I was 16 when I decided that football was the sport for me. I made the decisive decision right then and there that I was going to do whatever I had to do to go as far as I possibly could. I had no idea what that really meant, but knew enough to find people that did.
It's funny sometimes, when you're completely determined to find a way, even if you're not sure of the how, life presents you with answers. That summer, either by luck or by fate, I made two friends that not only showed me the way, but helped shape so much of what I became as a football player and competitive athlete, even to this day.
By the time I met them, Mark Uyeyama, and Greg Bearman were already local legends in the small teenage athlete circle of West Richmond. They were a year older than me and had already been passionately pursuing football glory since they were about 6 years old. I knew who they were (everybody knew who they were) but because we went to different schools, and I had never played football before, we had never met. That all changed, along with the rest of my life that summer when I went to get my first gym membership.
With my very first awkwardly shy trip to the gym, I saw firsthand what all the hype was about. These two 17-year-olds were the strongest guys there. Not only that, their work ethic was off the charts. I knew, right then and there, that is what I wanted. These were the guys I wanted to be like, so it only made sense to find a way to spend as much time around them as possible.
To this day I have no idea how, but I summoned the courage to walk over and introduce myself and I asked if I could train with them. That single moment changed my life.
From there grew a great friendship that was forged through relentless training. Every free moment we had was spent either at the gym, on the field, or at one of our homes watching whatever football film we could get our hands on. We didn't have personal trainers, skills camps, or fad diets and we didn't need them. We had each other. I truly can't tell you how powerful that can be.
“The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the expectations of your peer group – choose your peers wisely.” – Tony Robbins
Looking back now, I can hardly believe the things we used to do. The amount of running, the volume of lifting and the crazy consumption of food, with today’s knowledge probably wasn't all that smart. What was really getting done though was the development of a work ethic and determination that would end up carrying us much further than our natural talent or even common sense would have ever allowed for.
As time passed we became smarter with what we did with our time in the gym. We leaned on each other for support when necessary, and held each other accountable always. I really can’t see myself having made it this far any other way.
I could not have been luckier than to have had the opportunity to develop friendships with two better people. The reality was though, we were all long shots to make it to the pros.
Greg was maybe the strongest 170 lb man I have ever seen. By far one of the fastest, with legendary quickness. The simple fact though was (he'll hate me for saying this) he is only 5'5" (sorry Greg). A far cry from what pro scouts are looking for in a defensive back. Greg beat the huge odds and fought his way to a 10-year CFL career. He played for the Lions, Renegades, and Bombers, earning the highest respect from everyone that played with or against him.
If Greg was the strongest 170 lb man, Mark may very well just be the strongest man I've ever known, period. His passion and intensity are still legendary to this day. Like Greg, Mark was vertically challenged and when you're a 5'7" defensive tackle, pro football probably just isn't in the cards. That is unless you are Mark Uyeyama. He took his playing as far as he could and when it was over he just kept on going. Mark has always been a man who knew where he was going and nothing was and is ever going to stop him. He is relentless in his pursuits and unshakable in his self-belief. Mark’s goal had always been to get to the NFL. Today that is exactly where you will find him. He is the current strength coach for the Minnesota Vikings and is widely respected as one of the leagues very best at what he does.
I’m so proud of what both of my good friends have been able to accomplish. Both Greg and Mark surpassed any and all limits the outside world placed on them. They are two of the most determined individuals I have ever known. I give so much credit to any success I have been able to attain to the decision so long ago to engage them in friendship. I really can’t see how I would have been able to learn and maintain the daily disciplines needed to excel as elite athlete without their constant guidance.
My only regret is that I was never able to play with them as teammates. Actually, we never even played against each other as opponents either. Because both Greg and Mark were a year older than me, and I never saw the field until my senior year, a high school clash never existed. A college rivalry was completely out of the cards. Both Greg and Mark headed to junior college in California to chase their dreams while I stayed close to home and attended Simon Fraser University. From Butte Junior College, Greg moved on to play at New Mexico State while mark went east and played ball at Northern State in South Dakota. Even though Greg ended up playing 10 years in the same league as me, it would be hard to say we ever really played against each other given the polar opposite positions we played. That is until that one fateful play.
In 2007, Greg was with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They were in town and we found ourselves smack in the middle of an old fashion slug fest game. Bomber injuries were mounting and personnel wise they were getting desperate. I hadn’t noticed the substitution until I got up to the line of scrimmage. As I scanned the defense in front of me, my eyes changed from focus to disbelief. There was Greg, standing right in front of me, about 5 feet away. He had to pinch hit as their middle linebacker. All 5’5’’ 170 lbs of him! What made this even more unbelievable was on this run play, he was my target to go block. After nearly 15 years of helping each other achieve this goal, we were finally seeing our paths cross for real. As we made eye contact, he winked and almost started laughing. I couldn’t contain a giggle myself. This was truly nuts.
I got lost in the nostalgia and forgot this was pro football, Greg did not. He exploded into me and almost knocked me off my feet! Thankfully my 130 lb weight advantage was enough to save me from utter next day film embarrassment. I was able to save the block and decided to give him an extra post whistle shove just to remind him that he was playing in MY world on this play. I doubt I would have been so physically lucky if that had been Mark. I realized right there how smart I had been so long ago engaging both Greg and Mark in friendship. They were and are the real deal. What I wanted to be, and like them, eventually was able to become.
You become who you surround yourself with. For what I wanted in life, I chose wisely. It's shocking how far you can really go if you truly have the guts to chase your dream. It doesn't take a magical program, trendy diet, or special equipment. It takes daily relentless work and stubborn determination. It's far easier and much more rewarding if you surround yourself with people who are on the same mission as you. Making friends with like-minded individuals that may be just a step ahead will naturally motivate and challenge you to keep up. You'll also have a support system that truly understands your journey, because they are on it too. Maybe most important though, you will more than likely end up building the type of friendships and bonds that time can never break.