Coach Caruso’s Perseverance

November 4th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

A story of overcoming great odds from a former Coach of the Year winner.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

It’s not so often we’re granted intimate glimpses of the formative years that a successful coach directly credits for his success. Yes, there are motivational books and memoirs, but few such revealing stories as that of Glenn Caruso, a 2010 Coach of the Year winner. In only three years as coach at the University of St. Thomas football program, he led the Tommies to become a national force, with the school’s first conference championship in 20 seasons. Caruso is the founder of a Reading Recess program, and he and the Tommie players regularly participate in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life and also volunteer in the annual Vision Walk for the Foundation for Fighting Blindness.

A recent profile in the St. Paul Pioneer Press detailed the staggering odds that Caruso overcame in becoming the success that he is today. Below, we have shared a few excerpts from the inspiring Pioneer piece to highlight Caruso’s amazing story:

When I was 4 years old, I was diagnosed with leukemia. That was one of my first memories, sitting at the doctor's office and basically the doctor telling my parents that their kid wouldn't live to his 5th birthday. My dad said, "Baloney." He put me in the car, drove me up to Yale in New Haven, the children's hospital, and said, "We're going to get this fixed." I was re-diagnosed with a horrible, horrible blood disease. Through the course of about three years and some pretty heavy treatments, they got me back on the right track.

I remember for Christmas I got a football helmet. I thought it was the greatest gift. I realized later I had to wear that football helmet to school for a year and a half because if I had fallen down or gotten hit in the head, I could have died. I wore it in preschool and kindergarten. The day he passed away, my father believed my passion for football came from me having to wear that football helmet for a year and a half. I never wore it with one bit of embarrassment. I wore it with the utmost pride.

My most prized possession is a little 4-inch treasure we got at a gift store when our family visited Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, which is a cathedral (and healing shrine) up in Quebec. When that doctor said, "He's not going to make it to his 5th birthday," my dad put our family in the car and we drove up to Quebec. There's a story, a parable behind it. It says if you're really hurting, you should climb the stairs to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre on your knees. We drove eight hours to Quebec, and I remember seeing my family on their knees climbing the stairs. We got this little monument that had a saint in it. I brought it with me to all our doctors meetings. It's a prized possession because it reminds me of the sacrifices that others made so I could be in the position I'm in.

Football always was my first love. I was a center. I was 220 pounds in high school. I was 270 pounds in college, and it was a bad-looking 270. Two-seventy doesn't belong on this 5-9 frame, I'll tell you that much.

My dad is the most amazing person I ever met. My mom passed away when I was 8 years old. My dad moved his law practice in our home to raise his family. He put our family in the forefront of everything he did. He did everything he could to make his kids' lives as productive as can be.

We had a quote that hung on our refrigerator, and it said, "Prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child." And in a day and age all the more devoted to style over substance, where parents are trying to make things easy for their kid, I'm thankful to the Lord every day that my dad did not try to make things easy for me. He tried to teach me how to handle the world and navigate waters that might be difficult.

I don't believe in luck. Luck is for people who don't understand odds in life. I understand there are things that are beyond our control. I'd be ignorant if I didn't. But I think people misuse the word when in reality maybe you didn't do your job, maybe you didn't work hard enough. Maybe you didn't put yourself, or someone didn't put you, in as good a situation. "Oh, that's bad luck." It's not bad luck. There's about 10 percent of our life that's beyond our control. Ninety percent of our life is how we deal with the 10 percent that happens to us.

For more about the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year and to vote, visit www.coachoftheyear.com