Sunday, August 30, 2009

What would you do?

I met Chad Varga a few months ago. A handsome, enthusiastic, 6 foot 7 inch young man, he starred in basketball at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 90's, had a tryout with the Dallas Mavericks, broke his hand, and went to Europe to play professionally.

At 25, at the height of his talent and physical development, Chad walked away from the sport he loved. He walked away from the fame, adulation and money (he had a large six-figure income on the boards, complete with incentives) to pursue another calling - to helps kids in trouble.

Why did Chad Varga walk away from fame and fortune (and a shot at coming back to the NBA) to help kids? He did it because of his own screwed-up childhood. When we say "screwed-up", it's an understatement. Chad's childhood was tragic, affected by drugs and alcohol addiction, not his addiction but his mother's.

What is screwed-up? Try this: Chad moved 17 times in his first 18 years. Chad's mother came in and out of his life every few years without announcement. Once, when she did visit, she stabbed him in the hand with a butcher knife because she thought he had poured her alcohol down the drain. When he was just a toddler, she took him and his sister Wendy to crack houses to get a fix and some sexual pleasure. When his mother was at home and partying, she locked the kids in a closet. At one point in her life, she ran drugs from South America and, as a result, Chad had a chance to visit her in federal prison.

You'd think that a guy who had Chad's childhood would either become a criminal or an addict himself. You'd think that if he ever made anything of his life, which he and everyone else probably doubted, he'd take the money and run. But, he didn't. In fact, he ran from the money, taking his family with him. Imagine being his wife, son and daughter when he said to them, "Let's leave this beautiful home on the Mediterranean Sea, leave the nice clothes and cars, leave the greatest comforts money can buy and go back to America so that I can start a non-profit to help kids who have lives like I had."

Well, it turns out that he had a beautiful and understanding wife and two great kids who stood behind him 100% in his decision as they returned to America to begin a non-profit organization called "Inspire Now", dedicated to taking a message to teenagers that they have greatness within them, that they can succeed, that they can transform their lives, that they are not alone.

Chad has spoken to over 1.5 million kids in the last eight years, more than any other motivational speaker. He goes anywhere he is called to speak with any number in an audience from 4 to 52,000. He seldom touches a basketball. Instead, at 34 he struggles to keep in shape and keep the weight accumulated from the airlines and speaking circuit away from his middle. But, he still has the deep, reverberating passion of a man who knows he made the right decision, especially when he recites the statistics on how many kids write suicide plans every year, how many kids carry guns to school, how many girls are raped or become pregnant. At those time you see in his eyes that he knows he made the right decision to walk away from basketball.

Few of us ever have to make a decision like that. But I wonder? What would you do?

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