From abused child to FranklinCovey executive and LDS family man, Sam Bracken's journey of a radical change
As he continued to find success in high school football, many schools recruited Bracken. He was most thrilled with an offer from BYU and accepted it. But right before graduation, BYU withdrew its offer. Bracken was disappointed, but still had other possibilities. That summer, however, he injured his knee playing in an all-star game.
Just when he feared his career was over, Bracken’s doctor, Andrew Welch, told him his knee would be fine. Welch had heard his patient was a good student and considering UNLV. The doctor believed there were greater opportunities out there and offered to help Bracken send letters and film to programs around the country.
“He asked why I was going to UNLV. I said I don’t have a choice. He said, ‘Son, you always have a choice,’” Bracken said. “It changed the trajectory of my life.”
Several rejection letters came back before the day the phone rang. The call led Bracken to Atlanta where he accepted a scholarship from Georgia Tech coach Bill Curry.
Several people influenced Bracken’s life during his days with the “Ramblin’ Wreck” at Georgia Tech in the early 1980s.
One such individual was coach Curry.
First, the coach learned of Bracken’s background and recognized his need for psychotherapy.
“He helped me rid myself of baggage so I could move forward,” Bracken said. “It made a big difference.”
Bracken made the dean’s list and lettered as a freshman. He was slated to start as a sophomore and the future looked bright. The following spring, however, he suffered serious damage to both shoulders. Once again, his career seemed over and he spiraled into depression and self-pity.
A defining moment came one day when he was sitting on a Florida beach with some teammates. A flock of seagulls flew over him and unloaded a mess of smelly bombs. As his teammates rolled with laughter, Bracken began to see the humor, too.
“I recognized a great truth,” he wrote. “Life is not fair, but nothing good comes from sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself. The course of my journey depends on the choices I make.”
Bracken resolved to make a comeback. In addition to intense physical therapy, he turned to coach Curry for advice. The coach suggested Bracken make a binder with four tabs and label them “spiritual,” “mental,” “physical” and “emotional.” Bracken was to evaluate and write about each section of his life, then make goals and a plan for how to reach them. The exercise proved to be just what Bracken needed. He also came away with a profound respect for Curry.
“The notebook changed everything,” Bracken said.
Bracken returned to the gridiron with greater strength and confidence. He moved to the offensive line and earned a starting position. In 1985, he helped his team to a record of 9-2-1, a national ranking and a victory over Michigan State in the All-American Bowl.
One of the first people Bracken met when he arrived in Atlanta was Don Conkey. The men crossed paths at an LDS chapel where Conkey was a member of the bishopric. It was Conkey’s habit to invite new visitors to his house for a meal, and he persuaded Bracken join him for breakfast. As they ate, Bracken told Conkey his story. Conkey, also a convert, listened to Bracken’s unbelievable tale and felt prompted to offer the young man a home.
“I don’t know why I did it,” the 84-year-old said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. “I was impressed to do it, I did it and it changed both of our lives.”
When Bracken wasn’t staying at the dorms or needed to get away, he was welcome at the Conkey home. He earned his keep by helping Conkey with chores around the house. In time, Bracken became regarded as family. The Conkeys also assisted Bracken in his effort to remain active in the church.
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