Move over Rudy, Dr. Kenneth Polke is here to tell his own inspiring story of overcoming obstacles to play in the NFL in his new book Conquering Your Adversities: From the Mafia-Controlled Streets to the NFL to Ultimately Becoming a Successful Doctor. In this hybrid of a memoir and a self-help book, Dr. Polke shares his inspiring journey.
From growing up on the Mafia-ridden streets of Cleveland in the 1950s and going to a Catholic boys school to watching the nation erupt in violence during the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, seeing his neighborhood of Collinwood become known as Bomb City, USA. All the while, managing to stay focused on walking the straight and narrow path that would lead him to his dream of playing in the NFL.
I’m not a football fan, but I always love a good rags-to-riches or dream-come-true story and every page of this book is full of both. One thing I really enjoyed about Conquering Your Adversities is that Dr. Polke contrasted his personal stories with keeping a pulse on what was happening outside his private sphere — in his city and in the nation. As a result, the book was filled with nostalgia about America’s best days in the decades following World War II, as well as some of its most turbulent times.
At the heart of the story is the Polke family. Dr. Polke describes growing up in a small house in Collinwood with his brother and little sister and later a baby sister. His father read to them and educated them on everything from sports to the Mafia. When his mother was not busy caring for the family, she was working her hands raw at the Jergens factory to make sure they had everything they needed. Dr. Polke’s parents were hardworking middle class people who upheld the Ozzie and Harriet values of the 1950s and instilled them in their children, providing them with strength and a moral code to follow when temptation came their way.
And temptation was all around Dr. Polke as a child. His parents sent him to Catholic school to keep him out of the troublesome public schools. However, even when surrounded by nuns, he couldn’t help getting himself into trouble—stealing communion wine from the church. But far worse, the streets of his neighborhood were controlled by the Mafia. While Dr. Polke never had direct dealings with them, he was always conscious of them being in his neighborhood. He often had to take cues from his father about how to react to different situations, whom to be friendly with, and whom to avoid.
Foremost among the Mafia figures in the neighborhood was Danny Greene, who would later be the subject of the film Kill the Irishman. Dr. Polke had one memorable run-in with Greene when he was a child—a positive one, fortunately, that allowed him to understand why Greene was venerated as a type of Robin Hood in his community, although he also knew Greene’s choices were ultimately a mistake.
When things got rough, Dr. Polke always managed to persevere, but the temptation was ever there to take the easy way to success. When he did not have a lot of money or when his dreams didn’t seem like they were going to come true, Dr. Polke occasionally would see rich guys drive by in fancy cars with beautiful babes. Then he would realize that he could be enjoying that lifestyle if he wanted to join organized crime. Instead, he chose sports—specifically football—as his way out.
Dr. Polke’s football career is impressive. He may not be a household name today, but he went a lot farther than most who dream of playing professionally. He tells us stories of great moments on the football field in high school. We feel butterflies in our stomachs along with him when he meets with recruiters from different colleges, and ultimately, we feel like falling off our chairs in shock when he finally gets that magical call. I don’t want to ruin all the suspense, but I will say that Polke ended up playing for two different NFL teams.
And then, in the end, he walked away from football for something better….
You’ll have to read the rest of Dr. Polke’s story for yourself, not just to know what happened to him—but to discover what can happen to you. Each chapter of Conquering Your Adversities ends with a series of challenging questions to make readers reflect upon Dr. Polke’s story, think about similar challenges they’ve faced, and figure out how to overcome them. In the end, this book becomes a blueprint for readers to follow their own dreams and achieve success despite any obstacles that stand in their way.
If you want to be inspired, if you love history, if you’re from Cleveland, if you love football—heck, if you’re a human being, you’ll love this book because you’ll relate to it and it will help you to conquer your own adversities. There are plenty of self-help books out there, but few can help as much as exploring how someone else overcame difficulties and taking inspiration from his personal story—and Dr. Polke delivers all the way.
For more information about Dr. Kenneth Polke and Conquering Your Adversities, visit the author’s website.