When God created humanity, he asked for individuals to lead by example, to nurture with unconditional love, to instill core values that would transcend generations. He asked us to have the courage to permit those we love to fail, to have the character to confront adversity and disappointment, to have the wisdom to tolerate eccentricity and to bring the family together under a bond of love and respect for all people. So God made a parent.
Blair Walsh's size-9 cleats are on their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, a stunning achievement for the 23-year-old place-kicker, who, just one year earlier, struggled through his most challenging season as a football player. Seeing the potential in his booming right leg, the Minnesota Vikings looked past Walsh’s on-field struggles during his senior year at the University of Georgia and selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft. Walsh rewarded the Vikings’ faith with a rookie season for the ages when it comes to kickers. Walsh set NFL records for most field goals of 50 yards or more in a season (connecting on all 10 of his attempts) and highest single-season field-goal percentage by a rookie (35 of 38, 92.1 percent).
In the country’s richest and most popular sport, the hard-working, 5-foot-10, 190-pounder already has made a huge impact on a sport dominated by behemoths, a testament to the axiom, “Good things come in small packages.”
Achievers like Blair Walsh don’t just happen. They are products of parents who understand their children. Blair’s parents, Joe and Karen Walsh, nurtured their son’s passion, putting it into perspective by patiently and subtly adjusting his emotional gyroscope. They watched him achieve star power in his early college years, followed by a season that tested his mettle. Joe and Karen helped Blair learn then that strength can be gained from defeat.
The Walshes are parents of three children; Blair, older brother Ryan (a Harvard grad currently in law school at USC) and daughter Kailey, their youngest and a freshman at Georgia on a golf scholarship. Joe, who for years coached basketball and soccer in the Boca Raton Little Leagues, has been our family dentist for 33 years. Between his successful dental practice and coaching, he was the guy who held the ball for Blair’s practice kicks—and the guy who caddied for his daughter. He wasn’t just involved with his kids’ sports interests; he was consumed. He was their teacher, their cheerleader, their unflagging support.
Joe Walsh must pinch himself when he reflects on the early success of his children, or when he watched Blair representing the National Football Conference at this year’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu. But Joe is also a pragmatist; he knows there are bumps in the road.
He vividly remembers how Blair entered his senior year at Georgia as the preseason favorite to win the Lou Groza Award as college football’s top placekicker. “It was a year that no one in our family likes to remember, a nightmare,” he says. Blair would miss more field goals (14) in 2011 than during his first three years at Georgia combined (13). Among his misfires were two chip shots in an overtime loss to Michigan State at the 2012 Outback Bowl, the culmination of a lousy season, one that could have cost him a shot at the NFL.
“Many times we thought he might be over the moon about his success,” Joe says. “But Blair’s senior year is a reminder of what failure and disappointment feels like. Karen and I have always stressed to the kids that the most important things in life are faith, family and hard work. Despite his disappointing year, Blair plugged away.”
With a smile on his face, this proud dad says, “The secret to success is to find something you love to do—then have the passion for it, and work as hard and smart as you can. Good things happen. It’s all about hard work and dedication.”
So God made a parent. Happy Mother and Father’s Day.