By Rachel Terrill, Player Engagement Insider
NFL Legend, former linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski has worn many hats (and helmets) throughout his career. In fact, the NFL helmets he wore are just a small part of Kacyvenski’s life story.
To know the story of Kacyvenski you need to know far more than his NFL accolades.
I asked Kacyvenski how he might introduce himself to a stranger – in a way that would detail his life as completely as possible. He obliged me.
“’I’m Isaiah Kacyvenski. I came from very little, and rose from poverty and homelessness on a belief that I control my own destiny. I would not let my circumstances define who I was or who I wanted to be. I still feel that same way...”
His parents divorced when he was nine. When he was 13, his mother left her children to be a missionary. Kacyvenski knew that if he were going to make it out of his poverty-stricken childhood, he would need to do it himself. (He told part of that story to Oprah Winfrey on her show about resilient spirits.) His father was an alcoholic who could become violent. So, he made a sign to hang in his room that said: “Let no one outwork you today.” He didn’t.
Kacyvenski worked hard and made the high school football team. Before long, he started receiving interest from college football programs.
Then, the unthinkable happened. The day of his biggest high school football game, he received a call saying that a truck had struck and killed his mom as she walked along the road. He fell to his knees and sobbed. Later that day, he went on to play one of the best games of his high school career.
“’Let no one outwork you today’ is still my motto today,” Kacyvenski said.
Isaiah’s strong performance and academic excellence led to an academic scholarship and an offer to play football at Harvard. “You’ll never regret it,” coach Tim Murphy promised him.
At Harvard, Kacyvenski was randomly assigned jersey #49. During his freshman year, he found a picture of his mom wearing a Harvard sweatshirt. He also found her Bible with the following passage highlighted from the book of Isaiah: "Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. I can never forget you! I have written you in the palm of my hands." – Isaiah 49:15.
Kacyvenski’s story is more than being an unlikely recruit offered a full academic scholarship to play football at Harvard. His story is about more than the unlikely recruit becoming an MVP and leading the Harvard Crimson to a winning season. His story is about more than his academic achievements and the pre-med undergraduate degree from Harvard and MBA from Harvard Business School.
Kacyvenski’s life has been a story that seems almost predestined, if unpredictable. But it’s also a story about a boy who took control of his own destiny despite the odds – about his quest to make a positive difference in the lives of others with an unrelenting positive attitude.
Football was just beginning for the hardworking Kacyvenski. In 2000, the Seattle Seahawks selected Kacyvenski in the fourth round of the NFL Draft- Harvard’s highest ever NFL draft pick. He quickly became a special teams force under then-head coach Mike Holmgren’s tutelage.
Kacyvenski played in the NFL for eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, and Oakland Raiders. The eight-year NFL veteran spent three seasons as a special teams captain and played in Super Bowl XL. He totaled 243 tackles, a sack, and three forced fumbles. But this Legend is more than his stats – and more than just a former NFL player.
Although Kacyvenski does not define himself as simply a former NFL player, he knows that the NFL helped launch him toward the rest of his life. “I hear fans say that NFL players are lost after the NFL because they think that they’re only football players. That’s not true. We all know that we have more in us than playing football.”
Since retiring from the game, Kacyvenski has been investing his time, talents, and treasures into making the game of football safer and the game (and the world beyond the game) even better for generations of players to come.
“I was a premed undergrad with a passion for medicine and physiology, he said. “When I went back to school, I knew I wanted to earn a Master’s in Business Administration.”
Now, Isaiah has aligned his passions: his love for sports, his background in bio wellness, his business acumen, and a history in NFL to change the game of technology in healthcare, sports, and consumer wellness.
Kacyvenski is currently the Global Head of Business Development and Chairman of the Sports Medicine Advisory Board at MC10. In his role with the company, he has helped develop technologies such as Checklight (a sports impact indicator), a hydration monitor, and a flexible physiological data-gathering tool called BioStamp.
“I constantly guessed as I trained,” Kacyvenski said. “Now we don’t have to guess anymore. BioStamp gives us a dial-in approach to training in a way that is a blueprint of each athlete. Now, we can optimize performance and reduce injury.”
It’s before, within, and after the 15 or so promising companies in which he invests his time, talents, and treasures. It’s more than the technological advances he’s helped make for future NFL players, more than the sum of the boards upon which he sits.
One of Kacyvenski’s gifts is seeing the best in others and helping them make a difference using their talents as well.
“I love helping gather the best and brightest minds from the sport to help make a difference in real ways,” Kacyvenski said. “Some businesses ask players if they can use their names or ask them to send out a certain number of tweets to endorse their products. They’re missing out on the brainpower these men could help bring to their companies.”
One of the minds Kacyvenski has enlisted to serve on MC10’s Sports Advisory Board is his former teammate, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is a fan of Kacyvenski’s too.
“Isaiah was one of the hardest working NFL players to ever play the game,” Hasselbeck said. “He’s working just as hard now at being the best father, husband and entrepreneur he can be. Using sports as an avenue to help him accomplish his goals has been a natural fit for Isaiah.”
As much as Kacyvenski likes to put others in a position to succeed, he is even more focused on his family. “…I care about being the best husband I can to my amazing wife and raising my kids the right way by showering them with love and imparting everything that I can with them…” he said.
Kacyvenski’s wife, Lauren, was his high school sweetheart. Having known him through the most trying times of his life, she had plenty to pull from when asked what makes her husband unique.
“What I think is unique about my husband is his work ethic,” Lauren said. “My answer is surprisingly the same now as it would have been when he was playing in the NFL, but for very different reasons. During the NFL days, yes, he would train hard, be early, stay late, and study film at home. But what never ceases to surprise me is his post football work ethic. Many people have the ability to work hard at their career and come home and be a great parent. Isaiah manages well beyond that. He stays connected with friends; old and new. He helps each and every one when he can. He coaches all of our son's sports teams and attends all of our daughter's gymnastics meets and swim practices. He is present at every parent conference and school performance. He serves on countless organizations and charitable boards. He has patents on his office wall and works tirelessly at MC10. Through it all, he is an amazing husband. He does not tire, compromise or do things half-heartedly; he amazes me.”
“…I care about challenging myself every single day and I’m driven by the idea that the best chapter of my life is yet to be written,” Kacyvenski said.
With the best chapters yet unwritten, there is no doubt that this NFL Legend will continue to unfold as he continues to make a positive impact on all that he touches. To know the full story of Isaiah Kacyvenski, we will just have to wait.
Dubbed “Dr. Love” for her work on marriage and relationships, Rachel Terrill is passionate about making marriages work. Rachel is the wife of Craig Terrill, who played for the Seattle Seahawks from 2004-2011. Rachel spent the last twelve years investigating the relationships and marriages of professional athletes. Rachel earned her Ph.D. in Communication from The University of South Florida. She teaches university courses on communication and public speaking and she serves as a family advisor for the NFL Players Health Study at Harvard University. Her work is featured in radio, television, online, and print publications. You can reach her through her website at www.rachelterrill.com