I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2009 UCLA Alumni Awards Ceremony, an event honoring men and women from the UCLA community whose outstanding contributions include:

  • Promoting character and ethics in schools and society
  • Record-setting athletic victories and triumph over Graves’ disease
  • Fiscal reform and advocacy for the City of Los Angeles
  • Bright smiles and inspiration for the less fortunate
  • Immeasurable dedication and support for UCLA

Among the honorees were two people I especially admire. The first was my own brother, Bill Dorfman, who graduated from UCLA in 1980 and has been practicing dentistry and giving back to the greater-Los Angeles community ever since.

The second honoree of note was Gail Devers, an eight-time World Champion and a three-time Olympic gold medalist track & field athlete who has overcome more than a few hurdles of her own since graduating from UCLA in 1989. Many people don’t know this, but despite her athletic success, Gail was afflicted with a series of health problems beginning in 1988. She suffered migraine headaches, sleeplessness, fainting spells and frequent vision loss. Her feet became so blistered and swollen, the skin cracked and bled, forcing her to stop running. In 1990, just one year out of college, Gail was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, a rare and debilitating chronic disorder that causes overactivity of the thyroid gland. Long story short, while she faced the threat of amputation of both her feet, Gail never gave up on her dream of competing and succeeding at the highest levels imaginable.

When you meet someone like Gail Devers and learn about how they’ve overcome some of the greatest odds possible, you gain a real appreciation for what’s doable with the right technique, support team, and ambition. For myself, I see a real parallel with Gail. In my work, most of the 150+ cases I saw this year had either been previously treated with prescription drugs or surgery or told by a medical professional to just get used to living in pain because there’s nothing anyone can do for them. I’ll post some additional thoughts about the role of massage in pain management, but for now, just know that everyone has options. Gail figured this out and went on to accomplish great things, and so can anyone else reading this post who is hampered or presently debilitated by pain.

With Gail at the UCLA Alumni Awards Ceremony was none other than Jackie Joyner-Kersee, another UCLA graduate and the woman Sports Illustrated voted the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century. Between the two of them, Devers and Joyner-Kersee earned six Olympic gold medals and 12 World Championships.

To be surrounded by such greatness was a real honor, as was seeing my own brother receive recognition for his outstanding contributions to the community. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the time to also say how nice it was to see Michael Josephson (UCLA ’64, J.D. ’67), founder and president of the Joseph and Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics receive the Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year award, UCLA’s oldest and highest alumni tribute. As an ethics commentator, Josephson has assisted more than 100,000 elected officials, editors, jurists, military and police officers, and executives at some of the nation’s largest organizations. Through the institute, he founded Character Counts!, the nation’s leading character-education framework, which has reached more than 6 million kids, and the Pursuing Victory With Honor sportsmanship campaign.

All in all, not a bad way to spend an evening; don’t you agree!?!