A hard-fought comeback

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“My worth is not in what I do, it’s in who I am, and who I am is about relationships,” Dave Dravecky said on Wednesday at Sam Houston State University’s President’s Speaker Series.

Dravecky, a former professional baseball pitcher, currently focuses his attention on motivational speaking and writing after a staph infection required his left arm to be amputated in June 1991 following his battle with cancer.

The speech was held in the Beto Criminal Justice Center Killinger Auditorium and was the third lecturer in SHSU’s President’s Speaker Series.

Dravecky’s lecture began with an emotional 10-minute film chronicling his career and life story.

Dravecky made his spot in baseball’s history when he pitched the San Francisco Giants to a 4-3 victory over Cincinnati in August 1989. This game was following the discovery and removal of half of his deltoid muscle from his pitching arm in 1988.

The short film’s narrator said it was a miracle that Dravecky pitched again after doctors insisted he would never stand on the pitching mound again.

The dramatic return to the pitching mound inspired Dravecky to write his first book, “Comeback”.

Dravecky’s cancer returned in November 1989, forcing his retirement and requiring further surgery and radiation treatment. In 1991 his left arm, shoulder blade and collarbone had to be amputated to save his life.

“No longer was the question whether he was going to pitch again, but whether he was going to live or not,” the narrator said. “He is a miracle, a role model and a real life hero.”

Following his book, “Comeback”, Dravecky authored “When You Can’t Come Back”, which chronicled his life after losing his arm. He said the loss of his arm was a shattering blow.

“(My arm) was what people cheered me for; it’s what made me valuable, what gave me worth in the eyes of the world,” he said. “Then suddenly my arm was gone.”

Senior Courtney Sustek said she was inspired by the motivational speech since his topic touched her on a personal level.

“In a way, he (inspired) me because I had a moment where my life was changed in an instant, and a lot of good has come because of that, so on a personal note (his speech) really hit me because of my experience,” Sustek said. “It reminded me that even though it was really bad at the time, a lot of good has come out of it.”

Dravecky said he wanted students to walk away from his speech understanding a little more about who they are as individuals.

“I think as I share in coming to a place in life where (students) realize that it is not what they do that matters most, but who they are,” he said. “So the journey, as (students) branch out into life after college, is really coming to grips with who they are as individuals and the importance of the relationships around them.”

Ultimately this realization will impact everything people do in their lives, he said.

“I (learned) that in one moment your life can change, and you have to pretty much make a choice of what to do with your life after that – if you are going to benefit from that change or if you are going to let it bring you down,” Sustek said.

Dravecky said the greatest impact on his life was in the summer of 1981 when he became a Christian.

“I came face to face with who God is and my relationship with him and ultimately that has affected everything since then as I have dealt with the adversity that has come into my life,” he said. “I think God allowed an incredible thing to happen in my life, being diagnosed with cancer and going through this experience, and with that I believe he has given me a story to share to encourage people.”

SHSU President James Gaertner established the President’s Speaker Series in 2002 in an attempt to bring prominent speakers to the university each fall and spring semester.

Gaertner said he wanted to introduce people who are living successful and principled lives to SHSU students, many of whom are first generation college students.

“(Dravecky) did not really come out and say that life is more important to him now, but he kept using the analogy of being on the mountain top at one point, and he feels like his life is more enriched now,” Sustek said. “Everything that happened to him while he was famous did not seem to make him grow internally. He is getting more from sharing his story and explaining how he has grown from the cancer than he did while he was famous.”

“What motivates me to do what I do today is having the opportunity to encourage people as they go through the journey of life – as it relates to their relationship with (God) and their relationship with others, and in particular, those who they spend their time with, and those who they love the most, and those who impact their lives,” Dravecky said.