Winning at Life
by Pat Williams
Winning really does matter—when you’re describing the game of life. New from Pat Williams, vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, Triumph! Powerful Stories of Athletes of Faith provides over 100 short, easy-to-read entries on athletes, some well-known and others worth knowing. You’ll find inspiration in the stories of these truly victorious athletes, such as this excerpt on NFL’s Hall-of-Famer, Walter Payton:
God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things in all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8
“Sweetness” seems an unlikely nickname for one of the most dominant football players ever to take the gridiron. Hall-of-Famer Walter Payton broke National Football League records for touchdowns, carries, and career rushing yards. He was selected for the Pro-Bowl nine times and was twice named the NFL’s Man of the Year. He was also a key part of the Chicago Bears’ win in Super Bowl XX. But Walter Payton was so much more than an athlete.
He was a dedicated family man. His wife, Connie, was by his side for more than twenty years, and their two children, Jarrett and Brittney, were an integral part of his life. He found joy in everything he did, including a performance on Soul Train while in college, where he showcased his exceptional dancing skills. He was warm and funny, caring and compassionate.
Upon learning of the personal struggles of one of the Bears organization’s phone operators, Payton urged her to go home to her family and then covered her shift for the night, answering calls and handling paperwork without ever letting on to the people on the other end of the line just who it was they were talking to.
Payton invested himself in the city that supported him so much, hosting Thanksgiving dinners and holiday parties for underprivileged children. He established the “Wishes to Santa” program, which enabled neglected and abused children to submit a Christmas wish that Payton would provide. His extreme generosity and genuine concern for others seemed to come naturally. To Payton, that was simply the right way to live—as if each day was your last chance to do good. “Tomorrow is promised to no one,” he often reminded his fans.
When he was diagnosed with a rare liver disease and cancer early in 1999, he dedicated himself to raising awareness for organ donation. Even though Payton’s disease was too advanced to benefit from a transplant, he felt that it was his responsibility to use his blessings of resources and fame to bring attention to such a cause that would help so many others.
Payton passed away on November 1, 1999. But just a few weeks later, more than fifty thousand gift bags of clothes and toys, worth a hundred dollars each, were donated anonymously to needy children in the Chicago area. Many suspected, but no one was able to confirm, the source of such generosity until much later. Payton himself had, in fact, coordinated the effort prior to his death. The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation continues to sponsor Christmas gifts for children each year, and the Walter Payton Cancer Fund still pays for research and provides family support for patients of the disease.
In tribute to the man who celebrated his beliefs and shared his blessings so generously, in 1999 the NFL renamed its “Man of the Year Award” in his honor. The “Walter Payton Man of the Year Award” is given to one player each year whose success on the field is surpassed only by his charitable work in the community.
Read more inspirational stories about your favorite athletes in Triumph!
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