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Two Stories of Resilience Every Student Should Hear: Podcast #54

Today I’m excited to share with you a conversation with two specials guests, Sarah Clapper and Timothy Alexander. Sarah was recently crowned Miss Ohio 2017 after overcoming several obstacles to achieve her goal. The second guest is Timothy Alexander, who is serving as the Character Coach for the University of Alabama at Birmingham football team. Timothy has an incredible story of resilience that has inspired people all across the country. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Tim Elmore: The day we live in is a world of speed, convenience, and high tech. That’s wonderful, but the other side of the coin is when things get difficult or last longer than we want, we just want to stop.

Andrew McPeak: It seems like the first thing that comes to our mind is to walk away, give up, or go back to something we are more familiar with. Today, we have two stories of young people who were able to overcome the obstacles in front of them and not give up.

Tim Elmore: Sarah, would you first start by just sharing a little bit about your background and your journey?

Sarah Clapper: I grew up in a very small town in Ohio called Louisville, and I was a competitive gymnast for the first 13 years of my life. I knew how to do a back handspring before I knew how to read a chapter book. By the time I got into high school, I had sustained some severe spinal injuries. The worst of which were six bulging discs in my back. After time off for treatment, I returned motivated to accomplish my dreams of going to college on an athletic scholarship. Unfortunately, after returning to gymnastics, I had injured my spine even more severely with a sacroiliac joint injury. The doctors told me that I was done forever with gymnastics. I really struggled with my personal identity and figuring out what I was going to do with my life. It completely changed my outlook on where I saw myself going, but I ultimately landed at Ohio State University where I studied architecture. While I was in college, I was looking for ways to pay for my education. That led me to the Miss America Organization, where I discovered I had an opportunity for a scholarship. I was honestly scared to dream again though because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my dreams.

Tim Elmore: Our big theme today is the idea of resilience, so I want to dig deeper. You suffered that injury, tell me what your experience was like and what you did to overcome it.

Sarah Clapper: I think the first step when anyone experiences an obstacle or challenge—and while I think it’s the most difficult thing to do sometimes—we have to understand that there is a reason. There is a reason that you are facing that obstacle and it is out of your control. Go ahead and allow yourself to feel upset, but then understand that there is a reason you are facing that obstacle. For me, it was the Miss Ohio Organization. Gymnastics had provided this sense of determination and hard work, and I applied that to my Miss Ohio career. Unfortunately, three years in to competing, I injured my spine again. I had to discover a new talent so I taught myself how to play the piano. Despite the setbacks, I won my fifth year competing and became Miss Ohio.

Tim Elmore: You are a picture of a resilient person. You just keep bouncing back and you won Miss Ohio. Sarah, thank you for showing us, not just telling us how to do life well. Thanks for sharing your story.


Tim Elmore: Now, I’m excited to introduce another guest, Timothy Alexander. Timothy was one of the top recruited high school football players in the state of Alabama. His story took a turn that I’m going to let him tell you about.

Timothy Alexander: Well as you mentioned, I was an athlete and played for Erwin High School, where I was one of the top prospects in the state. Unfortunately, I was in a very bad car accident my senior year of high school. The day before my accident, l helped my team win the game that would send us to the playoffs. My coach said, “You’re going to school. You’re going to school.” I remember just telling my mom, “Mom, I’m going to take care of the family.” After the accident, I was in the hospital where doctors were saying I was brain dead—not going to be able to read, write or do anything. My accident led me down a path of being depressed and suicidal—all because I felt as if I had nothing else to offer the world. Yet, I was still determined to conquer my dreams. I ended up attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham where I became the first paraplegic to receive a full-ride scholarship for football. At UAB, one of the assistant athletic directors asked me, “Are you here to play football?” I said, “Yes, sir.” Then I told him my story. Even though I was in a wheelchair, I went out to practice the next morning at 5:00 a.m. and joined my teammates there.

Tim Elmore: I love the story and I’m just imagining what it would be like to be your coach. You’re not going to be on the field, but you’re on the sideline modeling work ethic, great attitude and tenacity. You’re lifting the culture of that team and I know you don’t want to brag but, you’re adding as much value as any other player because of what you’re doing on the sidelines.

Timothy Alexander: No matter what life brings you, no matter the hardships, challenges or anything it is that you face—always remember what it is that you want out of life.

I hope you take time during your commute to listen to the whole conversation. Click below to listen to the full discussion.

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  1. Michelle on December 14, 2017 at 8:25 am

    This is for Tim Alexander. I feel compelled to write to you. I wrote a book for a young woman who was a nationally ranked athlete, but when she was 19, she was hit by a drunk driver. She became a quad (couldn’t walk or comb her hair — none of that.) Like you, at first she was depressed. Her life dream was to be a teacher, but how was she going to finish college? She did finish. Her story is one of hope — just like yours. (Fractured Not Broken) Her book sells better than any of my books. It’s optioned for a movie. I tell you this … not to impress you, but to encourage you to bring help to others. They need you. Put a course together on resilience. Sell it to schools and build a business. Speak on FB live or wherever you can physically get to, When we use our PAIN to find our PURPOSE, we find PROFIT. This profit might not be monetary, but a reward will follow. You all empower others and change their lives. They need you! Thanks for sharing your story here with Tim.

    • Tim Elmore on December 14, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Thank you for sharing, Michelle. That is definitely a powerful story. I would be happy to pass it along to Timothy Alexander.

      • Michelle on December 14, 2017 at 11:51 am

        Thank you! It looks like there was a typo in my post … I meant to say, “You WILL empower others and change their lives.” I’m sure that Tim is already doing this. Keep helping to build our future leaders, Tim Elmore. I love what you do! I’m a fan!

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Two Stories of Resilience Every Student Should Hear: Podcast #54