How I Became an Inspirational Speaker

The Greg Horvath Story? inspiring.

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Rhonda and Greg Horvath were high school sweethearts, which means she's been with him on the whole roller-coaster ride. She was there before he played six-man football for the Raymore High School Rebels in 1978, and she's still there five years after he played for the Saddleback College Gauchos. She's been there for everything—the drinking, the desperation, the sobering up, the moving ahead—that's come in between. "Greg and I laugh about it sometimes," says Rhonda, "but it's definitely had its ups and downs."

Originally, Rhonda was down on the idea of her husband leaving the family thousands of miles behind to play a season of junior college football. "I wasn't happy. I didn't understand," she admits. "We had a very young child at the time—Zach was only 6 years old. I thought it was quite selfish."

Rhonda never kept her feelings a secret, and they are expressed quite emphatically in Horvath's documentary. Not that it changed anything.

"It was clear that this was something Greg felt he had to do, that I couldn't hold him back," she says. "So I went through it with him, although it had its challenges. Eventually, my anger faded and I came to understand a little better. I'm a high school guidance counselor, and I talk to students all the time about setting goals, reaching for their dreams, all those things. Greg had such a passion, I had to let him go."

But he's never really returned.

"After Greg finished with the football, he started the motivational speaking," says Rhonda. "Since then he's been chasing a whole new set of dreams."

The chase doesn't just take Horvath between his home in Canada and his place in Laguna Beach. Horvath travels extensively and seemingly unceasingly. When the subject of his home life was broached for this story, he was on the telephone from New England, where he'd spent the previous six weeks. You could almost hear him cringe. He didn't dodge the issue, but neither did he really explain how . . . that is, why . . . or . . . hmmm.

"I'd like to say it's all well and good," Horvath said. "But I've been on the road virtually since the middle of October. What is it now? The end of March? I know Zach misses me. He's 10 and a half now. It frustrates Rhonda sometimes. The only positive is, well, I guess you could say, we had all been apart a lot before this. If you see what I mean? It's not unusual."

He paused.

"Would I do this continually, for years and years and years? I don't think I could," Horvath said. "But if I am strategic, if I do this properly, things will happen. I'm still excited about the film side. I think it's a matter of having the right person see it. The right person, meaning a studio. What I am doing now is big, and I am becoming bigger. But if I get a movie, it goes to a whole new level."

He paused again.

"But the goal, in terms of time away from my family, is to scale that back. I wouldn't want to do this for a three-to-five-year period."

He paused for the last time.

"Well," Horvath said, realizing, "I guess it has already been that long."

Meanwhile, Rhonda anticipates the question before you can ask it.

"Am I used to it now? Yes. My son and I have our routine. We're used to Greg sort of coming and going. It's difficult, him coming in and out of our lives. But we realize that he has a passion."

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What makes Greg Horvath think he could be our hero? What makes him believe he should be our role model? What makes him work at these things so desperately? What makes him get so quiet when you ask him these questions?

"I'm real uncomfortable with the 'hero' one," he finally responds. "Even the 'role model' one. I don't feel like I'm anything special. I'm not looking for people to leave my presentations thinking, 'This Greg Horvath is all that.' If they don't remember my name, I'm fine with it."

This doesn't quite square with the Horvath you've been talking to. It's also kind of at odds with the intense focus on All Things Greg Horvath in his motivational film/video/speech, to say nothing of his thick marketing packet, which includes page after page of reference letters from high schools, colleges, corporations, coaches and athletes, along with news releases, press clippings, awards and e-mails from students, all topped by a cover sheet that features categories titled "Greg's Achievements and Awards" and "What They're Saying About Greg."

What they're saying—whether they are from the Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers, the annual convention of the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction, a sales rally of Re/Max agents at the Best Western Otonabee Inn in Peterborough, Ontario, or a showroom full of car salesmen at David Dedman Pontiac/Buick/GMC in Yorktown, Saskatchewan—invariably gushes with positivity.

"It is a tribute to your drawing power that you are able to fill a room with busy realtors from a wide area of Eastern Ontario on the Friday morning before a long holiday weekend," wrote John Bowes, Broker/Owner of Eastern Realty Inc., of Peterborough.

"It is with renewed determination and focus that I now move forward on goals I have forth," wrote Steven Howard, Project Manager eBusiness, of MassMutual Life in Springfield, MA.

"I also want to thank you for the emotional and inspiring talk you gave to our Provincial Auto Body Association at our winter conference," wrote Tom Bissonnette, the group's president. "This is the first time in our 10 years of existence that I have ever seen our people give a speaker a standing ovation."

Horvath pumps his profile even higher in UnfinishedBusinessand basically paints himself into a corner. Rather than being able to tell his simple story, Horvath must now try to convince us that it rises to the level of those great philosophers and is left trying to wring significance out of the most humdrum of events. And because Horvath didn't play much, instead we get practice footage and shots of him watching from the sidelines or slow-motion segments of him pouring water over his head.

"You have to thump your chest to promote yourself," Horvath explains. "That's awkward for me, where I come from."

Granted, the first job of the professional motivational speaker is to motivate people to pay him to speak. But again: Why has Horvath chosen this path, put himself in this position, especially if it makes him so uncomfortable?

"There really is no greater gift than to get another person excited about their own life," he says, regaining his traction. "I've watched people be moved by some aspect of my story, whether it is my battle with addiction or just living a dream. I've been able to talk to a 15-year-old student. An old farmer came up to me. Business people. For whatever reason, I have the ability to inspire people."

In fact, Horvath was voted the Most Inspirational Player on Saddleback's team after the 2000 season.

"He received the award because of everything he overcame," recalls Don Butcher, the team's 73-year-old defensive coordinator, "but also because he worked his butt off and never missed a day of practice. I mean, how many people can do what he did at his age without getting killed? The kids saw him and thought, 'If he can do it, we can do it.'"

Maybe they did. But the players didn't vote Horvath as their most inspirational teammate. The coaching staff gave him the award.

"Look, I don't kid myself that I am going to change everybody's lives," Horvath says, maybe a little exasperated. "I'm nobody special. I want people to realize that. That's the point.All that they want from their lives, they can have too. It lies within them. Just like me."?

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