Former Student-Athlete Spotlight: Whitey Kapsalis Shares Story of Passion, Perseverance and Patience in New Book about IU Soccer.
May 29, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Paul "Whitey" Kapsalis may not be a familiar name, but his journey to become an IU soccer player is nothing short of heroic. Undersized and told he wasn't good enough to play for the Hoosiers, Kapsalis beat the odds from walking on to the team in 1983 and sustaining a career-threatening injury to ultimately becoming a team leader and co-captain on one of the most elite soccer teams in the country.
Kapsalis has just released an inspiring memoir of his IU experiences, co-written by his cousin and Pulitzer-prize winning Chicago Tribune reporter Ted Gregory. The book entitled "To Chase A Dream: A Soccer Championship, An Unlikely Hero And A Journey That Redefined Winning" is now available in bookstores and on Amazon.
The IU Varsity Club recently sat down with Kapsalis and Gregory to learn more about the book, and Kapsalis' IU experiences.
Q: Why did you think it was important to share your experiences in this book?
Kapsalis: I think the natural tendency when someone would hear that I played soccer at IU is an assumption that I must have been All-American in high school, that I must have had a full ride, that I must have started four years in a row with a National Championship along the way. So, in intimate settings when I would really tell my story, the response on a small scale was, "Oh my gosh, your story is amazing." It was almost always followed up with, "You ought to write a book."
Six years ago, I got asked on a spontaneous Sunday afternoon to speak at an eighth grade sports banquet for students and parents. The athletic director called and said, "Our speaker backed out on us; we need to have someone come and speak. Can you do it, Whitey?" That was the first time I publicly told my story.
I really wanted to inspire those young students to believe in themselves, to dream, and, as they enter a new journey in their life, to understand what the challenges and potential upsides are if they have the right mindset. So, I told my story that evening and the response was really overwhelming. There were students and parents in tears and many came up to me afterwards and told me that I should share my story in a book. That planted the seed.
I'm not an author; I never dreamed of being an author and had no idea how to do it. Teddy and I are cousins, So, I called Teddy and we got together in Chicago on a weekend and began the journey. That was four and a half years ago.
I was called to share this story once I could see how it moved people and how it might affect people. I'm not a self-promoter; it's not about me. Once I got over that and realized that it could help someone along the way, I agreed to do it. And writing this book was more fun than we could ever have imagined.
For me, really trying to intimately relive these memories was just fascinating. Going through the process, I had the same feelings I had in college; I was brought to tears during the process and I was struck on some incredible memories along the way.
Q: Head Coach Jerry Yeagley encouraged you to transfer away from IU a few times. What was it that enabled you to continue on your path at IU?
Kapsalis: Ultimately, it was a deep passion and desire. I had a really strong foundation and desire to wear the IU jersey. I wanted to represent this university as a soccer player. That never went away, even when Coach Yeagley would tell me to transfer. I would listen to him and I would be dejected and then this fire would start lighting up again.
Coupled with that, I had these very blessed relationships. I had just enough people in my life to keep me going when I was really down and out. It started with family and then, certainly, teammates and some friends from campus. That combination of this passion and desire to really, really see this thing through, coupled with people in my life that inspired me to keep trying -- that was enough for me.
Q: How important are relationships to a student-athlete's success?
Kapsalis: I can talk about that for days. In a lot of ways, the book is a lot about relationships, with my family and my teammates. I wouldn't be anything; I wouldn't have done it; I wouldn't have accomplished what I accomplished; I wouldn't have had staying power; I wouldn't have had the experience; and I wouldn't have had the memories without the people in my life, especially my teammates.
I've thanked them over the years and I'm still in touch with all of them. I don't know that any of them truly understood my journey at the time. Now, coming full circle and having the same guys that I thanked for the last 25 years read about themselves validates exactly what I have tried to say my whole life. It's that I'm so grateful for those relationships.
The one thing that I want most people to realize is how important people are in our lives and the little things and big things that people do that matter.
Gregory: I think it's important that people understand how much even a little thing can mean to a kid or a person who is trying to hang in there. Just a kind word or a gesture here and there can mean so much to somebody, and certainly Whitey experienced that here.
Q: How did you stay positive throughout the journey? What kept you focused on that dream?
Kapsalis: It was pure desire. The first time I drove down here and watched IU play, I just envisioned myself on that field. I could see what it would be like to wear that jersey, play for that coach, travel with the team, get off the airplane and walk onto a field dressed in red. That sustained me; it sustained me for four and a half years. I never lost that desire and passion for wanting to represent this university. I just never did.
There were glimpses of times when I questioned it. But, every time I questioned myself, I'd wake up the next day and kept pointing back to Bloomington. And, ultimately, Coach Yeagley was kind enough to never say, "No." He was as honest as he could be, but he never kicked me off the campus. If he wasn't willing to do that, then I was willing to come back.
Q: What is your favorite part of the book?
Kapsalis: My relationships with teammates and coaches are an important part of the book. And, I met my wife at IU so that is a huge part of the story. If I were to pick one scene from the book that is my favorite part of the book, it was at that Evansville game when we caused the penalty kick and went into overtime. We salvaged a potential tournament bid in the season. We were sitting out on the field in the huddle and some women yells, "We love you, Whitey!" If I had to pick one moment, wow, that was really pretty cool.
Gregory: That moment was very validating for him. To have gone through his experiences, and he hadn't quite fulfilled it all, but at least at this point he felt like, "Wow, after everything I've been recognized and validated."
Kapsalis: It was just this voice out of the crowd. I didn't know who it was; I never looked back. I still don't know who it was even today.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a part of IU's soccer tradition?
Kapsalis: It's a second family. It's the most rewarding, gratifying athletic experience I've ever had in my life. I learned the greatest life lessons of any component of my life, including the classroom: how to prepare, how to be a teammate, how to be a leader, how to be a champion, how to win, how to lose.
Being an athlete here shaped who I am. It gave me the conviction to make the decisions that I make today as a father, as a husband, as a salesperson, as a volunteer soccer coach. I would say that all of those decisions and choices that I've made were formulated in that four and a half years here at IU as an athlete, without question.
And the IU program is like an open door. You can call Coach (Jerry) Yeagley's cell phone and he answers; you knock on his door and he opens it and brings you in for dinner. Even the players: we don't talk about it very much; it's kind of taken for granted. But, when we're together you can just see it. It's powerful, very powerful.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from your experiences at IU?
Kapsalis: Persistence and perseverance with patience. That's the message. I never obsessed about this goal or this dream. It never consumed me. It rarely kept me up at night. It was a burning desire like nothing I could ever explain, but I was very patient, and I think back then patience was difficult. I think today patience is even more difficult. Are we willing to let it play out? Are we willing to stay long enough to really have our dreams come true? Let it play out, be patient with the process. And as long as you've got the burning desire then there should not be a stopwatch on the journey.
Today, Kapsalis resides in Indianapolis with his wife, Sherri, and their three children. He is a sales representative in the apparel industry and a volunteer youth soccer coach. He is also a Youth Minister and Eucharistic Minister and serves as Chairman of the Bigelow-Brand Charity Advisory Board of the Pancreatic Cyst & Cancer Early Detection Center.
Kapsalis will be signing books at each of the "On The Road with The Hoosiers" events this summer. View schedule of events.
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