032: Jake Olson, Blind Football Player On Rising Up To An Amazing Career

January 12, 2018

FYS 32 | Blind Football Player

In life, there are different things that hit you at different times, but what’s important is how you get back up when this happens. One of the hardest thing that can hit you in life is being diagnosed with retinoblastoma as early as 8 months old. Because of this rare eye cancer, Jake Olson lost his eyes. This setback however, did not keep him from living a life with amazing opportunities that led him to become a blind football player. But other than playing as the long snapper for the USC Trojans, Jake has also set-up a foundation called Out Of Sight Faith and is the author of Open Your Eyes. Learn more of his amazing journey as a kid who lost his eyes but never stopped playing sports.

This is a great way to start off the year with a bang with a guy at USC. He’s a student. He’s twenty years old and his name is Jake Olson. The thing that makes Jake such a unique soul is that the guy is blind and he plays in the football team. He plays on the USC football team. He’s a snapper and he got in two games in the 2017 season. He’s the first D1 football athlete ever to do so. The guy is just a remarkable dude. He is a guy that had a rare form of cancer in his eyes. He lost his first one when he was just a youngster. Years later when he was twelve, he lost the other one. Through that whole process, he formed a relationship with the old great college football coach, Pete Carroll of USC. That morphed into something and the next thing he knew, he was invited to come out and walk on at USC, and there he is. He documented what it’s like. He was sitting there in Heritage Hall. He’s got his guide dog next to him, and just is so far ahead of the game on so many people. He’s written a couple of books, has a foundation, and just continues to inspire a lot of people. One of the better pods I have done. Remember to always rate, review, go in and help us out. Give us some love. Let’s get on to a great episode with Jake.

As always, go in, rate and review on iTunes, Finding Your Summit. If you want to find out any more info on me, you can find me at MarkPattisonNFL.com. The podcast has continued to grow and I’m very appreciative of that. Without further ado, let’s talk to Charles, The Captain.

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Jake Olson, Blind Football Player On Rising Up To An Amazing Career 

This episode is going to be epic. I’m here on the campus of USC with a couple of buddies. One is my long-time friend, Casey Cosgrove. More importantly, I’m here with Jake Olson. Jake, how are you doing?

I’m good. How are you, Mark?

I am doing great. For the people who don’t know who Jake is, you’re a junior here at USC and you’re a football player on the team. I played football too so a lot of people would be going, “That’s cool but what makes you so unique about this?” That is that you lost your eyesight many years ago. I was at home. I was watching your game against Western Michigan. Actually, I didn’t know anything about your story. I tuned in the fourth quarter and the announcer starts building this thing up and he goes, “Here comes Jake Olson and he’s getting in the game and he’s got a long snap for the PAT.” He started explaining this whole thing. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I watched this whole thing go down and it was just this incredible thing. As I’m thinking in my head, “I’ve got to figure out a way to get this guy on the podcast.” It was such an emotional event for me. I can only imagine what that was like for you. 

It was amazing. It was a dream come true and something that was just fun. It was just fun going out there. As soon as I left, I want to get back right out there and do it again.

Let’s go back and talk about how this whole thing came to be and we’ll ramp this thing up to where we are today. You guys are going to a Bowl game. I didn’t realize when I showed up, I’m decent size, I’m 6’3″, 200 pounds and you’re bigger than I am. You look like the part too. Seriously, you look like a football player which is what you want to be. You guys are now conference champions, so congratulations on that. I did a lot of research on what was going on with your history. It started off when you’re just an infant. You were eight months old. Obviously, you can digest the news from doctors but you had this type of cancer that affects the eyes. Can you tell us about that?

The cancer is called retinoblastoma. At eight months old is when I was diagnosed with it. It was when they found it. It was bilateral, meaning in both eyes. It had completely taken over my left eye. The only option there is the removal of the eye because it is a blastoma tumor, meaning it’s aggressive and it grows very quickly. The real fear is the cancer moving through the retina, to the optic nerve, and then to the brain. From there, it’s virtually unstoppable. The procedure to risk that life threatening situation is the removal of the retina in the eye and get the cancer out of there. That’s what happened to my left eye when I was eight months old. After everything, I was found more close to one. They removed the left eye. Then from the age of one to the age of twelve, the cancer came back around eight times and we would try to fight it. We fought it when I was one year old, and then it went away. A couple of years went by, it came back. We fight it again. That process was a merry-go-round state where it would just come back, we’d fight and it would go away.

How would you fight that?

When I was one, it was some chemo and laser treatment. When it came back, it was chemo and laser treatment. There was some cryotherapy that I was involved later on. We hit it with radiation a few times as much as we could until I was pretty much maxed out on radiation. There were some experimental treatments we did with going through my femoral artery, putting a line all the way through my femoral artery all the way up into my eye and delivering chemo straight to the tumor there. This is ten, eleven, twelve; all through that ages. Finally when I was twelve, the cancer came back and this time my mom was like, “Let’s talk about treatment options. Let’s talk about what we can do.” This time I was really like, “We can try hitting it with chemo again. We could try cryotherapy treatment,” but the cancer becomes immune to it. It’s not going to react. The more time you fiddle around with it, the more chance it has to grow and spread. You’re throwing dice with your life then at that point. The responsible option is the removal of the eye.

FYS 32 | Blind Football Player

Blind Football Player: That process was a merry-go-round state where it would just come back, we’d fight and it would go away.

What was that like for you? I’m thinking about Lance Armstrong and some of the people I’ve read over time or I have known where you get injected with this radiation. You’re essentially poisoning your body to get rid of the cancer cells. Were you sick or did you lose your hair or did you have to go through all that stuff?

Yeah. I don’t remember too much when I was one. When I was five, in kindergarten, I started realizing what was happening. I lost my hair. I actually went through four different types of chemo when I was one, kindergarten, first grade and then fourth grade. Those types of chemos were the injecting and spending many hours in the hospital just receiving chemo. I lost my hair. In fourth grade, I didn’t lose it but I was definitely sick. I had my cancer treatment at CHLA so we’d come up on a Tuesday to get cancer treatment. What the problem was I was allergic to a drug called VP-16, which is one of the chemo drugs that we were using. My body was allergic to it so they had to slowly drip it and mix it with Benadryl. That one took six hours to give so we were in there all day long. Sometimes we’d stay up here at night time at a hotel and then go back the next day and receive the second round of it. I remember just knowing that night probably around 12:00 or 1:00, I would just wake up and just start throwing up for a couple of hours. It’s just an awful feeling because it’s not a throw up like your stomach hurts and like I got that bad food out of my system. It’s like you throw up when you have a stomach fire and like there’s nothing left of your body. You’re just heaving. It just won’t go away.

Thankfully, I haven’t been through this. What I imagine is that you go to the shelf and you grab a bottle of Pine-Sol and drink it, and that becomes a poison in your system. It’s awful, it’s yuck, and it’s not pleasant at all. You were making the responsible decision about removal of the other eye. The ironic gift in some of this even though you had to go through the tragedy and adversity of going through that is that you’ve got at least twelve years of sight. Tell me how that translates now because obviously I’m coming from a place where I haven’t gone through that. You have all these images, what yellow looks like; you have a yellow lab and you have a white wall, and what blue means. How does that translate from then to now?

I’m really grateful I had those memories. I grew up with a yellow lab but not my guide dog. I know what yellow labs look like. I know what things look like. I have a bunch of visual memories. When people ask, “Is it dark?” it’s not really dark. It’s not like you close your eyes at night in your room and that’s what I see. It’s almost like a dream you remember. It’s like when you’re in a dream where you can picture in your head, you see everything but it’s just not as vivid. It’s just memory. That’s what it really is. I’m so grateful that I understand what those mean and I’ve got to see for twelve years. That’s a blessing.

Were you playing sports during this time as you’re transitioning from having vision to no vision?

Through the twelve years I received all the treatment, there were times where I had really low vision and then sometimes the vision was better. It was an up and down thing. I love to play sports. I played soccer and baseball and golf and football and basketball. I played all these different sports. There were times in fifth grade after going through treatment I saw shapes and stuff. I played the center and just have been off the center, I’m going to dribble with bodies a little bit. There are times like that and there are times when I can see the ball pretty clearly and usually shoot from the field and stuff like that. Definitely football and golf are probably two that I love the most. Basketball was fun. Baseball really wasn’t my thing to play anyway.

I was reading about this and I needed to know and have a better understanding of what this was like. One of your goals, you’ve got a bunch of them, someday you want to become the first blind person to be a PGA player. I’m a golfer, not a very good one, but I’ve got to understand how this works because typically you line up where you’re going to go and then you look down and get this thing that doesn’t move, but it’s hard to hit. How does this work?

How it works is from the set-up standpoint, my dad is my caddy. I’ve golfed with other people but it does take time to just dial in and be on the same page just like any other relationship would. My dad’s my caddy out there and basically what will happen is he would get the club, put it behind the ball, make sure the ball is square on the club face, club face is square at the target, I’ll take my stance and pretty much he’ll back up. From there is my swing. A golf swing, like many things as I found it was, it’s a motion and it’s a repeatable motion and it’s a motion that requires muscle memory and feel. If you can dial in on that feel, muscle memory, and just repeat it over and over again, you’ve got a productive swing. It took a lot and it takes a lot of practice. I was a decent golfer before. Going blind afterwards, I couldn’t make contact with the ball. Also the problem was I went blind at twelve, so I was 5’6″, and by eighth grade I was 5’10”. I grew four or five inches and that can jack up a swing. I couldn’t see the ball anymore. My swing was all jacked up so I just had to restructure everything. It finally got to a point where it was like, “You’re making contact with the ball. Sometimes it’s a good shot. There are more good shots but there are still some really bad shots. Now there are less bad shots, more good shots.” You keep progressing until you know you’re playing really good golf. You’re playing better golf than you could when you saw.

What’s your handicap?

I don’t get a chance to play much in the fall anymore. Over the summer, I was probably tracking somewhere around like ten or eleven.

Everything you’re saying is correct and repeatable motion, you’re right on. The thing that’s funky about golf is that rarely you’re sitting on the exact same lie. A football field is flat. It’s 50 wide by 100 long. The ball is above your feet, below your feet, in the grass, in the sand. It’s always different.

There are two real USGA rules that I break. One is grounding club in the hazard. I can ground my club in a hazard. There’s a rule in there that stated something about caddies lining up. You can’t play because someone lines you up. Lies take a little while to get used to. Sometimes it still can get tricky. That’s something that definitely had to be practiced. Chipping, that’s a lot of feel, understanding what a twenty-yard chip feels like and just repeating that over again and practicing. My dad and I have these conversations like a caddy would, “Jake, we’re probably eighteen yards from the pin, probably I’ve got to carry you at least twelve yards on the green. It’s up sloping so let’s land it eighteen yards. Once you got it on the green, it’s going to probably release to the hole. That’s a downhill slope. Let’s not go more than thirteen”. There are conversations like that that just occur and that’s where my feel takes in and putting and walking to the hole, feeling first off the distance by walking and understanding, “This is a nineteen-foot putt. I felt it’s uphill so let me put a 23-foot swing on it.” That’s what that feels like.

You are telling me all this stuff and the thing that is just shooting in my brain right now is, “What a great dad.” From this whole USC influence to put you on your path and you go in the USC games as a kid and growing up, but to be your caddy, to be your guide, what a great dad. 

He has been absolutely supportive of me. He pushes me very hard. The thing that’s cool with him and I appreciate is he sees a normal golfer out of me and he sees the talent and the skill I possess. There are some frustrating days in the course where we yell at each other and it’s frustrating. It gets frustrating when he does see me missing the ball and not play well because in his mind it’s like, ” Jake, you have the talent and the skill to absolutely rip up the course out here.” On the days that’s not going well, tensions can get high because we’re both frustrated and we both expect better from me. Absolutely, he pushes me, he wants to go out and have me hit the ball. He’s a great golfer himself. I think it brings him a lot of pleasure just to see his son out there playing well.

You grew up in Huntington Beach. As I like to say a lot, when you find successful people in life, I’m not talking about financially, I’m talking about spiritually, emotionally, physically, certainly it takes a village and that village has a lot of different people in there. Your dad certainly was one of those guys. Another guy in that chain was Pete Carroll. How did Pete get involved in your life?

When I was twelve going blind, I was told on October 1st I was losing my sight and then on November 12th was the surgery. There was a month and a few days there that really I had that last time of seeing. My story reached Pete Carroll through various avenues. Basically, he understood I was a huge Trojan fan. I remember saying to my parents something of the fact that, “I definitely want to go to the USC games and see as many football games as I can.” He took that wish and made it to the extreme and invited me up for a practice. That turned out to be much more than a practice with making me part of the team and sitting through meetings and practices and going to the hotel and eating dinner with all of them after practices and traveling with them to Notre Dame, on the field before and after games, and the locker room, just everything; just basically being an honorary member of the team. That was really special, something he did not have to do but showed enough grace and allowed me to do that. It was just a beautiful experience and something that really took a lot of the pain and putting it aside for the moment I was with that team. When I was here on campus in the meetings and on the field, something just really made me forget about what I was going through, and that’s something special.

What year was that?


[Tweet “The players totally embraced me and it was awesome. You grow as a family.”]

Not only was Pete showing you love by bringing you around the football program. From what I could see through some old clips, the players totally embraced you.

The players totally embraced me and it was awesome. I became part of the family. I know you played football. You’re around your brothers. You grow as a family. To be that close with a bunch of guys that were my superheroes as a twelve-year-old, I was looking out of this USC team, it was just so special.

You go through this and there was a distraction because you’re around the team, you’re around Pete Carroll, they’re winning, things are going well. As you’re getting older, now you’re going into high school yourself. You continue to play some of these different sports. As a junior in high school, what got in your mind about, “I wanted to try on the football team?”

I played flight football in my seventh to eighth grade year. I actually played after I lost my sight. I played center; one hand snapping the ball back to the quarterback. Flight football, I find a person in front of me and just block him for a little bit. It’s nothing really that intense. It was competitive but fun. Going into high school, I went to Orange Lutheran which plays in the Trinity Leagues so Mater Dei, St. John Bosco, very tough teams, to tackle football. It became much more serious, much more physical. I’m not going to play center. I can’t call out who the Mike linebacker is or stuff like that, so I didn’t play. Sitting there on Friday nights my freshman and sophomore years was just like, “This just doesn’t feel right.” I have friends on the team and seeing them just have that camaraderie and brotherhood with other players on the team to the hallways and the lockers and at lunchtime was just like, “I’m missing this.” I don’t want to look back in college and like, “I should have played high school ball.” I started thinking, “What’s the position I could play? I snap back to the quarterback. What about the long snapper?” Long snapper is so much different than just snapping one hand and back to the quarterback, but it was at least a position that was so key. That golf aspect, this is a position where it’s eight yards was field goal, fifteen yards for a punt. It’s muscle memory, getting the feel down of what a good snap feels like and just repeating it over and over and over again.

I imagine there must have been somebody already on the team that was snapping these things, right? 

Yes. There was a guy who actually went to Utah the year I started practicing. What was also brought to my attention was the guy, Chase Dominguez, was leaving. He was one of the best long snappers in the country. The coaches had just completely ignored the fact that he was going to be gone one day. There’s this big vacancy like, “Who’s going to be our next snapper? Chase was it and there’s not anyone that we’ve prepared to take his place.” I came in and then pretty much just practiced hard with the coach. Coach Vies was this special team’s guy who understood snapping more than any other coach. That summer going into junior year, we worked every day and really taught me the skills because I was not good at first.

He’s another guy in your village, right?

Yes, he is. Coach Vies is definitely a guy in the village that helped me practice. He’ll admit at first, “This kid, we’ll just entertain him. I don’t think he’s going to become a snapper,” because I was pretty bad at first. Throughout that summer, his confidence was starting to be like, “This kid can actually snap. Let’s keep practicing, keep practicing, keep practicing and sure enough in the fall camp, then we all go back as a team.” He was like, “Jake is the best long snapper we have on the team. Let’s put him on varsity.” I started varsity in my junior and senior year. I did not do the punt snaps although it would have been interesting obviously because they’re just some blocking responsibilities down field. They found a way but at least I got PAT in field goal.

There’s another guy that this whole same story, not your exact story, but trying to find a way on the football field, although in this guy’s case he didn’t have any experience. That’s a guy that you know, Nate Boyer. Nate is a Green Beret that I climbed on a project this last February with six other NFL guys and four Green Berets. Two of them were amputees. Kilimanjaro, I’ve climbed it twice and it was just great to hear Nate and his story. He’s a great guy. He’s down at Texas. I talked to him not knowing there was any connection between you two. We’re going to do a podcast together and I was saying, “I’m going down to do a pod with Jake. After Jake, maybe I can roll up to your place up in Hollywood.” ” I know Jake. I was there trying to help him.”

We’ve snapped a few times.

He said the NCAA came in and blocked it or something. Anyway, just the whole similar story of how he found his way on to the University of Texas team when he was 31. He’s out there with all these young bucks like you. It worked and he found his way and you guys travel to Seahawks with your old coach, Coach Carroll. You find your way on the field, you make it happen, it’s junior year, senior year, you party with your buddies, camaraderie, it’s all good. Now, you come to graduate and you decide at that point to go to USC or did you go someplace else first? 

I knew I wanted to go to USC. My Facebook status of where I went to school, it’s USC since eighth grade. I always wanted to go to USC. I applied there. As February came around, I got a call from the Athletic Department just saying, “If you’re coming here, we’d love to offer you a walk-on spot to play as a long snapper on the team.”

Who said this, Sark? 

Yes. It was Sark and Pat Haden had agreed that, “If Jake’s coming here, he’s lost the last two years of varsity. Why not give him a walk-on spot as a long snapper on the team?” That was just absolutely amazing, a dream come true.

Who gave you that call? 

The guy who gave me that call was named Ron Orr. He works in the Athletic Department here. He actually heads up Swim with Mike, which is one of the scholarship organization. He gives them a scholarship. He called me up to say, “You’re included with Mike’s Scholarship. We want you to come to a banquet.” There’s a banquet every year a few days after signing day that pretty much Coach Sark, the head coach of the football team, goes and brings all the big donors and big boosters and pretty much shows a bunch of tape that highlights all the new guys coming in. We got all these guys and he invited me to dinner. At the end of the dinner he goes, “We also got Jake Olson coming on the team.” That was the big announcement, so that was real fun.

I can’t even imagine to go from high school to your dream school. Now you’re actually playing for USC. It’s amazing. There are great things that go on here at the university, and from a football standpoint, certainly it’s the tradition. A buddy, Casey, showed me all the Heisman trophies when we walked in here so there’s a lot of history. You have now been on the team for three years?

Yes. This is my third year.

Tell me what practices is like for you then.

Practice is, for a lot of specials, obviously there are certain periods throughout the practice that we’re with the team live. For me, I’m doing field goal and for punts. I’m not out there doing punts. Those are different special team periods. For the other times, it’s just personal work of just getting snaps in with the holder and just working on drills that you can do to help with spiral and accuracy, whatever it is. A lot of times for a couple of periods you are just hanging out, you’re not working all the time. You just got to make sure you’re working and understanding it. It’s a fourteen-game season that’s broken over four or five months. You’re not wanting to be out there every day snapping for 25 minutes because after a while you’re going to get worn out. You just got to make sure you get your job. If there’s something you need to work on, you work on it, and you just manage and upkeep.

[Tweet “If there’s something you need to work on, you work on it, and you just manage and upkeep.”]

While we’re on that, there’s this guy named Quebec who is this guide dog. I can’t imagine he’s out there. What’s he doing out there?

Quebec is in the locker room. He’s a real favorite person on the team. He runs around, everyone loves him. He’s a great dog. He’s been my guide dog for about six and a half years. He just helps me tremendously. He’s my best friend. He’s been to practice a few times. There’s actually a funny story when I was a freshman. When I first got here, there was a clearance or something with obviously medically and all that stuff. I was out there for a Friday walk-through before. It wasn’t for an actual game. It was pretty much like a mock game. Basically, I had Quebec with me because I wasn’t dressed or anything like that. I was just hanging out with Quebec and he just took off and I got surprised so his leash ripped out of my hand. What happened was Sark threw a ball to guy named Jonathan Lockett. Jonathan was a receiver, and he threw a screen coming towards our way. Jonathan caught it and Quebec I guess wanted to get in the play. He took off after Jonathan, so Jonathan sees this dog coming and he looks at Sark like, “What do I do? What do I do?” Sark was just like, “Run.” There’s this film of Jonathan Lockett running as fast as he could, Quebec trying to gain on him, and then three or four people were trying to chase after Quebec. It’s really hysterical and everyone was just busting up.

Now it’s three years later and you get to this game against Western Michigan. Just the way things all played out, you guys were ahead. It probably wouldn’t matter if you’re behind. Your head coach, Clay Helton, wanted to insert you into the game. Was that planned? How did that all play?

He came and told me beforehand, “Jake, we’re going to get you into this game, so mentally prepare and get yourself ready.” I knew I was going in and we did not really win but it was off a pick-6 so that was fun because it was like, “It’s a quick situation. Let’s go.” It was awesome finally getting out there. There was that addictive feeling. I love going out there. I understood the significance of the moment. It was emotional but at the same time I felt ready, I felt prepared. It was something I’ve done many, many times so it just was going out there and just doing something I knew how to do. It was fun. It was absolutely just a blast. I’ve got to do it again against Oregon State. These last two games, I was almost ready to get in, and unfortunately time ran out. I’m definitely going to be looking for more experiences on the field. It’s always exciting. I just love doing it.

You looked confident too. That was the big thing, that when you ran out there, the holder, you’re behind him, you’re holding on to his left or right shoulder and he basically guided you out there and then set you in place. When you went out there with your size, you look like you belong. You didn’t look like you were out of place at all. 

That was the thing that in my freshman year especially, I came in about 185. First, I guess because I can’t see there were just comments, “Let’s get him bigger.” I worked really hard and put on 45 pounds over the last two years and really try to just pass the eye test and not give any sense to that idea that, “That kid doesn’t belong out there.”

I was the same way. I was highly recruited out of high school. I came in 181 pounds. I could not bench my weight. When I finally started playing, I was 198 pounds and I benched a lot of weight. You just got to physically be ready to take it. If you’re going to play in the Pac-12, you’ve got to be ready for it. It’s the way it goes. You suit up for all the home games and then for the Bowl game you’ll be there, I’m sure. 

I’ve traveled a couple of times this season as well.

It was interesting because I happen to see the USC after you played that first game, and it might have been maybe the second game or third, I think the team had gone to play somewhere and you went to New York.

Yeah. That was against CAL.

It was ABC or CBS or NBC, one of those, right?

Yeah, ABC. I flew out there because they wanted me on the Good Morning America.

I’m like, “If this guy can do that, he can do my show.” What was that like? You’re in Good Morning America.

It was fun. It was a hectic show. Everyone was running around backstage. It’s pretty hectic, but it was fun. We had it right out there.

Who’s we?

My twin sister who goes to USC as well. She’s here, a member of the village. Then my manager and my best friend, Daniel. We went out there and just made a quick trip, flew back on Sunday. It was fun. It was a good time. We also did the Harry Connick Show out there and taped that after Good Morning America.

You’ve accomplished a lot. One of the things that’s on my bucket list is to write a book from the NFL to starting businesses to climbing these crazy mountains. I’ve seen it all. Now, I’m so blessed to be doing this podcast because I’m talking to these studs like you and women who just have done these amazing things and overcome crazy adversity. One of the things I’m trying to do is write a book. I go do a little research, and you’ve written too. I’m trying to figure out. You’re a full-time student, playing football. I’ve got to get my act together. You’ve written this book called Open Your Eyes: 10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life. Everybody could use that. 

FYS 32 | Blind Football Player

Open Your Eyes: 10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life

It was a really cool book. I go out and speak a lot. It was in eighth grade, so about a year or so after I had lost my sight. I was speaking at a company called Melaleuca in Utah. The president of the company was there and he sent us a letter after I got home and said, “I saw your story. I really love it.” I didn’t know it, but he has a PhD in Psychology. He was a professor at BYU. He basically said, “I’ve been wanting to write a book. I have a lot of these ideals and just what you talked about, you have a lot of these same ideals.” There was this connection between us of, “Let’s share these ideas and write a book together.” The book as how it was laid out, he writes a lot of the uncommon lessons and what they are, and I put my excerpts in there, “This is how I’ve used it in my life. These are my views on them.”

One that I’ve really talked about a lot in life is what we call the setup and the setback. Meaning that for every setback, there’s a setup waiting to happen. How to stay patient and persevere through those setbacks, and how to always keep your eyes not just focus on the setback but rather divert your vision to the setup that’s going to come, and understanding that in every setback there is a setup. In my life, my setbacks were going through cancer and going blind, but it has set me up this life of amazing opportunities. I am who I am today because I went through that. I get to play football at USC. I’ve gotten to go around and inspire thousands of people. Meet tons of cool people. All of that is just because of my setbacks. It set me up for a life that has amazing opportunities and potential.

First of all, I love that. The thing that I have found and I say to people is that where your focus goes, your energy always follows. It’s the same things as what you’re talking about. Too many people focus on the negative stuff that hits them versus the path out. If you just be patient and let it go, it will actually set you up for greater things to come. 

It turned molehills into mountains, where you take these little things and turn them into these big things. All of a sudden if something bad happens to you, you just say, “This is going to ruin my entire life,” and you let it take over this and that. All of a sudden, it has taken over your life because you thought it would. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and you focused on it too much. Instead of rather just saying, “Here’s something that has happened. Let me find a way through this. Let me not treat it like it’s a huge mountain that’s going to stop all my progress in life but rather find a way around it.”

That’s part of the reason why the name of this podcast is called Finding Your Summit. It’s really metaphorical. You’re just talking about it in the way of overcoming your mountain. I know you weren’t trying to tie it in this necessarily. I think everybody has their different summit, their different mountain, their different obstacle. For somebody it might be, “My summit is to get my PhD or something at USC.” Somebody else might be going through a hard time. For me, it’s climbing these crazy mountains. I’ve had different summits along the path. That’s just life. Different things hit you at different times. 

[Tweet “For every setback, there’s a setup waiting to happen.”]

I’m sure along the lines of climbing those mountains you’ve had a few setbacks. You can let it stop your climb, you can let it stop your goal of reaching the summit or you can find a way and push through that.

My biggest setback of all time was losing to USC in my senior year. We were number one in the country. I’ve had to get over that. Let’s talk about the book leading to the foundation that you’ve set up. 

The foundation I’ve set up is called Out of Sight Faith. That really came about because one of the many things I’ve had to relearn how to do after going blind was read and write, learning Braille, staying in the same class and relearning how to learn almost. Unfortunately, the sad truth is a lot of visually impaired and blind kids are put in these special classes that aren’t with regular kids. They could have amazing minds and have every ability to learn, but they need to be taught in a more creative, different ways sometimes and just not writing the shape on the board and just saying that this angle goes with this angle. There has to be a little bit of a different structure there. One of the things that really helped bridge that gap is technology. I learned that very quickly. I’m really grateful living in the 21st century where Apple’s done a great job with voiceovers. There’s a software they have on all their products that really helps use everything from their iMac to iBook to even an iPhone.

There’s some other technology out there specifically meant for blind people. It helped me sitting in a regular classroom, take notes, write essays. I could just put on a flash drive and the teacher could read. Stuff like that that just allows you to do it. It absolutely allows you to be in a normal classroom and learn. The problem is a lot of these stuff are expensive, especially the blind-related technology. There’s not obviously a big market for it so a lot of it can get really expensive. I realize the need for it and the price of it, so I created a foundation that raised money therefore to help kids who couldn’t afford the technology, to get the technology they need to succeed at school. I don’t think a kid who has every bit of potential and ability to learn should be held back just because they can’t find the right tool in the toolbox to work in the classroom.

This whole story is just really incredible and amazing. You talked about the setback and setup. I really feel like you’re put on this earth for this particular reason. You’ve done so many things from having overcome this adversity to show people what is possible. Just because you have some physical disabilities doesn’t mean that you can’t do and lead a very productive life. Not just that you’re crushing it, you’re out there and raised over $100,000, you’re writing books, you’ve set up foundations, you’re playing on the football team. You’re going to play Ohio State. You’re long snapping. You’re on Good Morning America. I’m in my 50’s, I think I have to catch up to you. I’ve got a long way to go. It’s been an absolute treat. I understand the path. I was there at one point in time of my life and so I get it, you’re a busy guy,. They’re going to love this story. For everybody else out there listening, pay attention to this guy, Jake Olson, number 61 on the field. Sixty-one is the guy to follow. He’ll be back again for his senior year. It’s a great story. If there’s an opportunity for people to donate to your foundation, they can. Beyond that, thank you. I’m very grateful and I appreciate it.

Thank you, Mark. Fight on.

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