Special for Infobae of The New York Times.
(It’s Never Too Late)
NFL safety Myron Rolle hadn’t played football for a month and was no longer there. He was only 25 years old and his professional football career did not look very bright: he had been released in 2011 after three irrelevant seasons with the Tennessee Titans and had failed in his attempt to make the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. Without the structure and rigor of a football career, Rolle had a hard time figuring out what his next step in life would be.
Rolle had always had a plan B. He had been a short-tempered kid, but at age 11, his older brother, Marshawn, gave him an edition of “Wonderful Hands,” Ben Carson’s popular 1990 autobiography detailing how Carson he went from being a young man from a poor neighborhood with failing grades to director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
After reading it, Rolle stopped beating up classmates who called him racist slurs or made fun of his Bahamian immigrant parents and began pursuing two dreams: to be a professional football player and to become a neurosurgeon like Carson.
Rolle flourished playing defensive back for Florida State University (FSU), where he was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship in 2009. Although he studied Medical Anthropology at Oxford University as part of the program, Rolle said that his dream of being a neurosurgeon went “dormant” while he chased football glory. In England, he trained for the NFL draft and was selected by the Titans in 2010.
But Rolle’s sporting dream did not go as planned. Although he was competitive in practice, he never played an NFL regular season game and the Titans released him when he terminated his contract. He attempted to make the roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was released before the start of the 2012 season. Still unwilling to give up football, Rolle returned home to New Jersey, where he languished until his mother, Beverly, It snapped him out of his rut.
Showing him a notebook from elementary school in which Rolle had written both goals, “my mom looked me straight in the eye and pointed to the first one,” she recalled. “She told me: ‘This one is over.’ Then she looked at the second one and said, ‘Now we have to do this one.’”
Today, Rolle is a medical doctor and, at 35, is in the sixth year of his neuroscience residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “Those words of encouragement, his faith in me, his thoughtfulness, his willingness during that time was just what I needed to move on to the next chapter of my life,” Rolle said.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: How much did it cost you to give up your NFL dream?
A: When I was released from the Pittsburgh Steelers, they openly told me, “Your talent is out there.” To which I replied, “OK, so why are you about to cut me off?” They replied: “Well, because there is a guy who is not as talented as you, but this is the only thing he has in his life. (A Steelers spokesman declined to comment.) You need American football. You, on the other hand, well, I’m not worried about your future. You can become president or doctor. You will be fine”. So it’s almost like, if I hadn’t had anything else to fall back on, in quotes, I would have been in a better position.
That was too frustrating. I mean, it’s hard for me to explain how difficult it was to accept that feedback and then also reconcile what I was seeing and how I was performing alongside these players who were getting the opportunities that I was being denied. It was the greatest degree of frustration I experienced in my life, the greatest disappointment. I never felt so downtrodden in my life. It was a time when I felt like I had failed and disappointed those around me.
Q: How has forging this path changed you?
A: There is a 2 percent philosophy that I learned from my FSU football coach, Mickey Andrews. Can you be 2 percent better than you were yesterday? You can do it if you take small steps every day towards a bigger goal. That helps me make more sense of the challenges, tasks and responsibilities I have.
Learning how to perform a craniotomy, learning how to diaper your newborn children, and being a better and more caring husband, these were all tasks I wanted to accomplish. Any goal, short or long term, doesn’t feel overwhelming or debilitating. It feels manageable. I appreciate and pat myself on the back for the small steps forward, the small wins I get each day. It’s a rush of dopamine in my limbic lobe that says, “You’re doing great. This is a reward for doing well.”
Q: What is the biggest challenge you face?
A: Right now, the biggest challenge is finding the time to be mindful and fully present in all aspects of my life. I mean, for example, when I’m under pressure, operating on a brain tumor and the patient has been having a seizure, at that point everyone expects me to be the best possible neurosurgeon with the best skills, the best dexterity and great decision-making ability.
And then, when I’m done, I have to be the best mentor for these 12 or 13 young black men that I mentor who are all medical students who are interested in neurosurgery. We call it the Rolle Honor Roll. And then there’s what I’m doing right now, which is being the best father I can be and being as present as I can for my four children: Zanzi, Zafar, Zora and Zayed. And also, be the best and most detailed husband you can be. So it’s about putting all these things in their spaces so that I can engage with them, because they deserve it. They all deserve 100 percent.
Q: What would you say to people who feel like they are stuck in their life and still want to pursue a dream?
A: First: it is never too late. Second: you are necessary. You are still needed in this life. Your route can be yours and it is for you. What God has destined for you will be for you. Perfect it. Polish it. Be a master of it. love it Do it well. Shock people when you do it and help lift someone up with you.
Q: Which is the next step in your life?
A: I am in the sixth year of seven in my neurosurgery residency and have another year of fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery due. My long-term goal is to practice neurosurgery in the United States for most of the year, and then spend part of the year at home in the Caribbean, developing neurosurgical services in the Bahamas and throughout the member states of CARICOM, an organization from Caribbean countries.
Q: What lessons can people learn from your experience?
A: If you look over it, maybe you see my story as something unattainable, right? I played in the NFL, I had a Rhodes scholarship, now I’m involved in neurosurgery. However, feeling doubt and uncertainty really permeated my whole life. I felt like an outcast. I responded to problems with violence. I dealt with work-life balance issues and challenges in the workplace. But I was able to find ways to overcome or mitigate these challenges through the 2 percent process.
I don’t think success looks like any one person. I believe that each individual has something brilliant within them and has a responsibility and a purpose assigned to them on this planet for just this time.