Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

Miami Dolphins receiver Davone Bess on his recent trip to Costa Rica, God’s purpose for his life and The Bess Route Foundation

posted by Chad Bonham

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When Davone Bess traveled to Costa Rica last month, it was the culmination of an unusually harrowing journey. Bess was raised by a single mother in Oakland and due to some bad decisions as a teenager landed in juvenile detention where his future looked bleak.

But that wake up call prodded Bess, now age 25, to make a change and now the Miami Dolphins wide receiver is looking to turn his hard luck story into a challenge for kids and teens here in the United States and as a personal motivation to impact the lives of others across the globe.

In this conversation with Bess, I asked about his trip to Costa Rica with Global Volunteers, his belief in God’s purpose for his life, and the inspiration behind the Bess Route Foundation and how it’s making a significant difference in the lives of young people:

Bonham: What inspired you to make this trip to Costa Rica?

Bess: With our foundation being in place, we just want to go around and try to help as many people as possible. We’ve always had the vision of taking the time to put others before ourselves and to just make a difference in this world. This was actually my first time out of the country. My trainer (and foundation director) Chris (Kidawski) had been telling me the amazing experiences he’s had every time he’s been out of the country meeting new people and learning different cultures. So we decided to make the trip with Global Volunteers. We got our flights and next thing you know we were in Costa Rica helping the people in a small town called Canitas near Monte Verde. It was an unbelievable experience.

Bonham: What were some of the projects you helped with there?

Davone Bess helps dig a ditch in the Costa Rican village of Canitas (Photo courtesy of The Bess Route Foundation)

Bess: We did numerous things. We started off digging drainage ditches for the community. They’re trying to prepare for the rainy season as fast as possible. These ditches were about 200 yards long. It was fun. I love being hands on. I really enjoyed working and helping the community.

Chris and I were on the side of the community center with machetes and chopping down trees to help make the facility look more presentable and a lot cleaner. That was a lot of fun until we got attacked by these black flies. Those things sting! When those things come after you, they come after you. We started messing with the wrong tree and they started coming after us. But it was all good. We ended up finishing the trip up with some grouting and tiling in the kitchen and the snack area.

One our last day, we had an exiting party. I’m sponsored by Adidas so they sent me a bunch of equipment—10 soccer balls, five American footballs, 50 pairs of shoes for the soccer team. The team there happens to be really good but they don’t have any of the proper equipment. We also brought down a couple of rice cookers and an extra skillet for the team to cook with when they travel to other villages. We brought them a heart monitor for their health post, which is something the community didn’t have at all. That was very important.

We had a great experience. We completed a lot of projects and we got the full hands on experience of being able to help people in another country that were very humbled by us being there but very appreciative at the same time.

Bonham: One there was one particular moment that you’ll take with you for the rest of your life?

Bess: Just the experience itself. You’re asking me to pick one thing and it’s hard to explain. You’ve got to witness it and see it visually. My best memory is just playing with the kids. They were so happy. The first couple of days they were distant and standoffish because they didn’t know who we were. But after a while we started eating with the families and we were welcomed into their homes. The kids started to embrace us more. They’d hang around us. Come morning time when we’d drive in to work, we’d see kids waving at us while we were in the van. It was very special. It was very exciting to see the smiles not only on the kids’ faces, but to see the parents and the leaders in the village. It was a great experience.

Bonham: How challenging was it to see people living under such less-privileged circumstances?

Davone Bess assists Global Volunteers with village renovations (Photo courtesy of The Bess Route Foundation)

Bess: It was a very humbling experience because you see some of the things these people have, some of the equipment they use and everything is so outdated. We’re so fortunate here in the United States. We’re very blessed to have a lot of the materialistic things we have. I grew up without much. I’ve always had to work for everything I wanted. Even with my experience, I had a lot growing up compared to what these kids have. You see some of the toys and the soccer balls that these kids were playing with. You even see some of the homes you see these people live in. If those homes were here in the States, people would be tearing them down. They’d be bulldozed because we wouldn’t think anyone could live in those conditions. But the people are very thankful and very happy.

One thing that caught my eye was the longevity of life out there. So many people out there, especially in the Monte Verde region, you’d see a lot of elders just walking around. The streets aren’t even paved. They have dirt roads with gravel and rocks and potholes all over. We’d see these 80-year old women walking down the street. Everyone is walking everywhere you go, rain or shine. You see kids and moms. One of the coolest things I saw was a lady on a dirt bike. And this is normal. The lady was on a dirt bike with her son on the front and her daughter on the back. She was dropping her daughter off at school. It was just their lifestyle.

Bonham: How does this experience reinforce your belief that God has a purpose for your life?

Davone Bess with a group of Costa Rican kids in Canitas (Photo courtesy of The Bess Route Foundation)

Bess: I just feel like God works in mysterious ways. I don’t like to rub people the wrong way and say that I’m this big spiritual guy. I believe in God. I believe in a higher power. And I do believe that God works in mysterious ways. In my story and in my situations and in all the hurdles I had to overcome, I just feel like me being able to go down there and help those people and try to impact their lives in a positive way is God blessing me with the ability to go down there. In one way or another, me and you and anyone who is reading this can say that if it wasn’t for some person or some group, you wouldn’t be where you’re at today. I’m a true believer of keeping that train and that cycle going of always giving back because we’ve all needed help in some way. So this is just my way of giving back and then taking something out of the experience. I’ve learned that life is very precious and we can’t take things for granted.

Bonham: How has your difficult past taught you appreciate what you have now and the opportunities you have to help others?

Bess: There’s not a day that doesn’t go by when I don’t thank God for where I’m at today. Eight years ago, my life was almost over. Just me having the faith and believing and just having hope, I prevailed. I’ve always had a plan B and a plan C if plan A didn’t work. Me having this option made me want to have a foundation so I could not just make a difference in the local community but in the world. That’s our mission—to slowly but surely make a difference. I know it sounds cliché but Chris and I talk about it all the time. That’s the best satisfaction we can get when you go home at the end of the night knowing you helped somebody else become more productive.

It’s a humbling experience when you know you’ve almost had everything taken away from you. So I try to advise kids that they don’t have to go the same route I went. I try to get them while their young because the kids are our future. If we can change them, we can change the world.

Bonham: What is the Bess Route Foundation doing on a daily basis to get that message out?

Bess: We do a lot of charity work whether its in my hometown of Oakland or Hawaii which is where I played college ball or South Florida where I’m currently residing. I got to a bunch of middle schools and high schools and I talk to kids about my story about what I’ve been through and about hopes and dreams and helping them understand that if you put yourself around people that want to be productive, that want to make the most of what they have, then the sky’s the limit. But if you want to deviate and go the other route, there are consequences that come with it. I’m a living example of those consequences. I just feel like I connect with the kids so much. They hear me out and they understand it because I’ve witnessed it.

In the fall, we’re going to start a program in South Florida that will take 20 kids from local high schools. We’re going to take those kids to the local middle schools and elementary schools and we’re going to give them a packet. We’re going to talk to them about the importance of not having an ego and the importance of having self-confidence. We’re going to mentor the high school kids and the high school kids are going to mentor the elementary and middle school kids. It’s our way of trying to make a difference. If we can get kids to mentor kids, we’ll be moving in the right direction because that’s where a lot of our problems come from.

Bonham: How has your faith become more defined over the past few years as you’ve grown spiritually?

Bess: I grew up going to church. I’ve been baptized. I am a Christian. I believe in God. I believe in Christ. But when I say I don’t want to rub people the wrong way, that just means I don’t go around telling people what they should or shouldn’t believe like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be a Baptist” or “You shouldn’t be a Catholic.” Everybody is entitled to their own religion and their own opinion. I’m not saying I’m perfect and that I don’t make mistakes. But I do believe in a higher power and I do believe that everything happens for a reason. We’re not on Earth by accident. Things don’t happen in your life for no reason.

Bonham: In a strange way, has not having football during the lockout been somewhat of a blessing in disguise?

Bess: That’s exactly why I say I believe in a higher power and how everything happens for a reason, even to the extent of Chris moving out here. He just moved out here and we put our heads together and one idea led to another and the foundation is taking off in unbelievable ways. If Chris hadn’t come out here to train me in the beginning, we may not have went on this trip. I didn’t know anything about it until he told me about the organization. Everything happens for a reason and the lockout gives us more time and opportunity to help other people. But hopefully we can get something done soon because I’m missing football a lot.

Bonham: Why is so important for athletes to embrace the concept of serving others?

Bess: It’s highly important that we as professional athletes or celebrities or whatnot get involved in the community and try to help make a difference. Believe it or not, and I hate to put it this way, but we have a lot more influence over some of these kids than their parents have because they see us on TV and look up to us. So we can make a huge impact. We can be that difference maker just because of our status and because of what we do. I would advise all professional athletes to get involved and to try to help make a difference. If we don’t, who else will?

Join us tomorrow for a special Inspiring Athletes featuring a conversation with iconic NASCAR legend Richard Petty.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zach Duke on how faith impacts every facet of his life

posted by Chad Bonham

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this interview was originally released, Zach Duke has become a member of the Washington Nationals.

Starting pitcher Zach Duke is in his first season with Arizona and seventh overall. After dealing with a broken hand that kept him out for nearly two months, Duke is back on the field and looking sharper than ever. In this interview, Duke talks about how his Christian faith impacts all facets of his life:

Bonham: How do faith and sports coexist in your world?

Zach Duke (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Duke: I used to just pray to win the game and it was always a very selfish prayer that I’d do well. I’ve grown to realize that it’s not the right way to go about things. The deeper I got with my faith, the more I realized that it’s all about what you’re learning through the process and going through the trials and tribulations and the good times. It’s about the lessons you’re learning throughout the journey.

Bonham: How does your relationship with God help you deal with the game of baseball?

Duke: I’ve learned that there’s going to be good games and bad games. What matters is if you’re staying consistent with the professional aspect, with your family, with your spiritual life. Are you staying consistent and being the same guy no matter what happens on the field? Are you letting a setback on the field distance you from your faith?

Bonham: Do you feel like you have more responsibility to live a certain way because of your platform?

Duke: I try to strive to be a model Christian no matter what I’m doing. I try to live a godly life in every aspect including on the field, with my wife, with my parents, with friends or wherever. I try to be a godly man all the time. There are times you slip up but what matters is that you go to God and give it up to Him and ask for forgiveness.

Bonham: How does your faith help you serve the spiritual and emotional needs of those around you?

Duke: I try to encourage everyone I come into contact with and be a guy who’s open to talk about whatever a teammate or a friend is going through. In the conversations, I’ll tell them I don’t struggle with that anymore because of my faith. They’re experiencing the same voids that I used to have in my life. My relationship with God has filled those voids with me. You’re not going to be able to fill those voids with anything else.

Bonham: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Duke: 2 Timothy 4:7. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (NIV)

Join Inspiring Athletes tomorrow for an interview with Miami Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess and his detailed account of a two-week volunteer trip to Costa Rica.

The Inspirational Sports Report: Berkman continues hot streak, Lewis shows his softer side and Howard helps out in Alabama

posted by Chad Bonham

Lance Berkman experiences a renaissance in St. Louis

After spending most of his career in Houston (where he is still revered), Lance Berkman headed to New York for a half-season stint with the Yankees in 2010 before signing a free agency deal that landed him in St. Louis to play for the Astros’ N.L. Central rival Cardinals. It’s been a strange site to behold.

Even stranger, however, has been the first baseman turned right fielder’s unexpected resurgence. Berkman’s numbers had been tapering off over the past two or three seasons mostly due to minor injuries here and there. But now, the 35-year old looks more like his 25-year old self. After the first 55 games, Berkman had 15 home runs, 45 RBI’s and equally impressive batting average (.324) and slugging percentage (.621) numbers.

Click here for a look at one of Berkman’s impressive at-bats from last week:

Ray Lewis takes orphaned boy under his wings

He may be one of the fiercest defensive players to ever play the game. He may also be one of the most maligned (if not misunderstood) characters to emerge from the NFL ranks. But despite the public perception, Ray Lewis may just have one of football’s biggest hearts.

Case in point, Lewis has made a special connection with a 10-year old named La’Shaun Armstrong who was left orphaned when his mother drowned herself and three children by driving a van into the Hudson River on April 12th of this year. The Baltimore Ravens linebacker, along with former NFL cornerback Reggie Howard recently invited Armstrong to a fundraiser for their organization United Athletes Foundation. The event’s proceeds will in part go to create a relief fund for the boy’s mentoring, counseling and tutoring.

Armstrong was the sole survivor of the tragic incident. He escaped through a van window after the vehicle crashed into the water and was rescued by a passing driver. Inspiring Athletes is pursuing an interview with Lewis to discuss this story. In the meantime, you can read more about it here.

Dwight Howard mobilizes volunteer force in tornado-riddled Southeast

It’s hard to miss a guy like Dwight Howard. Being 6-11 will make you stand out no matter where you go. But imagine the looks the Orlando Magic center got while spending quality time helping the victims of the April 27th tornado that ravaged Alabama. Howard spent June 2nd and 3rd, along with fellow NBA player Josh Powell, on behalf of his D12 Foundation.

Howard assisted Habitat For Humanity in Birmingham one day before heading to Tuscaloosa where he donated $10,000 to the city’s Disaster Relief Fund and hosted a gathering for victims and volunteers. Check out the video below to hear Howard talk about the experience:

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Join Inspiring Athletes tomorrow for an interview with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zach Duke.

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier on starting young, marrying his childhood sweetheart and dealing with the dangers of stock car racing

posted by Chad Bonham

FRIDAY FEATURE: Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier turned 25 earlier this week but he doesn’t look a day over 16. Maybe that’s why uninformed onlookers might be surprised to see the baby-faced NASCAR driving strapping into his #31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet and hitting the track at speeds in excess of 180 miles per hour.

Justin Allgaier

With two wins under his belt, including last weekend’s STP 200 at Chicagoland Speedway, Allgaier is on a fast track to significant success. I had a chance to catch up with Allgaier at a race in Texas and here’s what the 2009 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year had to say about his upbringing, marrying his childhood sweetheart and dealing with the dangers of stock car racing:

Bonham: Growing up, you spent a lot of time around racing due to your dad’s work with Hoosier Tire Distributors. Is that ultimately how you got your start in racing?

Allgaier: Yeah, I started when I was five years old. My dad (Mike) was on the road a lot, so my mom (Dorothy) was always looking for things for me to do that would excite me. I always wanted to be with my dad. I always wanted to be at the racetrack. She knew that wasn’t a possibility. We went to a quarter midget racetrack and a friend of mine was racing. We watched him race and I fell in love with it. My dad called home that night and said there was no way I was going to race quarter midgets. We went around and around for five or ten minutes until I said, “But mom said.” Needless to say, I’ve been racing ever since. My dad didn’t want me in the racing business, but he said if I wanted to do it, he wanted to give him every opportunity to succeed. So we went out and raced hard and we did it right. That’s what got us to this point. I’ve got great parents and I respect them a lot for what they’ve done for my career. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s really cool that my dad had enough insight and know-how to give me every opportunity to make it at the next level.

Bonham: Tell me a little bit about your faith background.

Allgaier: I grew up attending Riverton Christian Church. It was a big part of my life. When you’re traveling and when you’re racing a lot, it’s tough. When you sit down at one church, it’s tough to be there every week. We were very fortunate that most of the series that we raced in had a chaplain. But the Riverton church was always my home base and I still go back there when we go back to Illinois. I owe a lot to that church. I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way.

Bonham: What are some of the challenges that come with the NASCAR lifestyle?

Allgaier: Every day in life there are challenges; whether you’re an accountant, a race car driver or whatever you do. Obviously in this sport, there are more challenges than maybe others but I’ve just had to put my faith in God. This is the person I am and I’m not going to shy away from it. I don’t think I’ve changed as a person from early in my career when I was able to be in church every Sunday morning to now. It’s really great for us because we have (Motor Racing Outreach). But it’s tough. There are days you find yourself saying things or doing things you wish you hadn’t done. But I hope that I’ve done a good enough job so that when people look at me they automatically know that’s the kind of person I am.

Bonham: What biblical principle most guides your life?

Allgaier: Luke 9:23. That basically says (people need) to follow Jesus and not me. Even though I feel like I want people to understand who I am and what I’m about, I still understand that I’m not perfect. It’s tough because it’s so easy to get caught up in everyday life and not care any more. But that’s a principle that’s stuck in my head. Another thing is that you can’t judge people. Unfortunately, there are people here who aren’t Christian and judge people really bad. That’s one thing that’s kind of my pet peeve.

Bonham: Are you comfortable in a role that requires you to be the personality behind a race team?

Allgaier drives a practice lap in the #31 Brandt Chevrolet (Photo courtesy of

Allgaier: It’s not just the driver. It’s the car. It’s the resources. I’m only as good as the guys around me. I don’t put much faith in me as a race car driver. I’m glad that I have the talent to go out and be competitive and run out front. But at the end of the day, I know that it’s not me that’s doing it. That’s basically how I have to look at it.

Bonham: What do you take away from the experience of racing against Sprint Cup drivers on a regular basis in the Nationwide Series?

Allgaier: It’s very educational. You can learn a lot from them. There are some extremely talented race car drivers over there. At the end of the day, I have to look at it like they’re no better than I am. We’re all at God’s mercy. We all have to give it 110 percent. There are days that I’ve gone out and said, “There’s no way I can go out and beat these guys” and then gone out and drove circles around them. And there’s been days I’ve thought I was the greatest race car driver in the world and they drive circles around me. So you have to put that part of it in perspective.

Bonham: What do you think about what Morgan Shepherd is doing in the Nationwide Series with his #89 Faith Motorsports team?

Allgaier: To come out here and travel and do the things that he has to do, I don’t know how he does it. I don’t think I would want to put myself through that kind of stress. But I think that shows dedication. This isn’t an easy sport whether you’ve got the most money and the best equipment in the world or whether you’re in Morgan’s situation. So to go out and do what he does, I’ve got to give him credit for that for sure. He would have quit 10 or 15 years if “Racing with Jesus” had not been on the car. He feels like that’s a good way to get the message out. Racetracks are places where people tend to come to lose their inhibitions a little bit and let loose and relax. It’s probably not always a good thing. So for him, it’s a good way to get people to just think. Most people don’t think about (God) until they see something or they hear something. And then they think, “Wait, maybe this isn’t the right way to do it.”

Bonham: How has being married, especially at such a young age, impacted your racing career?

Allgaier: I grew up extremely fast. I was racing at the age of five. I was racing on a semi-national level by the time I was 16. It makes you grow up fast. I met my wife when we were 15 years old. I knew within 15 minutes of meeting her, that’s who I wanted to marry. There are days that its tough, but she’s able to travel with me to all the races. When you’re away from home 35 weekends a year, she’s very supportive of my racing and she’s my best friend and my worst critic. When I don’t do things right, she’s the first one to tell me about it. When I do things right, she’s the first one to praise me for it. I’m very glad she’s able to be a part of what I do. That makes it a lot easier.

Bonham: How long do you see yourself doing this?

Allgaier celebrates his STP 300 victory at Chicagoland Speedway on June 4, 2011 (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Allgaier: You look at what Mark Martin has been able to do in his career and I hope I’m still as competitive as he is at 50. But I’ve always said I want to do this while its fun and I want to do it as long as I can be competitive. When I’m not competitive anymore, I don’t want to put time, people and resources to base use if I can’t get the job done. Even now, if I’m not getting the job done, something’s got to be changed. I feel very strongly about that. I hope that I am still racing at 50, as long as I can get out of bed. I don’t even know how (Mark) gets out of bed some mornings. He took hits all those years without the best safety equipment and the softer walls.

Bonham: How do you internally deal with the inherent dangers that come with this sport?

Allgaier: Its just part of the sport. I’ve wrecked my fair share of cars. I’ve had my fair share of injuries. If you put too much focus on it or you really worry about it, it’s going to consume you. That’s never good. There’s always a chance that I might not walk away from a racetrack. I don’t ever want to think about that, but I’m prepared if something happens. I hope that nothing ever does. That’s definitely a risk. My wife understands that. I’m definitely at peace with what God wants me to do. I have a lot of faith in that.

Have a great weekend! Check back next week for interviews with Davone Bess, Clint Hurdle and Richard Petty.

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