left Xtraordinary Living At Its Best: Following your passion

Monday, November 03, 2008

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Following your passion

Refreshing to see a young start athlete who becomes a positive role model. Please read about Gian Paul Gonzalez. This article appeared on Saturday, November 1, 2008 in the "North Jersey Herald News."


Gian Paul Gonzalez wanted to make an impact in people's lives.
So the next time you see Gonzalez, a 2006 Division III basketball All-American at Montclair State from North Haledon, he will have a ball in his hand and he will be running … and running … and running.

In collaboration with Ball For Lives and on behalf of his own non-profit organization, 4-One, Gonzalez will take on the 26.2-mile trek Sunday known as the New York City Marathon, to raise awareness and funds for South African orphans whose parents have died from the AIDS epidemic.

Ball For Lives approached Gonzalez, 25, with the proposition to run the marathon while dribbling a basketball after an event he helped to put on with the Giants.
"I'd never run a marathon, never ran over three miles," Gonzalez said. "But I thought about it and prayed about it and a week later, I said that I'd give it a shot. And the more I learned about it, the more I was inspired to do it. Ever since then I've loved the opportunity and I’ve tried to get better every day."

His lack of experience has led to an intense training regimen that began the first week of June. As someone who primarily focused on speed drills, he had to get acclimated to endurance. So he continued to run.

In the beginning it was three miles at a time, but now he's completing training runs that take him from the George Washington Bridge to downtown Jersey City. But the hardest part has been the actual dribbling of the ball.

"The hardest part is my shoulders," Gonzalez said. "But with God’s help, I'll do my best."

This isn't the first time that Ball For Lives, which still is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization, has had someone participate in the New York City Marathon while dribbling a basketball. Ball For Lives founder, Dan Occhiogrosso, dribbled last year.

"I needed someone who would represent the organization well," said Occhiogrosso, who also dribbled the half marathon over the summer. "[Gian is] a Christian who loves God and loves people and I'm the same type of person. He loves using basketball to change the world and what he’s doing with 4-One is just awesome. I saw what he was doing, I contacted him and he said 'let's go.'" Gonzalez, who participated in an event, believes basketball can be used for more than an exaggerated display of skills.

So he started 4-One, which began as games with guards and kids in juvenile detention centers followed by positive discussion and has grown into an incorporated non-profit organization that delivers its message of a positive lifestyle to area high schools.

"This is my heart's passion," Gonzalez said. "I wanted to devote as much time as possible to helping. Coaches and my agent don't understand. They say it's a little backward. You're supposed to go pro first, then start a non-profit organization. But I'd rather stand on the half court of a jail or a high school, talking to kids about staying clean, staying pure and being a leader. The pro stuff, it doesn't appeal to me. Maybe I'm crazy, but it doesn't appeal to me."

He's been to NBA tryouts and has had opportunities to play overseas, but he doesn't feel that is his purpose. It's a different mind-set from the usual athlete one might come across who has had some semblance of success.

"That's what's special about Gian Paul," said Noel Colon, who works with Gonzalez on 4-One. "He goes out of his way to sacrifice. He turned down playing pro overseas to do what he's doing. He symbolizes 4-One. We're going to do whatever we have to do to give back."

Gonzalez the person has supplanted Gonzalez the athlete, and Gonzalez wouldn't have it any other way. Who he is as a person is much more important to him than how many times a basketball leaves his hand and drops through a net. And that's what he tells the kids he works with.

"Most people say that sports develop character," Gonzalez said, "but I say that it reveals character. It puts you in pressure situations. It reveals what you have and what you don't have. Then, if you are willing to look at yourself, you will see what you have to work on, both internally and externally. It will show you.

"God gives you a talent so you can influence others. It isn't supposed to shine only on you. It'll change a life more if it benefits somebody else."

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