“HUUP…ONE, HUUP…TWO, HUUP…THREE…”Those melodious orders sounded like the commands of a tough marine drill sergeant.
However, in reality, the man’s name was Tom Williams and he was an executive with the Houston Oilers (of the National Football League) and a world-class trainer of famous athletes — Earl Campbell, Darrell Green, Mike Singletary, Hakeem Olajuwon — to name but a few.
As for me, I had always wanted to be a pro athlete, but early on I realized that I was not quick enough nor tall enough to become one, so I focused my dreams on becoming an Orthopedic Surgeon, helping my athletic idols to recover from devastating injuries.
I was scared as I limped toward the bayou, and my parents were equally petrified. The “Hill” was so steep that I thought even a Billy goat would have difficulty trying to climb it.Initially, Tom ordered two husky athletes to lift me under my arms and “drag” me down the hill. When we got to the bottom, one of the athletes screamed up to Tom, “What do you want us to do now?” Tom calmly replied, “Drag him back up.”
At that point, my father, who by profession is a rabbi, told my mother that he thought Tom was going to kill me and they should get me away from him as soon as possible.
My father, wanting to be polite, thanked Tom and stated that we had to go home. But Tom replied, “It’s only 2 o’clock, and Mike is to be here until 5, and by the way, bring him a little earlier tomorrow.”
Even though my father was adamant about leaving, my mother truly felt that if Tom could help “million dollar athletes” recover, he could surely help her son.
My father went home, never returning to the Kolache store because he told my mother, “Tom is going to kill Mike,” and my mother never volunteered any information to my father about my progress with Tom as the days wore on.
One day, a number of weeks later, Tom called my father at home and said, “Father, this is Tom Williams and you need to get here fast!” With that, Tom slammed the phone down.
My father thought I was dead or badly injured, the victim of a severe injury while tumbling down that “Hill.” He quickly sped toward Tom’s shop, jumped out of his car, and noticed many people huddled near the corner of the “Hill.” With great trepidation my father peered over the “Hill” and saw me slowly climbing the “Hill” — alive.
When I reached the top of the “Hill” I quickly turned around as Tom instructed me and went back down to the bottom, to the bayou. Tears welled up in my father’s eyes as Tom approached him and said, “Rabbi, you might give great sermons, but you don’t practice what you preach. You tell everyone to have faith, but you did not have faith — faith in me, faith in your son, and faith in God.
You simply said, ‘I give up,’ and you went home.”
My father pondered seriously as to what Tom had just said and watched as I slowly reached the edge of the “Hill” on my return trip. At that moment, with tears of great joy, my father and I fell into each other’s arms and embraced one another.
That was just one of the many lessons I learned from Tom over the next few years. Even though I still have many physical disabilities as a result of the gunshot wound, the “Hill” taught me that even the impossible could become the possible.
Everyone in life has his own “Hill” to climb, some small, some large. On that day Tom taught me the most important lesson of my life:
“Never give in; never give up.”
Even though Tom was a world class trainer of athletes, he learned that his true love was helping “ordinary” people, and soon after my success on the “Hill” Tom opened a Rehabilitation Center where he worked with spinal cord and head injured and stroke patients. In the “old days,” Tom would use only a simple table in the back of his Kolache shop on which he prepared his pastries to help his clients. Now, he had a state of the art, modern Rehabilitation Center along with his own man-made “Hill” so Tom could encourage many more to defy the experts.
Tom received referrals from all over the country for he had a special ability to make patients want to excel. His patients improved and his Center was a huge success.For the next few years I would regularly go to the Center, not only to exercise but more importantly to work out for the “Master,” Tom.
I had developed a strong emotional connection with Tom. He had extended to me a lifeline to enjoy life once again which many physicians and therapists stated no longer existed.
However, later Tom became extremely ill with cancer and passed away. The funeral was huge. Many of his athletes were there to say their last “good byes” and “thank yous.” I was an honorary pallbearer because his family thought that our relationship was a special and unique one.
After everyone left the cemetery I went up to Tom’s grave to utter my final prayer and statement of thankfulness that such a wonderful man had been a part of my life. As I glanced at the inscription on the tombstone I read:
April 11, 1927 — June 11, 1995