems for God to guide you to the finish line.
Check out Tony's Gold medal run in Atlanta if you want to watch an inspiring short video. CBS staff did an excellent job capturing Tony's story and world record run. In Atlanta, Bryan, Ross Perot, and I were cheering Tony on during his 100 and 200-meter victories.
Left to Right: Tony Volpentest, Ross Perot, Bryan Hoddle, and Larry Weber