My motivation in sport is fueled by one of my close friends from high school, Patrick Gill. Patrick and I grew up playing football together. When I started playing in 6th grade, I began to build a special bond with Pat – one that held together like glue. Camaraderie, fights, laughter, and celebrating hard fought wins were the intangibles that built the foundation of our friendship. Aside from being one hell of a football player, Patrick was a lighthearted kid – the type of person you always wanted to be around. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he could fill any room with enough senseless banter to make a stranger fall out of their chair laughing.
Five years ago today, during my senior year of high school, Patrick passed away in a car accident. His death occurred the morning after our second football game that season. It also occurred at a time when I had no appreciation for life – how valuable it is, and how easily it can be taken away. Emotionally, it took over a year for his death to sink in and become reality. But as time passed, I started to process it in ways that guide me through obstacles in life.
Pat’s death had an enormous impact on my approach to dealing with adversity. On the court, I try to emulate his drive and work ethic through every practice, sprint, workout, and game. His presence serves as a constant reminder of the privilege I have to be alive, healthy, and still playing the sport I love. I take it upon myself to make the most of any opportunity that comes my way, because Pat Gill would have done the same if he was still alive.
Each of the last four years, I made the drive home from Hamilton College on September 20th to attend his memorial service at St. Mary’s Church in Winchester, Massachusetts. This is the first time I will be unable to make the service. Fortunately, I was able to connect with Pat’s father – a major role model in my life – before I took off for Ireland. We talked about his youngest son, Brendan, who wants to play college football down the road. When I asked Mr. Gill which college would be best for Brendan, he replied:
“I don’t give a s**t where he ends up. As long as he’s alive, that’s all that matters to my family.”
His words stuck in my head. It’s important to share them on this platform, because many of us – including myself – were raised in an environment that places the greatest value on nonessentials in life. We face constant pressure to attend elite schools, play certain sports, or receive the most lucrative job offer to gain a competitive edge – a mere ego boost – over someone else. In the process, we lose sight of what is so painfully real and essential, so hidden in plain sight around all of us, yet we still fail to recognize it – it’s a blessing to be alive.
Sport has given me countless opportunities and lasting friendships throughout my life. This year, I hope to have a positive impact on someone else by speaking about these gifts. Sport has provided me with some unforgettable memories, but more importantly, it’s taught invaluable lessons that extend beyond four black lines on a gym floor.