I met him at church.
The service had ended and I wandered off to chat with some friends, leaving my handbag unattended. Eventually it occurred to me that this was probably not the safest situation for my bag, alone and unable to fend for itself.
Little did I know that my bag had attracted two huge security guards, kind visitors from out of town who had seen my lonesome purse and stood guarding it in my absence.
I approached and thanked them for their thoughtfulness, noting that no one would dare make a move on my belongings with two such burly bodyguards. We made small talk over the chatter of churchgoers and I found out they were from Nashville and didn't know a soul in Sydney, so it was settled – they would join a few friends and I for dinner that evening, at a place that served Sunday roast with a side of live jazz in Sydney's Surry Hill's.
Tim ordered dessert for dinner while the rest of us chewed on chicken, and he told us that he owned a gym in Nashville. I smiled at the paradox of owning a gym and ordering dessert instead of dinner, but Tim told us he secretly had a sweet tooth and that he liked to enjoy life. But as it turned out, this was not Tim's only secret. I soon find out that this jovial, full-of-life, charismatic guy was hiding something much bigger.
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"Tim, you have ALS."
Less than a month after retiring from professional football, having played six seasons for NFL teams including the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans, Tim sat listening as a doctor told him words he never thought he would hear.
He had been noticing changes in his body for the past few months – his right arm was weakening, and he wasn't as stable on his feet – but numerous doctors had not been able to figure out the problem. When he came to see this specialist, he thought the diagnosis would be a pinched nerve at worst. He did not expect his prognosis to be fatal.
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"I used to be Beyoncé," said Tim.
I laughed, then paused. He really had been.
Despite not being married to Jay-Z and definitely not having a child named Blue (which no one really should have), Tim used to be Beyoncé. His hair would flow in the wind as he sprinted to the finish line, gaining victories that would see him courted by multiple leading NFL teams. He was cashing in big pay checks, playing in front of big crowds. At the top of his game, American Football, he was breaking records and things were only getting better. But just months after his thirtieth birthday, everything changed.
Forced to wrestle with his mortality, Tim found himself staring down a giant. While doctors have not found a cure for ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, Tim had to decide whether he would continue to trust God that His plan was sovereign and that miracles do happen, or go into denial and mask his difficulties with a façade of strength. One of the biggest challenges was admitting to weakness.
"It's hard to tell the world you're not doing great," said Tim at the time. "I don't want to be looked at someone who is sick. I have fears about people treating me differently or looking at me like a charity case."
Having witnessed his sister-in-law's mother battle with the disease, Tim did not feel ready to let the world know of his struggles. But as he came to terms with his new reality, something happened that he could never have predicted: the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Across the world, tens of thousands of people were dumping buckets of icy water over their heads and raising money to find a cure for ALS. Despite feeling unprepared to reveal his secret, this was an opportunity to keep the conversation moving forward.
On the 9th of August, 2014, Tim went public.
In a video posted to the Titans' website, Tim announced he had ALS and challenged his team to complete the challenge. The response was overwhelming, as messages of love and support flooded Tim's inbox.
Tim's story started where he thought it ended. What sounded like a death knell to his life and career was actually the beginning of something spectacular. All of a sudden doors started flying open for Tim to speak to audiences across America. Everywhere he went, people wanted to hear his story. He found that he could plumb the depths of friendship with people he'd just met, reaching a level of vulnerability that used to take years, in minutes.
As so often happens, what first appeared to be wall of uncertainly turned out to be the door to destiny.
Today, Tim travels around the world speaking about his journey and raising awareness for ALS. Despite living with the disease, he lives wholeheartedly and continues to dream of the future. And his message for us? "Face your giant," he says with a smile.
Grace Mathew is a Sydney-based writer and speaker who specialises in interest pieces, travel writing and writing in general. To commission Grace to write for your publication, speak at your event or just to say something nice, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Grace Mathew's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/grace-mathew.html