By Merril Hoge – The words, “Find A Way,” have done two things for me: They have helped me live a dream – and fight to live. They resonate with me in every facet of my life.

Whether you’re embarking on an exciting journey or faced with a difficult obstacle, there is never an easy path. You have to take action when you want to accomplish big things. It’s the path most challenging that comes with the greatest rewards. So some of the designs I’ve worked on with Athlete Originals for “Find A Way” for the fans feature a path – imagery of going back and forth to the top of a mountain. This path symbolizes a dream. If you keep fighting, keep searching, keep taking action, you’ll get to the top.

“Find A Way” became my mantra when I was just twelve years old. Those words served as my inspiration at that young age, when I first set a goal of playing someday in the National Football League. The great thing about being young is that, as much as people may try, it’s difficult to discourage a determined young boy or girl. When I was a kid, there were four reactions from adults when they heard about my NFL dream:

– “Oh, you know what the odds are of you playing in the NFL, right”?

– “Do you know how hard it will be to actually get to the NFL”

– “Son, I don’t want you to be disappointed. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.”

– “Let me give it to you straight – it’s impossible.”

Well, it was those four doses of cynicism that I constantly thought about when I mounted the statement of my NFL goal on an 8” x 10” card on the corkboard in my bedroom in Pocatello, Idaho where they would sit for a decade. That’s the first time “Find A Way” popped into my head, and I remember how the phrase instantly ignited my energy.

My message to young children with dreams is, your mindset is so critical. You cannot pick two paths; you have to pick one. If you pick doubt and fear, they will win. It takes the same amount of energy to focus on taking action and striving to accomplish your goal as it does to be a skeptic. Everyone has the tools to accomplish this. They are your mental and your spiritual energies. “Find A Way” helped me overcome all the discouragement. Without “Find A Way”, “I want to play in the National Football League” would have just been a sentence on a kid’s bedroom wall.

As an adult, I have implemented “Find A Way” as one of my parenting tools. I’ve applied “Find A Way” in my battles with cancer and brain trauma. And as you’ll see, I’ll never stop finding a way.

HOGE Back to Pittsburgh for Another Battle – This Time It’s Heart Surgery

When I discovered I needed open-heart surgery for an enlarged aortic vessel that needed to be repaired I had it done – where else? – in Pittsburgh. Why? Because being in Pittsburgh always feels like a home game to me.

I never won the Super Bowl and haven’t been elected into the Football Hall of Fame, but because I played in Pittsburgh for the Steelers and because I played before the world’s greatest fans, I feel like I did win the Super Bowl and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh and the Steelers fans embraced me from the beginning of my playing days until the end, treated me as one of their own. The heart issue was discovered when I went in for a doctor’s visit to see if there had been any re-occurrence of my cancer. So in a way, having cancer might have saved my life. I’m having the surgery done at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and they tell me I should start to feel like myself again within four weeks.

There it is again: “Find A Way”.

My First NFL Game

It’s 1987, the Steelers are playing the Redskins in RFK Stadium in Washington, I’m 22 years old and I’m 2,400 miles from home. On the depth chart, I was about the sixth or seventh running back, so there was no reason to feel confident that I was even going to play. But here’s what I’ll never forget about the day.

My best friend – my best friend then and my best friend to this day – came to Washington to support me. During warmups, I saw him in the stands behind the end zone. When I saw him there, I was just blown away. I ran over to talk to him and one of my veteran teammates said, ‘Hey, you better be focused on the game, rookie.’ I told him, ‘Don’t worry, I’m ready. I just want to take a second to say hi to my best friend.’”

Much to my shock, the Steelers put me in at the start of the second quarter. I didn’t even have time to think, which was a positive. On my first run, I carried the ball for 15 yards. Now, I’m not bragging – quite the opposite. The hole created by our linemen was so big, I probably should have run for 35 yards. But I was so nervous and excited, I couldn’t feel my legs!

I made it to the NFL. I found a way.

My Hero, Walter Payton

Although we weren’t always a close family, my folks provided for us when we were growing up in Idaho, and I’ll never forget them for that. Sadly, my mom died when I was very young. My dad, he wasn’t always very involved with us. When he was, he raised us with an iron fist. So when it came to heroes when I was a child, this may sound strange to some you, but mine was someone who I had never met.

The legendary Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears meant the world to me. Indirectly, he was responsible for not just increasing my love for football, but for teaching me about life from afar.

I loved Walter Payton. I would read everything I could about him. I loved what he stood for, and the things that made him great as an athlete and a man. Walter wasn’t the biggest or the strongest or the fastest running back, but he was the best. How could he be the best when he wasn’t any of those things? Because of the mindset he created and lived by. He wanted it more than anyone else. He trained and practiced like nobody else. To me, what separated Walter Payton from everyone else is that he got the most out of his God-given abilities. When I was a kid, I thought, “I can do that. I can control getting the most out of myself.” That’s a lesson I try to share whenever I speak with young men and women.


Tips on Fitness and Nutrition

My approach has always been to invest my time in my health. There’s a lot we don’t have control over, but one thing we can control is our health by living a healthy lifestyle. How I train, how I eat, how I sleep have been habits developed over the years.

As for fitness, this is what I’ve done and always do:

Set up a gym: Don’t care if it’s not much bigger than a closet or 50 by 50 feet. I’ve always had a gym in my home or found a place to work out on the road.

Mornings: 45 minutes of core workout, 45 minutes of cardio.

Later in the day: Get back to the gym for either weight training or yoga/flexibility-type stuff

Weekly schedule: Since the 8th grade until today, I’ve been doing this 5-6 days a week.

You know how fanatical about fitness I was as a kid? In the middle of class, I used to ask for a hall pass to go to the bathroom. But I wouldn’t go to the bathroom – I’d run to the Universal machine in the school gym and see how many pounds I could bench-press. My inspirations back then were the Superheroes from the comic books. I used to look at guys like Batman and Superman, wonder how they could be so strong, and want to be like them.

With nutrition, my approach is fairly basic:

Avoid: Sugar, at all costs. Especially simple sugars. It is the biggest health issue in America today, in my opinion. Soda is a real problem for youngsters because there’s so much of it, it’s everywhere, and you don’t have to be 18 or 21 to drink it.

Mornings: Egg whites, oatmeal, berries

Lunch: A lot of venison (I love bow-hunting), cauliflower, broccoli, apples, oranges

Dinner: Steak or chicken, with fruits and vegetables

I don’t over-eat. I eat just enough to get to the next meal. Yes, I’ll grab a donut or a piece of cake on occasion. But I don’t live on it, so I don’t feel guilty the rare times I have a bad snack.

My Favorite Current Athlete

If you asked me to name my favorite athlete in any sport four years ago, I might have chosen a golfer or an NFLer. But today – and yeah, of course I’m biased – I want to share a little bit about my son Beau, who is a freshman quarterback at BYU.

I’ve coached him since he was seven years old. Beau has developed into the smartest, most instinctive football player I have ever seen. More importantly, he has molded himself into one of the most incredible men I have ever met. With all my wisdom and experience and knowledge that someone of my age should have, there are so many times when Beau gives me guidance. I’ve learned so much from him about composure, sportsmanship, grace and respect.

When he was a junior in high school, Beau was not chosen to be the starting quarterback. I thought he deserved it, but his coach went with a senior. I’m not going to lie – I was not happy about it. I’m not one of those parents that rants and raves, but this time I wanted to make the case for him. Beau told me to not say a thing – he would ask his coach if he could play wide receiver, do his best and wait for the opportunity at quarterback. That should have been my advice to him! Instead, it was Beau who saw the situation more clearly. Sure enough, he played QB, had an amazing season and was recruited by BYU and other colleges. He told me, “All’s well that ends well.” Again, as the father, I should have been the one giving that advice! Beau has made me so proud, so he’s by far my favorite current athlete.

The Greatest Thing I Ever Learned (To Apply as a Parent and Coach)

Judge your kids in the yardsticks of their years, not yours.

This philosophy has helped me avoid many mistakes, helped me not overreact to stupid things. When my son was five and would do the kind of silly thing a five-year-old might do, I looked at him at a five-year-old – not a 35-year-old. I had the same approach when I coached youth football. Are many kids going to care more about pizza and X-Box when they get home? Of course, and that’s okay. Don’t lose your patience over how they are. Let them act their age, not what you think they should be. If you do that, you won’t become frustrated. They will not become discouraged. There will be an understanding.

Why Athlete Originals?

Athlete Originals has been instrumental in helping me with my messaging and branding. I love that the apparel from Athletes Originals is By Athletes For The Fans. My credo of “Find A Way” is universal. It applies to everything and everybody. It is not focused specifically on cancer or head trauma or lifestyle or anything else. It’s about each individual trying to “Find A Way”.

When I was putting those words on my bedroom wall about someday making it to the NFL, living the mantra of “Find A Way” and reading up on my idol, Walter Payton, I was still going to the library in search of inspiration. One of the saying I came across was from the philosopher Aristotle, whom I knew nothing about at the time. But his words meant so much to me. Aristotle declared, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” That has stayed with me forever.

Be excellent. “Find A Way”.

Interested in learning more about Merril’s book, Find A Way and viewing his Find A Way clothing line, please visit his shop here: Shop Find A Way

Author Description

An entrepreneur and sports businessman from Hawaii, Chris Dey created Athlete Originals, which launched in September 2013. The company embodies his professional life's purpose which is to provide platforms where athletes from around the world can be showcased and celebrated. His career in the sports industry has aligned with this purpose and allowed him to work with some of the world's best and most interesting athletes for more than 25 years.