When the student-athlete becomes the teacher
One of the reasons why sports journalism is so awesome to me is the fact that it often becomes a classroom setting in which the student becomes the teacher.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last seven years that I’ve been covering sports in metro Atlanta where I’ve heard coaches talk about how much they’ve learned from the student-athletes who are supposed to be learning from them.
I understood, but I didn’t really understand — meaning I knew that the potential for this phenomenon had to be present, but because I’d never experienced it personally, I didn’t have my own point of reference.
That is, until I had the privilege of interviewing Cousins Middle School soccer player Jordan Beam.
Last week I chatted with him briefly about his excitement for Atlanta’s new Major League Soccer franchise. But this week I had the opportunity to peel back a few layers and learn how awesome of a kid he is.
In short, this week, I was in Beam’s “classroom” as this 15-year-old taught me all about resiliency and allowing negative life occurrences provide you with fuel to push forward faster and harder.
Let me go on record by saying, I don’t think I could do what this young man did at the age he did it.
About two months ago, right as Beam was getting ready for the soccer experience of a lifetime — traveling to play abroad in Germany — he was also getting ready to lose his dad. Three days before his plane was to leave, Jordan’s dad Shane passed away to brain cancer.
But if you read my feature story on him, you’ll see Jordan’s response to this personal tragedy. He said it fueled him. It ignited his passion to pursue his soccer dreams even more, because he felt as if somehow, some way, reaching for his goals would only serve to cement the importance of his dad’s legacy in his life.
So now here’s where I get a little transparent with you.
This past week wasn’t the easiest week for me because of a difficult journey I’m walking through with my own dad’s illness. My father is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those of you who have had to suffer through watching that cruel disease slowly eat away at your loved one’s psyche know that watching the disease is bad enough.
But for me, it was doubly tough because my parents still live in my hometown of Omaha, Neb., which is 1,000 miles away — which means I’m not able to be by their side as I’d desire. And to be honest, sometimes that journey makes me sad enough to experience a little emotional paralysis. Sometimes it’s hard to get going when I feel helpless to help my dad.
But when I talked with Jordan, I was impressed, and then inspired, by how the complete physical loss of his father seemed to do exactly the opposite. It pushed him harder. He had no time to stop and feel bad and be paralyzed with grief, because his continuance was, in essence, the preferred way to keep his father’s spirit alive.
And I reasoned within myself: If it’s good enough for a 15-year old soccer player, it should be good enough for a 37-year old sportswriter.
Once again sports — and Jordan — reminded me that life isn’t about trying to avoid difficulties. Life isn’t about sidestepping every hardship. Sometimes — often times — life is about meeting the tough times with squared shoulders and a head held high, and finding a way to dig deep and progress through it.
And it’s funny, every adult I’ve spoken to over the last two weeks who knows this young man has said some of the same things. They say they are the blessed ones to have him in their lives. I imagine they’ve also probably learned a little something from watching this young man’s journey.
It just never ceases to amaze me how sports can pick the darnedest times to remind me that sports is more than just a game — especially at the amateur level. Part of the thrill of my days as a community sports journalist goes so far beyond simply reporting scores and stats. It’s waking up each day and trying to figure out where I’ll find the next Jordan Beam-like student athlete.
Thanks to Jordan, my days since our interview have been a bit lighter. My push a little more solid. My resolve a little more sure. He reminded me that difficult moments don’t have to define us negatively. In fact, they can shape the way we define ourselves for the rest of life in a positive sense if we allow it.
Jordan and his entire family have allowed it. May Jordan and the rest of the Beams continue to set that example for all of us, no matter what life throws our way.
GABRIEL STOVALL SPORTS EDITOR