After nearly a year of planning and the necessary approvals, we started the research study at the University of Utah School of Medicine to examine the effects of near-infrared light on various cognitive, motor and emotional measures in ex-athletes. The participants each have a history of repetitive collisions from participating in different sports, ie football, soccer, boxing, extreme sports, etc. We just completed the initial pre-testing which included a complete battery of measures including MRI’s. Personally, I met with the participants to instruct the proper use of the infra-red device and to answer any questions. Several of the subjects expressed gratitude for being part of the research as they said it represented a new level of hope that they had given up on long ago. One individual, an ex-football player, looked at me with tears in his eyes and simply said, “you know.” I nodded my head and said, “I do know.” As he stood up to leave, he said, “I just want to find that person that’s hiding somewhere inside.”
With the start of the research, I thought it appropriate to share the introduction to the book I have written on my experiences dealing with the effects of probable CTE and finding a solution in an improbable place.
The Power of Hope!
In the 1950s, Curt Paul Richter, a Harvard graduate and Johns Hopkins scientist, performed a series of disturbing experiments that tested how long rats could swim in a high-sided jar of circulating water before drowning (29). Dr. Richter found that, under normal conditions, a rat could swim for an average of 15 minutes before giving up and sinking. However, if he rescued the rats just before drowning, dried them off and let them rest briefly, and then put them back into the same jar of circulating water, the rats could swim an average of 60 hours before drowning. Yes, 60 hours. If a rat were temporarily saved, it would survive 240 times longer than if it was not saved. That makes no sense. How could these rats swim so much longer the second time, especially just after swimming as long as possible to stay alive? Dr. Richter concluded that the rats were able to swim longer because they were given hope. The rats had a clear picture of what being saved looked like, so they kept swimming and looking to be rescued. When the rats learned that they were not doomed, that the situation was not lost, that there might be a helping hand at the ready — in short, when they had a reason to keep swimming — they did. They did not give up, and they did not go under. “After elimination of hopelessness,” wrote Richter, “the rats do not die.”
I have written this book for those who are living with little to no hope. It is for all those individuals and families looking for a way out of the nightmare they currently face. It is for those who did not ask for such a trial, for those who keep asking ‘why’ and who wonder what happened to the life they dreamed of.
Mine is not a story of passive hope however. Conversely, it focuses on the kind of hope that requires persistence. Hope is defined as “having a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Persistence is “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” Both are character traits that go hand in hand, they are synergistic. Hope is a desire to change your circumstances while persistence is the ‘obstinate’ will to continue through any and all obstacles thrown at you. Take away one and the other will eventually die.
For many, life can be unfair and unrelenting. Nobody deserves the shattering effects of abuse, or the crushing consequences of betrayal from a person once trusted, or unwelcomed brain damage from a game or even a profession you loved. There were so many times I couldn’t see how I would survive long enough to even get to a place of hope. But somehow I did, I woke up and pushed forward until little glimpses of light came through, providing me with what I later recognized as hope. With that feeling of hope, I gained a stronger desire to persist in spite of my circumstances. In that journey my hope turned to courage, and it is that courage that has allowed me to face all that life has thrown my way. As I look back, I know that every challenge, hardship and event that seemed so unfair and undeserved at the time, have all worked together to put me exactly where I need to be. While we often face difficulties that are not our fault, I learned we have the strength within us to change the final outcome of our lives. We just need to keep showing up.