A lot of us endure setbacks in life, but few are lower than what a 15-year-old aspiring athlete experienced when he heard his mother’s parting words as he walked out the door with his worldly possessions in one small duffel bag: “I wish you’d never been born.” Little did he know, those would be freeing ones.
Sam Bracken eventually forgave his mother for that comment and choices she made that hurt him as a child. He realized that her following words that day – that he’d one day thank her, were in fact, true.
The book, “My Orange Duffel Bag; a Journey to Radical Change” is a creative, uplifting work of art in words, pictures and design. It is a combination story about Bracken’s difficult childhood to his realization that he had to change if he wanted to live. It spotlights his emergence as a standout football player and honors graduate at Georgia Tech, and follows his decision not to pursue his initial desire to play in the NFL, but to help others. It is also a guidebook of sorts, with questions that provoke and challenge those who want to change in their lives.
Bracken grew up in Las Vegas and was abused physically and emotionally. His neighbors and family’s friends were drug dealers, mobsters and members of motorcycle gangs, and drugs, alcohol and pornography greeted him instead of milk and cookies when he returned from school each day. He was shuffled among family members because his mother worked multiple jobs. It wasn’t long before he found himself going down a dangerous life path when a profound desire to live differently pulled him from the edge. Like many, sports were his salvation, but unlike other people, they would prove just one route toward his now positive, productive and inspired life.
How this man achieved success as a football player at Georgia Tech, then as a businessman, father, mentor and author are as miraculous as any story many of us will ever hear or read.
I learned about “My Orange Duffel Bag” and Bracken during a happenstance meeting with co-author Echo Garrett in New York nearly four years ago. When I told her I publicized authors and my business emphasis was as a sports publicist, her eyes lit up almost as brightly as her locks of red hair. She told me about her work with a former athlete whose story would blow minds. Michael Oher’s story was on the public docket and while she used a few words to compare Bracken’s transformation to the star of “The Blind Side” and member of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, she assured me that the Georgia Tech alumnus’ story would inspire in a different way.
Slow-forward to 2010 when I received the finished product that wowed me. Garrett had emailed me a pre-published PDF of “My Orange Duffel Bag” and that completely inspired and impressed, but I could see that the finished product would attract people far beyond those with sports interests. In fact, I found that sports could be a launching pad to dozens of audiences and great achievements, which it and a foundation created in tandem with the book, has done because of Bracken’s and Garrett’s work.
As for the sports element, “My Orange Duffel Bag” in its simplest form is about a teenage boy’s goal to be the best-ever football player to escape the purgatory that was his home life. It tells of his growth, experimentation and eventual goals, which led to trusted relationships and connections that now form his life.
Bracken woke up one day in his early teens and decided that he wanted better for himself than what he saw around him. An eventual bond with then Georgia Tech football coach Bill Curry would be Bracken’s inspiration and guiding spirit.
When young Bracken realized his talent and speed, he set out to play football for Brigham Young University, where he was promised a scholarship. After he graduated high school, however, he learned that the “promised” scholarship went to someone else. He maintained that he wanted to play Division I football and get a quality education at BYU, so he elected to work out with the Cougars and walk on. Again, his dreams took a hit with a knee injury during a high school all-star game. On the verge of seeing everything slip away, two health care specialists encouraged Bracken to stay the course on his desired road to play football and earn a respected degree. They sent game film and letters to which 10 schools contacted Bracken. Only Georgia Tech offered him a scholarship. Not only did Bracken start for Georgia Tech, but he also helped lead a team that logged the school’s best record in 20 years.
Oh, the orange duffel bag…When Bracken arrived in Atlanta from Las Vegas, all had with him was an orange duffel bag that his mother gave him before he attended football camp a few years prior. That and its contents – t-shirts, underwear and an extra pair of jeans — was telling in more than one way. He wanted to travel lightly, but also wished to let go of the past. He jumped into college life and subsequently, adulthood, devoid of the negative words and actions that dominated his childhood.
When we consider, per a statistic in the book, that of the more than 1 million high school football players only .01 percent score a Division I football scholarship, Bracken became a force with which to be reckoned. I would add that such force – a determination – continues today and thanks to Bracken’s sharing his story, will help guide others, as well.
Image by sidereal