019: Cory Procter on Developing Grit, Dealing with Hardships and Stories From NFL

October 13, 2017

FYS 019 | Developing Grit
Cory Procter is a former American football guard in the National Football League, who played mostly for the Dallas Cowboys. I met him in Tanzania through the Waterboy foundation. Cory is one of the sincerest guys I know and it comes through in this episode.

What we try to do is to find people who have overcome adversity and found their way. We have another great example of a guy who has done that. His name is Cory Procter. Cory is a great dude and you’re going to really sense that and feel that from this radio podcast. The first thing is he grew up in Washington. I’m from Seattle, he grew up down the street, so to speak, in Gig Harbor, then went on to play football at University of Montana before going on into the NFL enjoying a seven-year career mostly with the Dallas Cowboys.

Cory is a big dude. He played on the offensive line. I think he’s about 6’4”, 6’5”, close to probably 300 when he was playing at his peak. He’s a guy that I met down in Tanzania through the Waterboys foundation that Chris Long invited former NFL players and Green Berets on. We really bonded when we were down there. Everybody’s situation is relevant to their own. You might look at an NFL guy and say, “Why does this guy have any problems?” Cory is a big guy, he was all-state but didn’t get recruited by any of the big schools like Washington, USC, UCLA and so on. He went to the smaller school. When he came out of that after winning a national championship at that lower D-I level, he did not get invited to the Combines and he did not get drafted in the NFL. It’s a setback, it’s frustrating, you work everything towards that goal and then it doesn’t happen. He talks about how he constantly had to overcome that, going through injury, and then the worst thing of all is really dealing with the pain, the loss of his nephew, his brother’s son, who died when he was a small kid and what that meant to him.

Another thing that we really talked about a lot is this whole idea of grit. Cory is just a gleaming example of what grit is all about. I love talking to this guy. Here is a guy that we were on the top of Kilimanjaro with these other NFL players and he lost vision in one of his eyes. He just got delirious from the altitude that we were at, 19,333 feet, and we were up there way too long. He just really had to dig deep to get off that mountain and took my lead, took Jim Mora’s lead and we got him down safe and sound. Just in life, things that we all have to go through and when grit really kicks, and how you get that.

As always, we love the reviews and ratings, please go in. It’s really helping me off. I can tell you, these podcasts are blown up. It’s amazing. I have a lot of great guests on and there are a lot more coming. It’s because of you that is making this thing super fun for me to watch this grow. Let’s keep it going. On that note, let’s get on to Cory.

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Cory Procter on Developing Grit, Dealing with Hardships and Stories From NFL

I’m really stoked because I’ve got a fellow NFL player that I met on this NFL fundraising Waterboy project that we did together down in Kilimanjaro down in Tanzania. His name is Cory Procter. He played five years in the NFL. Actually, he’s a fellow Washingtonian which I’m excited to speak to. I’m in Hermosa Beach, California and Cory is in Fort Worth, Texas. Cory, how are you doing?

I’m good. What’s going on? You’re at Hermosa Beach over there?

I’m about 100 yards off the water. If I get a little stressed out, I just walk down and jump in and dolphins swim by and we do a high-five thing, and then I come back and jump on my workday. It’s great.

That sounds good for the soul.

Speaking of the soul, I know that the great State of Texas was affected in a big time way with Hurricane Harvey. You were just talking about the effects did not actually come in to Dallas-Fort Worth, but you certainly saw the remnants of people coming up in a panic and trying to buy boats and stuff like that, right?

Yeah. The extent of the weather that we got was a couple of short monsoon rains. It lasted for a flash of a day and it got out of there for us. We’re about four hours north of Houston. It was really cool to see all of a sudden you saw people on Facebook buying up boats, looking for boats to buy left and right, getting trailers of supplies, diapers and hygiene kits and whatnot, and just go on and tie the race down. It was great to see what everybody was doing. My buddy, Casey Donahew, who’s a big country singer here, committed a whole week’s worth of his shows. They had a Dallas show downtown and his wife just gathered three trailers full of stuff that they took down to rally points down there. That’s just one example.

A lot of what we’re talking about here on this podcast is about overcoming adversity. It sounds like from a bird’s eye view, you were able to watch a community come together, join and create a bigger cause around trying to help those in need, which is so important. It was just amazing to see those visuals on TV and waterlines up 10 feet and going in homes, and cars upside-down, and people in boats literally going down streets. It’s just insane.

That’s because the hurricane in itself is one massive incident and then it leads way to other opportunists or some bad people who want to take advantage of the situation. I had a friend down there that the local deputy department asked them to mount up, gear up and take their guns and try to help find a shooter that was in a flooded neighborhood. Just people taking advantage of the situation and those who want to overshadow the light, which it doesn’t happen. Those good people, they bring out the best. There was one report of a guy who had a son in an apartment building, had to escape through the second level apartments and he’s walking out with a backpack and his son and he’s talking about how blessed he is and how thankful he is just to be out. You look at that situation, how can you not be ticked off or distraught or upset at the situation? The guy is like, “No, I’m thankful. I’ve got my son and I’ve got my own two feet to walk on.”

FYS 019 | Developing Grit

Developing Grit: We get caught up on our own minutia of what we think is important. If you just take a step back, go up to 30,000 feet and look around, there are always people with worst situations.

What you’re talking about is perspective. I think so often we get caught up on our own minutia of what we think is important. If you just take a step back, go up to 30,000 feet and look around, there are always people with much worse situations. Would you rather have a child that was killed in a flood or would you rather have saved that child and you’re alive and you have everything and you have to rebuild? Family is everything, life is precious.

Let’s go back and let’s roll up to how you got to where you are today. I talked about in the opening you’re from Gig Harbor, Washington which is about an hour away from Seattle. You grew up there. Some things that struck me odd as I was reviewing your bio and some of the things that we got to know each other when we were down in Tanzania last February was that you were All-State in high school playing football, you’re a big guy. What’s your size? You’re 6’6”, 6’5”?

I wish I was that tall. I’m 6’4”, about 280 right now, about 320 when I was playing.

You’re a big boy. You did well. This streams down to the NFL as well but it was odd to me that it’s hard to find big bodies like you. Not to say that this is a jab or anything, but you ended up going to the University of Montana in Missoula, which is awesome, but I was surprised that bigger schools weren’t coming after you like the University of Washington, the UW.

This stuff is interesting because I did at first. I had a whole lot of Division I-A interests my junior year, so I performed really well. We were about five and five as a team and athletically, I was doing really well. I was leaned out to 250, 240 in that season and I actually had an early offer from BYU in the spring, which was really cool. Then senior year, I had torn my meniscus, which you know is not much. That’s an easy thing to come back from. I remember after the first game that Monday, I pulled it back to stretch my quad and it popped into my joint. I couldn’t straighten my leg all of a sudden. It’s just funny, I said, “Now I can’t straighten my leg, now we have to go get it scoped.”

I’m out for the next three weeks. At the time, this is huge to me because I don’t know any different than being healthy. I’m like, “I’ve got to have surgery, it’s going to be crazy.” I’m only out for three weeks, I come back and ended up playing full-time. I’m about a step slower than what I should have been at that point in the season. A lot of that I-A interest dropped off, which is funny. It’s because they were scared off from a torn meniscus.

Scholarships are precious. At the end of the day, it trickles back to the head coach and it’s all about wins and losses. They want to try to bring in the horses that are going to get them to the finish line. It’s just always a tricky thing and that’s the whole magic of some guys that can see through that and others just see what they can see.

I had one I-A team that offered me and that was University of Idaho when Tom Cable was the head coach there. They saw through that and he was really great through that whole situation. He thought I was going to commit to BYU when I was on my visit, so he went ahead and offered some other lineman, which is no big deal but it put them in a little bit of a bind, and then they offered to grayshirt me. He put it in writing and everything because BYU jerked me around a little bit and I didn’t like it because they weren’t upfront. They offered early and they were never upfront with where they were on that offer, if they were going to honor it or just pull it back or go a different direction.

Right up, I remember my mom really wanted me to go there and had me checked the week of signing and wanted me to double-check with them and the same thing. That was the switch between Gary Crowton and LaVell Edwards who’s a big name there.

He coached there forever, like 30, 40 years it seemed like. So goes the drama of high school recruiting and a lot of people have been through it. It’s all about what you do about that and how you move forward. You end up then getting an offer to go play for the University of Montana, which is a D-I school but Double-A. Is that how they say that?

They changed the actual name to sub-championship series, something like that. It’s I-AA football, so it’s a step below.

You had a great crew there. You played pretty much all four years and you ended up winning the championship, which the championship of anything is amazing to achieve. Was that your sophomore year or your junior year?

[Tweet “The championship of anything is amazing to achieve. “]

That was my freshman year. I started five games at right tackle. Jon Skinner had gone down and moved around a bunch. We were the winningest team in NCAA history at 16 and 1 because we lost to Hawaii who was our second game of the season but we ended up going 16 and 1. That’s a full professional season. We win the title. We beat Furman. Sophomore year, junior, we didn’t make it back. I think we made a quarter and semi-finals or something there. Then senior year, lost in the finals. We were smoking hot on offense and we just couldn’t cap it off.

I got a scholarship to the University of Washington. My first year there, we went to the Rose Bowl and in my sophomore year, we went to the Rose Bowl. We were like, “This is just the way it is. You go to the Rose Bowl every year.” We ended up going to great ball games from thereon out. When you get caught up that early in that success, you think it’s just going to be on perpetuity. I’m not sure which is better: to set the bar high and then constantly try to get back to that pinnacle or have adversity early in your career so you know where you want to be. At the end of the day, you won the championship and winning anything anywhere is an amazing accomplishment. You have a great career there, you’re in Missoula and now you’re prepping for the draft and you end up going where?

To prepare for the draft, I went to Tom Shaw who was in Kenner, Louisiana, right outside of New Orleans. He was the speed coach of the Patriots at the time. I’m not sure if he still is. This was before Hurricane Katrina and all that stuff, which ended up moving him. I was there, I’m with a whole different level of athletes now because I’m used to being the big fish in the pond or at least one of the top guys all the time, to a mess of prospects that I have no idea who they are. A lot of them are draft picks, a lot of them are going to the Combine. I wasn’t one of those guys. I was there trying to get my 225 bench up, which was not a natural strength for me, and try to get me running well so I can get some numbers that might be impressive to put me on the draft boards for a lot of people.

It was a great experience. I got a lot of great work on, definitely got stronger and faster and was able to get a step in those measurables and really put on some weight. I was 305 when I came out of there and they really liked that. They wanted me above 300. It wasn’t enough to get drafted but enough to get some interest, so I ended up going to Detroit from there, undrafted.

I went to a big school and I did fairly well there and ended up getting drafted in the seventh round. I remember going through the Combines and doing all that stuff myself. I always had that mindset of just hope for the best and expect the worst, versus so many people, if they’re not drafted where they want to be or where they think they should be, which you always think your kid is the most beautiful kid on the block. With that same mentality of now it’s the first round, the second round, the third round and now it’s this massive disappointment. I was so grateful just to be drafted. I didn’t know where that was going to be or to who. In my case, it turned out to be the Raiders. I was ecstatic and I was high-fiving. Our common buddy, Jim Mora, he was there when all that happened. It was just a blessed moment.

I think for anybody, it doesn’t really matter really. The first, second, third round maybe; everybody else, you’re out there battling. You go to Detroit and you’re there, how do you end up in the Cowboys? It seems like that was really the meat of your career.

FYS 019 | Developing Grit

Developing Grit: You know how fast something can change in the league. You get settled in one spot and it’s a change in the blink of an eye.

You know how fast something can change in the league. You get settled in one spot and it’s a change in the blink of an eye. I was there in Detroit most of my rookie year and we lost to Atlanta on Thanksgiving, got smoked. That was when Coach Mora killed us, when he was the head coach of Atlanta. Steve Mariucci was the head coach there and I loved him. I think a lot of guys just took advantage. We had a tough team to go with that. Anyway, the next Tuesday night after that coaching change was happening, 9 PM, I’m at Chris Chelios’ place. He was captain of the Red Wings at the time. We were at his restaurant with some friends. At 9 PM, I get a call from my agent, Don Yee. He says, “Cowboys want to pick you up at the last five games of the season.” All of a sudden, I’ve got to go pack up my apartment which I barely had anything anyway, and get on the 6 AM flight to be at practice at 10.

I’ve gone through that. I think what a lot of the listeners don’t understand, because most people haven’t been through this, is that when you open up the paper and you see transactions and you see guys, “He got cut, he got traded,” they don’t understand the impact it has on your life. For a full year, more or less, you’d been in Detroit, in my case, it was in LA, and you’ve gone through training camps, you’ve got alliances, you’ve got buddies, you’ve got utility bills, you’ve got your car there, you’ve got other things going on, you have a life going on. Within hours, you get a phone call and everything changes and you have to be someplace else within 24 hours. You’re like, “What?” You’re in this mad scramble to make all that happen and it’s really disrupting. Obviously, change is always hard for anybody but it’s stressful, it’s hard and you take a big deep breath and, “Let’s go.” In your case, Dallas was a great place to go. It wasn’t like you were being sent off to Buffalo or someplace. You were going to a good spot. Tell me about your experience with the Cowboys.

I got there, Bill Parcells was the head coach and I liked him right away. To me, I liked him because Bill Parcells is a workhorse guy. He brings in these guys that like to work. Not a knock on any of my previous teams but at the time, I was one of a handful of guys on the team who were regularly in the weight room, who liked working out, liked doing that stuff. Cory Schlesinger was one of those guys there at the fullback. When I got to Dallas, I was one of the whole team. He made some of that stuff mandatory to get three lifts in a week, this and that. For off-season, workouts were mandatory. I became one of a team of guys who wanted to be there. You have a different character mold when you show up to a team like that.

All of a sudden, I came into a whole lot of guys that liked to work, who are good players, who are tough and that elevated my game quite a bit. I needed a growing phase in Detroit. I got there and all of a sudden I’m practicing against Greg Ellis and practicing with guys like, at that first year, Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode, Kyle Koshier and Marco Rivera. Marc Colombo was new there and then Leonard Davis came later. We just had some excellent workers, strong guys, tough mentalities that liked to play.

It was always surprising for me that you would think that this is the top of the top that have made these NFL teams in terms of percentage. You would think that all these people are self-driven, every day they’re running stairs, they’re running sprints, they’re on the weight room, they’re all doing all those things. What I found is there are only about 10% of those guys in that locker room and all the locker rooms I’ve ever been in, that just had that natural drive. They were talented and there was motivation but they weren’t self-driven. That’s okay but you needed that program, that leadership in place to make sure those things were happening because if you didn’t, people would slack off and not push themselves in the way that they need to be pushed. If you want to be around successful people or be successful yourself, you have to hang out with successful people and create successful programs to do that. That’s what it sounds like Parcells did for you and your teammates.

I love the phrase, “Your destiny is directly tied to the crowd you hang around.” I don’t remember the coach who said, “If you want to be a top Division I-A coach, you can’t be hanging around your old buddies back in high school that aren’t doing anything.” I’ve got to get around people who are going to elevate my game. I love that. I get around this different crowd where I was one of a handful of workers who like to do that to now a bunch of guys, these are my kind of guys, that all of a sudden I’m jacked, I’m great. The whole team atmosphere was completely different. It doesn’t make the games any easier but it makes the overall atmosphere of that team a whole lot better. Your losses are more impactful and it refocuses those guys a whole lot more.

[Tweet “Your destiny is directly tied to the crowd you hang around. “]

I love it because I got around guys like Marc Colombo who’s a close friend of mine from Boston College. He was a first round draft pick into Chicago, had a terrible knee injury, Parcells took a chance on him. Joe Juraszek developed him in the weight room, got him jumping again and doing all kinds of good plough stuff. His stuff is hell. Those were the guys that made you want to fight. All of a sudden they’re picking fights on the field and you’re jumping in the pile.

You’re in Dallas for five years, is that right?

Five years, end of ’05, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. I started primarily as a swing guard center, special teams guys, wedge, field goal, PAT. I started most of 2008 at left guard, a couple of games for Andre Gurode in 2007. 2008 was really up and down but I had a great time. The whole team fluctuated a little bit. Wade Phillips was the new head coach then and he was a great guy and just putting pieces together. He was a puzzle master because he put DeMarcus Ware in some optimal positions and knew how to really piece those guys together. That’s when Jason Garrett came in as an offensive coordinator also and really started putting his own flavor in some different things. I remember as an offense, we ran Iso everybody’s throat all year long, all season long. That was really good because I played some excellent games, ran into some adversity to myself where I had some tough games. I was always the guy who was averaged-sized, light in the ass, is what they always called me, I got the skinny legs. I was the guy who’d watch and film.

I remember for a Washington game, it was the last season in Texas Stadium and Griffin, who was a D-tack was watching at the time. I remember coming out that first play of the game, I think we had 133 call, which is a slide protection where the center is moving right and I got a one-on-one right on the three. We’re expecting an over this whole game and I get an under right out the gate and I’m one-on-one, I’m out the gate, play-action pass. All I’m thinking is, “This guy is way bigger in person than he looked on film. I got to punch the ever living hell out of him to make a statement.” That would get me into trouble at times. That was okay, I could recover. I had to bring a whole lot of attitude to the table to stick around, that’s for sure.

For everybody that doesn’t have any clue what Cory just said, it basically means Cory lined up against an elephant and this elephant got around, so he recovered from that. What I want to do is I want to set up this life after football and what goes on. What I think a lot of people don’t understand is that, and I was in the same way, where you go into high school, you go into school and you’re playing football and everything is going great. Then from there you go to, in your case, University of Montana and you’re there four, five years. You’re having a great time. You’re playing football, you’re continuing to work your body year-round and build on your craft. You go in the NFL and now you go from Detroit and from Detroit to Dallas for five years. Then you ended your career in Miami. The whole time, you’re just always trying to get better but you don’t know if you’re going to be cut, if you’re here and there’s trust, but then one day it happens.

Just like me, one day, they’ll throw you out. You’re sitting there like you’re looking around and all the noise stops and you’re going, “Wait a minute. Is this it?” That transition is so difficult because unlike everybody else, all my other buddies who were working normal jobs that were building into a career, you go off the cliff. We all do. What was that like for you when the music stopped?

It was weird for me because it was almost a fade-out in a sense. It stopped right away for me. I was in Miami and I ruptured my patellar tendon in my left knee on a Thursday night game against the Bears. I think Urlacher was laughing because I screamed like a little girl when it happened because it was awful. I was hurt and from there, my knee got infected. Five surgeries later, at no point did I ever think I was done playing. That whole time, that whole next year I spent on the couch, it sucked. It was during the lockout, so they weren’t necessarily privy to all that information out there. I fully expected being out, getting strong and getting back with the team. I had some opportunities, I had some tryouts but I had this long list of surgeries. Now I had an injury, I had a list of surgeries that I’ve just gone through, this guy’s knee was infected, so it’s not quite as stable as it could be. I’m going into my seventh year, which brought like almost $1 million minimum price tag and there are younger guys who are healthier that we want to get looked at to try to develop. That’s just the reality of the game in that sense.

I reached a point where I’ll keep the door open but we’ve got to start taking steps for our own life. There was a point in time there where I’m stuck on Percocet and Vicodin and loving the pain pills because it took me out of this reality. It took me out of facing that. That was hard. Thank God for my wife, Megan, because she was there for me to lean on pretty heavy. I didn’t even realize it at the time. She’s thankful for that time, and I am too now looking back, because I was so headstrong on taking care of the world myself and I can fix everything, that I didn’t give her anything. I didn’t let her support our relationship and we were engaged at the time. I was forced to sit on the couch literally for a year. I had to rely on everything for her. She had to help me take my leg up. I remember the first couple of weeks after the first surgery, I’m taking a shower every other day, every third day and she’s got to help into the shower for crying out loud. That’s humbling. You go completely independent for this long and all of a sudden, somebody’s got to sit there and help get you undressed. I could wash myself but it’s a hard thing to move through.

FYS 019 | Developing Grit

Developing Grit: The sooner that we realize that we can’t do it ourselves, there are so many wonderful people actually willing to help you, you just got to ask.

What I’ve learned from personal experience is, and this took me a long time because just like you, you’re headstrong, you’ve always done well for yourself and it’s the NFL mentality, but what we all need is to reach out for help. The sooner that we realize that we can’t do it ourselves and that there are so many wonderful people out there actually willing to help you and want to be there for you, you just got to ask. They’ll come running. Those are the true friends and those are the true mentors and those are the type of people that I think we all need to be around.

A lot of times, people are asking to help, you just won’t receive it. How many times have you told somebody, “What can I do for you?” As simple as a meal or a conversation. It’s almost our natural reaction is, “No, I got it,” especially guys, especially men who were raised up in this sport, who’s giving you so many great values and they’re all so great. One of those that can be a side effect to that is that natural independence or mindset that I can control everything, “I just need to do this. I need to get back to work. I need to work harder. These are the things I need to figure out.” Instead of listen to my coach or listen into a teammate and let them bring some advice on you or ask some questions that might expand your thought pattern a little bit.

How did you get over that? You’re sitting on the couch, you’re finally letting your fiancée at the time, you had to, no choice, help you get through that. What were the things that you finally got over that hump and you knew that you weren’t going back to football and now you’re plotting your course ahead?

People, 100%, because I’m still set on this. We were still living in Irving, Texas at the time. At the time, I got introduced to Joe Carini who was a power lifter, strength trainer who dealt with Tiki Barber, Lawrence Taylor, LT, who was running back out of TCU who was in San Diego for a long time, and Thomason. He dealt with some really good players. I got hooked up with him and decided to go to New Jersey to train. Ultimately, the football goal wasn’t reached where we didn’t get on our team, but I had some people put in my life then that were needed hard. Megan and I needed each other, but we’re both looking for answers in this situation. She’s trying to support me to get back to the game.

We were in New Jersey and I met Joe who fed my desire to want to work. We got big, we got strong, A to crazy. Then we made some other friends, a chiropractor in New Jersey, the Teresa family and then their extended family, and then more family on top of that. I’m sure anyone who’s dealt with the Italian culture or Sicilian culture, those people, once you’re accepted into their family, will love you to death. I love them. Those people, they lifted me up in a time that I needed it, big time.

They’re super close friends of us still and we love them. They’re family to us. Those were people that were crying when we decided to move back to Texas and we were crying to separate from because we were going to miss them so much. That gave us the strength to take a next step in our life for ourselves. That’s what that allowed us to do. That was so huge. Even after football, you think you’ve reached this pinnacle of grit and performance and sustainability or, “I got this in this world.” After that was when I needed people to support me the most, and they did.

One of the things that I learned is that I don’t think things just happen randomly. I don’t believe in, “What a coincidence. I just happened to do this.” I think in order for you to actually make those profound steps, you need to put yourself out there and then these types of things will come into your life. You’ve got to be open, open mindset, and then actually take those things that are going to get you out there. Staying in your house, on the couch is not going to get you anywhere. Until you’re willing and ready to put it out there and really open yourself up, I think that’s when the transformational change really comes into your life.

FYS 019 | Developing Grit

Developing Grit: Until you’re willing and ready to put it out there and really open yourself up, that’s when the transformational change really comes into your life.

Cory, I appreciate you sharing that. I want to talk about something that I saw out of you. I’ve heard you speak about this subject but it really was on my mind when I was thinking about this podcast with you and I want to set this up a little bit. Chris Long started a foundation called Waterboys. Waterboys is raising money through former or current NFL players and then it funds wells down for the Maasai people in the Serengeti in Africa, specifically in Tanzania. Chris had put together six former NFL guys along with Chris, Jim Mora, head coach of the UCLA football team, and three or four ex-Green Berets and marines that we all converged in on this hotel in this small town called Arusha. This is where I met Cory. We went out and we went to the different tribes and we had a great time. Ultimately, we ended up going to and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which is one of the Seven Summits in the world. It’s 19,333 feet, highest peak in Africa. One of the gals that were on the trip, her name was Kirstie Ennis. With Kirstie, she’s a wonderful soul, she’s an ex-Marine who is an above-the-knee amputee. If you can imagine, basically hopping up the mountain on one leg and summiting this thing. It was just amazing.

It was the good news, the bad news. The good news is that everybody made it. The bad news is because she had this disability, it just took forever to get up there, understandably, and it just exposed a lot of people to altitude way too long. Where I’m going with all this is we finally get to the top and we’re at the sign where it says you’re at the top and we’re taking pictures and high-fiving and hugging. The next thing, Jim Mora and I turn around and Cory, he can’t see out of one of his eyes. Chris Long was completely delirious, he’s about ready to fall off the hill, we grabbed him. Luis Castillo, he was coming down. We had to put him on oxygen. There was just chaos that ensued from all this high altitude illness. Another guy got pulmonary edema and he fell over. There was a lot of crazy stuff that was going on.

The word which I’m leading up to is what you had to do is rather than sit there and complain about it and sit down, like somebody did on me on Denali in a very dangerous situation this last May, what you did was just, “Just help me get off the top and I’ll be okay.” That’s all you said. We helped guide you off the top and some of the other people and we did it. The word that just jumped out to me and something I’ve heard from you, I just want you to expand on this, is this word called grit. When you hear that word grit, what does that mean to you?

It’s interesting because it can be something that’s passed over so quickly. As I thought about it more, this was something that was as deep as engrained into this habitual place in your soul. This is something that’s not given to you. It’s not gotten overnight. This is developed over time in adversity and the people that have called it out in your life and a purpose that can be later defined. It’s the ability to keep stepping. It’s to lean on other people. It’s a whole lot involved. Some people call it perseverance. I heard somebody call it discipline, the discipline to get up. It’s just this innate ability that you eventually develop from habit, from doing it over and over, because it’s not motivation. Motivation drops in a day.

It’s something that you just learn by putting one foot in front of the other and all of a sudden, I’m getting up at 5 in the morning, I’m going to the gym every day, I’m getting to work at the same time every day, I’m getting up, getting baby girl’s food taken care of every day. I’m making sure I’m there emotionally for my wife and for my family and I’m leading them with intention and purpose. It’s a whole lot of different things. When you get to a point, all of a sudden it clicks where it turns into habit and you find yourself in a situation like we’re on top of a mountain in Africa at 19,000-plus feet where you’re not made to stay. Things were going wrong. I’m personally going blind in one eye that didn’t come back for a day, and delirious as can be like Chris Long and a lot of us were going like that. All of a sudden, I’m thinking, “I need to pull this thing together,” something clicks, “I’ve got to pull it together, I’ve got a baby girl, I’ve got my wife, help me out.” I lean on you guys who were experienced, someone like you who’s experienced and been on these mountains before or seen people in this situation before, and guys who are doing okay. Coach Mora seemed all right. I love him, he’s got a ton of fire and you know that. All of a sudden that grit and that habit takes place where, “I know I can do this, let me figure out how.” It’s not a matter of just sitting down like, “I’m done,” because that’s what I wanted to do when we got up to the crater. What’s that point right there where we made it at?

It’s Gilman’s Point.


We reached that and I thought that was the top. It was like getting punched in the face.

That’s the false summit.

I wanted to stop but I’m like, “Give me a second. Let me compose myself. Let’s do this. Help me out. I’m going to stick with you guys.”

We actually had to go about another half a mile around the crater to get to the top top. Even at the top top, it was fairly warm, it was sunny but it’s just that exposure to high altitude. I love what you said about grit. Grit is not necessarily something you’re born with. It’s something that you develop over time. Another thing that I really felt and sensed from you is a cousin to grit, because of those things that you talked about, it’s your moral compass. It’s knowing to do the right thing. It’s knowing what you’ve got to do to get yourself out of a situation or not putting yourself in a bad situation. That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with mountain climbing. I think grit, integrity, moral compass, all of those things are the things at least that I try to strive for in the people that I want to be around.

[Tweet “Moral compass. It’s knowing what you got to do to get yourself out of a situation.”]

Throughout the entire trip, when we were hanging out and we were out chasing drafts and just having a good time, when we weren’t stressed and I think we camped five or six nights going up the mountain until we summited. You really demonstrated that in the right way when a lot of people have seemed they get stressed in those situations, they turn into other people. The true character finally comes out and you showed that through and through. I’m just very, very proud to call you friend and that you’re made up of those things.

I appreciate that. David Vobora who played with Chris Long is how we connected. Talking with Chris, he’s like, “You want to climb Kili and go try to raise some money and build some wells?” At first it was the Africa thing like, “I’ve never been there. Yeah, let’s go do this.” I wanted to go do everything. We’re throwing footballs on the top of the mountain before this elevation sickness kicked in.

We’re throwing footballs around and we’re experiencing a whole new way of living. I’m in this, I want to be involved. I could easily be lazy and just sit back and not do anything, but I want to be involved with you guys. I loved it because everybody was jumping in on that. We had such a good group going up that mountain. I’m sure they’re asking for your feedback too like, “How can we make this experience better?” My only feedback was, “Go after the same kind of people.” I really think the mesh of people that we had together melded so well and worked so well. Nobody was offended by anything. Everybody was there just to work and helped each other out. I loved asking you questions because I’m like, “How has this compared to other summits?” and you were talking about Denali and some different, more strategic climbs in reference to that and how they compare. The characters that were onboard showed themselves really well.

The other thing that really was impressive too to me, that was certainly one part of it. The other part of it was when we were actually in the tribes, the Maasai people. I’m sitting here in Hermosa Beach and you’re in Fort Worth right now and you’re in your car. All these things, they don’t have any of this stuff. As you saw, their floors are dirt and they’ve got these sticks that hold up their house. I’ve never seen a more grateful group of people. It’s all about family and it’s all about gathering. They have no currency or they do, their currency is a goat. It’s not like you run down and, “I’m going to get some toothpaste.” They grab a leaf off a tree and they start chewing it.

It just puts things in perspective when we start to get like, “I don’t have enough or I’m not doing the right things.” They just have it nailed in terms of the simplicity of life is really the diamond jewel to their happiness. It’s just something that I really took along. We had a great group. That great group entered those tribes. You were there, you saw it and just how wonderful they were to us and our appreciation back to the life that they were living. It was just really cool.

FYS 019 | Developing Grit

Developing Grit: The simplicity of life is really the diamond jewel to their happiness.

I’ll put one thing out there. Before I went on this, I’ve heard other people go on mission trips, seen other friends do this stuff and raise funds for it to help out other continents or other places like we were helping. I’ve had this attitude before, which is flipped now, because I know there are people out there, “Why don’t you just help our backyard? We got lots of problems. Why don’t you just raise funds or stick around here and help America? There are problems over here. There are homeless people over here. There’s X, Y, Z.” I was definitely one of those people questioning that until I got there to see it.

We got there and you had a totally different experience. What you’re talking about is the simplicity of the living. We’re Skyping right now and having this conversation on a podcast. I do the same thing where I listen to podcasts for enjoyment and to get information, while these folks over here are waking up in the morning and the dad’s telling the wife and the kids, “Go find some water. By the way, don’t get eaten or don’t get raped along the way because I’ve got to find something to eat and we need to live.” Those are the legit everyday trials they’re facing while I’m sitting here worried about how many grams of protein are going in my protein shake.

Just like what you’re saying though, obviously a well and bringing them water is a huge thing to them. We showed up and these celebrations that were taking place, these folks are slaughtering fifteen lambs to celebrate us doing that for them. It was so great to see that. I don’t know if you remember jambo. Jambo was a greeting they had to say hello. At first I totally thought they were calling me fat. I’m like, “Jambo? Who are you talking to, kids?”

They wanted to touch you. They wanted to say thank you. They wanted to be a part of it. You go outside of yourself so you can fully appreciate what you have here, your family. Not that it’s about stuff but you’re like, “I’m driving a truck right now and those people are walking miles a day.” I need to stop complaining about the garbage in my life that is not garbage and realize a whole lot of good that’s there.

It’s all about perspective. That’s life and that’s when you have to overcome certain things. You’ve overcome your NFL career when you had to mourn that loss and you’ve overcome knee injuries and, unfortunately, your brother’s son passed away from cancer. Absolutely devastating, I can’t imagine going through that and then you’re trying to ask yourself, “How do I make sense of this?” How did you get though that?

That was hard. I’m middle of three boys. My younger brother, Casey, my older brother, Clay, we’re all three years apart. Casey and I were the sports guys. We grew up playing football and wrestling and doing everything together. I remember us playing pool at dad’s house because my folks are split, and for every ball the other guy would make, you’d have to do ten pushups. I remember doing all that stuff with Casey. Right after his son Evan and his wife Ashley, I won’t leave her out, but after his first birthday, they found out he was diagnosed with ATRT, atypical rhabdoid tumor, which is a 1 in 2 million chance of getting.

It’s crazy aggressive. We went through the chemo bouts and we went to St. Jude. Overall, it was about seven months long was this period of a fight. The heavy part for me going through that was that’s when we were pregnant with Grace, with our daughter. The first time they met was at St. Jude Hospital in Tennessee when we found out that he only had so long to live. That’s when the doctor said, “Take your boy home and enjoy your time with him.” That is a brick wall that you cannot slam through. It was a time for me, and not just me, but everybody in their family, of complete confusion and it causes all sorts of fights and different things that go on, of choices that should be made and how people should act in certain situations. It just causes a whole mess of issues.

That’s why I say this, everything in my life and everything in my brother’s and his wife’s lives and ours were a preparation for this. Everything I had faced in football, everything that I had gotten through that injury was a time to help me walk through it and to help support my brother when he needed it bad, and at a time where we couldn’t make sense of the situation. I remember sitting at St. Jude right after we got the news and we got to hop on a plane to go back. I’m sitting here helping in taking his rental car back and we’re just sitting in the truck like right now. We just kept quiet, trying to make sense of this situation. All I could tell him was how much he meant to me. I couldn’t find any words and all I could sit there and repeat over and over again was how much I love him and how much he’s my brother and I want to be there with him. It was hard to do that.

Ultimately, Biggie passes and we just keep walking. We noticed the effect that he has on our lives and on everybody else around him because the communities, they just sucked on to Casey and Ashley and loved them to death. That’s why I say I love this value of grit because you need people to develop that. We’re on top of the mountain and all of a sudden like, “I know I can do this. I got to figure out how and I need somebody to hold on to,” and I grabbed you, I grabbed Coach Mora, I grabbed Chris Long. In this situation, you guys grabbed me to hold me up and I grabbed my brother to hold him up. We tried to make sense of the situation and keep walking and keep moving.

[Tweet “Those habits keep you walking so God can meet you where you’re at and lead you into a better place.”]

The revelation to me was that value and those habits keep you walking long enough so that God can meet you where you’re at and lead you into a better place. The best thing about that to me right now is they’ve done that. They’ve kept walking and it led them to a place right now where they totally think like, “I know Biggie had a place in this,” but right now they’re pregnant with twin girls. It’s like a breath of life. I would say Casey is way better than I am. I’ll be the emotional one. I could fly off the handle in a minute. That value he had and we had the people around us, was able to keep us walking long enough to see the light that was right around the corner. He changed careers. Now he’s working with Seattle Police Department. He’s finding purpose in a whole lot more level than he ever had before. He goes, “I want to do this for Biggie. I want to do this for Evan. I want to create more of a change because I know he would be proud of me for it.”

First of all, thank you for sharing that beautiful story. I’ve had these types of situations in my life where I’ve told people when these types of deals pop up, the last thing you can do is not go towards that person. The best thing you can do is go towards those people. I’ve said to people when I’ve called them up or I’ve been there in person, I’ve said, “I’ve got nothing to offer other than my support because I can’t make this thing come back.” It is what it is. Over time, they’ve always appreciated that. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is I was just interviewing a wonderful woman, her name is Kathy Eldon and she had this terrible tragedy with her son. Her son was 22 and was stoned to death in Somalia. Try to wrap your arms around that. It was awful. I was asking her about it and she said, “Sometimes the only thing you can do is actually go through it. Once you do and you come out the other side, you can look back and appreciate those times.” Right now, she still gets sad from time to time, but she’s appreciating the life that he had for 22 years. In the case of your brother, this other inspiration has blossomed from it being in Seattle and wanting to become a policeman. I appreciate you sharing that story. We all have something that we have to get over and get through in life and it’s just a matter of how you handle it. What you said was of so much value to me, so I appreciate that. Thank you.

Cory, where can people find you?

You can go on Twitter and Instagram, @CoryProcter. My official Facebook also is @CoryProcterOfficial. You can go on there, follow me. I post some videos and some different things once in a while and I act like an idiot sometimes, so you have to excuse that.

Cory, thank you so much. You’ve been a rock star in this podcast. I love talking to you. I know we poke each other back and forth here and there on text and things like that. It’s been just awesome getting to know you from last year’s climb. We’ll continue to stay connected as we go forward.

I appreciate it, Mark. Thanks.

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