Written by: George Casey, Business Administration Student, KU Fort Lauderdale campus
Some say leaders are made, others say they are born, I say they are both right. Leaders mentor and train all those around them, so they too can become leaders. Here is my story of the trials and tribulations that eventually led me to the path I was meant to travel. The year was 1989; my mother and stepfather moved my sister and I to a small town in New Jersey called Farmingdale. Farmingdale is the place where my journey to become a leader began.
My mother signed me up for football when I was in 2nd grade. Despite the fact that I was only 7, I persuaded her to allow me, because another friend of mine from town was playing. Throughout my elementary and middle school years, I achieved many awards. My parents also enrolled me in soccer and track. On my soccer teams I was two grade levels lower than my teammates because of my athletic gifts. I remember in 2nd grade, I ran a mile in just under six minutes, and blew everyone away. My gym teacher couldn’t believe that a seven year old ran an under six minute mile in the 2nd grade.
In the 5th grade my knees started to cause me extreme pain, and I was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter, which is an inflamed, painful lump below the knee cap. The lump was so painful that I couldn’t touch it without feeling significant pain. This was when I vowed that I would not let this condition hinder my lifelong dream. I continued excelling at sports through middle school and into high school, but my knees continued to get worse. I attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and played football all four years.
Throughout high school I played wide receiver for both the Junior Varsity and Varsity teams. I played on offense, as a wide receiver, and on defense, as a free safety. I was so excited about my upcoming senior season, because I had division 1 schools interested in me playing football for their programs. My head was held high only for a short while. In the first game of my senior season, I had just stepped into the end zone, scoring a touchdown when I was hit from the side extremely hard and received two hairline fractures to my ribs. After six weeks of healing and convincing, I came back with two games left. Unfortunately, there were no more division 1 schools interested in me but my football career was not yet over. I attended Concordia University in Mequon, WI where I earned both a football and an academic scholarship. Concordia is a division 3 school, but I didn’t care; I just wanted to play football. In my freshman year, I only managed to score a few touchdowns, but to me, that was better than not playing at all.
At the end of my freshman year, I had knee surgery to remove calcium deposits that had formed on my patella tendon from Osgood-Schlatter’s. The recovery was extremely painful and long, and to date, my knees have only continued to deteriorate. The surgery didn’t help at all.
I spent my sophomore year as a medical redshirt. I returned to action in my junior year, but again, in the first game of the season my knee was injured, as it was caught in a pile up. I ended up quitting both school and football in my junior year, and moving back home in 2004.
Upon moving back home, I ended up becoming a mortgage broker. I was making good money, but I wasn’t happy with my path in life. When the subprime mortgage boom dried up, so did my cash flow. By 2007 I was unemployed, homeless, and living out of my BMW. I had nowhere to live, I had no money and my family had moved far away. I was 24 years old, lost, confused and lonely.
At this dark point in my life, I met a beautiful woman whom I am honored to call my wife today. For 6 months, I bounced from couch to couch or sleeping in my car. I had a son who was three years old, and I needed some direction in my life, so my mom suggested that I should join the military. After many long nights of thinking, dreaming, and planning, I ended up stepping on the yellow footprints of Parris Island, thereby beginning United States Marine Corps Recruit training in March of 2008.
At that time, I had no clue what I was getting myself into, but little did I know it was the best decision I had ever made. This decision would take me to a whole new level in life; one that God had planned for me. While at boot camp, I was saved and declared my heart to Jesus. At the age of twenty-four, I was one of the “old” guys in my platoon, and just two or three weeks into boot camp became the Guide who was the leader of the platoon. I ended up graduating boot camp as the Company Honor Grad. Upon receipt of this award, a leadership seed was planted, and slowly began to grow.
In my Marine Corps career, I served as a 0311 which is an infantryman. I did my first two years with Fast Company in Yorktown, Virginia. While there, I was a team leader and earned the rank of Corporal, which is a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), ahead of most of my peers. While in the Marine Corps the demands were high, and the training was hard. My knees continued to take a beating as did the rest of my body.
The last three years of my enlistment was spent with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, known as the Magnificent Bastards. I was stationed in Camp Pendleton, California, where I served as 3rd Platoon 3rd Squad Leader in Echo Company. My platoon commander and platoon sergeant were hesitant to give me such a big leadership role for a Marine, who had never deployed to a combat zone to date. They believed in me, which I truly thank them for. My unit ended up deploying to Afghanistan. In the final months of deployment I injured my back so severely that I had pain shooting down my leg. My personal primary objective for this deployment was to bring all my men back safe. I am happy to report that I did complete this objective; all fourteen of my men came home. I also earned the Navy Achievement Medal with Valor, for my actions in Afghanistan.
When my unit got back stateside I had months of rehab for my back and nothing was working. I had a MRI where it showed fluid in two of my disc in my lower back. I ended up making the decision to get out of the Marine Corps a few months later. I knew my injuries were severe, and I wanted to finish my Bachelor’s degree, and continue to grow as a person. My back continued to worsen and my doctors pumped me full of pain pills, which I ended up throwing away and never taking again, because I didn’t want to fall into that vicious cycle and end up down that path in life.
After a long battle with PTSD, and two years of being out of the Marine Corps, I have started 2 businesses; SunCoast CPR, a construction, electrical and HVAC business, and Gentleman of Combat, an internet marketing company. I have started a blog about my struggles as a veteran, how I am overcoming them, and my road to becoming a successful entrepreneur. I have to credit the Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program for their support and guidance while I am building my businesses, and to Michael Zacchea, ( Lt. Col, USMC, Retired) the director at the UCONN EBV Program.
I had to overcome a lot of physical and emotional obstacles, especially in my early years when I thought I would be in the NFL. I came to realize while you may not think you can handle what life throws at you, it is very much possible if you are willing to put in the work. When you have a dream in your heart, don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible; it’s your dream not theirs. I am a disabled veteran who endures pain every day, from the physical injuries and battles with PTSD, but I will not let anything hold me back from my dreams. I want my legacy to be remembered, and my goal is to empower everyone around me to ensure that their legacy is left behind, even after they are gone. I encourage everyone to make a plan and follow your dreams.
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