The Unlikely Hero - The Impact of Chris Herren On The Teenagers in My Family

Life for a teenage athlete can be a struggle at times. Chris Herren's life story made a positive impact on both of my teenagers when he spoke of his own struggles.

Kelly Ilebode is a Malden resident and writes on positive living. You can visit her personal site at http://kellyilebode.com/.


He stands at 6’2”.  He can look imposing on the basketball court; yet, he is only 12 years old - and I worry. 

He has been called the gentle giant - among other names - and is respectful to others in his quiet, unassuming way. Some days he is teased unmercifully by his peers at school because he towers above everyone in the classroom and all he wants to do is “fit in” - and I worry. 

He has been blessed to have people in his life that care and look out for him when I am not around. Coaches like Glenn (the big brother) and Coach Charlie who both are trying to teach him that life is bigger than sports. But, there are others that want him because he is different on the basketball court, forgetting (or not caring) that he is young and impressionable from all of the pressure. What decisions will he make to fit in? Will they be the right decisions?

She is 14 years old. Strong, athletic and at times imposing if you are looking on the outside - and I worry.

She is quiet, choosing at times to remain silent instead of speaking up for herself.  As with many high school freshmen, she struggles to find her place in this new environment. 

Some of the athletic leaders (who have forgotten they were freshman once, and who have had the opportunity to shape my child in a positive way) have chosen instead to ostracize her at times because of their own insecurities - and I worry.  All she wants is to be given a chance; to fit in. Instead of listening to the positive, she like many of us, listens more to the negative. 

For her, it has been both an exhilarating yet tough freshman year - and I worry. What decisions will she make to fit in?  Will they be the right decisions?

Any parent of a teenager knows that feeling; the feeling of worry that comes with the voice constantly nagging in the back of our head, asking ourselves “are we doing enough?" We work hard to empower our kids, but ultimately the decisions they make in their lives are theirs and, of which, only they can be accountable for.   It is because we know this, we all worry.

There are those at Malden High School who not only care but recognize the struggles that teenagers and athletes have on a daily basis. Because of this caring, they made the decision to ask Chris Herren to come and speak. 

When I heard that Chris Herren was coming to tell his story, I jumped at the chance to have my two teenagers listen. Yes, I did worry that they wouldn’t “get it” or understand the message that Mr. Herren was trying to convey to the students regarding his own poor decision making, and I knew his message was going to be ugly to hear: Here was a former NBA player that lost not only his basketball career but his self-worth to drugs. 

Yet, anyone that has heard of Chris Herron knows his message is not one of defeat, but of hope  As he said in an interview with T.J. Mcaloon“To tell kids that these are the things that are going to pop up in life and that basketball is not the be-all-end-all in life. There are much more important things in life like health and your mental/ emotional well being is important, because without that you have no basketball.”   

I could not attend the lecture by Chris Herren, and did not know the topic or the impact it would have on my children until they entered the car.  My “quiet” son, and daughter talked and talked almost non-stop about the lecture. 

“Mom, did you know…..” and then they would relay another part of the commentary from Chris Herren.  They both talked about the drugs (oxycontin and heroin) that were taken, the peer pressure that was felt, the curiosity of what it would be like to try a drug. They spoke of what the cost of that curiosity was to Mr. Herren’s life, the cost of the decisions that were made by him and what a high price he had to pay.  

I will no longer underestimate what my children understand from hearing a story such as Chris Herren’s. I am still a realist and know that eventually his lecture will fade in their memories, but there is a hope inside of me that if and when the time comes, they will remember bits and pieces and make the better choice or decision. 

Chris Herren has become an unlikely hero in the eyes of both of my children and to me.  A hero not only because he persevered, but has risen to bring hope and inspire others. My children have learned from Mr. Herren that their own mistakes do not need to be held over their head, but that every moment, every second, is a person’s chance or opportunity to do and be better. 

To learn more about Chris Herren, visit his website

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