By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Like many outstanding high school football players, Pete Richardson envisioned his talent as a way to a nice living as a pro.
When the former Muskogee Rougher got to Texas Tech in 2005, the vision got a little clearer. But two weeks into his freshman year, a foot injury put him in a wheelchair for a short time.
The fade of that dream began there, but the journey hasn’t been for naught.
Richardson was one of several inspirational speakers at “Summer Blaze” held Saturday at Muskogee Civic Center. He’s taken his rocky road of disappointment and turned it into a passion to help others who have been down that road through speaking engagements and the creation of SOAR, or Saving Our Athletes Respectfully.
It was just a few weeks into his freshman year that Richardson broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot. The break would require a screw in his left foot. At the same time, he took a plate and two screws out of his right leg, the result of a break during his senior season at Muskogee, where he had 926 yards rushing despite playing in only five games. Richardson was named to the Phoenix’s All-Decade team from 2000-09.
“I played on that broken foot for a couple weeks and didn’t know it,” he said.
He then received a redshirt in his sophomore year – he “hurt his brain” with what was diagnosed as a pailledema, or optic disc swelling that is caused by increased intracranial pressure.
“I’d been dealing with that since the summer before my senior year in high school and nobody knew,” he said.
The issues led to him being moved to cornerback and special teams and playing time never was substantive. He transferred to Harding University and reaggravated that earlier head injury in a Senior Day game.
“I was running on kickoffs and hit this guy and my helmet came off. I wasn’t breathing for 15-20 seconds,” he said.
Thus ended his football dreams.
He went back to Texas Tech with the intention of completing his degree in sociology and saw two notices for internships. One was with the FBI, which fit his major’s emphasis in criminology. The other was at Disney World.
He was led to choose the latter.
For the most part, his hands-on work experience there came as a custodian. But he got exactly out of it what he wanted.
“First it was some place unlike any I’ve been to and someplace as a kid that kind of grew up poor, I never imagined going to but there was something about it that drew me,” he said. “
“You’re talking about a place that’s like 2-3 New Yorks in size and there’s every type of person and culture you can come across in the people you meet, all the customers, guests, young kids. It gave me the confirmation that people were drawn to me and it developed in me a passion for helping people.”
That led to his SOAR vision.
“I never had a job other than playing football and in that I worked a lot of jobs,” he said. “I prayed for the inspiration I had as a football player. There’s something in me that through my own trials and tribulations built this passion where I want to turn to athletes who didn’t make it in that career to find a job. And really, not just athletes per se because we are all competing in the game of life.
“If I can help motivate youth to do better and make better choices in life so their role isn’t as hard as mine, then I’m fulfilling the vision that has been laid out for me.”
As he builds this vision, he’s worked as a bank teller in Lubbock and plans on being able to finish the 21 remaining hours needed to get his bachelor’s degree. He’s also created a half-hour blog radio show every Tuesday at 10 p.m. where he talks to selected athletes or business people who have achieved through adversity.
One of his clients reached him from New Zealand.
“You don’t have to be a pro athlete, hit the lottery or be a millionaire. As long as you wake up every day and enjoy what you’re doing you’ll be successful,” he said.