He Was Born With Deformed Legs. But That Didn’t Stop Him From Playing College Football.
Don only weighed 40 pounds by the time he was nine. Sports weren't just his hobby—they saved his life.
In 1931, I was born crippled. I couldn’t straighten my legs. Dad would carry me when we went into town. Once when he was holding me, I told him I wanted to be a football player. He said, “I don’t think you are going to be much of an athlete.” This was my motivation for years to come. I outgrew my disability by the time I was nine, but I weighed only 40 pounds and needed to build muscle and stamina.
I knew that a bicycle would help strengthen my legs. I bought one at the local shop and started riding it to school. By the time I was 13, I was the fastest runner in grade school, and at 15, I was the fastest runner in high school.
I made farmwork a part of my rehabilitation. I would finish in the fields at 7:30 p.m. and then run two miles. I hauled rocks up to 450 pounds. Scooping wheat was a big thing. Dad offered to buy a powered grain loader, but I told him to give me the money for school, and I would scoop it all by hand. Some days, I had 1,000 bushels to scoop.
[pullquote] By the time I was 13, I was the fastest runner in grade school, and at 15, I was the fastest runner in high school. [/pullquote]
All the training paid off.
I was a football starter three years in high school and two years in junior college. When I became a college senior, I found out that football practice was at the same time as my engineering laboratory.
At that time, engineers made more money than professional football players, so I chose engineering, and it has paid off ever since.