Young girl helping her younger brother learn to ride a bike.

Always Remember The Lessons Of Childhood

I started playing ball at Rice one year before Larry. My last known playing size was 6'3" 245 lbs; Larry was listed at 5'11" and 210 lbs. We were both fast and reckless on the field, talented, gifted, fundamentally sound, and strong. One of us made it pro, the other one didn't.

When I was 4, my brother got a new Huffy for his birthday. I was still on an old bike with training wheels. Of course, I wanted to be on a new bike like my older brother. My parents lived paycheck to paycheck and did not want to buy a new bike for a 4 year old that didn't even know how to ride. But I begged and pleaded anyway. To no avail. However, the silver lining to the "no" that I kept receiving was when my dad said, "Son, when you can ride a bike without training wheels, I'll buy you a new bike."

This past week while on vacation, I was spending the day, like most days off at the pool in my backyard. I've got 4 kids aged 12 ( Austin ), 10 ( Hunter ), 4 ( Taylor ), and 2 about to be 3 (Skylar). Now, Austin and Hunter are capable of swimming and staying out of any trouble in the pool. Taylor has recently learned and is very confident and capable in the water. We have to keep an eye on her just to make sure she doesn't get herself into a jam. Skylar, on the other hand, is able to swim short distances of 10-15 feet. He feels most comfortable near the edge of the pool.

Throughout the week, I liked to challenge the older kids to underwater games like sitting on the bottom, standing on their hands the longest, walking on their hands, or simply, who can hold their breath the longest. I noticed Skylar many times hanging on the edge and dunking himself underwater only to come up quickly after to catch his breath. My wife, Tracy, said to me, "Look at him, he's testing his limits." I agreed proudly. As the days progressed, I noticed that he was letting go of the wall now, but would quickly grab it as he surfaced.

Then, on Thursday, I was sitting in the hot tub enjoying the laughter and splashing with my wife, Tracy. Without worry, I was keeping and eye on Skylar while he continued his plunge, release the wall, resurface and grab the wall. So he continued. Suddenly, he burst up through the water with enough energy to grab 100% of my attention. He was smiling immensely and could not wait to catch his breath until the water ran off his face. As he drew in his smiling breath through pool water running off of his head, he exclaimed, "DADDY! I TOUCH THE BOTTOM ALL BY M'SELF!"

Of course I praised him for his accomplishment thinking of how far he has come lately with his confidence and ability in the water. He continued. Then, I realized. This boy had a goal! He was excited because he had accomplished a goal! I turned to Tracy and asked, "when do we stop growing?" My wife is an extraordinary person in regards to knowing what she wants and getting it. She responded simply, that we hadn't. I said, "No, humans adults, why do they stop growing?" She let me ponder that thought.

Over the next couple of days, I thought about the fact that we don't actually ever stop growing and learning. It's all about pain and pleasure no matter how young or old we are. Either we experience enough pain to stop what we are doing or we experience enough pleasure to continue. Pain, however, can stop us from taking risks. Trying the unknown can be painful so why should we try that? A toddler doesn't have that choice. HE OR SHE MUST CONTINUE TO TRY THE UNKNOWN! It is in their genetic make-up or they will forever remain in that state. Why should we, as adults, stunt our growth by not trying the unknown?

During the past week, I have learned that my wife is superwoman. I have experience kids peeing, pooping, fighting, arguing, whining, falling down, running through the house only to run into someone else or something, getting cut, getting bruised, getting thirsty, getting hungry, eating, and getting hungry and eating again before I could ever eat a meal. In addition, my 2 year old has opened every board game owned in the Soward home (while I was napping) and scattered pieces throughout 2 rooms. And, let me mention that he also personally opened a Smithsonian Institute Crystal Growing Chemistry Set owned by my 10 year old and managed to spread the powder throughout my study, foyer, hallway, and 2 bedrooms. Believe me, he experienced a little pain to remind him not to do that again!

As I look back through the week and thinking of Skylar's accomplishment in the pool and explorations in the home, it makes me realize this is simply the process that God intended. This is how we grow. Sometimes we are praised for trying something new. And there are times where we are hurt. No matter what the day brings, we are always growing and learning. The difference between the champions and losers is that champions apply the lessons learned.

Several years ago, I was speaking with my former teammate Larry after a UT-Rice football game. Larry now plays for the New England Patriots and was off that weekend. He has 3 Superbowl rings. He has been playing pro ball since 1996. He was undrafted after his college career ended. However, he was invited to attend the training camp for Jimmy Johnson's Miami Dolphins. This was Jimmy Johnson's first year coaching the Dolphins and was well know for his strict style. After the first pre-season game, Coach Johnson told reporters that only 2 people have made the team thus far, "Dan Marino and Larry Izzo." You see, Larry was on the kick-off return team, not known for its glamour, and had knocked down an opponent running at him full speed. He got up and knocked down a second opponent. In the world of professional football and all of its talent and athleticism, only the spirit of a warrior and the heart of a champion could accomplish this.

Larry reminded me in our conversation that "only if I hadn't gotten into the doghouse (with a former college coach)" I could have made it. Knowing what he knows now, I had the talent and the recklessness that needed to be had in order to be, at least, a special teams standout. It was bitter-sweet. Part of me wishes that he would have said that I wasn't talented enough to make it rather than blaming it on the "doghouse." You see, I put myself in that "doghouse." At some point I committed my life to being what I called a "fatally-flawed hero." However, no one saw me as a hero. I drank and partied away my career because I was scared to set and miss a goal. I was no longer the 4 year old boy that was told, "When you can ride a bike, I'll buy you one," and learned to ride a bike without training wheels in less than a week. I was the guy with the talent, that the people with the heart wish they had the talent of. Several years ago, before Larry and I spoke I had come to realize this and turned my life around. It took me 12 years to get up and seek another opponent to knock down. Every now and then, I am reminded to have the spirit of a warrior and the heart of a champion. This week I was again by a 2 year old.

Like Larry, Skylar knocked down one goal last Thursday by touching the bottom of the pool and by Sunday had actually sat on the bottom of the pool while I watched him through my goggled eyes smile at me underwater because he had just knocked down his second opponent.

We face adversity each and every day. That is the Devil's plan. God's plan is for us to get up, show up, knock 'em down, and knock 'em down again. You have a goal and that is to be the best in all that you do. In faith, family and work, be the best that you can be. There are opponents in your way. Find out who or what is in your way and knock them down one at a time. But first, knock down the opponent in your mirror named Fear. Without taking that one out, the rest will simply run by you. Stand and believe on the words written and repeated more than any other throughout the best selling book ever written, "Fear Not."
~ Bryan Soward ~
[ by: Bryan Soward Copyright © 2009 ( ) -- Submitted by: Bryan Soward ]

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