Where It All Started…
I grew up in Malta, Illinois, a small town (actually it is a village) 2 hours outside of Chicago. The population was about 800 people, not including cows, horses and sheep (which would have made it the 2nd largest city in Illinois if they counted those in the population). My high school, Malta High School, had an enrollment of 78 students (take some time to read that again. It isn’t a typo, it really only had 78 students in the entire school). Being a 6’8” human definitely has some perks in a small town. In 1999, I was a Two-Time All-State Basketball Player, Three-Time Little Ten Conference All-Conference Performer, and managed to graduate with a 3.8 GPA. ‘Til this day, I hold the Malta High School scoring record (2,143 points) and rebound record (929 rebounds) and I can confidently say that my records will never be broken! Hold up……before you start judging that I am super cocky, I am confident that my record will never be broken because it would be impossible. Ok, that still sounded cocky. I am confident that my record will not be broken, because in the year 2000 they shut down the school due to the lack of enrollment and the high expense for our tiny town. While I had a very successful high school career, I always had this big dream to become the first Division 1 basketball player from Malta High School.
Sometimes It Takes a Little Dirty Work…
In December of my senior season, my dream was looking like it would not come true. I actually thought my dreams of flying had a more realistic chance of coming true. 10 games into my Senior season I had zero Division 1 scholarship offers. I remember at one point thinking to myself, “maybe those who doubted me are right.” I became discouraged, but a little support from my mamma got me right back on track. One day during my Senior year my mother purchased and read a book on recruitment and how to recruit the recruiters. After reading that book, she told me that we had to create a plan. I remember thinking to myself, what does this 5’2″ nurse know about college recruitment, but out of desperation and frustration I was willing to give it a shot. In reality, I would have tried anything at this point if it meant there was a 1 percent chance I could play college basketball. We built a highlight tape and a resume and we created a list of 20 schools I was interested in. I grew up in the VHS era; therefore, we sent off heavy VHS tapes in packages with my resume (for you young people reading this, ask your parents what a vhs tape is or ask google). Days after the tapes went out, I started to get phone calls from several Division 1 colleges across the nation and my recruitment and interest went to the next level. After taking a visit to Tempe, Arizona to meet with the Arizona State Sun Devils, I decided that ASU was the place I wanted to advance my academic and basketball career. Even though going to a big university would be a challenge, I figured it couldn’t be too hard when it’s always sunny and you are playing in one of the best basketball conferences in the nation, the Pac-10 (now Pac-12).
Living My Dream…
I learned very quickly that your job isn’t finished once you have accomplished a goal. You must continue to work hard, if not harder, to maintain that goal. My freshman year at Arizona State was fair, to say the least. I was able to play every game that year, find my role on the team, and I had outlined of what I needed to do to get better throughout my college career. But just as most college freshmen, my grades had suffered severely. It got so bad to the point of me almost being ineligible after my first semester. It was hard for me to adapt to the change of culture, living on my own, and of course a new world of beautiful women. All these things had a negative impact on my grades; however, I always stayed focused on basketball. I went into the summer after my freshman year knowing what I had to do to get my academics back on track and how to increase my playing time on the court.
The Calm Before the Storm…
As I worked out over the summer continuing my weight program to gain weight, I noticed the exact opposite started to happen. I started to feel sick and I was down about 5 to 10 pounds heading back to Arizona State for my sophomore year. I had to work so hard to get to 240 pounds from 180 pounds coming in my freshman year. I continued to work out with the team in the Fall. It was a constant grind between weight lifting, conditioning, training on the court, and increasing my GPA. I thought I had pulled an abdominal muscle due to all of the stomach pain, but I was soon to find out that it was more serious than that. The trainers had treated me for a pulled abdominal muscle, until things got worse. We had an early 5 a.m. practice one day and I felt extremely exhausted. My body felt like it was giving up on me and I knew that this wasn’t normal. As I was suiting up for practice, I had passed out and I needed to go to the hospital. The doctors had performed a multitude of tests and I was soon diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of Lymphoma Cancer. At that moment I had felt like everything I had worked for was for nothing. I had worked so hard to get to play on the Division 1 level and I worked even harder to ensure I could make an impact at that level. Everything had been so perfect up until this moment. I soon realized that God gave his hardest assignments to his most resilient warriors. Just when I had thought I faced my toughest challenge yet, I had to prepare to battle cancer with the support of my team, coaches, and my family.
A Battle Within Itself…
During these hard times I had the unwavering support of my family, a community, and a close-knit ASU athletic program. While battling this disease I had an experience, a sort of awakening that forever changed my life. One minute I was an 18-year-old basketball player with dreams of playing for a championship, and suddenly I was facing the biggest challenge of my life. I shifted my attention to battling not on the basketball court, but instead battling for my life. I took a full academic schedule and decided that I was not going to let this disease set me behind any more than I already had done myself my freshman year. I went to every single practice and game that I was physically capable of attending and sat next to the coaches and studied the game. When feeling up to it, I sat in the corner and shot 3-point shot after 3-point shot, not wanting to lose my jumper. After a yearlong battle with cancer, I learned that there was no sign of the tumors that once had filled my body and I immediately, against all odds, set my sights on a quick return to the court. The experience had been a traumatic one, but the shift in my attitude and academics would ultimately prove the experience to be invaluable to my development as an athlete and more importantly a person. The very next season I found myself on the court and in a Sun Devil Uniform, a feat that many didn’t think was possible. I often say that cancer was a blessing and while it seems like an odd statement, it is 100 percent true. I am not sure where I would have been in life if I did not have this challenge to overcome and this wake-up call that changed my perspective on life.
I played another three years at Arizona State going to the NIT tournament twice and the Final 32 in the NCAA tournament in 2004. The next 3 seasons I was constantly battling fatigue and injuries that were surely after effects of the chemo, radiation, and the beating my body had taken from the cancer. I took on my role from the coaches and my shift changed from “I have to get to the NBA” to “I love this game of basketball and what it can do for my life.” My mental shift created a maturity level that I am not sure I would have reached if it weren’t for my battle. My mindset shifted to not what the game of basketball was going to get for me (money, girls, NBA), but instead it changed to what the game has provided me. I started to see the game as a vessel along my journey and a way that my passion had provided me with countless opportunities. The game up to this point had gotten me my school paid for, friendships that would last a lifetime, and it had taught me life lessons that would be hard to learn any other way.
During my time at ASU, I was awarded the:
The Jimmy Valvano National Comeback Player of the Year
The Gene Autry Courage Award
The NCAS Courage Award
The Sparky Golden Heart Award
Featured in”100 Heroes: People in sports who make this a better world,” by Richard E. Lapchick
3-time Pac-10 All Academic award winner, graduated with a 3.47 GPA
Upon graduation I took a head varsity coaching job at Florence High School in Florence, Arizona. During my first season coaching, I learned valuable lessons on player, personal, and mental development of youth athletes. I thought that this was it. I was going to start my career as a basketball coach and this would be my future for the next 60 years (yes, I planned on coaching until I died). After just one season, I had an itch to play basketball again and chase down one of my dreams of playing professional basketball. It was a hard spot to be in as I had taken one year off from playing and my college stats were not eye-catching for teams and agents alike. I could not get an agent to give me a call back, I guess a slow guard or undersized forward who averaged 3 points per game in college was not on the top of their list. I finally accepted an invitation by one of my former ASU teammates to a Free Agent Camp at an international scouting event in Las Vegas, NV. The forward that was supposed to attend could no longer show up and they were desperate for another body. My ex-teammate set it up and I headed to Las Vegas to give playing basketball another attempt. While in Vegas we played five games against high-level competition and in those 5 games I averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds, shooting over 55 percent from the three-point line. A career shift was about to happen, unintentionally, but again one that would prove to play a vital role in my development as a person. Agents started to call and my journey to play professional basketball started. I signed with an agent and with a heavy heart I said goodbye to my high school team and I continued chasing my own dream of playing basketball professionally. I spent the next five years playing professional basketball internationally in places such as Argentina, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Kuwait, Israel, and South Korea. The experience traveling the world was one that only the gift of basketball could have provided me. The game of basketball had provided me with a career doing what I loved while allowing me to travel the world and not only learn, but participate in some amazing cultures. During this time I had the most amazing blessings that any man could ask for. I was blessed with the birth of my two amazingly awesome children – Elijah Jayce Allen and Kennedy Charlize Allen. Kennedy and Elijah are both miracles as I was told that my chance of having children was reduced and possibly unattainable due to the chemo and the radiation. Always wanting to have a family, this was something that had put a great deal of pain in my heart.
In 2009 I ended my playing career and started coaching club basketball for Arizona Premier Basketball Academy, under the leadership of Russ Pennell (U of A, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix Mercury Head Coach, and Central Arkansas). This was not a paying job and I was in the middle of trying to figure out how I was going to support my family. I got a surprise interview with a data analytic company, Teradata Corporation, that specialized in selling data analytics to larger corporations. This was a job that I was unqualified for, never being in technology or sales, but through an ex-teammate and networking I landed an interview. I remember going into the interview nervous, like it was my first game of the season. I had never been in sales and something this complex and high-level, and it was a dream job for most. I met with the VP of the territory and we hit it off. He had told me that “me being an athlete was a major bonus as he knew I possessed skills such as hard work, loyalty, teamwork, ability to overcome adversity, and competition. I worked this job for 3 years, but the entire time I did not feel like it was my calling. I loved the job, I loved the people I worked with, and I loved the company. I just knew that selling data analytics was not what I was put on this earth to do. One day I was watching Oprah, please don’t judge me, and Will Smith was on the show. I loved Will Smith so I didn’t change the channel. He was sharing his story and was telling it in a very inspiring manner when he made a comment that changed the course of my journey. He stated that “If you are not making someone else’s life better, then you are wasting your time.” I heard this and it was like a jolt went straight through me. Whose life was I impacting? I had a great job and was making great money, but was I using my skills and my story to make an impact? From that moment, I vowed to chase down my passion, do what I love, and impact the world in the process. That night I laid down to go to bed, but I could not turn my mind off. I had spoken at events in the past, but I had never really fine-tuned my message and I didn’t even think much of it. All of a sudden I had an idea, I jumped out of bed, and I just started to type away on my computer. The next morning, without any sleep, I was sitting in front of the computer to what looked like the start of an inspirational children’s book. I then started to plan for how I could go and share my story with children, youth, and adults alike and how I could use my story to hopefully inspire and motivate others. I landed a couple speaking gigs and the way I felt sharing my story was something I hadn’t felt since knocking down a big 3-point shot in a game. I also decided to dedicate more time to coaching and training in efforts of helping other aspiring athletes chase down their passion to play basketball and hopefully the game will impact them the way it did me.
Battling a War in My Mind…
If you would have looked at my life, you would have thought I had it all. I was married, I had a big house, two beautiful kids, and I had just had a moment of clarity that my journey was much bigger than athletics and selling data analytics to corporations. This clarity was short-lived and there was something holding me back from fully immersing myself in my life’s purpose. As I reflect back, I realize that I still had some of the most powerful life lessons and challenges still ahead of me. I had a secret that I had never shared with anyone, not even with those that I loved the most in my life. Since 2000 I had been struggling with severe depression. I battled the cancer and won, but I had felt like a big piece of my life had been altered in such a powerful way and I was struggling to come to grips with my new reality. After beating cancer, I was showered with several national awards, hundreds of messages/comments about how inspiring I was, and media outlets constantly sharing my “courageous story,” but I felt this massive separation between how I was feeling and how the world saw me. I tried my hardest to connect these two “selves,” as I pushed harder and harder to share my story, the lessons learned, and the blessings that were uncovered, but nothing seemed to work. I lived in constant fear that someone would uncover this truth that I was in fact not courageous at all, but instead I was weak and breaking. I continued to dive deeper into darkness internally, while fighting to keep inspiring and motivating others. I believed that I would let so many people down if they knew how depressed I really was. “Would they lose hope? Would they see me differently?” These questions haunted me for years as I struggled to connect my heart to my mind.
As these questions lingered and the pain dove deeper into my heart, my actions stopped aligning with the integrity I had expected from myself. A divorce was in the works, but soon after the universe conspired and introduced me to the person that would ultimately break down the barriers and free me from the heartache. Less than a year after my divorce, I had luckily found my soulmate. A year after meeting, I asked her to marry me, but felt like something was still not right. I had not shared with her the internal war for happiness that I was constantly battling. When I finally opened the door and let her in, it got ugly, quick. I started to break down and found myself lashing out. I would get in my car and go for drives that lasted hours in the middle of the night trying to outrun the fear. I would get cheap hotels and sit in darkness, hoping to sleep/drink away the pain. Nothing seemed to work, until one day she finally had enough. With tears in her eyes, she asked me to move out. While her love for me never went away, her heart was breaking and I was the guilty culprit. I purchased the necessary equipment (I will save the details) needed to finally end the pain, picked up a cheap bottle of vodka, and went to a local hotel ready to say goodbye. As I sat and drank, trying to muster up the courage to exit the world in peace, I finally prayed and said my goodbyes. I was 90 percent of the way finished completing my plan and this feeling came over me that told me to “Hold On, STOP, What The Hell Are You Doing!” I laid on the floor crying uncontrollably wishing that I would have just followed through with my plan. In the darkest way possible, I had actually felt like a failure for not completing the goal I set out to achieve that night, to end my life.
Slowly the time crept by with every minute of every day full of the same question playing in my mind, “Will this be the day you say goodbye to the world?” It felt like Groundhogs Day with the same day replaying over and over. I slept all day, barely getting up to eat, hoping that it would all just end. The holidays were upon us and I asked my ex to meet me to help shop for my kids presents and get lunch. She agreed and I felt a twinkle of hope fill through my heart. As we sat there eating lunch, she noticed a large lump in my throat. “What is that?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. I hadn’t really been paying much attention to the way I looked and I had attributed all of my fatigue and sleeping to my severe depression. Concerned that I would not take appropriate actions, she texted my mother and asked her to check out my neck when I got home. After getting a quick glance, my mother made several calls and scheduled an appointment with a doctor the day after Christmas.
“You have Cancer.” These words rang in my ears again as the doctor told me the news. A few short weeks after my appointment, I was scheduled for surgery to remove my thyroid and the lymph nodes that were near it. “Was this really why I stayed alive? To battle cancer again and do it alone?” I thought with tears in my eyes. My mind continued to contemplate my decision weeks earlier to continue living. My surgery was successful, I was now on medicine that would take over the function of my thyroid and everything looked like a success. It should have been a time to pop the champagne and be grateful for another miracle and another cancer that took the L. I was 2-0 against cancer and most people would have rejoiced and felt like they were given a second chance. Even with this big victory, I had still not overcome the depression that continued to darken my soul and threaten to take away my sanity.
One night as I laid alone, unable to fall asleep, mind racing like a thoroughbred horse determined to win the Kentucky Derby, I had a moment where I saw a light of hope peak into my soul. I woke up, grabbed my computer, and 4 hours later I had a 30-page PowerPoint presentation of a trip I had always dreamed of taking, my pursuit of purpose and passion! I shared my plan with my family, with my counselor, and my life coach and passionately explained why this trip was my last hope. Several days later I created my plan, I turned my car trunk into a closet, packed a huge cooler full of food, updated my iPod, and I hit the road with an intention to find passionate people and learn from their stories.
My Pursuit of Passion, Purpose, & Love
The trip was intended to be a pursuit of passion, where I traveled around the United States in search of finding passionate people that would not only inspire me, but hopefully inspire others. What I found was that this trip was about so much more. On just the third day of my trip I met the most amazing Spiritual Healer, Yessica, who spent hours working on my energy and preparing me for the journey ahead. She assured me that my bond with my soulmate was not broken, that loved still existed, and that I needed to take this trip to get in touch with the person that God intended me to be. “This trip is about your spiritual, physical, and mental healing that must happen for you to find your true calling.” Along my pursuit I traveled over 10,000 miles, stopping in 24 cities, over a 2 1/2-month span. I started meditating, listening to audio books whenever I was in my car, visiting historic landmarks, meeting new lifelong friends, sharing energy with some of the most amazing people this universe has to offer, and most importantly I reintroduced myself to God and asked for his forgiveness.
(I will be writing a recap of my entire trip, lessons learned, and more in the near future, but in the meantime, you can read about my trip and some of the divine appointments I had in my past blog posts).
As I drove the last five-hour stretch from Las Vegas, Nevada to Scottsdale, Arizona I reflected back on the journey I just had with all the hope in the world. After three months on the road, I now was back to a new reality where I had a clearer mind, loving heart, rejuvenated spirit, detoxed soul, and the power of the universe ready to guide me to continue the work I started along my journey. I was ready to fulfill my destiny, but first things first. I had to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and share my lessons learned with the one person who needed to hear it from me the most. As I drove into town, I got a text on my phone “If you are up for dinner, I would love to meet you tonight.” This was from my ex, whom I had barely had any contact with for 3 months. Of course I accepted, still madly in love, I walked into the restaurant and the second she saw me, she burst into tears. “I can finally see you again. I can see the person that I fell in love with.” We shared our stories from the previous 3 months, reconnected our bond, and have since fallen even deeper in love. Since my return I have been focusing my attention on anything that aligns with my newfound purpose.
Shifting the energy of the world through love.
I have realized that life will constantly throw us challenges and obstacles that often will have an impact on the direction our life will take. We can choose to take these challenges as something that blocks our journey or you can choose to take these challenges as something that is along for the ride in this amazing journey. I know that all of the amazing experiences in my life (I have had many) and the challenges in my life (I have also had many) have both shaped the person I am today. I have realized that everything happens for a reason (it sounds cliche, but it is true) and even the heart breaking terrible events that have happened have led me to the place I am today. I have decided to own my experiences and instead of dwelling on the hardships, I am choosing to use those to strengthen the person I am today and strengthen my mission in life. With this new found mindset, I have become a certified life coach training high performers, re-started my Passion4ball training business, and I am continuing my work to shift the energy of the world through my inspirational business: Chase My Passion. I believe that the mission behind Chase My Passion will play a major role in spreading love, peace, and it will impact the energy of all those that come in contact with us. Stay tuned for more inspiring blogs, vlogs, documentaries, books, interviews, and a podcast. There is so much to be thankful for now and in the future and I am excited to be sharing my story, experiences, and my journey with all of you. I know that my story is just beginning and I am excited for this next phase in my life.