There were two things I loved as a high school student: math and basketball. I actually thought math was pretty boring until I hit the 9th grade and got into Mr. Bedore’s geometry class. He taught us by having us start from the axioms and build up the entire system of Euclidean geometry. I loved it. I thought about proofs whenever I could and even dreamed about them.
My basketball career didn’t start until the 10th grade. As an 8th grader I was already 5’8’’ and taller than many of my teachers. I was still in that awkward stage and didn’t score very well on the various P.E. challenges. Despite this, my P.E. teacher wanted to see if I had any potential as a basketball player. He gave me a basketball, put me under a basketball hoop, and told me keep shooting until I made a basket. I was terrible. Thirty minutes later I hadn’t made a single basket. I went home with the onset of the stomach flu and at that time had no desire to try basketball again.
Entering the 10th grade, my brother talked me into trying out for the basketball team. The head coach was my 8th grade P.E. teacher. I still couldn’t shoot and struggled to even perform a jump stop. Later, the head coach told me the only reason he didn’t cut me, as he was planning to do, was that during the final day of try outs I scored comparable times with the others. He was shocked, and he felt strongly that he needed to keep me.
I had a strong desire to do my best and worked extraordinarily hard at basketball. It was strange because it never felt like I was improving that much, but in fact I was. At the end of the season I was able to play in a tournament game on the varsity team which meant that I lettered that year, in addition to the two following years. Even under new coaches I continued to improve and have great success. Upon graduation from high school I had a desire to continue playing basketball at the college level. I had an offer to play at a different university, but I wanted to come to BYU for academic reasons. Therefore I chose to come to BYU and try out for the basketball team here.
I worked very hard during tryouts, but unfortunately was not quite good enough to make the BYU team. I was so disappointed and wished strongly that the coach would call me back to play on the team, although this was something I knew would never happen. Then one day I received a phone call. It was the BYU head coach. He asked me if I wanted to come back and redshirt because one of the girls was injured. When I told him “yes,” he asked me when I could come. I said five minutes. He told me I could have a little more time but should come to the practice that day. Unfortunately, my showing up indicated to the team and other coaches that the decision about the injured player had already been made, which was supposed to happen the following day. The team was reduced to tears and chaos ensued. Needless to say, the eventual outcome was that I was not able to stay with the team that year. However, it did relieve my disappointment from not being able to play on the team.
The following year I tried out again. But there were still lingering feelings of resentment by some players created by the situation from the previous year. So despite having continued to make personal improvements in my conditioning and skills, this did not work out either.
Up until this point I thought if you worked hard enough you could accomplish anything. I realized that this might not always be the case – I could do my very best, but still not accomplish my goal. However, I also realized that in the trying I could develop tremendous strengths that I never would have had, had I not tried. Therefore, it was very important for me to still take on challenges.
When coming to BYU it was my goal to pursue a degree in astrophysics. A year later I picked up a double major in mathematics. These things were comfortable to me.
I was not planning on being a teacher. But following my basketball experiences, I felt a strong desire to take on my enormous fear of standing in front of people and speaking by pursing some training in teaching. I loved children and was good with them, but my fear was inhibiting in terms of functioning as a teacher. Again, I was terrible in the beginning. During my first teaching experience, the teacher introduced me after lecturing the students on the importance of spelling. I was so nervous that I misspelled my name on the board. Then she caught it. It was pretty embarrassing.
Later, one of my professors sat me down and told me he didn’t think teaching was for me. I already knew I was bad, still being terrified of speaking in front of people, so it didn’t bother me too much that he recognized that too. But I felt strongly that I still needed to persist.
So at the end of the secondary education program, realizing that I still needed to do more work on my teaching, I also took some classes in special education. I loved them. It was the perfect meld between analysis and education.
In addition to my undergraduate studies, I had also struggled through some very serious health problems at this time which gave me a completely different perspective on life and made me even more attuned to the blessings of life. Having been in school my whole life made me feel a bit like a vagabond of society, and I wanted to have an experience of contribution after graduating with my undergraduate degree. So before continuing my studies, I took a position in the Uintah Basin at a junior high school and worked there for three years. During this time I finished my certification in special education, which was very helpful because most of the students in the school where I worked qualified for the special education program. This experience was a tremendous blessing in many ways, including helping me further develop as a teacher.
After the three years of teaching, I returned to obtain my master’s degree in mathematics at BYU and then my PhD in mathematics at the University of Tennessee.
I then came to BYU in 1999 and have been here on the faculty since. All of the preparation has culminated to allow me to work effectively in many unique ways in this position.
As I look back on all of my experiences, and many more which I do not mention here, it is with absolute clarity that I know that my life has been carefully guided by our Heavenly Father. Each experience and challenge has been critical in preparing me for those things that were needed to meet those challenges that would come. Although I say each experience is critical, I also know that our Heavenly Father is patient. He keeps working with us in our imperfection until we get to where he wants us to be. The whole time as I have pursued various aspects of growth, I have felt as in my early basketball days—that I am not at any particular point in time making much progress. However, progress is made. Moreover, even though I may not always be successful at what I envision should be the direction my life should go, I know our Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us. If we pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit, even though the prompting doesn’t always make sense to us at the time, as it often does not, we will be guided to those things that will be our greatest blessings and opportunities—and be able to be a blessing to others.
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