From the age of 8, I learned that sports can be a great training platform for life. I developed a passion early on for overcoming challenges in a team environment, and I thrived in the team culture as a football player at Auburn University and in the NFL.
When I was at Auburn, I was focused on two things: learning about health care administration and playing football. My love for football also led to a passion for strength and conditioning. Many bonds were formed and lessons learned during the grind of the offseason and through the intensity of training. The most important was that adversity of sport was more about life than football, a lesson that would become even more apparent after I was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.
At the start of my NFL career, I discovered some significant problems with my hands and feet. This led me on a two-year search to find out what was wrong with me. The diagnosis: a neck fracture and some degenerative spine issues. This news was hard to hear, but it gave me a definitive end to my playing career and pushed me to find a new path.
I decided to start my own business, The Lincoln Group, to serve others going through similar injuries and issues that I faced during my football career. Running my own business was difficult, but it provided rewarding lessons that I would take with me in my next career step, working with Dr. James Andrews.
A patient of his during my playing days, Dr. Andrews had heard about my business from a mutual friend. He invited me to meet with him to discuss his vision for an integrated sports medicine and performance facility and explore the pros and cons of the opportunity, ultimately hiring me to lead the development of performance within the institute.
Over the next two years, we worked on designing an all-inclusive health care facility for patients to get care and training. The result was the Andrews Institute for Orthopeaedics and Sports Medicine, including the Andrews Athletic Performance Center, a training-centered section run by EXOS. Jeff Sassone, chief performance officer at EXOS, offered me the general manager position at this performance center, where I got to join the EXOS team and still be involved in the great work happening at the institute. In this capacity, I was involved in every aspect of our elite business.
I also led our strategic development efforts with the U.S. military. In the beginning, my work with the military was a crash course in government contracting, and I still consider this as one of the most educational periods of my life. Once when I was leading an essential negotiation, I remembered something Joe Whitt Sr., my linebacker coach at Auburn, told me. “You may hate me now, but when life gets hard you won’t run out on your friends and family. You won’t quit, and you’ll remember. You’ll look back on these tough days, and you’ll thank me,” he said.
He was right. All that hard work and adversity had prepared me for this moment. As soon as the negotiation was completed, I called Coach Whitt to tell him thank you. I told him that what he said was true, and I wish he could have been there.
After a few years of working with our elite and tactical divisions, I brought my career back full circle by working on better ways to serve health care systems. This gives me the opportunity to bring best-in-class outcomes to people from all walks of life.
If I could share anything from my experience, I would say that these are the three essential lessons I’ve learned:
1. You need your team to win.
San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh taught me that the team extended beyond the players on the field and everyone had a valuable role to play. The same is true in the corporate world. Our team can only be successful when we’re executing in all aspects of our business and services.
2. Prepare yourself.
Go after business the same way you pursue tackles — by preparing yourself in a way that your business instincts can take over and you can make plays when the time comes.
3. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But you always learn.
In both business and sports, we experience losses and wins, good days and bad days. We all have that chance to face adversity and overcome. It’s what you do with those lessons and experiences that determines long-term success.
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