STORY TIME: A TRIP TO AFRICA

Sitting in a hotel room in Baltimore in November of 2016, preparing to call a football game featuring the Chargers and the Ravens, as the radio color analyst, I received a phone call from an unknown number. It turns out, it was Chris Long, who was playing for the New England Patriots at the time. He had just landed in some other NFL city, where they were to face another opponent, and he was riding the team bus back to the hotel to get settled for the night. He took that 20-30 minute ride (normally time used to goof around with teammates) to ask me if I’d like to participate in an incredible opportunity that he was spearheading. In late February/early March of 2017, he was leading his non-profit organization called Waterboys on a mission to Tanzania, where the goal was to dig two solar-powered, freshwater walls in the middle of the Sahara desert, so the Masai tribes people could have access to clean, drinkable water. The effects of this would be incredible, as the nearest water source to the two tribes we were servicing were 5 miles away. Kids were responsible for this task, and it put them in inherent danger, knocking on strangers doors to ask for food and water along the way. They were also forced to miss school to handle this operation. As you can imagine, females were especially susceptible to danger and set back behind their male peers, as they were forced to miss school when on their menstrual cycle.

To raise money to dig and maintain these fresh water wells, Chris partnered with a group called Merging Vets and Players, led by former Green Beret, Nate Boyer. We former football players (about 5 players and a coach) partnered with a wounded military veteran or the spouse of a deceased military veteran, and held fundraisers in our local communities. Aside from doing good in the world, one of the bonuses of the trip was that if we could get the necessary money raised, which took about $50,000 per well, we would get to climb all 19,341 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, while we were there. Pretty cool on both fronts.

First thing we did upon landing in Africa was to tour the Sahara desert and see where our wells would be dug in the coming months. A small part of local Masai tribal folks came out to greet us and thank us. That was great. But then came some of the most powerful, life changing moments I’ve ever witnessed. We visited a boarding school and another community outside of Arusha, Tanzania, where Chris and Waterboys had already dug two separate wells. When we showed up, the tribe was out in full force, ceremonial garb and all. What Chris didn’t tell us when we got there was we, along with the tribe, were going to witness the well opened up and tapped for the first time. They were going to now have the power of freshwater in their own community and have to only walk up the road to get it. What a moment! 

Dancing, singing, praise, followed by a thank you ceremony, and feast. All of it.

For WATER! 

Something that we all take for granted…water. What a beautiful, lasting moment in my life.

From there, we took off and headed to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where we were going to take the next 6 days to climb to the summit. I mentioned earlier that the military veterans were wounded. They were a below the knee amputee former Army Ranger, Pete Quintanilla. Ivan Lewis was a completely blind (severed optic nerves in both eyes) former Green Beret who had run many ultramarathons without eyesight. The other was former Marine helicopter gunner, Kirstie Ennis, who was also an above-the-knee amputee, who had just before had two more inches removed from her residual limb. Six 12-14 hour days of a slow climb. The porters who helped us up the mountain, reminded us “Pole Pole” or “slowly slowly”, as the lack of oxygen from the elevation change would zap your energy and force you to turn around. Out of energy from an overnight summit push, on the 6th afternoon, every single one of us summited the mountain. There wasn’t a dry eye. That too was an incredibly powerful moment for me. I, along with former teammate Luis Castillo, were to be the eyes of Ivan Lewis, the blind Green Beret. We held hands for nearly the entire journey up and down the mountain, especially on the 1.5 mile canyon rim that led to the summit. He never stopped smiling, laughing, and cracking jokes. He must’ve not known that at points, the trail was merely a yard wide and covered with ice. And below that was a sharp cliff and a fall of several thousand feet. It wouldn’t have been pretty. I’ll never forget that trip to Africa.

Several months later, as I’m standing back home in my kitchen in San Diego, running the water in the sink, waiting for it to get hot, I flashed back to that trip to Africa. It hit me like a ton of bricks how much privilege we have. From the desert and the water tapping ceremonies, where we don’t have to give a second thought to wasting a little water here and there, to getting in a car and driving to pick up food at the grocery store, to sleeping in a bed at night away from the elements and dangers; we sure are fortunate.

And then I couldn’t help but think about the climb itself with the wounded vets. Why did they feel compelled to participate? What motivated them to keep going? How much adversity did they have to face and overcome on a daily basis?

And then it came to me…

You Don’t Have to Do Anything. You Get to Do Everything! 

It’s a subtle shift in the mind that makes a huge difference. I get to take care of myself. I get to go to work. I get to wake up early and be with my kids all day. I get to work out. I get to eat healthy foods. I get to clean my house. I get to cut the grass. I get to be with my family. I get to coach my kids’ teams. I get to serve my wife. 

I Get to…I Get to…I Get to.

It’s amazing what happens when you start framing your daily tasks with the mindset and understanding that almost no matter what you’re doing at the moment, there is someone out in the world who would love to have the opportunity to do what you’re doing. Life becomes easier. Life is the joy that it was meant to be. You don’t have to. You get to.

I’m humbled to get to write you this letter and share my experiences with you. I hope you’re getting something from them. 

Hit me up if you need me for anything.

All the best,

Nick

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