Lessons in Leadership: Stories of Overcoming

By Katie Pickle and Chris Reid

            Our lives are filled with personal challenges, and sometimes it may seem that these challenges are never-ending. We all know that sense of defeat, the feeling that giving up and losing would be much easier than rising up and overcoming. In these times of hopelessness, it’s important to look to those around us for examples of strength, courage, and the ability to beat the odds. I am blessed to know two individuals who personify determination and fearlessness, whose experiences I may look to when challenges in my own life seem overwhelming—Cortland Finnegan and Brenda Ladun. Cortland and Brenda each have their own inspirational stories and, although different, both their journeys exemplify the success and gratification that is possible when we stay strong, refuse to give up, and always remain resolute in our faith.

            Cortland Finnegan comes from humble beginnings in Northwest Florida, where he began his football career as a star safety and tailback at Milton High School. His athletic talents led him to be picked up by the Samford University football team in 2002, and during his college years he saw much success on the field. He started every game his sophomore, junior, and senior years, and was named first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) for those years as well. Among other honors, Cortland was named OVC defensive player of the year his sophomore year.  I was lucky enough to befriend Cortland during my time at Samford, and he is not only a fantastic football player, but also a man of tremendous faith and family values.

            Despite his many accolades while at Samford, Cortland went largely unnoticed and overlooked in the 2006 NFL draft. Since Samford is an FCS school and not widely known for its football program, Cortland did not get the same attention as players from more recognized schools. However, after Sports Illustrated predicted Cortland would go undrafted, the Tennessee Titans made a surprise move and selected him as the seventh pick of the seventh round of the draft (215th overall). Cortland as said that he is “forever indebted to the Titans” for giving him the chance to achieve NFL greatness.

            It proved to be a lucky choice for the Titans, as Cortland performed fantastically his rookie season and in the following 6 years with the team. Cortland put up outstanding numbers, and was selected for the pro-bowl in 2009. He went on to play for the St. Louis Rams, the Miami Dolphins, and the Carolina Panthers. Cortland joined the Panthers after coming out of a brief retirement, and in the 2015-16 season, he made it to Super Bowl 50 with the team. Considered a small player and weak tackler from a tiny Alabama school, Cortland beat everyone’s expectations with his stellar gameplay. Cortland’s story shows that no dreams are too big if you stay focused and do what you love.

            Cortland credits much of his success to his strong faith, noting that he was taking a chance and was just going “to play until God said otherwise.” Although some viewed him negatively because of a couple on-field incidents, Cortland never let that negativity affect his gameplay or his personal life. He stayed consistent and true to who he is, letting others think what they wanted as long as he continued to be successful and lead the life of a devoted Christian. Cortland now lives in Nashville with his lovely wife Lacey and his beautiful daughter Lyla Kelsey. His daughter’s name is another testament to his good character—she is named after a young girl Kelsey Thomas, who had cancer, and whom Cortland befriended and helped fight her disease.

            I admire and respect Cortland and his journey. He pursued what he loved, and was able to play for 10 seasons in the NFL, which is more than many players could ever dream of. Cortland is humble and eager to be a role model for younger players. He serves as a leader that they can look up to as they try to make their NFL dreams come true as well.

            Brenda Ladun’s story is of a different nature. A Birmingham television icon for 2 decades, Brenda is a 5-time winner of the Alabama Associated Press Awards for Best Investigative Reporter and Best Specialized Reporter. Brenda graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications, and worked for a number of other TV stations before coming to Birmingham. Brenda recently won the Associated Press Award for best anchor, and she currently anchors the 6:00 and 10:00 News on ABC 33/40. She also gives “Everyday Hero” special reports on the 10:00 News on Sunday and on Focus @ 4 on Wednesdays.

            But Brenda is an inspiration not only because of her career success; the real success story is her triumph over breast cancer. In 2001, a mammogram revealed a cancerous lump in Brenda’s breast and her fight against the disease began. Brenda had a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, and she struggled with extreme nausea and fatigue. Even through the pain and hardship, Brenda did not let the disease get her down. She used her own struggle as a platform to raise awareness and educate people on breast cancer prevention. Brenda gave updates on her disease on the news, and the station sponsored free breast exams in her honor.

            Though she beat the disease, her battle was not over yet—Brenda was diagnosed with cancer again 6 years later. She was scared and in disbelief that she had to face the disease once again, but she stayed as strong as ever, and beat cancer a second time. Brenda inspired thousands with her recovery.

            Above all, Brenda credits her faith with pulling her through her battle with cancer, and she thanks God for blessing her with the strength to overcome. Brenda has always been a devout Christian; she never intended to be on television, but she knew that it was the right platform for her message. On the morning of her surgery, Brenda kept Proverbs 3:5 in her mind: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding.” She allowed God to take away her fear, and she made the choice to let cancer make her better spiritually rather than feeling bitter that she was diagnosed with the disease. Brenda said, “Cancer helped open my eyes to the fact that every day is a gift from God, one that we can open and enjoy just as we would a Christmas present. Before cancer, I didn’t see the big picture; I only saw the busy work.”

            I’m extremely blessed to know Brenda and am so inspired by her journey. She used cancer as a vehicle for good rather than being consumed by its evil. Brenda utilized her position as a media personality to help others and preach her values, and her commitment to charity and the community should be an example for all of us to follow. In 2005, Brenda founded the Brenda Ladun Conquer Cancer Run. Proceeds from the run go to the American Cancer Society and support the quest for a cure. In 2014, the run raised over $92,000. Brenda was never a martyr to cancer; she was its conqueror armed by God.

            Both Cortland and Brenda are inspirational leaders. The two demonstrate what the power of God can do for the individual, and how important it is to fight through adversity. Cortland and Brenda’s stories show that you may not be ready for what life brings, but you need to accept it and let it shape you into a better person.

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortland_Finnegan
  2. http://www.espn.com/blog/new-orleans-saints/post/_/id/22784/saints-cb-cortland-finnegan-knows-you-probably-think-hes-a-dirtbag
  3. http://www.wsoctv.com/news/local/cortland-finnegans-special-bond-young-girl-who-bat/103231577
  4. http://www.titansonline.com/news/article-4/Cortland-Finnegan-Im-forever-indebted-to-the-Titans/6e19fd72-7cc4-4dbd-a902-d0630f35d0c6
  5. http://abc3340.com/station/people/brenda-ladun-09-14-2015
  6. http://www1.cbn.com/700club/cancer-brings-tv-journalist-closer-god-1

About the Authors: This article was co-written by Katie Pickle and Chris Reid. Katie is a law clerk at the Reid Law Firm and a 1L student at Emory Law School. She may be reached at Katie.ReidLawFirm@gmail.com. Mr. Reid is general practice attorney in Birmingham, Alabama. He has worked for Republican leadership in the United State House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and was a health policy advisor to the governor of Alabama. You can contact him by email at chris.reid@reidlawalabama.com or by phone at 205-913-7406. A full description of his practice areas is available at www.reidlawalabama.com.

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