3 Things I learned from NFL Hall of Famer Chris Doleman

This Coronavirus time out for the world has given me a lot of time to think. That may be the only sweet in this bittersweet lesson in living. For some reason, I keep having flashbacks to the day Chris Doleman saved my life. If you know anything about 290 pound NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive ends, then yes, I mean THAT Chris Doleman. He passed away from cancer in January of this year. I hadn’t seen that brother in years but when the news broke, I cried like a member of my family had passed. The last time I saw Chris, I was in Atlanta on a book tour and I went by his home to visit. I enjoyed a fun hour or two with his family and then went on my way. We talked about that day and the pool party where he did one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen on or off a football field.  

Let me back up though. You may know me as a motivational speaker, author, blogger, or doctor of dental surgery but in a previous life, I was modeling in fashion shows and hanging out with entertainment stars and professional athletes while attending dental school. It was a crazy, very fun life. Nah, I wasn’t a groupie, I was married to a professional athlete and all that comes with the life. Not the dental school part, LOL, but the rest of it. I don’t talk about it much, not because I have regrets but because I’m a forward-looking kind of person. That’s how I get things done. So I call that period my other life because it is surreally different than how I’m living now.

So what had happened was one of the Minnesota Viking players, Greg Coleman, and his wife, Eleanor, were having one of their infamous pool parties. I can’t recall if it was this one with the stripper for Eleanor’s birthday or another occasion but I do know I was about 6 months pregnant. My mother and sister were visiting and they attended the party, also.  I was lounging by the pool enjoying the festivities when I noticed my sister was getting a little too close to the deep end. She was not a good swimmer and I became worried. Just as I was about to warn her, she started to sink. I will never forget the look of alarm in her eyes as her head submerged.

I didn’t think to yell for help at that moment. I jumped up and dove in the pool. I swam to her intending to help but she was panicking. She fought me and pushed in underwater to elevate herself. We were struggling a while before everyone realized what was happening. I’m told Greg dove half the distance of the pool in his regular clothes. He was the grill master that day. He and others grabbed my sister and got her to the side of the pool. At that point, I was too exhausted to swim any longer. I came up for air one last time and my eyes locked with those of Cheryl Rice. A weak “help” came from my lips as I went down what I thought was the last time. My life did flash before my eyes. As I was in my early twenties, I was not especially happy with what I saw. I knew I had made a terrible mistake and risked both my life and my unborn son. 

Suddenly, I felt the oddest thing. Two hands grabbed my feet and pushed up. I didn’t know if I was hallucinating or it was an angel. I was terrified and confused but I kept rising. When my mouth broke the surface, I took a huge, delicious gasp of air. Someone grabbed me and got me out of the pool. I clearly recall lying on the ground as they debated whether to call 911. I looked across the pool and saw Doleman climbing out of the water! He couldn’t swim well, if at all. Yet, he got in that deep water and with his great muscle mass and height, he was able to walk across the bottom of the pool and push me to safety. That was such a brave and bighearted thing to do. He taught many teammates and offensive linemen lessons on the field but that day he taught me three things off the field. I have carried these lessons with me everywhere.

  1. Sometimes the people closest to you will not be able to help you. They may have the love and the desire but not the skills. Don’t get angry with them for what they cannot do. Keep looking.
  2. If you’re drowning—mentally, financially, academically, or literally-ask for help. I could swim but the task at hand was beyond my abilities as a swimmer. When you’re in over your head, let people know.
  3. Don’t discount someone because of what you know about them. Just because they don’t know the industry or genre or way things are done, doesn’t mean they can’t have a good idea. The answer to your problem may come from an unlikely source.

All we need sometimes is a push toward the light. Rest in peace, Chris Doleman. Thank you for these valuable lessons of a lifetime.

Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. Monica F. Anderson.

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