I was born and spent much of my youth in Albany, Georgia. We were not a wealthy family, and at the age of 12, I wanted to make some spending money. The best job for a kid back then was delivering newspapers – people did read them at the time – but I didn’t have a bicycle and couldn’t afford to buy one.
There was a Dairy Queen near our house that had a contest going: Whoever collected the most DQ spoons would win a fancy Schwinn bicycle. Naturally, I started collecting spoons. As I recall, the contest went on for a long time, maybe a year. But who knows; a few months feels like a year to a 12 year old.
I had a good supply of spoons, but there was another kid who had a lot more. My chances seemed unlikely. Then, the day before the contest ended, a man walked up to the DQ counter and told the manager how many spoons he had. When he found out that it wasn’t enough to win, he asked the manager to name a kid who’d benefit from additional spoons. Guess whose name was given? The man with the spoons looked up our address in the phone book, drove to our house and gave the spoons to my mother.
When I got home, my mother looked at me and started crying. He had given her about 150 spoons to go with my 200 or so, which was enough to win the bicycle. I remember my mother crying, but of course I didn’t — real 12-year-old boys don’t cry. I was just numb.
Having a bike allowed me to get a job delivering the Albany Herald, which I did for years. My mother and father divorced, and the money I made turned out to be even more important. I saved quite a bit, which helped me to go to a small school in North Georgia, Young Harris, for the last two years of high school. That school helped me focus on education instead of getting into trouble with my rowdy friends. I then went on to college at Georgia State University in Atlanta, attending classes at night and working during the day.
Beyond the money, the bike also started a good habit. I’m just as enthusiastic about cycling today and usually ride almost 5,000 miles a year— but not on that Schwinn; I rode it into the ground.
Warren Buffett now owns Dairy Queen. I wonder if I should tell him what his company did for a South Georgia country boy to help him realize the American Dream over 60 years ago? This story is an example of the Butterfly Effect — a random act of kindness toward a 12 year old that resulted in a lifetime of healthy enthusiasm for fitness. I still love Dairy Queen ice cream; I just don’t indulge as much as I did back then.
What about you? Did you have a life-changing event that shaped your future, perhaps in fitness or healthy eating? If so, I’d love to hear it.