MEDIA CONTEST: Find the hero within yourself

ACC MEDIA CONTEST -- We all have our reasons for joining the military. Most joined to serve their country. Some joined for the benefits and education. Others joined simply for a better life than the one they were living.

For me, it was different. The seed was planted through one of the most endearing acts of self-sacrifice and patriotism this country has seen in a long time.

April 23, 2004. I remember sitting on my couch watching the news when I heard about the passing of Pat Tillman. For those who've never watched football or even heard of Pat Tillman, he was the former Arizona Cardinals safety who chose to turn down a $3.6 million NFL contract to join the Army Rangers.

I first heard about his decision to leave the NFL in the spring of 2002. Of course, we're all familiar with the 9/11 attacks, and that is widely attributed as the reason he walked away from the game. How many people out there could go through with such a decision?
Imagine being an NFL player just hitting his stride. Now, could you honestly turn down millions of dollars to take a job that pays significantly less?

It takes a man of high character and value to make that kind of life-altering choice. Although I never met the man, I'm glad to have seen him play the game, and to this day, the path he chose in life is still awe-inspiring.

Having watched him play football, I can say these things about him. He was a man who played with fire and intensity. He was always willing to go the extra mile and put himself on the line to make the big play. Despite being the 226th selection in the 1998 NFL draft and a college linebacker transitioning into a new position, he gave it his all and strived to be the best.

The most vivid memory I have that illustrates this point is a game during his last season in the NFL. The Cardinals kicker, Bill Gramatica, had just made a field goal, and while celebrating, tore a ligament in his knee. When the Cardinals lined up to kick off, guess who I saw out there kicking the ball? It wasn't Scott Player, the Cardinals' punter, it was number 40, Pat Tillman.

Saturday is the two-year anniversary of his death in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I urge everyone not to mourn the loss of a true hero, but to celebrate the life of a man who fought for what he believed was right, whether it was on the gridiron or in the heat of battle.

One final thing I'll never forget regarding Pat Tillman was a quote by his friend and Navy Seal Steve White during his memorial service held in May 2004 in San Jose, Calif.
"1976-2004, that one little dash in there represents a lifetime. How do we spend our dash?"

The life and death of Pat Tillman inspires me to make the most of my dash every day, and I hope you all do the same. We're not guaranteed tomorrow.