Lucille O’Neal shows us that champions can have the humblest beginnings. In Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go: From Mental Welfare to Mental Health, this mother of NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal tells her inspiring story.
From her earliest memories of the stern discipline of her grandparents and the confusion caused by the absence of her mother, one is impressed by the hurdles Lucille O’Neal had to overcome. Lack of self-love, low self-esteem and absent confidence were what characterized much of her life – especially her youth. Her unusual height (she was six feet tall by the time she was twelve, though a mere 95 lbs.) only added to her misery. Being called names like “Olive Oyl” and “Jolly Green Giant” soon had her walking with a studied slouch. That’s what stood out about Lucille to her pastor one Sunday morning and provoked her outburst in front of the whole congregation: “Lucille, walk like you have somewhere to go.”
That advice along with the encouragement of her mother (they were eventually reunited) and O’Neal’s own gumption, determination and faith in God brought about the eventual transformation to the Lucille O’Neal of today: mother of a champion (and three other successful kids), college graduate, public speaker, fundraiser for charities, and motivational coach.
One of the things I loved most about Lucille O’Neal was her mothering. What a natural! Though she was only 18 and unwed at the time Shaquille was born, she was a conscientious and dedicated mother right from the start. Later when her family included a husband and three more children, she made sure school and homework came first and ensured she knew where her kids were and that they were busy and active during after-school hours. No way were her kids going to get in with the wrong crowd. During Shaquille’s first season in the NBA, she traveled on the road with him as often as possible.
O’Neal’s first-person telling of the story is like sitting beside this obviously spunky lady and listening to her talk. Here, for example, is her account of going back to school as an adult:
“Though I was completely scared to death at this new challenge in my life, those first few weeks of school were as amazing and soul satisfying as I knew they would be. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle, because I must certainly did. I hadn’t picked up a book in nearly two decades, and I’d left half of my memory back in a beer bottle somewhere” (p. 175).
The story, told in 33 named and numbered chapters, is interesting, entertaining and easy to follow. The 200 pages of narrative also contain a few photos (black and whites, appearing with the text). In the end-matter O’Neal lists forty of her favorite Bible verses and eighteen favorite songs. In “A Note From Lucille” she repeats a snippet from one of her motivational talks, giving us a taste of this mother’s backbone-building optimism:
“While your peers are sitting you will concentrate on STANDING; while your peers are standing, you will stand tall and STAND OUT; while your peers stand out, you will be the one OUTSTANDING. And as a result of your mental wealth state, you will be the example by which all other standards will be measured!” p. 224.
Whenever Lucille was dragging her feet about getting to this book project Shaquille would remind her her how inspiring her story could be for the countless people facing the same obstacles and setbacks that she had faced in hers. There is no doubt this upbeat autobiography will accomplish what the author’s son envisioned.