Overcoming the Negative

A football fan's inspiration came through

Working in sports, it's easy to get buried behind the avalanche of negativity that invades my daily existence. Sadly, it's tiresome sometimes even attempting to enjoy the special moments. Many times, even the heart-level stories occur without me feeling affected. And then there was the time a few days ago when Lois Symington appeared on my show and broke through the mire. I was touched! You will be too.

That's where Lois Symington and her organization, ETTAC, came into the picture. The website for East Tennessee Technology Access Center describes their work this way: "We are the region's only nonprofit agency that gives people with disabilities access to the assistive technology devices that enable them to reach their potential for living, working and learning."

Working in sports, it's easy to get buried behind the avalanche of negativity that invades my daily existence. Sadly, it's tiresome sometimes even attempting to enjoy the special moments. Many times, even the heart-level stories occur without me feeling affected. And then there was the time a few days ago when Lois Symington appeared on my show and broke through the mire. I was touched! You will be too.

Mack French came into Lois' life as a high school student hampered by an aggressive form of Muscular Dystrophy. His malady made doing almost everything impossible. Among other limitations, he had about an eighth of an inch movement on his right thumb. Yet, Mack pressed on to live a normal life.

That's where Lois Symington and her organization, ETTAC, came into the picture. The website for East Tennessee Technology Access Center describes their work this way: "We are the region's only nonprofit agency that gives people with disabilities access to the assistive technology devices that enable them to reach their potential for living, working and learning."

To those who knew him, Mack inspired all to reach their potential for living, working and learning as well. "When Mack first came to us," Symington said. "He wanted to learn geometry. I hated to burst his bubble, but I honestly told him, 'Mack, you know this is going to be really hard for you.' He said, 'I know it will be, but I want to go to college, and if I go am in college, I'm going to have to know this.' He was determined."

Like most teenagers, Mack French had dreams. The first was to graduate from high school. With the aid of software and other programs, he was able to get through. A lifelong UT Football fan, French hoped to attend the University of Tennessee. He not only did that, but he became a successful student who made a few friends in high places during his brief time on the Hill. One of them was UT football star Al Wilson, a man ironically regarded as one of the most physical players in Tennessee's modern era. French began his involvement with UT when he was invited to come watch a practice. From there, he progressed further into UT's inner circle.

Picture Wilson, lauded for his ferocious approach to the game, being touched by the meekest among us. Unbeknownst to many Vol fans, Wilson had a soft side that he let few see. Mack French came into Wilson's life, and the current NFL star hasn't been the same since.

Chris Low, a beat writer with The Tennessean attended just about every practice during that magical '98 season. He recalls the type of close-knit relationship French developed with the UT captain. "I talked to Al last year before the start of the NFL season, and he brought up Mack and how much he learned from him. Al loved Mack. He went out of his way to tell me that he thinks about Mack all the time. He even keeps a picture of Mack at his locker as a reminder of his friend," Low said.

Mack French shared a lifelong dream for his Tennessee Vols to someday become national champions. He not only saw the dream through, he lived it. French was the member of the Tennessee team that only a few knew. "I remember seeing him at practice just smiling at people in that wheelchair. He had such a spirit about him. The guys on that team really fed off his determination. His health was obviously deteriorating that year, yet he made it to every practice he could," Low said.

French became such an insider that he was actually with the Vols on the sidelines the night they were crowned kings of college football. It was a pinnacle moment in his young life.

"Mack and Al were inseparable," Symington said. "On the team flight back from the Fiesta Bowl, Mack's health was slipping so rapidly that he was sore sitting in his airplane seat. So, Al Wilson, this big hulking football star reached for Mack and placed him in his lap for a good portion of this flight," she said.

Mack French died a short time later. To commemorate his brief yet remarkable life, ETTAC is preparing for the Seventh Annual Mack French Golf Tournament, Monday, May 9, at Gettysvue.

"The reason we named this golf tourney after Mack is that he personifies the work we do. This is not about pitying Mack for the short life that he lived. This is about honoring him. More so, it's about honoring people with disabilities who achieve their goals. They live, work and learn and contribute to the lives of people around them. We are about giving them the tools to live with dignity and independence," Symington said.

If you'd like to contribute to ETTAC please call Lois at 219-1030.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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