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The Stuff of Legends: What sports greats are truly made of

by Lisa Ocker
SUCCESS editor

As I sit down to write, I imagine our contributing editor Don Yaeger on assignment: Deep in South Louisiana, he’s swatting mosquitoes in the swelter of this July afternoon. He’s sweating. Every once in a while, he has to stomp a foot to keep a fire ant from climbing up his sock. And he’s loving every minute.

Don’s at the Manning Passing Academy for high-school players led by members of America’s greatest football dynasty. He’s there to interview Archie Manning and sons Peyton, Eli and Cooper for our November cover feature.

Since the re-launch of SUCCESS in early 2008, Don’s brought us profiles of sports legends John Wooden, Tony Dungy, Arnold Palmer, Dara Torres, Nolan Ryan, Serena Williams, Annika Sorenstam, Cal Ripken Jr., Emmitt Smith, Pat Summitt, Magic Johnson and many others.

Don came to us early on, after hearing SUCCESS had a new owner and new focus on personal development. At the time, we were trying to put together a regular feature called “Lessons from Sports” that would provide inspiring insights gleaned from the lives of sports figures. I’d had some trouble finding a writer, then, coincidentally, Don e-mailed us and proposed essentially the same idea.

He clearly understood what we wanted, and he had the credentials to deliver. A former associate editor at Sports Illustrated, Don is a New York Times best-selling author and keynote speaker. Yet, he was modest when we first spoke, friendly and appreciative of my call—qualities I knew would serve him well in gaining the trust of interview subjects.

We use the word “legend” a lot at SUCCESS. And the first profile Don proposed—the great John Wooden—certainly fit that definition. Don delivered a beautiful piece that was rich with details and insights about his mentor, “Coach.”

Time after time since that first story, Don’s delivered. He simply loves learning about and sharing what makes these amazing individuals so successful. Sounds like a sweet job, right? It is, but these interviews can be logistically challenging; the people we write about are busy, and so is Don. When we talk about his assignments, he’s usually driving or in an airport. He’s probably written more stories for us from cruising altitude than he has at sea level. On top of everything else, Don and wife Jeanette have had a son and a daughter since we’ve been working together.

When John Wooden passed away in June, we scrambled to get a tribute story under way. I e-mailed Don, who had just returned home to Florida after a quick trip to see his mentor in L.A. the day before he died.

“Lisa: Been a rough week,” he wrote back. “I’ll do WHATEVER you want on Coach. Name the assignment…”

Don’s story about Coach John Wooden appears in the September issue of SUCCESS. “Great mentors never really die,” he writes in the article. “Their lessons simply become our own as we carry on their legacy with every teachable moment.”

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