One Man Feels Great -- Erik Cagle
I first met Pat Croce in 1996 as a sportswriter while covering a baseball tournament in southern New Jersey. Croce, president and part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, was the evening's guest between games of the nightly doubleheaders.
Since the tournament was largely boring and the local readership didn't particularly give a rat's ass about what a great cut fastball the Rider College sophomore possessed, I needed to bring back a "color" piece, a personality profile about someone local or the evening's celebrity, preferably something other than just what happened on the field.
Croce fit the bill; he had recently joined the Sixers, a team that was anything but inspiring; in fact, it was the NBA's worst. He initially made his mark by founding Pat Croce's Sports Physical Therapists centers (now merged into nationally known NovaCare Inc.), of which there was one locally, and several area athletes had rehabbed injuries there. He was very active in local charities and various causes that called for someone to rally support. Croce had a reputation for doing just that. So I had my man.
I asked one question before becoming engulfed in wave after wave of Pat Croce. He was simply mesmerizing, by far more so than anyone else I'd interviewed in the journalism business. I'd politely listened to motivational speakers in the past, but this guy was motivating me as he talked. I really don't think he was trying. But he did succeed at knocking me off my feet.
The first words out of his mouth following the traditional greeting were, "I feel great." He talked. He got excited. I listened. I got excited. I wanted to scream out "hallelujah!" but figured it would get back to my editor. One thought weaved into another, each idea building on the previous, billowing to a crescendo of tenacious rapture. Croce quickly had me believing in him, and believing in myself, that there was this potential that was dying to burst out and make me a fully actualized individual. A potential that would carry me to great, dizzying heights. But he wasn't using buzz words—I sincerely doubt he has thought outside the box, shifted any paradigms or used any other hollow phraseology. The man was sincere, absolutely no BS.
I'd foolishly worn a 76ers t-shirt, not realizing my gaffe until I'd arrived at the park. Croce ate it up, and during one of his uplifting discourses, he managed to stick a Sixers pin into the shirt without pausing thought. I beamed with enthusiasm and was thankful that no one else was there to see me gushing with utter excitement.
As he spoke, he placed a hand on my shoulder. His eyes filled with intensity. His voice boomed at all the right times, and lowered itself appropriately. His smiles were thoughtful and appropriately placed, not the forced, flick-of-the-switch types that adorn the faces of 90 percent of corporate America's human resource directors. At times he seemed he was confiding in me, then he became inquisitive and asked me questions. It took him about 60 seconds to learn what I was all about. He seemed to care. No, he did care. He really does care.
I thanked him for the interview and climbed into my car. I stared straight ahead for a few moments, trying to digest the enormity of this unexpected Croce avalanche.
The man had nothing to sell me—no 12-volume self-help collection, no 10-cassette tape compilation of 100 ways to make a million dollars from the privacy of your one-room apartment and—as a writer for the local "Jerkwater Post"—I was quite limited in the scope of spreading his gospel. He did not benefit from our interview. I cannot say the same.
Pat Croce makes a living out of sweeping people off their feet and making them believe they, too, can fly. It doesn't matter if the backdrop is a basketball court, rehab clinic, charity drive or Fortune 500 company. In his own little corner of the world, Croce has rocketed his way to the top of the mountain, yet took the time to shake everyone's hand along the way.
He took some of the rockiest roads to get to the top and still doesn't shy away from the path of most resistance. A few years ago, Croce wrecked his motorcycle during a cross-country charity ride and had to endure extremely painful therapy. Naturally, he beat the timetable for recovery, adding considerable physical heft to his reputation of backing up what he says.
What Croce says has a growing audience. He has penned articles for a variety of publications, including Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, Family Circle, Muscle & Fitness and Newsweek. He recently wrote a book titled, "I Feel Great and You Will, Too!: An Inspiring Journey of Success With Practical Tips on How to Score Big in Life."
What I don't understand is how and why Pat Croce has this...I don't know what else to call it...magical quality that makes him tick, that lights him inside and drives him to achieve and conquer. He embraces life to the fullest and urges everyone in his constructive path to do the same. I sincerely doubt Croce has ever shortchanged himself a day in his life. If he could bottle that magic and sell it, he'd make a fortune...oh, right, he's already visited that plateau and has long since moved on to bigger and better things than wealth.
This is beyond the point where I would have related how Pat Croce's teachings can be applied to everyday life in leading a graphic arts company; I didn't want to hit you over the head with the obvious. He is a shining example that we are only bound by our self-imposed limitations. His determination makes a difference in people's lives every day, yet he manages to "feel great" in the process.