29 Apr

Shaquem Griffin makes NFL history with the Seattle Seahawks


Shaquem Griffin

Shaquem Griffin drafted by Seattle Seahawks

Shaquem Griffin is the feel-good, break-out story of the 2018 NFL draft because he’s an inspiration to so many for achieving this moment as a football player with one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was 4, but that’s never slowed him down. And now he’s made NFL history!

(Original story posted by USA Today Shaquem Griffin makes history)

ARLINGTON, Texas – It’s not every year when Day 3 of the NFL draft comes with a curtain call.

In fact, it has probably never happened.

Yet it was so fitting on Saturday, when Shaquem Griffin, a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, chosen 141st overall, strolled across the stage to applause that thundered with a purpose inside cavernous AT&T Stadium.

“That was the most amazing experience in my entire life,” Griffin said. “It was like winning the Peach Bowl all over again. It was nuts.”

No, this time, the final day of the NFL’s selection process was no snooze fest.

That’s a credit to magic and appeal of Griffin, who came and went as the feel-good story of this draft because he’s an inspiration to so many for achieving this moment as a football player with one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was 4, due to amniotic band syndrome.

Call it a disability at your own risk of looking foolish. Having one hand didn’t stop Griffin from blossoming into a star on a Central Florida team that went undefeated. And it hasn’t stopped him now.

Yet to simply hail the significance of a man getting drafted by an NFL team despite a physical disability would be a huge mistake. A disservice. Griffin is a football player. A damned good football.

Now, like the 255 other players selected in this year’s draft, he has a chance to prove it all over again while reunited with his identical twin brother, Shaquill, a cornerback drafted last year in the third round by the Seahawks.

“We’re expecting you to come in here and bust ass,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told Shaquem during the obligatory phone call that ended the suspense.

That’s the type of directive coaches give to football players, not to inspirational symbols.

Carroll knows that his new linebacker, projected to rush from the edge and provide relentless coverage on special teams, means so much to so many people – especially young people who may happen to carry their own challenges due to physical conditions.

He also knows that he’s in the business of winning football games. Griffin has been hired to help.

After the first two days of the draft, spanning the first three rounds, the biggest disappointment in my view was that Griffin wasn’t chosen among the first 100 picks. Yet that disappointment was probably based on sentiment rather than hardcore football.

Draft analysts, including the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, contend that the area of the draft when Griffin went off the board was pretty much about the spot when he should have gone because at 6-0, 227, he’s what scouts call a “tweener” – lacking the prototype dimensions to fit into the box of any specific position.

No matter. Griffin has only been a “tweener” all his life.

Yet there’s no way this kid sells himself short, which is why he’s captivated the football world – and then some – with his amazing journey.

A day before the draft began, when someone asked when he expected to be drafted, Griffin calmly stated, “First round.”

That wasn’t the expected answer, but it spoke volumes. People have always discounted Griffin, and that hasn’t changed with his entry into pro football. He deals with it, embracing the chance to prove doubters wrong. Again.

Reportedly, at least a couple of teams removed Griffin from their boards as unfit to be drafted because he doesn’t have a left hand. Like never mind that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and using a prosthetic, put up 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the combine.

Doubting him adds fuel. Think he’s got a chip on his shoulder?

“More like a bag of chips on my shoulder,” he said.

As Shaquill put it, his brother isn’t only playing for himself and his family.

“It’s for everybody in the world,” he said.

Even better that Shaquem embraces that idea. He came here as one of the 22 prospects invited to participate in the made-for-TV show that is the draft. Most of the other invitees were on their way to visit their new teams by Friday, while at least one other prospect who wasn’t picked in the first round, was nowhere to be seen on the premises on Day 2.

Yet Griffin stuck it out, staying in the green room throughout the second day, then staying in his hotel as the draft continued on Saturday.

As fate would have it, Griffin was out of position – in the bathroom of his hotel room – when the big call finally came. His brother Shaquill, noticing the 425 area code on an incoming call, burst into the bathroom and demanded that he take the call.

That’s what twin brothers are for.

That’s what twin brothers are for. And how fitting.

This is Shaquill’s story, too. Shaquill is the brother who was highly recruited out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) High, yet turned down eight scholarship offers to schools that would not offer his brother a scholarship, too. They were a package deal.

“As soon as we walked into Coach (George) O’Leary’s office, he said, ‘I’m not offering one a scholarship without offering one to the other,’ “ Shaquill recalled for USA TODAY Sports. “He knew the message. He said it before I could even get the words out of my mouth.”

And look at them now. They are still a package deal, pegged to be roommates again in Seattle.

Shaquill jumped to the NFL a year ago because it took a while before coaches gained confidence in Shaquem’s abilities. He was redshirted as a freshman. After not playing together for the first time in their lives last season, Shaquill told his brother that there was probably a “1% chance” that they would be reunited with the Seahawks.

Shaquem thought otherwise. He considered his brother as his personal “area scout” for the Seahawks, who undoubtedly realize the brother energy at work. Shaquill said that even as Seahawks general manager John Schneider assured him that they loved Shaquem as a prospect and have much respect for the family, he wouldn’t bank on a reunion.

“The draft can be funny,” Shaquill said.

And the wait can be excruciating. Shaquem joked that the one time he walked away from the phone, the phone rang with the news they were waiting for.

In the end, the timing was just right. And the result was so perfect that it warranted the ultimate curtain call.

29 Mar

CAN’T is Not An Excuse: Just ask Mike Alt

Like most 13-year-olds, all Mike Alt wanted to do was “fit in”. Passionate about basketball, he relished the idea of playing alongside his schoolmates, despite the fact that he had a rare genetic birth defect called Amniotic Band Syndrome which left him with just a thumb and pinkie finger on each hand.

Mike and his family had just moved from Santa Clara, California to Reno as he was finishing up seventh grade. About to enter the 8th grade, Mike was determined to be on the school basketball team.

“Middle school was the toughest time for me,” says the now 28-year-old. “It’s that weird age where you’re trying to figure out who you are and what friends you want to hang out with.”

Mike remembers those days of feeling alone, not knowing which direction to take. “I had two choices,” he says. “I could go all in, or cry myself to sleep every night and never come out of my room.” He chose the former.

Mike was always athletic, but the idea of making the school’s basketball team given his “limb difference” was daunting. So, despite some issues with dribbling and shooting, Mike still went to the tryouts.

Wearing khaki shorts and old sneakers because he couldn’t afford new ones, Mike was a long shot. But, his perseverance paid off. He was selected as the 22nd player out of a total of 22 slots. “I got the last jersey! But, seriously, that was one of the biggest turning points of my life.”

Mike was thrilled to have made the team, but knew he could only get better if he put in the hard work. His small fingers made it especially hard to grip the basketball, which is 29.5 inches in circumference Extra long hours in the gym, including two hours every Saturday of straight ball handling (no shooting) eventually paid dividends for Mike.

“When someone tells you that you can’t do something, you have two choices: you can believe them and choose to accept the notion that your abilities are less than adequate because of an excuse. Or, you can deny that person credit for their statement, and prove them wrong.”

After much soul searching and with the love and support of his family, Mike decided to prove people wrong. He’s been doing that for the past 15 years, excelling in sports, education, business, and inspiring countless others along the way. He started a blog to discuss his journey; to where he now feels empowered in talking about his limb difference.

Mike’s passion project is an LLC he started over a year ago, called “Can’t Is Not An Excuse.” Its mission is to “motivate the world no matter what adversity and obstacles people have to overcome.” The business seeks to obliterate the word “can’t” from one’s vocabulary.

Mike attended the University of Nevada-Reno, where he obtained a degree in business management. He gives speeches at schools and conferences. He did one for the Lucky Fin Project in Troy, Michigan and has also reached out through the Helping Hands Foundation, both of which are non-profits.

“My parents always told me ‘you can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you believe in yourself. Between them and my older sister, I have a great support system.”

Find out more about Mike Alt and be inspired by this true Adaptive Warrior! Click here.

17 Mar

Kari Miller – Turning Hurdles Into Gold

Kari Miller is a true adaptive warrior. The retired U.S. Army sergeant, who lost parts of both legs while on duty in 1999, believes that participating and excelling in sport can truly rehabilitate both mind and body. She is a living example of that.

While in recovery, Miller decided that sports were still a big part of her life but she needed to find something she could adapt to. She tried adaptive basketball and didn’t care for it. A friend suggested sitting volleyball – the first time she played a pass came whizzing by her head and she screamed as she ducked. “The coach yelled out ‘there’s no screaming in volleyball’, and I was hooked!”

Kari’s silver medal from the Beijing Games in ’08

A former track star and basketball player, Miller had found her calling and discovered she was pretty good at it. Go enough to make the U.S. National Sitting Volleyball team in 2006. And good enough to take the floor as the libero (defensive specialist) for teams that won silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games in Beijing and London respectively.

Miller made the team for the 2016 Rio Games, but knew that, at age 39, this would be her last chance to come home with a gold medal. The U.S. had lost to number one China in London and had to play them again in the finals in Brazil. But this time it was the U.S. who emerged victorious and Kari Miller could now call herself a gold medal winner.

“The experience in 2016 was great. Before we went to the games, a lot of people were saying that Rio had a bad reputation. But, it was not like that at all. We were treated like rock stars!”

China had won all three previous Paralympic Sitting Volleyball gold medals dating back to 2004. So, to beat them and take the gold at Rio was the crowning achievement of an amazing career for Miller and her teammates.

A list of Miller’s accomplishments in the sport is impressive to say the least. They certainly do not define her, but they do illustrate one important fact: a great athlete is always a great athlete, regardless of major life events that can change your world overnight:

  • 2016: Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (Gold)
  • 2012: London Paralympic Games (Silver)
  • 2008: Beijing Paralympic Games (Silver)

World Championship Experience

  • 2010: WOVD (World Paravolley) Sitting Volleyball World Championships (Silver)
  • 2006: Sitting Volleyball World Championships

Other Career Highlights

  • 2016: World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup (Gold); Exhibition tournament vs. Russia; Dutch Tournament (First)
  • 2015: Parapan American Games (Gold)
  • 2012: Volleyball Masters (Gold)
  • 2011: Parapan American Zonal Championships (Gold)
  • 2010: WOVD World Cup (Gold); Parapan American Championship (Gold)
  • 2009: Parapan American Zonal Championship (Gold); Eurocup (Gold)
  • 2008: WOVD Intercontinental Cup (Bronze)
  • 2007: Sitting Volleyball Invitational (Silver)

Miller retired from active participation in the sport last October, and now devotes time to assisting and coaching others. She’s been coaching a team in the San Antonio area where she lives and is also working with a developmental team in Arizona as they prepare for the next Paralympics in 2020.

After getting her bachelor’s degree from Central Oklahoma University, Miller is now working towards obtaining her master’s degree in business. Along with husband Jay Ortiz, Miller would like to start her own business, a combination restaurant/dog park. “I’m an animal lover and have some great ideas for the restaurant and park. We are working on the logistics now.”

Kari and Jay were married last summer.

Circumstances beyond her control led Miller to becoming a world-class sitting volleyball player. She always tries to live by the words of advice her grandmother gave to her many years ago. “She used to tell me to take it one day at a time,” says Miller. “When I would be having a rough day, she would say that life is like a race; that you should take each hurdle as it comes and then move on. Everything is going to work out in the end. There was never any other option!”

Kari Miller opens up about her 1999 accident and how she deals with adversity. Two great interviews, take a look!

Video 1

Video 2

Relive the magic. Watch U.S. Women’s team dethrone China to take home gold in Rio as Kari Miller says goodbye to Paralympics competition.