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John shares proof that ALL of our stories are interconnected!

If you know my story, you know baseballs carry a special meaning to me.

As a nine-year-old burn patient struggling with a difficult recovery, 60 signed baseballs showed up one after another and taught me write again. More valuably, it taught me when someone goes out of their way for someone else, the impossible becomes possible.

Years later I graduated college and became the undeserving recipient of a priceless baseball at the age of 22. The significance of that gift, and the generosity of the man who gave it, changed the trajectory of my life.

As a dad, watching my son Patrick snag foul balls in four consecutive major league baseball seasons reminded me what happens when we return to that audacious, unguarded, optimistic mindset of a child. You’re not only more likely to catch a baseball, but far more likely to savor the game of life.

It seems whenever a baseball shows up in my life, it brings with it a lesson to apply. Such was the case earlier this year, when yet another ball landed in my mailbox. This one wasn’t off the bat of a major leaguer or signed by a Hall of Fame inductee. Instead, it was signed by a D2 baseball team in northeast Tennessee that you’ve likely never heard of, but one that I have grown to love. Let me explain.

I became self-appointed president of the Lincoln Memorial University Railsplitters Baseball Team Fan Club this past February. It happened after a man I had only recently met reached out and asked for a favor. His friend -and Railsplitters baseball coach- Justin Haywood read the book ON FIRE and planned to use it as a motivational framework for the team’s upcoming season. He wondered if I might send him a signed copy of the book. The email described ‘Coach Woody’ as someone who has “. . . done an amazing job coaching and transforming the hearts and lives of these young men.”

How do you turn down a request like that?!

So, we excitedly not only sent Coach Woody an autographed copy, but also a video of encouragement for the team ahead of their new season.

And we kept in touch with the mighty Railsplitters throughout their season. We loved the On Fire glove and cape bestowed upon the ‘On Fire’ player of the game. We learned of the special On Fire tee shirt the winner of that game’s title took home with them. And we cheered their best start in school history, 10-0.

The Railsplitters were living on fire on and off the field!

The team went on to boast a regular season record of 31-18 and entered the playoffs. As they did, I received in the mail a team jersey, a signed baseball, and a special letter from Coach Woody. He shared appreciation for the help guiding his team forward and added this beautiful closing:

“Most importantly, thank you for sharing your story. We are called to this earth for something special, and your impact is being felt in more ways than you can dream of. You are an inspiration to me and my team to be better every day and to love fearlessly.”

My friends, I share this story not to brag, but to impress upon you an important lesson Coach Woody teaches. And universal lessons we all need to hear:

YOUR story matters…even when you don’t know it.

YOU are called to this earth for something special…show up for it.

YOUR impact is being felt in more ways than you can dream of…prepare for it.

And YOU are a called to be better every day by loving fearlessly…act like it.

The Railsplitters advanced through the playoffs and even competed in the championship game. Although one of the most successful seasons in school history ended with a defeat, Coach Woody reminded his team of the transformative power to remain on fire not merely for what they did on the field, but with the possibility of all they would accomplish applying the lessons learned this season off the field.

And if you thought the story would end there, you’ve not spent enough time around here.

Weeks later in Scottsdale (far away from northeast Tennessee) I spoke at a conference. When attendees were asked to share one thing they were grateful for in a follow up email, a woman in the audience replied that when she thought about gratitude, she thought about her son.

Despite being told by a coach growing up that he’d never be good enough to play college ball, he had worked hard, persevered and was having the season of his life. He’d even been named player of the game four times! Her pride was obvious and joy contagious, and we told her so.

When her son returned home from college for the summer, he walked in as she was mid-reply to our email. He saw John O’Leary’s name on his mom’s laptop screen and couldn’t believe it.

He told his mom the story behind his baseball team’s theme for the season, which until that moment she thought was a simple catch phrase. She then sent us a photo of Mom and son walking arm-in-arm while wearing Coach Woody’s player-of-the-game tees. We couldn’t have loved it more.

Friends, our successes, our failures and our stories are all connected. And it is in this connection that is born the opportunity to transform hearts and lives.

This is your day. Channel your inner Railsplitter. And Live Inspired.

11 replies on “Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Railsplitter?”

My son is also a part of this awesome baseball team. We are so thankful for his mentors and coaches. The Godly influence and encouragement from Coach Haywood has been a blessing. This past season was an awesome season and the Splitters continued to be “On Fire” and will bring that same motivation back next season. Thank you for this precious story. Proud to be an Alumni myself and proud my son is a Railsplitter..! 💙⚾️💙

God winks are everywhere, and so many seem to find you John. Of course some call it luck, but luck is usually just the residue of hard work and preparation. Thank you for the hard work you do across so many parts of this broken world.

John, thanks for your words and most of all your actions to help people become more of a positive influence in others lives. I believe just smiling at a stranger is powerful. I have challenged my kids to be kind to everyone they meet and make a difference for good. Thank you for your positive energy and for being real. I enjoyed your talk at Summit 2023. I wish only the best for you and your family.

As a former Railsplitter athlete, I am humbled by your story. My life has been spent on the courts and fields of athletics. Playing and coaching has many openings for inspirations. You have provided a great one that I will share. We love our Lincoln Memorial University. Around here we are a Railsplitter Family. “Once a Railsplitter, Always a Railsplitter!”

So thankful for mentors and coaches that lead young men in Godly ways. This story, This team! We are a huge baseball family. My son was Captain of this team. So many people don’t understand the impact of team sports, baseball in particular. This was an incredible season for the Railsplitters, and they are very talented, hard working, young men with bright futures! Thank you for the inspiration and support that you contributed. I haven’t read the book, but I am going to.

What a way to start my week – I am crying with pride and joy and motivation all in one. Thank you for sharing our story, we have told it so many times! It is so amazing to see Gods plans play out in his time, although hard when we want him to understand our timing 🙂 You are truly an inspiration to so many, and your heart and love shine through you in all you touch. I am thankful you and your community came into my life, and how- as I am blessed with Mitchell being back home with me for the summer- we continue to think of how your connection to the both of us influences us in all we do! God bless my friend – thank you for being the inspiration that continues to motivate so many – so selflessly!

This is awesome. I watch you speak at the Summit conference and you really changed my perspective on things. Thank you

Thanks John! Loved the story. I’m so glad I heard you speak in Pittsburgh at a financial planning conference a good while ago. I read On Fire when it first came out and I may read it again. I recently had a brain tumor removed which was a total surprise and am recovering well. I’m feeling like I received another lease on life at age 72.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! Focusing on inspirational stories and what matters most is so important. We are living during challenging times. Your stories help keep focus where it needs to be!

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