April 20, 2018

R.J. McDuffey

THE COMEBACK — George Washington Community High School Senior R.J. McDuffey, left, received the Brady Comeback Award on Thursday, April 19, for overcoming adversity and excelling in sports and in the classroom. McDuffey’s Athletic Director, Kenneth Roseman (right) was at the awards ceremony to support him.

When R.J. McDuffey started classes at George Washington High School last fall, he admits he wasn’t expecting much.

“When I moved into the district, I looked up IPS (Indianapolis Public Schools). I thought the school would be run down a little bit and that it would be a struggle,” said R.J.

And he knows a lot about struggle.

The high school senior had spent the previous year homeless. He was moving from the streets to one shelter after another. He was fending for himself, because his mother and father were not in the picture. “It was 100 percent R.J.,” he said.

“I worked and saved up enough money to move out of the shelter. To get some privacy, I moved into a motel for a week or two. To get that feeling that you have your own space back for a little bit was very important,” he said.

Then a family friend stepped up and opened his home, giving R.J. some stability and a place to call home. But that was just the beginning of R.J.’s comeback. His George Washington community also became family.

“When I got here, from the get-go, there was a lot of love and attention. They tried to push not just me, but everyone around me, to get out of the situation that was keeping us down,” he recalls. “Teachers, custodians, counselors are trying to get you up and out of here. Even if they don’t have anything to hand you, they’ve got words to share with you and it’s been a nice feeling coming in here.”

That love and attention, along with R.J.’s perseverance to succeed, recently paid off in a big way when he accepted the Brady Comeback Award on Thursday, April 19, during an evening dinner and award ceremony at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in downtown Indianapolis.

The Brady Awards, named after Dr. Thomas A. Brady, known as “the father of sports medicine in central Indiana,” honors high school and college athletes from Indiana who have distinguished themselves by overcoming adversity or injury and returned and excelled beyond expectations.

Appropriately, R.J. also gives some of the biggest credit for his personal comeback to the sport he loves: basketball. He only played high school hoops for two years, but his senior year as a George Washington Continental generated some of his fondest memories. He was the senior captain and the second-leading scorer and rebounder for the team.

“Basketball season was good. We learned more teamwork,” he said. “I enjoyed the travelling. It was nice to see a lot of different gyms and schools.”

What he said made the most impact was the chemistry and the bonds created.

“I built strong connections with some of the brothers on my team. Those are lifelong bonds I’ll never lose,” said R.J. “Plus, there are good people out there who were willing to give their last to make sure I had something. Mentally, those were big boosts.”

R.J. garners high praise from Kenneth Roseman, his high school athletic director.

“Even though the team has lost more than half of its games this year, R.J. has bounced back and been a true leader by example,” said Roseman. “He constantly encourages younger teammates and will show up to both practices and school, regardless of how the previous contest ended. He shows resiliency beyond his years and is a perfect example of how a student-athlete should conduct himself.”

If you can’t tell, R.J.’s maturity is beyond his years — and so is his work ethic. R.J. works two jobs every day after school and still manages to stay on top of his homework, doing it during breaks at work, during the hour-long bus ride to and from his jobs, and even during lunchtime at school. And his hard work has paid off, earning him “A” Honor Roll status.

“Throughout this time, R.J. has continued to find his way to school, whether it be walking upward of a mile or waking up at 4 a.m. to ride a network of city buses,” said Andrew McAulay, his school counselor.

“My mindset is to be up and gone and try to bring as many people as I can with me and share my knowledge and I’m always going to have open ears for everybody who has knowledge to give me,” said R.J.

These are the things that earned R.J. the Brady Comeback Award. A top honor in state athletics, only four student-athletes statewide are honored with a Brady Award each year.

R.J. was surprised when he learned about the honor. “I knew I had it rough, but I felt other people had it worse. When they said you got the award, I said, ‘That’s nice,’” R.J. recalled, while chuckling about the special moment.

R.J. admits, however, that his comeback could have fallen short.

“I have thought about throwing in the towel and doing something else. But, my baby sister and someone else close to me helped me get my mind right,” said R.J. “I want to show them that no matter how hard it is, you can always succeed. I want to show her that even if you do grow up rough, you can succeed, you can get out. You can do something for yourself. It’s not about where you’re at, but how you get out.”

In spite of his newfound stability, R.J. still stays prepared for the worst — caring everything he owns at all times. “I keep deodorant and supplies to wash up with in my backpack. I never know when I might have to live out on the street again, and I may not have time to run back and get my clothes or my belongings,” he said.

Still, he works hard to stay focused on the positive, encouraging himself and others.

“Don’t give up,” said R.J. “You could have the worst day of your life and think everything is going horribly. That’s your rock bottom and from the bottom you always go up. The water that softens a potato hardens an egg.”

When R.J. graduates from George Washington on June 7, he will head down to Vincennes University where he’s received a scholarship. He also plans to try to earn a spot on the basketball team as a walk-on.

The Brady Awards are hosted by Methodist Sports Medicine Research and Education Foundation and Physicians Rehab Solutions. Dr. Brady developed many innovative techniques for returning athletes to their sports quickly and safely, along with establishing a walk-in clinic in the basement of Methodist Hospital that eventually grew into Methodist Sports Medicine.