The Giant in the Wheelchair III: It’s Out. It’s REALLY Out.


Today, I got ESPN The Magazine‘s 2011 Body Issue in the mail.

My first story for them is in it. Six months and five drafts and so many thousands of words and hours from when it was assigned, my first “big” story for a national publication.

A huge enormous gigantic amazing I-really-can’t-believe-this-is-real-and-I-know-I-should-act-totally-cool-about-this-but-it’s-just-way-too-amazing moment in my young writing career.

Two-and-a-half years ago I was 22 years old and graduating from college and getting married and decided to set an absolutely absurd, ridiculous goal: Land a major assignment for Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine by age 24.

The midnight I turned 24, I was on my way from the airport to my apartment, having just returned from Chicago, where I’d spent five days researching and reporting this story for ESPN The Magazine.

I debated pretty hard whether or not to share that, because I’m not trying to sound be all self-pimping or whatever. But I have to share that so that what I say next means as much as I want it to mean. It only happened because of so many people not me. The whole reason I started writing this post was to thank them. So I’ll do that now.

Thank you …

Katie, my wife. This girl believed in me way more than she should have. She’s also way smarter than me. Which makes the former so perplexing. Or maybe she knew what I didn’t even know. She told me from the day we decided to get married that she knew how stupidly hard a writing career was. (Neither of us REALLY knew.) She also told me that so few people actually voice their dreams and even fewer actually go all-in on making them happen, and then she said, “But then, you’ve never been like most people.” And then she told me to just TRY to write for huge magazines by age 24, which was my overreaching, overambitious dream of the moment. Long story short, then it happened, and of all the people I owe, I owe her most.

My parents, Will and Karen. I mean, they are basically why I exist. And they are basically why I can chase those dreams: They spent all my life telling me to do that, sacrificing so I could do that, praying for me to find ways to do that. I see now how much they gave up so they could give me all I asked for, and holy crap I’m about to get all emotional and I don’t want to cry on my keyboard so I’m going to clear my throat and move on …

Mike Williams, Dan Ivankovich, Karla Carwile. The first two you know from the story. The third is Dan’s all-too-unheralded right hand. She made all this possible. She was pivotal from the start, from coordinating dates when Dan would actually have time to spend with this kid to convincing Mike to head out to dinner and a Bulls game to meet said kid, the first time he’d been out for an evening since he’d been shot. She’s a rockstar. They’re all rockstars. Someone once said, “When I think about the type of person I want setting an example for others, I think, ‘Would the world be better if there were a million of them?'”

If there were a million people like these three, the world—or at least the greater Chicago area—would have no worries.

Scott Burton and Paul Kix. ESPN The Magazine‘s executive editor and general editor. Scott emailed me last December. Somehow he’d gotten hold of some clips I’d sent another editor. Told me he wanted me to write for them. I wigged out. Then I emailed him back. Then we talked ideas. Then I sent him two-dozen ideas before we found Mike Williams. He took a risk on this young dude, and I’m so grateful.

Paul was hired from Boston magazine and took over the story after Scott got promoted when the magazine shifted from New York to Bristol. He and Scott did an absolutely killer job. I seriously don’t understand why editors don’t get some sort of credit or byline with the stories they worked on. If ever people deserved credit for something, they deserve credit for this.

My in-laws, Albert and Susie. You believed in me, too. I’m not sure I know why, but I’m so glad. On top of that, you did, after all, give your blessing for me to marry your beautiful daughter. She is everything you could ever hope your daughter would become, and of course, I owe all that to you. Thank you. (And if anybody in eastern North Carolina needs the best home ever built, contact that man—

Rick Stewart at the Kenly News in Kenly, N.C., my first journalism boss and the man who believed in me before anybody else.

Jeff Pearlman and Chris Jones, whose advice and hard truths got me to a place in life and writing where I was at least marginally capable of telling a story like Mike’s. I swear, I’m not plugging them just to name-drop—they really, really meant a lot. They’ve been emailing with me tolerating my occasionally-maybe-sort-of-neurotic email blasts for nearly three years now. I’m not sure why. I’d like to think it’s because I’m so cool and inspirational but I really think it’s because they’re just truly decent guys. And also super helpful.

Of course, there are tons more. Anybody I’ve ever written for. Every story until now made me better, as will, I hope, every story after. Anybody I’ve ever known, technically, because in some wild existential way you all shaped who I am now.

Life’s not always perfect. Heck, life’s practically never perfect. But there are moments.

This, for me, is one of those.

Because of you all.

Thank you.