The event, called “One Step Forward,” is held annually in order to inspire youth who come from hard places.
Former Mizzou Football Head Coach Gary Pinkel brought along L’Damian Washington, star wide receiver during Pinkel’s time as the head coach. L’Damian’s story is one of strength and perseverance through the extremely difficult circumstances of losing both of his parents and stepping up to become responsible for his brothers while he was a high school sophomore.
L’Damian and Coach Pinkel stressed to the children how important it is in life to keep moving forward, even if it’s just one step at a time. To bring that lesson to life, each child was given a brand new pair of Nike tennis shoes! For most of the children, and even for some of our staff, it was the very first pair of Nikes ever!
Before the shoe surprise, L’Damian spoke from the heart and gave the children three main points to focus on when dealing with and growing through life’s challenges.
We all have personal struggles that we’re going through. Lean on the ones you love, lean on your family. Family doesn’t have to be related to you. Family can be your friends, coaches, teammates, etc. Connect with positive people in your lives. Make sure you’re around the right people, as they’re the ones who will help you make the right choices.
When I was a 15 year old with nothing left and no where to go, a stranger told me something I’ll never forget it. She said, ‘What you don’t understand is that what you are going through right now is not about you. It’s so you can be a testimony to somebody else later in life.‘ I didn’t get it then, but now I do. God allowed me to go through what I went through so I can stand here and do what I can to help you through your situations. That’s what family is about.~~L’Damian Washington
What you’re doing right now isn’t just about you; it’s about others. When it comes to family, we all have to make sacrifices. My brother encouraged me to come to Mizzou, although I was offered a position at Louisiana Tech where I could have seen my brothers regularly. My brothers encouraged me to go to Mizzou, where I’d have a better chance someday of getting to the pros. This past Thanksgiving was the first time in a decade that I was able to be together with all of my brothers rather than be somewhere playing football. It’s not always about us. It’s about the sacrifices we make for the people we love. That’s the key.
Attitude is the one thing in this world we can control. We can’t pick our parents, family members, the place we’re born, etc. But we can choose our attitude. It’s a difference maker. When I had a negative attitude, everything around me seemed to be negative and falling apart. I learned to be mentally strong. To me, the brain is the most important muscle. Train your mind to be positive, driven and optimistic.
We can’t say “thank you” enough to Coach Gary Pinkel and the GP M.A.D.E. Foundation, The Crossing and Dick’s Sporting Goods. We’re also extremely grateful for L’Damian Washington taking the time to share his story. It will help inspire each of our children to keep taking one step forward every day.