By DAVID GREEN
Blaise Winter stands just inside the doorway of the Morenci Area High School gymnasium. He’s watching students by the dozens file past and take a seat in the bleachers.
They’re coming in to listen to him—this guy they’ve never heard of, this guy dressed in black and smiling through a slightly disfigured face.
Winter throws out some words to a student here and there walking past. He’s making some noise, he’s getting pumped to face the crowd, he’s about to turn on the passion.
And let’s be clear about it right from the start: No one accuses Blaise Winter of lacking passion.
Morenci business owner Joe Farquhar begins the introduction and Winter slinks across the floor in his best feminine pose. No one accuses Winter of being subjugated to the rules of proper etiquette, either. He’s worked through all of that long ago.
He apologizes to Farquhar for spoiling his introduction, then he tells the audience that although he’s worked on a speech impediment for years, not all of his words come out quite right.
And then he lets loose, doing what Blaise Winter does these days: Traveling the country telling audiences—no, exhorting audiences—to stop looking for problems in their lives, to face their fears, to stand up for what’s right, to grow in body, mind and spirit.
Winter instantly transforms into a dynamic speaker who grabs your attention and doesn’t let you go until he’s ready. A funny story one minute, a passionate plea for growth the next—all the while urging listeners to change for the better and become what they dream of.
Winter is 46 years old, a dozen years out of an 11-year career with the National Football League, and he wants to tell people how he got there.
In short, he got there the hard way. An abusive father, a hearing deficiency, a cleft palate and lip.
“I hated my deformity,” he said. “I hated that I was born with a hole in my face. My mother told me to face my fears, but I didn’t want to. My first fear was the mirror.”
He didn’t speak well as a child, he didn’t look good, he was constantly bullied and teased, and his father only brought him down a notch further.
“He made us feel bad to make himself feel better,” Winter said.
Winter had no shortage of excuses to use in his life, but his mother wouldn’t have it. Now he knows what she was saying. Don’t use your circumstances to justify your bad behavior.
“Get over it,” he told the students. “You don’t have to carry on hate or a bad attitude.
“I had a tendency to destroy myself with my thoughts. What you think is what you become. You might become old and bitter and there are too many old and bitter people in the world.”
In high school outside of New York City, Winter decided to play football—the helmet could hide his ugly face—and he excelled. His aim was to play at a college, but his coach didn’t think that was ever going to happen.
The coach’s words hurt worse than any football injury: “You try hard, but I don’t think you’re good enough to play at college. I don’t believe you can play at that level.”
Winter made his way down his list of prospective schools until he reached a territory lower than desired. He decided to try out at Syracuse and made the team as a walk-on. Within a month, the head coach told him he was on scholarship.
“You’ve got four years to prove to me what I think you can become,” the coach said.
Winter worked his way up to a starting position and was eventually named MVP. When his college days ended, he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, as a 295-pound defensive lineman.
Winter’s talk could have gone on for much longer, but his 50 minutes were drawing to a close.
“How many people can say they’ve lived their dream?” he asked the students. “I hope I’ve helped you think about your lives.”
And then he said a few words about what it’s like to be Blaise Winter standing before an audience.
“My intensity and passion are often misunderstood,” he said, “but there’s nothing wrong with passion as long as you’re genuine about it.”
When Winter wraps up his show, there’s probably no one questioning his sincerity. He’s taken everybody for a ride on his speeding train called “Believe in Yourself.”
Words of advice from Blaise:
• You can sit and look for problems and you’ll find them, but that’s not what I want you to do. I want you to grow.
• I’ve learned to use adversity to grow. I’ve learned to use a problem to become stronger in body, mind and spirit.
• I really believe that people create the lives they want to lead.
• Go out and influence others. Stand up for what’s right. A lot of people don’t like me for that, but I’m looking for others to stand up with me. The basketball team, the football team needs to stand up together and say it’s wrong.
• Open your mind and search. Don’t listen to your best friends but to your enemies. I learn more from my enemies than I do from my friends.