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Stride, Soar, SucceedMaryalice Yakutchik

Stride Soar Succeed (continued)

RODNEY STEPS UP

Monday, June 3 / Day 2

With five sports—basketball, football, track, volleyball and lacrosse—going on at once, and compressed into a frenetic few days, NativeVision seems at times to be a sprint and an endurance contest. Mercifully, a number of breathers are interspersed among the clinics. Longtime NativeVision basketball coaches Nadine Caron and Joe Meriweather look forward to these scheduled small-group chats for the chance to lift campers up and expand their perspectives beyond life on the Rez.

Meriweather, a fatherless black kid-turned-NBA-star, and Caron, a Native American surgeon in British Columbia, stand in front of their group, poised to talk candidly about the adversity they have faced, and reveal how they—to this day—apply lessons learned on the court to life’s challenges.

That’s when Rodney Dazen steps up. 

A shy 17-year-old Apache wearing electric-blue Nikes, he had attended camp the year before and heard these same coaches deliver inspiration and encouragement. Their heartfelt messages made an impression, he says, ultimately saving his life. Now, he has a story he wants to share with his fellow campers. Meriweather and Caron step aside.

Rodney tells his teammates that this time last year, he was sitting where they are when the coaches asked everyone to share a goal they had for the coming year: “What are you going to accomplish until we see you again?” Lots of kids talked about improving their shooting or making a varsity team. Rodney’s answer: “I want to try to finish school.” It had elicited from the coaches a passionate and startling response; something along the lines of: “NO! NO! NO! You’re going to try?! NO! Something that important, that fundamental, is non-negotiable; there’s no room for trying. You just do it!”

The message Rodney got from friends and relatives was that they expected him to drop out. “I never heard anyone tell me that they believed in me to get this far in high school, or to get a college education,” he says.

Until he attended NativeVision, he didn’t have any role models, Rodney says. He never saw people from his Rez going off to college and graduating. If they did go, they’d come back a month or so later, he noticed. 

Then, last June at NativeVision camp, he met Coach Caron of the Ojibway Tribe, First Nation. The former basketball standout at Simon Fraser University had finished at the top of her class in 1997 to become the University of British Columbia’s first woman aboriginal medical school graduate. Her success—in the face of challenges that he now realized were not unique to him—had a powerful effect on him, Rodney says. Suddenly, he knew in whose footsteps he wanted to follow. When all the other kids swarmed the college coaches and former pro players to sign their camp shirts, he approached Caron and asked her to autograph his beloved blue athletic shoes. 

“I would never let Michael Jordan sign these over you,” he told her, “because I’ve never seen a Native American go farther than you have.” 

The quote that Caron scrawled on his shoe—Do or Do Not, There is No Try—ultimately saved his life, he says. It had been a very tough year. He was sick, and sinking dangerously low. At a desperate moment, he noticed Caron’s handwritten message on his shoe. It empowered him to not give up, he says: “The sickness brought me down, but I didn’t let it take me down forever.” 

Tears in her eyes, Caron softly interjects, “You said you were going to try to finish high school. Where are you now?”

“Senior year.”

“And you’re looking forward to it?”

“Yes, I am.” 

 

“I would never let Michael Jordan sign these over you, because I’ve never seen a Native American go farther than you have.” 
—Rodney Dazen, with Nadine Caron

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