woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore?
Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you.
I can never forget you! I have written you in the palm of my hands.
-The Bible, Isaiah 49:15
My story begins in the small, blue-collar town of Endicott,
New York, nestled between the Susquehanna River and the Adirondack mountains near the
Pennsylvania border. I was born in Syracuse and was the youngest of five children. My
parents both experienced broken childhood lives in and out of orphanages, neither really
having a positive figure in their life to emulate. For my entire adolescence my family
lived well below the poverty line. With my mother staying at home with us kids and my
father armed with just a high school education to support us, money was never around.
Regardless of this lack of money, my mother created an environment for us kids that oozed
with love. She protected us from the ugliness in life as much as she could, including the
volatile mix of anger, abuse and alcoholism that had seized my father during me and my
siblings formative years. It was my mother whose character, gentleness and love prepared
me not only to reach for my dreams, but how to be me.
I remember fighting through winter nights with no heat, teeth
chattering and blankets bundled. I knew I wasnt alone though. I had my brothers and
sisters. My mother would rock me to sleep and sing into my ear to comfort me. I remember
times with no electricity and no television and huddling up to the battery-powered radio
to listen to the Super Bowl. I remember my friends calling me on a pay phone because our
telephone line was shut off for failure to pay the bills. I remember being forced to move
for failing to pay rent. I remember living in a cramped tent for a whole summer. I
remember living in that same tent for a frigid month in the fall. Sometimes I would wake
up--cold and afraid--but all I had to do was to look over and see how strong my family was
being and it comforted me. Food stamps couldnt come fast enough as the cupboards
were emptied by the end of each month. I remember the feeling of extreme embarrassment as
the clerks at the store seemed to giggle as we flashed our food stamps as payment. I
remember the points when food stamps werent enough, when we relied on church
baskets. When we relied on the "defects" from grocery stores - food that they
would throw into the dumpster in the back that was slightly defective.
wrestler, age 13 and 126 lbs
By the time my parents divorced I was nine years old. It never
really bothered me. I think even at that young age I realized that the weight of my
fathers abusive alcoholic behavior towards my mother and us kids was too much to
bear any longer. My mother took us to live with her in a cramped apartment that was suited
for three people instead of six. We struggled, but we were loved. I remember walking three
miles to school and back every day in second grade because I was afraid to change schools.
I remember assisted lunches in schools and the funny looks my schoolmates would give me
because my clothes remained grass-stained day after day. I remember packing up the car
with our same old, reliable tent and going on vacation where we would sweat collecting
trashbags of refundable cans on the beach during the day in order to have money to spend
at the penny candy store at night. I remember...
Me and my
By experiencing all of this, and more, in my childhood, I
realized two very important things at an early age. First, I was going to make sure that I
succeeded at everything I wanted to. I would not be denied at whatever I did. I refused to
live in poverty when I grew up. Second, I was going to be a compassionate and
understanding individual, to try and live up to the wonderful example that my mom set for
my siblings and I. To show compassion when youve seen so much hate. To give when you
having nothing to give. To care when no one else cares. To be positive when surrounded by
negativity. To hold myself to my own standards, no one elses. To never doubt myself.
My mother was a beam of light that lit the way for me in a dark environment. I had seen
good and bad in my young life, and I knew that my mother chose the right road.
When I was nine years old I had a plan. I knew how I would make it
out of poverty. I had already spent sleepless nights worrying about how I would be able to
afford college. I would play football, my first love, and use it as a vehicle to
facilitate my road toward an education and a career. Yet, although I had a plan, I did not
know at such an early age the steps that must be taken for my dreams to be realized.
I had a plan, true, but I was still coasting. I was coasting in
school, in sports, and in life. I wasnt squeezing everything out of life that I
could. It was as if I was just around for the ride. Then, one fateful day, it hit me. The
biggest turning point in my life occurred when I was a 15-year-old freshman in high
school. It is forever seared in my memory, one of those rare moments of clarity in which I
saw everything mapped out for me. I got home from school one day and looked in the
and I didnt like what I saw. I saw an underachiever. I looked at my
grades in school and I knew I could do ten times better. It felt as if the ship for
success was sailing and it was about to leave me behind. Good-bye college education.
Good-bye NFL. I was just getting by, just barely treading water in the Sea of Mediocrity.
If I was going to make something happen, it had to start then. From that day forward--just
that one day--I changed my life forever. I made a promise to myself. I would refuse to
be outworked. I would take what God gave me and max it out every single day.
high school football pic
I remember waking up that next morning, filled to the brim and
overflowing with a sense of purpose and new life. I felt like I could take on the world,
like I could do absolutely anything. I liken my emotional state equivalent to that of
Scrooge waking up and realizing that its still Christmas. This was the new me, and
it felt great! It was like I found this secret that no one knew about. Except it was, in
fact, no secret at all. It was right there in front of my face the whole time, just like
it is for everyone else. I just had to believe in it. Anything that I did from that day
on, I did with everything I had. Whole days were dedicated to succeeding in school, in
sports, and in life. If I didnt understand anything in school, I would bug the
teacher until it was clear. I would wake at 5:30 a.m. and never coast. By 7:30 in the
morning, I wanted to accomplish more than most people do in a day. I reinvented myself and
I was a new man. The fruits of my labor were starting to pay off - my grades were sky high
and my athletic endeavors exceeded all expectations. My father had been sober for three
years. Things seemed as though they couldnt be better.
|Last Halloween I dressed up
as "Stone Cold" and Lauren was a Greek Goddess.
I was wrong. In January of my junior year in high school, I
met a girl that changed my life forever. I saw her beauty once and I knew that I wanted to
be with her forever. She was as beautiful as the Mona Lisa, but, as pretty as she was on
the outside, she was even prettier on the inside. Lauren was everything that I never knew
I wanted. She was sensitive and caring. She was the only girl that really understood me
and has loved me just the way I am. She understands why I am the way I am, why I must
succeed. And now, seven years later, I will marry my high school sweetheart without a
doubt in the world that she is my one.
|High school Homecoming King
By my senior year in high school I was rolling on all eight
cylinders. I had my girl, I was and all-state football player, and I was on the high honor
roll. I was the captain of a football team that had crushed everyone en route to the state
playoffs. The night before our big game I went to sleep soundly, dreaming of leading my
team to victory...
"Isaiah, your mothers been killed in a car
It was the saddest day of my life. These words landed on my heart
and sunk it deep into my soul. Never again will I feel the extreme sadness that I felt
that day. I was numb and lost. Nothing can replace a mothers love, and this
realization came at the very moment I learned of her death. But, just like when I was
little, I knew that I could look over and see the strength in my brothers and sisters. We
helped each other through the rocky times. I was lucky enough to have Lauren by my side,
as she has been ever since Ive known her. That was my weakest moment and she was
there to help pick me up. I still spend nights in her arms crying about the void my
mothers death left in my heart, and she is nothing but strong and supportive. She is
I ended up playing in the game that day, ignoring the
well-intentioned advice of people around me. A lot of people didnt understand why I
chose to play in the game - they couldnt understand how I could play the same day
that my mother died. Football had always been a source of extreme enjoyment to me, but
after that day it became a place to lose myself. I could forget about everything going on
in my life and just be me. Everything just faded away when I got onto the field. No
just me and my instincts. Beneath the roar of the crowd, the crashing of the
pads, and the battle of the bands, this was my quiet place. This was my peace.
If I thought I was working hard before my moms death, that
notion was quickly wiped away. I realized how precious life was, how precious everyday
was, and how I only had one chance at it. I squeezed every last drop out of my body every
day, go to sleep, wake-up and do it all over again the next. Everyday was a gift from her
to me and I would attack it feverishly like a nine year old on Christmas morning.
February 4th of my senior year, just a few months after my mother
died, I signed a letter of intent to attend Harvard University. I would receive an
outstanding education while proving my mettle on the gridiron. I wish I could have seen
the proud look in my mothers eyes at that moment, but it wasnt meant to be. My
hard work had paid off to that point, yet I couldnt share it with the person most
responsible for getting me there.
|I kept this reminder in my
dorm room at Harvard.
I wouldnt have changed my time at Harvard for anything.
I truly believe that it was the place I was destined to attend. It challenged me both
mentally and physically, forcing me to continually reach beyond my grasp. I brought the
same mantra to Harvard that I had begun in high school: I would refuse to be outworked.
There may have been smarter people, but I vowed to myself that I wouldnt be
outworked. I graduated from Harvard last year after completing the rigorous pre-med
requirements and starting every game all four years on the football team, the only person
to do so in school history.
|My father, David Kacyvenski,
at my Harvard graduation
I did not attend my graduation ceremony at Harvard. I had been
selected in the 4th round of the 2000 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks, and I
was in training camp. The Seahawks had granted me permission to go, but I had my own
reasons not to attend. I had taken with me the experiences from Harvard, and I didnt
need a piece of paper to validate the legitimacy of those memories. Secondly, my
father--who never graduated from college and was now sober for ten years and trying his
hardest to right his wrongs--would love to accept my diploma not just for me, but for my
mother and my siblings also. I could not have done it without them. This was a triumph for
all of us.
When I was drafted by Seattle, it was the culmination of a little
boys dream and years of hard work. There was no secret potion, no magic hat. It
boiled down to hard work and me answering one question: Do I want it bad enough? My path
to this point in my life had many twists and turns in which I have fallen and was picked
up along the way. Now my family and I wouldnt have to worry about where our next
meal came from, or if we could make it through another cold shower in the dead of winter
I remember nights when my mom would hold me and tell me how she was
going to win the lottery and scoop us up and whisk us away to paradise. Well, each of us
kids did win the lottery in our own special way. But shes already in paradise....
(**Editors note: Isaiah
Kacyvenski had a spectacular athletic and academic career at Harvard, where he graduated
with a degree in environmental science and public policy, and also completed pre-med
requirements. Among his many notable accomplishments: he is the only football player in
the schools history to start every game for four straight years; Ivy League Rookie
of the Year (96); 1st Team All-Ivy (linebacker) three years in a row,
97-99 (record); 1st Team All-American; he holds school records for
tackles in a game (20), season (135) and career (395); received the "Swede"
Nelson Award as the top scholar-athlete in New England (99). Look for his
continuing "column" in upcoming issues of Incredible People.)
Isaiah Kacyvenski graduated from Harvard University (00)
and currently lives in the Seattle area where he plays football for the Seattle Seahawks.