Being the One Person
I’m Chris Lawrence. I was Siegfried and Roy’s animal handler, and I was onstage that night in 2003 when Mantacore the tiger mauled Roy. The show permanently closed.
By 2005, a couple of years following the attack, I was really struggling emotionally. I knew something had changed in me, but I didn't know what exactly. I was functioning, but I felt lost. My God-given gift to relate to and bond with big cats was less apparent to me, and the comfort and confidence that I had within that gift faltered. My wife and I had discussed me leaving Siegfried and Roy to move our family somewhere else. A new start.
Ignorant to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time and having not being diagnosed yet, we mistakenly assumed that things will get better if you completely remove yourself from the environment that troubles you. Our family had no solid plans, but we knew a change had to happen soon because I was spiraling emotionally.
In January of 2006, the Kansas City Chiefs hired Herm Edwards (current ASU coach and former Eagles cornerback) as their head coach. With no advance thought, I wrote Coach Edwards a letter. It basically said:
"While I am not a Chiefs fan, my mother is a lifer, I am a fan of yours. I admire your character and integrity, as well as your positive ability to motivate and inspire men."
I welcomed him to the Chiefs on behalf of my mom and told him they couldn’t have hired a better man. I continued to boldly ask for his help.
I explained to him the experience that I had during the tiger attack and said:
"Coach, I need your help. If you have the time, do you think that you could send a few positive words of inspiration my way? I'm hurting, and I am desperately searching for anything that will help to fill my emotional tank."
I mailed the letter and almost immediately forgot about it. I told myself that just sharing my experience with a stranger was the point of writing it. Blow off a little steam. One day, to my surprise, Coach Edwards called my home. It was Valentine's Day, so I'll never forget it. I was warming up the car to get to work, and my wife came running out to the garage to catch me. She told me who it was and handed me the phone.
Coach Edwards and I spoke for about fifteen minutes that morning. He offered the words of encouragement, but he also invited me out to Kansas City for a few days to watch the team practice, just to get away. Obviously, I jumped all over that! I booked my tickets and my hotel and was eagerly awaiting my trip. Coach Edwards called me again a week before my scheduled visit to give me the bad news that the team was off, and there were no practices for me to watch. I told him that I understood and was willing to move on from it when he said:
"You know, why don't you come anyway and maybe we can sit down for a couple of minutes to talk".
So I went.
I arrived at the Chiefs office at Arrowhead Stadium, and Coach Edwards came running down the stairs to retrieve me. He said:
"Are you ready? I don't have a lot of time, but we need to talk".
I followed him down the hallway, and I stopped at the elevator. He asked me what I was doing and then went "full coach,” telling me that we were taking the stairs and that I'd "better keep up" with him. I suppose I did alright. Once we got to his office, we sat down, and I thanked him for his time. I was expecting a brief/token meeting, but I was still appreciative. He said to me:
"I don't know why, but the Lord told me that I had to talk to you so I know that I have to talk to you".
The meeting went on for well over an hour. We talked about some of the emotions I was feeling, and he offered his thoughts and perspective on everything. Finally, he said to me:
"Chris, you need to leave there. Think of your wife and children, and know that you need to leave there for their sake".
Hearing him say what I already knew sealed the deal for me. To this day, I don't know if Coach Edwards knows that. Aside from my wife and children and later my doctor, he probably did more to save my life than anyone. I'll forever be grateful to him, even if it's in silence.
Coach Edwards influenced my life even further after we moved to Florida. For a number of reasons, my wife and I started a non-profit youth athletic organization specializing in NFL Flag Football in late 2010. There was a need in the community that we set up in, and I wanted to be someone else's "Coach Edwards." I applied that old theory of "when you help others, you help yourself," something that I'm still working to do today by being a voice for PTSD survivors.
Our athletic organization quickly evolved to a community outreach organization that focused on the overall well-being of the children and not just their talents. One young man – he’s 21 now – lost both of his parents and his sister within the span of a year. My family invited him in, and he became our adopted son. He's in college now. We helped a number of kids from our organization achieve their goal of attending college, and our reward is that they all come to visit when they're on a school break.
We have three children of our own with one adopted son and more than 30 "kids” now. Most of that was spawned out of my motivation to emulate the positive impact that Coach Edwards had on my life, and I believe it's important to tell others how much of an impact that one person in one moment can have on someone else's life. That's why I'm now speaking out about my struggles and trying to steer the narrative towards PTSD awareness.
It is my only goal to be one person's "one person." Look out for yours’, and be open to being someone else’s.