Uncovering Dreams, Overcoming Adversity with DT Shackelford

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(This story features former Ole Miss’ student-athlete, now Doctoral Candidate, DT Shackelford)

Most college athletes suffering a torn ACL would work hard to come back from their injury. However, imagine suffering the injury twice. It would be devastating - a career-destroying event that would have most college athletes unsure of what life would be like without athletics.

We know a lot of you reading this have experienced similar trials.

“It was something I had to deal with, because in the spring of my junior year playing as a linebacker for the University of Mississippi, I did in fact tear my ACL - and then tore it again 5 months later. I went from me being defined as “DT the athlete”  to “DT the person.” I believe that both extreme success and extreme failures in life expose the true character in a individual.

Instead of becoming depressed about my injury or feeling lost without football, the ACL surgeries that I had two years in a row gave me more time to discover what my passions were - outside of football and athletics. It helped to reshape and focus my life in an amazing direction. Adversity, if viewed the right way, could be your greatest blessing. Adversity to me has always been a gift from God to prepare me for my next destination.

As it pertains to my injuries, I did not overcome my injuries alone. There were several individuals that helped me get past my torn ACLs and my transition out of football. Their help was paramount in helping me to attain my academic achievements. Not only did I graduate from college, I was able to earn my Masters degree and now completing my doctorate.

My “10-10-10” Dynamic

Growing up in Decatur, Alabama I found that people put athletics on a pedestal and education was secondary. If you were an athlete, you were everything. I was a first-generation college student, yet it was football that other people were excited about, not my academic pursuits.

As my injuries healed, I began to redefine myself outside of athletics and I realized that scholastic  pursuits had a lot of meaning to me. It’s been a profound change, not only for myself, but for others looking up to me as well. Now people want to know more about my academic identity, as opposed to my athletic ability.

Looking back on my life, I came up with what I call my “10-10-10” dynamic. It has everything to do with the number 10, and the unusual role it’s played in my life.

My biological father passed away when  I was in the 10th grade.

I was raised by my stepfather, who had dropped out of school in the 10th grade.

Finally, I graduated high school in 2009; and in 2019, exactly 10 years later, I will earn my doctorate degree.

That’s my “10-10-10” dynamic and each part of that trilogy has played a role in who I am today.

The Role Others have Played in My Life

The role a coach plays in a student’s life is often overlooked. I was fortunate enough to have a plethora of coaches who have helped to guide me in the right direction.

In the 10th grade, I had a coach by the name of Colonel James Walker, who challenged me to see “Dr.” where I  saw “DT.” I was a JROTC cadet and he practically saw possibilities where I saw limitations. Conquering my deficiencies academically and becoming a trailblazer for both my family and the city of Decatur, Alabama was vital. Col. Walker forced me to dream beyond my current reality. In Decatur, Alabama, I had never seen an African American male with a doctorate degree. My “coach” was talking to the “future in me,” and not the “now in me.” He inspired me in ways I am not sure I could put into words. I owe a large degree of my success to his belief in me. The power of belief is astronomical and essential to one’s ascension in life. I now have a public speaking platform in which my slogan is, “Uncovering Dreams, Overcoming Adversity.” I have tried to instill into the future generation, what countless others, such as Col. Waker, has instilled into me. Thank you Col. Walker.

It isn’t only football coaches that can have an impact, but coaches you find in other people as well. Coaches throughout my life were always giving me positive advice - they were always in my ear, providing positive feedback and support. In many ways, I believe we are the sum total of our support system.

It has been huge to have these people in my life, and I’m not sure I would be in the place that I am in today without them. I experienced success at Ole Miss, embracing the transition from student-athlete to becoming more and more of better person daily.

My motivation to achieve academic success was to be able to do something that was never modeled for me when I was growing up. Even when you experience success, the desire and the will to know that there is more in you, is a powerful asset to possess. I am a true proponent of the quote, “we always have more in us than we are currently using.” You have to keep striving to do more. I know this from personal experience.

It’s more about your mindset and positive self thought. I believe “our thoughts are both our fate and our employer.” There is a biblical reference that simply states, “As a man thinketh, so is he.”  It’s a daily process to challenge your thought process. I take pride in surrounding myself with individuals who can get the best out of my ability. Proverbs 27:17 is simply, As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another. I keep people around me who helps me to sharpen my thoughts. When you have people around you who can help you through the process, the “impossibility” of a task becomes possible and attainable.

Coach McGriff, who is now the defensive coordinator for The University of Mississippi, once  asked me, “what’s the biggest room in the world?”

I kept thinking about the question, and searching for the right answer. Touching me on the shoulder he silently whispered,  “room for improvement.” Perplexed at such a profound statement, I believe that is exactly how I try to attack life daily. Always trying to discover a way in which I can improve upon my ability.

I surround myself with people who don’t allow me to be content. I never want to operate in a consistent mindset of complacency - I’ve found that you must constantly challenge yourself.  

Staying Grounded

People often ask me how I’m able to retain my humility and my balance. It’s an easy answer: My Wife.

My wife is my biggest cheerleader! Without her encouragement, I couldn’t do a fraction of what I’m doing. She helps me to optimize my strengths and minimize my vulnerabilities. The truth is: when you have an individual who believes in you, it empowers you.

Another factor was the way in which I was raised. My stepfather spent 4 years in prison. When he was released, I watched his frustration in trying to land a job. It was constantly frustrating to him because of his prison history. However, his tenacity as a leader and provider who always confronted challenges head on was inspirational to say the least. Surrounded by a host of individuals who have achieved academic and professional success, I believe that the first  “hero,” in many ways was my father, who did an awesome job of raising a kid who was biologically not his. I am extremely grateful for his impact on my life.

I’m grounded in Christ. I firmly believe that he gives you the tools you need to meet your challenges head-on. When I think about individuals in the Bible, I realize that God always equipped leaders with the necessary tools before attacking a specific mission. Before David ever took on Goliath, the bear and the lion prepared him for what was to come. While  Moses was leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, Jethro became a powerful resource and mentor along his journey. I truly believe that Jesus Christ gives us everything we need in order to accomplish the monumental tasks in our life. I will say this, “ If a relationship with Christ is not at the nucleus of your success, it will not be long before your success rules you.”

I have had the tools to meet the obstacles in my life, but I have not done it alone.

A Lesson on Serving Others by: Professor Sherry Lashon Tucker

I remember Thanksgiving being a big holiday for our family, and especially for me. I loved the food and my mother is unmatched in the kitchen! When I was in the 8th grade, I remember waking up to a pleasing aroma, only for her to tell my sister, brother and myself to grab all the pots and pans we could find, and put them in the car. I had no idea what was going on.

While in the car, she drove us to the mission to serve those who didn’t have what we had, and it made a lifelong impression on me. It taught me the idea of service to others; of putting yourself second, and putting others ahead of you.

It was a lesson I never forgot.

I think many people today are missing the ability to serve others. My mother taught me to never look down on anyone based on their socio-economic status. To be a complete person, you have to serve others. I am forever grateful for the professor I like to call, “Mother.”

Going for My Doctorate

Earning a Ed.d. is a process. It’s more like a crockpot than a microwave because it takes time and a lot of dedication. Simply put, there is no elevator to sustainable success. You must take the stairs with the mentality to carry your dreams on your shoulders as you climb, despite the uphill battles you will face. Holding on to your dreams in the face of adverse situations is extremely important.