For the Fourth Year, Sports Medicine’s Student Ambassador Seminar Inspires Young Leaders

As a young teen, Dave Strong was playing basketball when his two best pals invited him to ride along in a car. He elected to continue shooting hoops, while his friends headed for trouble. One would wind up shot dead, the other in prison for 10 years.

Recounting the split-second decision that helped set him on a path to become a doctor, Strong was among the inspirational speakers at the 4th Annual Student Ambassador Seminar presented by UHealth Sports Medicine who turned to their own life experiences to convey a key message to 70 area high school students last week: The choices you make now will decide your future.

“You are here today for a very simple reason,” said seminar founder Lee Kaplan, M.D., Chief of UHealth Sports Medicine and a renowned orthopaedic surgeon who met Strong when they were both undergraduates at Johns Hopkins University. “Five years ago we took care of several high school players who were losing opportunities because they got in trouble with guns and drugs in Miami. I find that unacceptable.”

The students, many of them accomplished in academics and athletics, were selected for the daylong program designed to nurture leaders and role models in area high schools because, as Kaplan told them, “Someone believes in you.” They heard valuable advice from an array of riveting speakers, beginning with Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., who told them that discipline and preparation, both on the athletic field and in the classroom, are keys to success.

“If you assemble all the energy you have, all the knowledge that you have, all the strength that you have, then when you come on the field or the classroom you can deliver your best,” the Dean said, encouraging the students to share the day’s lessons with others. “We want you on this day to learn not only to make the right choices for yourself, but also help the people next to you … by being a role model.”

Making her first appearance at the annual seminar held at University of Miami Hospital, UM President Donna E. Shalala reiterated that message. “You are going to meet very successful people today from all different backgrounds and they are going to tell you their stories, and they are going to give you advice,” she said. “We want you to take that advice very seriously, but more importantly, we want you to pass it on. That’s what leaders do.”

Returning for his fourth time, Strong, now an ER physician in Boca Raton and a team doctor at Florida Atlantic University, emphasized the importance of being optimistic, and making a positive impression. Describing his childhood growing up fatherless and on welfare in Cleveland’s inner city, he recounted how his junior high school basketball team’s respectful behavior while crushing another team – the final score was 130 to 10 – at an elite prep school changed his life. The opposing coach was so impressed with their attitude, he recruited two players who could make it academically at the elite school. Strong was one of them.

“It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I told myself I wanted to get my mother out of the ‘hood and I wanted to be successful, so I sucked it up, got up at 4:30 a.m., took three buses to that school, and I made it,” Strong said.

Other speakers included Errict Rhett, former University of Florida football standout and NFL player; Super Bowl champion Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens; Jack McClinton, former UM and NBA basketball player; Vinny Scavo, UM’s head athletic trainer; Rob Seifer, Ph.D., a sports psychologist with the UM Athletics Department and the Miami Marlins; and Don Bailey, a UM grad and radio broadcaster whose powerful message about the word ‘impossible’ resonated with Fedlyne Aristile.

“I’ve learned that ‘impossible’ is an opinion, and not a fact,” said Aristile, an incoming freshman at Miami’s Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High during the seminar’s morning break. “I will definitely keep this in mind as I start high school in the fall.”

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