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Who’s Better Than You?

7206-train10Even though I currently live in the South, it’s difficult for people to miss my New York accent. I’m all New York. In fact, I owned the gym in Brooklyn that gained national attention when the movie “Pumping Iron” was filmed there. I was raised in an ethnic area, mainly Italian and Irish.

Growing up in my neighborhood was like the Little Rascals meets “The Sopranos,” if ya know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. Everyone—and I mean everyone—was a peak-performance expert. We didn’t have seminars or CDs, but we did have the front stoop and the curb.

I remember walking down the street as a kid. I was down, mopey, head hanging low, really dragging. Then I heard a shout from Mr. Roettger, who was sitting on the stoop.

“Who’s better than you, Johnny boy?”

“Well, you know, Mr. Roettger, Joey just beat me up.…”

“No, no, no!” Mr. Roettger shouted. “That doesn’t matter. Come sit on the stoop with me. Tell me, Johnny boy, who’s better than you? And say it like you mean it, kid!”

“No one is better than me, Mr. Roettger,” I stated in a less than enthusiastic voice that he chose to ignore.

“That’s right, and don’t you ever forget it, kid! Always remember, you’re from 10th Avenue. I don’t care if you are getting beat up by Joey or in the business world when you get older—you never let it beat you! You get up, brush yourself off and keep on going. That’s how we do it!”

Then a few days later, I was walking, head hanging low, and there he was again. “Who’s better than you, Johnny boy?”

“Well, you know, Mr. Roettger, we just lost the game.…”

Mr. Roettger just laughed, walked out to the street and said, “Pull up a curb, Johnny boy.” So we both sat on the curb, and he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Who’s better than you, kid? And say it like you mean it.”

This time I said it with enough passion that I almost believed it: “No one is better than me, Mr. Roettger!”

“That’s right, kid. You’re from 10th Avenue. You may lose now and again, but you come back stronger and harder the next time. You may get knocked down, but you never stay down. That is how winning is done! Got it, kid?”

This went on my whole childhood, and it didn’t just happen to me; it was for all the kids on 10th Avenue.

My point is, no one is better than you, and don’t let anyone tell you anything different. Now, go look in the mirror—yes, you—and say, “Who’s better than you?” No one! This is your life, so you may as well starting living it to its fullest—and that starts with knowing that you are a gift to this world and no one is better then you. Got it?

—John Rowley

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