Over the past few months these three words have gained traction in discussions through Twitter, You Tube, TED Talks, Educational Leadership magazine, and other educational forums. Angela Lee Duckworth delivered an excellent TED talk in April, 2013 describing the key to success in the classroom and life which she identifies as grit. As I have read through articles, participated in Twitter chats, and watched a number of videos related to grit, I am constantly reminded of a young man that continues to inspire and touch my heart on a daily basis.
Four years ago, a young man by the name of Matt in our school system had a terrible accident with a four-wheeler on his farm in Iowa. Matt suffered a very bad break in his leg, and was required to have surgery to repair the damage. As time passed, Matt experienced many complications with infection and was forced with an unbelievable decision that a person should never have to make, let alone a fourteen-year-old young man. Matt is a football player and has a passion for the game unlike anyone that I have ever encountered. Due to the strong complications and bouts with infection, Matt would need to have his leg amputated if he wanted the opportunity to play football in the future. Matt went ahead with the procedure when he was a freshman in high school, had his leg amputated just below the right knee, and began rehabbing like crazy to get himself back on the football field.
By the time his sophomore season rolled around, Matt was equipped with a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg and ready to join his teammates on the gridiron. He was able to have a very successful season playing middle linebacker and fullback. These two positions in our offensive and defensive schemes are critical and require contact on every single play. The fact that Matt was able to get himself ready for competition in a year is incredible, but the fact that he was able to play middle linebacker and fullback is simply remarkable, and speaks volumes about the amount of perseverance, resilience, and grit that this young man has.
Matt experienced another set-back in his junior season. The sores and infection returned to his leg, forcing him to sit out the season. He did not falter one bit; he focused on getting healthy to have the chance to play football in his senior season.
Matt is now a senior in high school and started the season ready to compete once again at linebacker and fullback. He worked extremely hard in the off-season to get his body ready for competition and began the regular season with two very successful games. In the middle of the second game of the year, Matt suffered yet another set-back as he injured his left knee. The coaches and Matt did not know the extent of the injury that evening; we simply knew that he was pretty seriously injured and needed assistance walking off the field. He rested over the weekend and started walking on his own power. By Wednesday of the following week, Matt was practicing in full pads with his teammates fighting through drills listening to his knee click and pop with every movement and cut. As I was coaching our linebackers, I heard the noises coming from Matt's knee and told him that he needed to stop because something was not right. After consulting with our trainer, Matt was sent to the doctor where it was determined that he had torn the ACL of his left knee and would need surgery to repair it. Football, competition, and being with his teammates matter so much to him that he was able to come out and practice with a torn ACL!
Our head coach and I went to see Matt in the hospital the evening following his surgery. It was truly unbelievable to see this young man smiling with his family as if this knee surgery was just part of the routine. We spent some time visiting with Matt and his family and I was amazed once again when he shared with us that he planned to attend the football game the following night to be announced with his parents, as part of family night. What an inspiration to our team to have this young man support his teammates the day after surgery.
If you visit Epworth Elementary, you will notice our school logo pictured below throughout the building. This logo is very special to me and our school community because this was designed by Matt when he was a fifth grader at Epworth Elementary. I have been asked if we are going to change this with a new logo, and my response is always, "Not as long as I am the principal."
When I think about perseverance, resilience, and grit, I think of Matt and all that he has been through in the past four years. He has been through hell and back and come out with a smile on his face and an incredible passion to be better each and every day. I am inspired by this young man, as he has taught me so much about hard work and determination. I can only hope that our students and my own children will develop some of the character traits that this young man possesses. If they do, they will surely be successful and make a difference in the world, just like Matt has done. He has touched me forever and I will never forget his perseverance, resilience, grit, and passion for life.