Peer Into Character® ep. 4 – Ken Bell

The Mindset to Overcome Challenges

Emmy®award-winning sportscaster and host Ken Bell speaks from the heart about character, faith, and overcoming anxiety in this inspirational and insightful conversation with Even Field’s Chuck Wilson. Ken shares stories of extraordinary courage and perseverance and inspires each of us to achieve our personal best and to play a positive role in the lives of others.

Peer Into Character® features thought-provoking and inspirational stories and observations about character and leadership shared by professional and amateur athletes, coaches, educators, and others.

Peer Into Character and Chuck Wilson on Sports™ are presentations of Even Field ®, a nonprofit organization that promotes integrity, life skills, and leadership through sports.

Even Field founder and series host Chuck Wilson has been recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport.

You can watch this episode of Peer Into Character on Even Field’s YouTube Channel.

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Episode Quotes, an Audio Timeline, and a Transcript of this episode can be found below.

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Long-time sportscaster and character advocate Ken Bell joins Chuck Wilson in this Peer Into Character® conversation. (© Even Field®)

This Peer Into Character® Episode

Written and Produced by…Chuck Wilson
Post-production editing by Chris Gemma
Music by Tea Time licensed through PremiumBeat.com
Theme music by MartynHarvey licensed through Pond5.com

Our thanks to Professor Mike Davis and his Studio Production class at the New England Institute of Technology for the recording of this interview. The recording took place at New England Tech’s East Greenwich, Rhode Island campus.

Even Field® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The non-commercial, video version was produced to serve our educational mission.

The video includes the use of copyright-protected visual works under the “Fair Use” doctrine as described in Section 107 of the Copyright Act. We acknowledge, credit, and express our appreciation for the unlicensed use of this content from:

The New England Patriots and the National Football League

Additional visuals courtesy of:

Ken Bell

Nick Coit and ABC6

Carole Kane

WJAR

WISN-TV

The Providence Journal

The Daily Camera (Boulder, CO)

The Reporter Today

East Greenwich Magazine

Town & Country News

Sports Illustrated

Ironman Triathlon

Rhode Island Interscholastic League

AMP Training Center

YouTube.com

We also thank Even Field’s Board of Directors and the following, in particular, for their support of Even Field’s mission and this multimedia production.

Thomas J. Skala

The John and Jessica Pinkos Family Fund

And highly-regarded businesses in Rhode Island…

The Virtus Group, trusted advisors, led by Mark Cruise, provides an array of comprehensive financial planning services for families and businesses.

Epic Promotions — The Couto family has four decades of experience in printing, branding, and marketing. Thank you, Barry, Adam, and Keith.

Graphic Innovations – a New England leader in large-format printing, graphics, and vehicle wraps. Our thanks to Jim Larkin and his team.

We also appreciate the support of:

Sheehan and Associates – providing small business legal services in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Thank you, Megan Sheehan.

Simply J Bookkeeping and Consulting – a Massachusetts-based bookkeeping, accounting, coaching, and advisory firm that partners with organizations whose mission is to serve people and their well-being. Our thanks to Jillian Johnson.

Ken Bell – Episode Quotes

“When you reach the hard things, don’t let it get you down. There’s another way, another avenue, something else you can do. By fighting through the tough stuff, you prove something to yourself.” (5:45)

“Everybody has something to offer. Everyone has a gift. Everyone has a talent. It’s your job to find it. A lot of people won’t help you find it, but you have something that you can offer, but you’ve got to work at it.”  (7:33)

“Character goes well beyond who we are, what we’re doing, playing sports, or whatever. Character is actually who you are inside. And when you express character, that has an impact on people’s lives. And character is about honesty, you know, integrity, about standing up when admitting your mistakes. It’s about making other people better; better teammates, better people.” (10:03)

“When you serve someone else, you make their life better and your life becomes better. It’s really all about serving. It’s all about lifting those around you because when they’re better, you’re better. Serving others is where the joy is in life.” (15:22)

“Competitive integrity is lasting. What does cheap mean? How does cheap make you any better? What does cheap say to those around you, if they know that you went cheap on something? Integrity is something that’s lasting, it’s something that has value well beyond that moment.” (25:38)

Ken Bell – Episode Timeline

  • on the early setback he faced playing sports (2:32)
  • his initial reaction to learning about his physical condition (3:39)
  • describes his fear of public speaking and how he dealt with it (4:36)
  • on not letting others define who you are  (6:55)
  • what he learned by pushing through fear (7:24)
  • on the role of “character” in life and leadership (9:20)
  • ways to promote teamwork (9:54)
  • on preparation, practice, and a positive mindset (10:32)
  • don’t settle for mediocrity, find your passion in life (11:48)
  • Providence College Men’s Basketball Coach Ed Cooley (13:21)
  • on the positive influence you can have on the lives of others (14:22)
  • story about inclusion – Dan Morzilli (15:21)
  • story about perseverance – Nick Andreozzi (15:49)
  • story about courage and its impact on others – Nolan Cooney (16:49)
  • on building relationships and pursuing excellence (18:17)
  • inspirational leaders – Matthew Slater (20:05)
  • on making the most of every day (21:22)
  • what does “competitive integrity” mean to you? (23:02)
  • integrity story involving one of Ken’s student interns at ABC6 (24:22)
  • example of faith, courage, and never giving up – Blazeman (26:10)
  • the courage of Jason Pisano (27:21)
  • what “The Way You Win Matters® means to Ken (29:57)
R.I. HOF sportscaster Ken Bell joins Peer Into Character to share stories about overcoming challenges in sports and life “(© Even Field)

Ken Bell – Episode Transcript

Emmy® award-winning sportscaster and host Ken Bell spent more than 50-years in radio and television.

  • Sports Director at WLNE/ABC6 in Providence, R.I. (1984 until retirement in 2017)
  • Previously: co-host, PM Magazine, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Sports reporter at WJAR-TV, Channel 10, Providence, RI
  • Weekend sports anchor at KOA-TV, Denver, CO
  • Sports host and play-by-play broadcaster for KBOL Radio, Boulder, CO.
  • Sports reporting and play-by-play, WMT Radio, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • 3-Time Sportscaster-of-the-Year in Rhode Island
  • Member: Rhode Island Television and Radio Hall of Fame; Words Unlimited Hall of Fame
  • Graduate: University of Colorado
  • Active in his church; assists people facing life challenges
  • Mentors students and counsels prison inmates
  • Universally respected and admired for his dedication to helping others

Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

As the conversation began, Ken Bell described an early setback in sports that impacted his life.


Interviewee: Ken Bell
Interviewer: Chuck Wilson

Ken Bell: So when I was growing up, I loved sports. My dad was a huge Denver Broncos fan. I grew up in Colorado and I was crazy about the Broncos and about sports. 

And when I went out for my junior high football team, junior varsity, I got down in the stance and fired out and I had kind of a back pain and it kept happening. And the coach said, “You better go have that checked out before we let you on the team.”

Turns out I had a curvature of the spine so I could not play sports. So I thought, oh man, I had such a passion for sports. What can I do?

So, I started to become a manager for the team. And then in high school, we had the University of Colorado trainer come down and I learned about taping ankles and about injuries. And, I ended up at the University of Colorado with a training scholarship that helped me go to school. So, I was a part of the sports without being able to play, but I was a part of the team. And that was a great connection for me.

Chuck Wilson: How did you initially react to this idea that, hey, due to this physical condition, you’re not going to be able to play?

Ken Bell: This was a lifetime lesson, Chuck. I learned that when you’re stopped in one area of passion, there are other doors that are open. And I found a door of working in the training room and I found a door working at the local radio station. I just hung around the local radio station, all during high school. I was up in the booth with the announcer doing the Friday night high school football games, some of the basketball games.

Lo and behold, when I went to the University of Colorado as a trainer, I also got the job at the local station doing the high school basketball games. So it opened up a whole new area for me.

So, that is one of my messages when I go into classrooms. “When you’re stopped in one area, don’t give up. There are other doors that are open to you.”

“I never raised my hand in class. Never.”

Ken Bell

Chuck Wilson: You had some social anxiety as many of us do growing up, with either about the way we look or we’re worried about, whatever it might be. Some fear that came up.

What was your story?

Ken Bell: I never raised my hand in class. Never. All the way through grade school, I got into junior high, into eighth grade and they forced everyone to take a speech course.

I thought this is it. I’m going to die in front of all my friends. Just pass out.

And I can remember having such anxiety about standing up and giving this speech. And when I stood up, I had rehearsed it over and over and over. So I was well prepared. I stood up, I must have looked terrible. My Adams apple was going up and down and I was kind of gasping for breath, but I made it through.

And then I sat down afterwards and I thought you dummy. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. Lifetime lesson.

Not only that, I discovered that there was something inside of me, a talent that I didn’t know I had, that was exposed only by being forced to do it.

So this was again, a lifetime lesson. When you reach the hard things, don’t let it get you down. There’s another way, another avenue, something else you can do. By fighting through the tough stuff, you prove something to yourself.

Chuck Wilson: That eighth-grade teacher really made a huge difference in your life. And you know, my oldest brother Steve was a long-time school psychologist out on Cape Cod. And he said, the one thing that middle school-age kids need the most is they need someone outside the family to believe in them. Somebody who can look them in the eye and say, “Look, you can do this.”

That teacher did that for you, forcing you to do something that, at the time, you didn’t want to do.

Ken Bell: I had a woman speech teacher in junior high and in high school, I had a male speech teacher. Lifelong friends. I continue to send Christmas cards to my junior high teacher.

My high school teacher passed away a few years ago, but he brought something. He was tough on me and he forced me to discipline myself in order to succeed.

I’m in speech course in high school, I’m in the library doing a paper. I’m saying, what am I doing in the library in a speech course? But he knew what was going to get the best out of me.

So number one, being pushed. Number two, being appreciative. And, number three, being willing to grow.

“Everybody has something to offer. Everyone has a gift. Everyone has a talent. It’s your job to find it.”

Ken Bell

You know, a lot of people are not disciplined enough, Chuck, to be able to move into success. They settle for second best, or they settle for what someone says about them. That they’re not good enough, or you’re not good at this, or whatever.

See, I’m a man of faith. Everybody has something to offer. Everyone has a gift. Everyone has a talent. It’s your job to find it. A lot of people won’t help you find it, but you have something that you can offer, but you’ve got to work at it.

Chuck Wilson: The thing that strikes me about that is that at any age, you can have fear of failure. And, one of the hard lessons to learn is that failure is really a temporary condition.

If you can use it as an opportunity to learn, you really can move on from that and not make it self-limiting. And that’s really what you’re talking about is the limits we put on ourselves sometimes. And if you can find a way to get through that, real rewards are there.

What did you find out about pushing through fear?

Ken Bell: Okay. So when I had this experience in eighth grade, I started to pursue that. Pushing through the fear, pushing through the anxiety and the more you do it, the more comfortable you become.

So, I was in school plays. Any chance I had to get up to give a speech. I was in local speech contests and things. So every time I was in that, fighting through that, Chuck, I started to discover that I was more comfortable in doing it and more confident in doing it.

Chuck Wilson: We spend so much time as youth sports parents of helping our kids develop physical talents. I don’t think we spend nearly enough time working on the aspects of sport that take us off the field but make a huge difference in our ability to make the most of any gift, any ability that we have to help others.

This is something that you’ve epitomized for a great deal of time. It’s been very intentional on your part, but this idea of being a positive force in the life of others is something that is a huge leadership skill. And we can help our kids develop that so that they become valuable teammates, valuable leaders on their team, because everybody’s a cheerleader when you’re going well. But what about those times when things aren’t going so well?

What are your thoughts on that?

Ken Bell reporting for ABC6 sports.

Ken Bell: You know, one of the things that I did over the course of my career, I went into a lot of classrooms, Chuck, because I wanted to talk about character.

“Character” goes well beyond who we are, what we’re doing, playing sports, or whatever. Character is actually who you are inside. And when you express character, that has an impact on people’s lives. And character is about honesty, you know, integrity, about standing up when admitting your mistakes, you know. it’s about making other people better; better teammates, better people.

You know, one of the things about Channel 6 is that all the other people, including the cameramen who are behind the scenes here, the director, the people on the sales staff, we’re a team, right?

If any of the team doesn’t perform or is not feeling like they’re a part of the team, then we all fail. When everybody feels like teammates, some great things can happen.

And so, I always tried to encourage other people. To tell them, photographers that I was with, directors. After every show. Chuck, I always went back and I told the director and all the crew, “Thank you”. You know, thank you for your work. Thank you for getting prepared.

Preparation is the big key. Preparation is a huge key in broadcasting and in life. And so when people are prepared, when they pay the price to do it, good things happen.

Chuck Wilson: At Even Field®, we talk a lot about achievement and achievement being the by-product of preparation, practice, and a positive mindset.  

Those first two are what can lead you to a positive mindset. It’s preparation and practice. Give us some insight into what you’ve found in the many interviews you’ve done about the value of preparation and practice.

Ken Bell: Well, let’s go right to Tom Brady. Remember when he first came to the Patriots, he had the, I don’t know, some beat up old yellow car that would always be in the first parking spot because he always was there, first. He always won the right to be in that first parking spot.

He had a drive inside of him that nobody had to give him. And that drive continued not only for himself, but also rubbed off on all the other teammates. And, look at the success that he’s had.

So it starts with you. You are really responsible for yourself, but when discipline yourself and get the most out of yourself, it is inviting to other people to join that. It’s inspiring to other people.

You know, I feel like a lot of people are walking around just kind of like sleepwalking through their lives. It’s like, okay, I’m doing this. I’m going to school. Or I’m working this job that I really don’t like.

Chuck, we’re really stealing time from ourselves. We’re really causing our lives to be small instead of big. We’re meant to interact. We’re meant to share the talent, the gift. So again, I go back to the faith. Everybody has something to give and when you don’t, it’s sad.

As a Christian, my job is to, and it was during my career, draw it out of the other person. That’s why I enjoyed interviewing people. Get their story out. They have something special that’s only for them. They’re unique.

Every person is unique. We all have some things in common, but really every individual has a different fingerprint. Think about that. It’s amazing. Every person is different.

Chuck Wilson: And one of the things that I think of all the time is the idea that you can make a difference in the lives of others, even when you don’t mean to. I think being intentional is really, really important, but everyone is a mentor. Everyone has an influence on somebody else. By the way you act, by the way you behave, by the way you interact.

Ken Bell: And when we talked to (Providence College Men’s Basketball Coach) Ed Cooley, he talked about the value and the importance of a smile.

Providence College Men’s Basketball Coach Ed Cooley talks with Even Field’s Chuck Wilson about the importance of character (© Even Field)

Ed Cooley from Peer Into Character® Ep. #2: “A smile matters to people. It’s an icebreaker. A handshake means something. Eye contact means something. The ability to give back means something. I think when you have a culture that gives back, and is of high integrity and high character, you’re going to find yourself blossoming and it feeds itself. It really does. Character is something that, you feed it and it just grows and grows and grows.”

Chuck Wilson: What does a smile do? What does, “Thank you” do? When you show appreciation, when you show gratitude, when, one of my big ones is, do you have the ability to be excited for a teammate who does something really good? I know this. I know coaches have looked at players and they want to see on a day where you go, 0-for-4 in baseball, but a teammate does something really good, are you excited for them? Or, are you sitting there kind of by yourself? You’re pouting a little bit because you’re not having a good day.

Ken Bell: Are you hanging your head or are you a part of the team, right? Are you lifting your teammates or are you bringing everybody down?

You know, if it’s about yourself, Chuck, we’re going to be pretty unhappy people, right? If it’s about others, then you yourself are lifted up. You’re making other people better and you yourself are a part of something bigger.

Chuck Wilson: If you think about the happiest times that we have in our lives, it’s a time when we shared something with somebody else. It’s almost never by ourselves. It’s always a moment that involved other people.

Ken Bell: Here’s a key to life. When you serve someone else, you make their life better and your life becomes better. It’s really all about serving. It’s all about lifting those around you because when they’re better, you’re better. Serving others is where the joy is in life.

Chuck Wilson: Tell us about some of the extraordinary leadership that you’ve seen from student-athletes.

Ken Bell: Okay. For 20 years, I wrote articles in the East Greenwich (RI) Magazine. And I wanted to mention three that I did on television and a few that I did in East Greenwich Magazine.

Dan Morsilli was on the East Greenwich football team. He had autism. So he had a developmental disorder with communication. He could play, but he didn’t process information the way that other teammates would. The team embraced him. When we saw how they interacted with him and how he played, it was an amazing thing because they brought the best out of him. He brought the best out of them.

Nick Andreozzi, 5-7, a hundred and forty-five pounds, a quarterback for East Greenwich High School. A lot of doubters at that size, right? Plus he was following Andrew Minor, who was a star there.

He led the team to the super bowl, but they got down to the last drive and they couldn’t win. He dedicated himself to the following year. Extra time, when everybody else was at the pool or down at the beach, he was out practicing.

The next year, he led the team, his senior year, led the team to the super bowl and the Gatorade Player-of-the-Year. 5-7.

East Greenwich (RI) 5’7″ QB Nick Andreozzi leads team to Division III Super Bowl title; named RI Gatorade Player-of-the-Year (2015)

Nick Andreozzi: “Since 2007, we haven’t won one here in East Greenwich, so it feels good to bring one home. Great for the town, great for the community. You can tell how much people showed up and supported us. So, it feels great. Ah, this team right here, I wouldn’t have done it without these guys because we had an unbelievable year. I’m just lost for words. I’m kind of in shock, right now. But, it feels great to win one.”

Ken Bell: These are the kinds of stories I love because this is self-motivation. This is making your teammates better. This is paying the price.

East Greenwich (RI) high school 3-sport standout Nolan Cooney returns to play after cancer treatment (2015)

In 2014, an East Greenwich player, a three sports star, Nolan Cooney, was diagnosed with cancer. So, he had to stop playing sports and he went through treatment and he came back. And he was in a playoff basketball game and hadn’t played up until that playoff game. They brought him in. The whole gym was screaming, his name. (“Nolan, Nolan, Nolan, Nolan”)

And so, do you think his life changed? Absolutely. Do you think he changed other people’s lives in that gym and in that school? Absolutely, because of his courage.

These are the kind of stories I love. You can make a difference with your life simply by your attitude and by your desire to make things happen.

Chuck Wilson: The interesting thing about so many of the stories that you’ve told over time is that these are the kinds of memories that stay with you into adulthood. Usually more than just the outcome of games. It’s the people, it’s the emotions, that inspire us.

Having a plan, setting a goal, being able to chart your progress on that goal. These are motivational. And when we get our kids to focus on the process of what it takes to excel at something, then it becomes theirs. They own it.

Ken Bell: You know, Chuck, a lot of our lives, we can see no further than tomorrow. We don’t plan for the future, do we, that often? It’s like, okay, what’s tomorrow like. What am I going to do next week?

There are some people that think about next year and the year after that and where their lives are going. And these are the people who are huge successes because they plan, they train, they perform with the idea that this is a lifetime memory. I’m doing something now that is going to last the rest of my life.

And, Chuck, I think that that’s the value of sports. That’s the value of athletics. Because what you did today is giving you the discipline to discipline your life, after the sport. It’s also giving you lifetime camaraderie with teammates that you had, and you know, people who are supportive. You run into a problem later on in life, an illness or something, your teammates are there. You’ve formed these lifetime relationships.

It’s not all about the sport. It’s about investment of people. When they come together to do something, some amazing things can happen. And there is a part of you that goes with them and a part of them that goes with you the rest of your life.

Chuck Wilson: We had talked briefly about character, but I want to get into that more because obviously, that’s what Even Field really is all about. It’s about life skills. It’s about principled leadership and it’s about integrity. It’s about your character.

Bill Belichick, I think put it pretty well. “Talent sets the floor. Character sets the ceiling.”

Coaches are looking for players who have character because when the chips are down, that’s what’s going to lift you out of despair. That’s what’s going to be able to lift your teammates. You’ve seen that happen a lot at the pro, college, and high school levels. What’s been most inspiring to you, some of these stories that you’ve seen?

Ken Bell: Well, Matthew Slater, who is one of the outstanding special teams players and defensive back for the Patriots is, maybe not the greatest star, he’s got good talent. But the team looks to him for inspiration because he has a way of communicating things and applying himself. And he has a way of demonstrating his character to them. Not in a lot of words, oftentimes, just because of who he is.

Those are the people that really make a huge difference.

Chuck Wilson: And also, when leaders take on the tough tasks. I think it’s great when the juniors and seniors on a team, look upon a freshman or sophomore that’s made varsity and includes them.

None of this hazing or rituals or a lot of the initiation stuff that frankly doesn’t do anything positive about bonding. Hey, lift up those players and include them.

I think those are some of the tightest teams you have. And wanting that next year’s group, if you’re a senior, wanting that next year’s group to carry on, right?

That sort of goes to everything you think about. What are you leaving behind? What have you set up for success for somebody else in the future?

Ken Bell: You know, life goes so fast. Now you tell young people that they go, what, what are you talking about? You know, I was in television for 52 years or radio and TV for 52. It’s gone, you know, I’m onto the next stage here.

Ken Bell reports “Live” from Boston Garden for ABC6 after the Boston Celtics win the NBA Championship in 2008.

It’s like, oh man. I’d like to go back to some of those Super Bowls that I covered with the Patriots. So, I’d like to go back to the, you know, interviewing Larry Bird after the NBA championship. (But) Chuck, it’s a one-time pass-through. What did I do with it when I was there? What did I gain out of that? What am I taking with me forward?

So don’t waste time, I think is the big thing. Don’t waste time. Get the most out of yourself because you’ll always be happy, you did. You’ll always be thankful that you paid the price to do it.

Chuck Wilson: Seeing themselves in video. Kids love to see themselves. You break somebody’s ankles with a great crossover dribble or something, make them fall down or you nutmeg a player in soccer and go around him for a goal.

And that stuff’s great. But, the video camera sees everything. They’re not seeing just what you do. They’re seeing the way you do it.

And we talk about The Way You Win Matters®. The way you compete, the way you interact with others. It matters because it’s all about the kind of person you want to be, your integrity, and so on.

And hopefully, you can get some people to think a little bit about it. And, I lead this up by asking you about a phrase that we like — “competitive integrity”.

What does that mean to you?

Ken Bell: That’s lasting. Competitive integrity is lasting. What does cheap mean? How does cheap make you any better? What does cheap say to those around you, if they know that you went cheap on something? Integrity is something that’s lasting, it’s something that has value well beyond that moment.

And when you look back on your life and believe me, there are some many failures that I’ve had, ah, I hate them, you know. And, they’re always with me. But, I do have some victories. And I think about that. And I think about the difference between the two.

The victories are those times when I overcame challenges. That I showed the best part of myself, that I made other people better.

Those are the things that I remember with fondness. It’s those moments (where) I didn’t live up to my integrity, Chuck, that weigh on me.

Chuck Wilson: You know, each thing that you do in life, anytime you have an interaction, you’re putting your character on the line. And I’m amazed sometimes that young people will try to kind of skate around responsibilities and not realize that.

You had an intern once who asked you to sign off on…

Ken Bell: Oh, yes.

Chuck Wilson: So, tell me about that.

Ken Bell: Okay. So, he spent some time with us but did not fulfill his entire commitment (of time) that the school had asked him to spend. And, so he asked me to sign the sheet (confirming) that he had been there. And I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” I said, “for my own integrity and for yours”. Because, what is this showing about yourself? What are you going to do later on in life? This is just about spending hours at an internship. What are you going to do on the job?

That was an easy decision for me because that can become a character flaw that will last you for your life. Needed to be addressed right then. I kind of felt sad that he would even ask the question, but, it said that, okay, we need some integrity work here, you know.

All right, you can fool me. You can fool others. You can fool your teacher. Can you fool yourself?

No.

Chuck Wilson: And at the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror, right? And say, “Look, am I being truthful? Am I being honest in my dealings with other people?”

Ken Bell: Well, and Chuck, then what does that mean about the way you approach life after that? What are you going to do on your job? What are you going to do when you have a job at a television station? You’re going to cut corners, radio station, any job that you have, you’re going to cut corners? Who are you then?

Chuck Wilson: The value of faith. You’re absolutely a man of faith and you encompass within that this feeling of service toward others. And, the feeling that you can get doing that is something that can stay with you for the rest of your life. And if we develop kind of this mindset of looking for ways to be not only be a value to an employer or something, but a value to other people.

Former Seekonk (MA) H.S. track star Jon Blais (“Blazeman”) inspired many by completing the Ironman competition despite having ALS (Reporter Today)

Ken Bell: Chuck, I want to share a story about Jon Blais. “Blazeman”. He was a track star at Seekonk (MA) High School and competed in triathlons for 20 years. 

And then he was having an issue with his body. And, um, he noticed that, that he wasn’t operating the way he was before. It turns out he had ALS. He continued to compete. And his goal was to do the Ironman over in Hawaii.

So, during the 2.4-mile swim, he lost the feeling in one hand, but he made it through. And then he wasn’t sure he would finish the 112-mile bike ride, but he did.

And, he needed to finish in a certain time in order to have it count at the finish line. 16 and a half hours after the start, without the full use of his body, he then laid down and rolled across the finish line so that people would remember that he finished. And also remember those with ALS.

Blazeman, that was courage. That’s the kind of story I wanted to highlight because that was courage.

The other courage. And I think we’re all inspired by courage. Jason Pisano.

Now we were doing a telecast of the downtown 5k road race. And so we’re doing the, the runners finishing and we’re showing the course. And then, about a minute before we finish the broadcast, we see a guy in a wheelchair pushing himself backwards.

I said, who is that? How is he doing that?

So, the next day I tracked him down. He was at his grandmother’s trailer in West Warwick. He couldn’t speak. She had to kind of interpret. He was so he could get some words out, but he had this incredible desire to compete.

And the West Warwick track team put him on the team, the only guy going around the oval backwards in a wheelchair, but he was a part of a team.

Then he went to the 5k. Then he had the idea he wanted to do a marathon. And so he would set his sights on the Boston Marathon. He arrived at 10:30 at night and pushed himself all night backwards.

He’s pushing himself with one foot. That’s all he had the ability to, to push one foot backwards. He got within a hundred feet of the finish line in the Boston Marathon. Marathon officials came out and stopped him. (Jason was told) there’s no category for a backward wheelchair, you can’t finish.

Well, what did he do? Did he quit? No, he took it to court and he won. And so they had to set up, you know, an opportunity for him to race.

And so the next year, well, two years later, it took him two years to get that. He finishes the marathon, pushing himself backwards with cerebral palsy.

And this is the kind of thing that inspires anyone that looks at that. That’s what sports can do. That’s what somebody with heart can do. That’s what somebody who will not say no, you know, who will just push himself to make it.

So, what are we missing if we don’t allow him to compete in the Boston Marathon? Well, we found out because he won a lawsuit.

What other things are out there, Chuck, that would allow us to be inspired by someone that they aren’t allowed to do? And so I, I love that story because he proved that he could do it. He did it with a disability. He wanted to be like everybody else. And he was. He was able to finish.

Even Field’s The Way You Win Matters banner at a New England Patriots Alumni Club “Football For YOU” youth clinic (©Even Field)

Chuck Wilson: Leave us with this. The Way You Win Matters® is trademarked by Even Field®. It’s very important to us. What does that mean to you?

Ken Bell: That means, again, is it a hollow victory? Is this something I’m going to be proud of and be able to tell my family and my kids later on about, or am I always going to have that feeling like I cut corners here? I didn’t really do it the right way.

I may have not called it cheating, but maybe I was cheating. Maybe I wasn’t the best teammate that I could have been to bring out the best in those around me.

And so, don’t live with regret, do the right thing at the right time. Right? Step up, do the right thing, inspire your teammates by your character. That’s my point.

Men of character stand the test of time. Men and women of character stand the test of time.

Chuck Wilson: Well, you certainly have, because you’ve done an amazing job of being able to help so many, and encourage people, inspiring a lot of people. And, you continue to do it in so many different ways, now. Thanks so much for the time.

Ken Bell: It’s great. Thanks for having me.


Insights and perspective from Ken Bell. You can contact Ken through ABC6 in Providence, RI.

Our thanks to Ken Bell – a friend, principled colleague, and humanitarian.

Chuck Wilson on Sports™ and our Peer Into Character® conversations are a presentation of Even Field® cultivating integrity, life skills and leadership, through sports.

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