Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Fighting Chance

While in college I participated in a charity event called Hands Across America.  Almost 7 million people held hands from New York to California to raise over 35 million dollars to fight hunger and homelessness.  Many celebrities joined hands, and I was fortunate in being able to meet Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time.  He shared stories about converting what you love to do into opportunities to make a difference for others.  That’s the theme of this week’s story.

George was the fifth of seven children growing up in a very poor household in Texas.  His stepfather was a railroad worker who frequently drank away his paycheck, leaving the family to depend on his mother’s small wages.  George often wondered what it would be like to have his own bed. 

His family lived in a rough area of Houston called the Fifth Ward, known as the “Bloody Fifth” because of the frequent violence there.  As a kid, George was often a part of this violence, getting into street brawls and gang fights almost daily.  His size and aggression earned him the respect of several local gangs, but even after dropping out of high school, George knew he had to do something to improve his life.

Watching television one day, George saw an ad for the Job Corps, an organization and training program dedicated to helping young people learn skills to find and keep a good job.  With no other ideas for his future, he decided to join.  If nothing else, the Job Corps got him out of his immediate surroundings, as he was sent to Oregon to begin his educational training. What the relocation didn’t change was George’s infamous ability to get into fights. One day, a program supervisor stepped in to end a fight, but not before noticing George’s power and quickness.  The supervisor was a boxing enthusiast, and realized he could help George channel his aggressiveness into a healthier outlet. 

With help from the supervisor, George worked on his technique and adapted his thuggish, street-brawling style for the ring.  With the addition of focus and control, he was such a natural that, within two years, he had qualified for the US Olympic boxing team.  At the age of 19, George won a gold medal in the Olympics for heavyweight boxing.  Afterward he returned to Texas and turned professional.

George won his first 37 professional fights before earning a shot at the heavyweight championship.  Despite this succession of wins, George endured grumbling that he was beating has-beens and lesser fighters en route to his first title shot.  However, he silenced all criticism by defeating one of the most feared champions in all of boxing history within two rounds.

As the new heavyweight champion, George successfully defended his title twice.  Soon after, though, he suffered the first and only defeat by knockout of his professional career, in a much publicized bout in Africa against arguably the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali.  The loss drove him to re-examine his life.  George did not officially retire, but he stopped fighting and became an ordained minister, devoting his time to his family and parishioners.

Ten years later, after building a gym next to his church to give local children an alternative to hanging around on the streets, George announced his return to boxing.  At age forty-five, George amazed sports analysts and fans when he knocked out the reigning heavyweight champ in the tenth round.  It was an unimaginable achievement, and George broke two records that night:  One for becoming the oldest heavyweight champion in history, and the other for the longest interval between one championship and the next.

At the end of his boxing career, he began to forge a successful venture as a businessman, selling everything from grills to mufflers on television.  George Foreman is perhaps best known to today’s generation for his famous ‘Lean Mean Grilling Machine,' and for good reason.  He was so successful as the spokesman that his contract was bought out for $137 million. 

When asked about his good fortune he replied, “I never did anything for personal gain.  When I was a boxer, I wanted to be champion of the world, not the richest man in the world.  If you can maintain that integrity in whatever you do, you can't go wrong.  I’ve turned my fame and fortune into a charity machine.  The millions I’m focused on are the kids who need my help fighting cancer.  They need a fighting chance!” 

What are you fighting for?

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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