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Michael Oher

What Off-Season?
They are always working towards the next game…

It’s one the most memorable scenes in one of Hollywood’s most memorable movies. A large African-American teenager named Michael Oher is walking down the street, hunched over against the cold, when an affluent family in a silver BMW pulls up next to him. The mother, played wonderfully in the movie by Sandra Bullock, asks where he is headed. It is the scene where everything changes — for the young man, for the family, and for the tremendous story that unfolds in The Blind Side.

But as poignant a moment as that was, it didn’t adequately shed light on what made Michael Oher GREAT.

Because the movie basically began with his “rescue,” it failed to convey (at least in my opinion) the enormity of the nightmare that was his childhood — one of 13 children born to a drug-addicted mother who raised him in one of America’s most dangerous housing projects. When you look at Michael’s upbringing, the real power in his story is that he spent the first 16 years of his life — the years before he showed up at the Briarcrest School — making thousands of “right” decisions when most people around him were making wrong ones. If he hadn’t made so many good choices, Michael would never have even been on that Memphis street that cold November day, in the path of the Tuohy family.

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to get to work with Michael on his new book, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond, which will be released tomorrow. (In fact, you can watch Michael discuss the book on Good Morning America tomorrow at around 8:30 am).The experience was one of the most remarkable ones I have ever had in the course of my career. What Michael explained to me as we crafted his message, was that he understood from an early age that life is about the choices we make. He knew that his only way to a better life was to “make the choice each day to work towards success.” Yes, he had help getting there — but he had to make the right decisions along the way to put him in a position to get that help.

From his earliest memories, Michael said he was committed to finding a way out of his situation and he pursued that goal with tireless dedication. It was Michael’s daily decision to show up to basketball practice early and to work harder than anyone else on his youth league team that caught the eye of the coach who helped enroll him at Briarcrest. It was Michael’s decision to avoid involvement in the drug dealings and gang activity that lured nearly every one of his friends that kept him out of trouble. It was Michael’s decision to be polite and have a positive attitude that helped the Tuohy family first notice him at school basketball games and track meets. It was

oher2Michael’s decision to fight through his schoolwork even though he’d never learned basic study skills that encouraged his teachers at Briarcrest to rally around him.

And it was Michael’s decision to head to the school gym to work out, even on a vacation day, that put him on the side of the road when the Tuohy family passed him in their car that November afternoon. (This is how it really happened, which is not quite the way Hollywood told the story!)

Michael Oher is where he is today because of the choices he made every single day-choices about his career, his body, his health, and his life. And even now, after being selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the first-round of the 2009 draft, he still shows that daily commitment to making the best choices for his own success.

"For me, winning isn't something that happens suddenly on the field when the whistle blows and the crowds roar. Winning is something that builds physically and mentally every day that you train and every night that you dream." -Emmitt Smith, NFL's leading rusher and Super Bowl MVPOne especially hot and humid morning this past July, I was standing in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Michael’s alma mater, Ole Miss. As Michael went through his usual off-season workout routine, running drills up and down the field, I downed three bottles of Gatorade just standing there watching him; but Michael did not once complain about the heat. He was there to work — end of story. His conditioning coach remarked to me that a lot of professional players schedule practices at their old colleges: “But Michael is the only guy I’ve ever know who has never missed a workout. Not one.”

It was impressive to me, but not surprising, that a young man so committed to good decisions would not allow himself to slack off…ever. His consistent work is what got him out of the slums, and that is the attitude that is going to carry him not only through the NFL, but through life.

Tips from the Great Ones

Take a look at your own goals: Have the choices you made in the past year moved you closer or farther away from reaching them? What about the choices you’ve made in the past month? The past week? The past 24 hours? Each day, you should be making decisions with an eye towards your ultimate success.

Apply this Characteristic: Think about the accomplishments of one of your own personal heroes. See if you can find a consistent pattern in his or her behavior that put them on the path to success. Then consider how that dedication could apply to your own life's goals. A commitment to GREATNESS isn’t a one-time event. Michael’s efforts to make the right decisions every day put him in a place that made him available forGREATNESS. Those decisions made him available to be helped by the teachers, coaches, and families who saw his potential — and he has carried that attitude with him to the NFL. His determination never to miss a practice earned him a starting position his rookie year in the pros, and the strength and skill he has gained from those workouts have kept him there.

Michael Oher beat the odds because he never allowed himself to give up on his dreams, even when the dreams seemed impossible. There is no OFF-SEASON for making the right decisions. Each choice you make towards positive action is a step towards GREATNESS!

Do you know a story of true Greatness from your community? I’d love to hear it! Please write to don@donyaeger.com to share it.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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