Average People Don’t Get This Far in Life

Before he was a talking head at ESPN, Herm Edwards was a coach in the NFL. He was a successful assistant with my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under Tony Dungy as they began to turn what had been the worst franchise in the league into a team that would eventually win Super Bowl XXXVII.

Edwards, who was famous as a player for the “Miracle at the Meadowlands,” was always good with a quote. When he became head coach of the New York Jets, the tabloids had a field day with some of his better lines, including the infamous, “you play to win the game” quip.

But my favorite Edwards speech was one he gave back in Tampa. He was firing up his guys before the start of a playoff game, and it was captured by NFL Films.

“Average people don’t get this far in life!” he shouted at his players as they nodded their heads in agreement. “None of you are average!”

For some reason, that quote always stuck with me. It was an attempt to remind his players that merely by being in the NFL, they had reached the pinnacle of their profession. Each had sacrificed and worked and studied long and hard to be there. Each had done things to separate themselves from the pack, to make themselves good enough in high school to earn a college scholarship, and good enough in college to get to the pros. It was a reminder that everyone who earns a paycheck to play a professional sport is far, far above “average.” Edwards, who made it from William and Mary to the pro ranks, knew of what he spoke.

Yesterday was a cold and windy day. The temperature was in the thirties. Yet Ryan was not deterred from going outside to work on his hockey stick-handling and shooting. He put on his winter coat, hat and gloves (and of course, flip flops and no socks) and headed to the backyard for multiple 20-minute sessions of working on various skills.

The steady click of the street-hockey ball against his stick blade drew my attention away from where I was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. Watching TV. I went to the window and watched him for a few minutes. That Herm Edwards quote popped into my head. This is what it not being average looks like:

Ryan is attacking improving at hockey the same way he attacks everything: by going all in. Keep in mind, these outdoor practice sessions came in between and among dozens of sets of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and leg raises.

I am not suggesting that Ryan is destined for a career as a professional athlete. I’m pretty certain — as is he — that he is not. But I am suggesting that he possesses the kind of drive, desire and dedication to make him successful at something.

Ryan’s place on his school’s honor roll is a testament to those same characteristics. We have had review sheets shoved in our faces with a request to study at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings too many times to know otherwise.

Ryan’s dedication to the things he is interested in is not average. And here’s the kicker, the part that has taken me years to learn, understand and finally embrace: His drive comes from his brain wiring.

In other words, it is because of autism and not in spite of it.

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