They sat at a small table on the stage of Veterans Memorial Hall in the historic downtown of Rockford, Illinois. For a few hours on a hot June night, in front of a small auditorium of local residents, they shared stories of how they were able to become champions in their respective sports.

They didn’t do it for money. They didn’t do it for press. They did it to give back to the community that helped them rise to the top. They did it to acknowledge the many people who helped them along the way. They did it because it’s the right thing to do … give back and pay it forward.

They are the real superheroes of today’s sports world.

  • Angel Martinez, Golden Gloves national champion
  • Misty Opat, 12-time NJCAA basketball champion at Rock Valley College
  • Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors point guard
  • Corey Anderson, UFC No. 6-ranked heavyweight in the world

They all came together to share their stories and to encourage the city of Rockford to continue building sports facilities and to provide meaningful opportunities for children to learn and build character through sport.

Corey Anderson gave a riveting keynote address that focused on three life lessons he carries to this day:

  1. Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream
  2. It can only last so long (endure the pain and let patience guide you through the most difficult of times)
  3. Champions do more

These are the lessons ingrained in him from his days growing up with a father who demanded hard work and no play. These are the lessons that came from his many coaches who taught him what encouragement can mean to any child under any circumstances.

From his being pinned by a girl in a junior high wrestling match to breaking his leg before a crucial match, he shared his experiences that motivated him and spoke of the tremendous influence of multiple coaches throughout his career. One is still his best friend and sits in his fight corner.

After Corey’s keynote, Nick Povalitis, of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, moderated the four athletes and we discovered they all share three common denominators:

  • Rockford, Illinois
  • The belief that hard work pays off
  • Be humble and grateful for all those who help you along your way

It was a great evening. I believe we all walked away a little wiser and Rockford a little stronger.

-Dan Maloney