Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


Overcoming obstacles: A speaker who inspires

On Wednesday night the team at the newspaper putting together the Semoball Awards, led by editorial page editor Lucas Presson, was prepped for a dress rehearsal of the awards show. The program is going to be heavily video-oriented, a la an ESPN Espy's show. And the videos and photographs of high school athletes looked great. The music pulsed. The introductory video for keynote speaker Ozzie Smith was inspirational.

Then the phone rang.

On the end of the line was a friend of the Cardinals hall of famer, who told us that one of Ozzie's best friends, Tony Gwynn, had passed away earlier in the week and the family wanted Ozzie to be at his funeral on Saturday, which would probably prevent him from making it to the Semoball Awards. Ozzie was torn. He didn't want to step away from a commitment. But Tony and his family were like his own family. They'd become friends during all-star games, and especially at Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

Hanging in the air was the hope that we would release Ozzie from his contract so he could be at the funeral in California. How do you say "no" to that? It was clear Ozzie's heart was heavy. And he wanted to be with the Gwynn family. At the same time, the friend said it wasn't official. Ozzie was still thinking, trying to figure out how to make it to both events.

On Thursday morning (yesterday) at exactly 10 am, it became official. Ozzie would not be able to make the Semoball Awards, which is taking place tomorrow. Gentleman that he is, Ozzie wanted to help us as he could, including finding a replacement speaker. Ozzie also wanted to put together a short video, which could be shown to the crowd, explaining why he wouldn't be there.

The event really isn't about Ozzie Smith; it's about the student athletes who will be recognized as the best of the best in high school sports. Still, we were disappointed. Ozzie is an icon, and much of the publicity for this inaugural event was built around his image. But we understood. How can you not support a man for wanting to be with one of his best friend's families at such a time? Tony Gwynn, in fact, was one of our heroes, too.

Ozzie's suggestion for a replacement didn't work. But after a whirlwind day of phone calls to friends and friends of friends, exploring the availability of various sports stars on such short notice, we found the perfect speaker. And we're thrilled.

His name is Kyle Maynard. He is a champion high school wrestler, a football player, record-setting weightlifter, a mountain climber, a mixed martial artist, a first-class individual. He has been a guest on Oprah and Larry King Live. He's been featured on ESPN, HBO's Real Sports, ABC's 20/20 and Good Morning America, and as a cover story in USA Today. His book, "No Excuses", is a New York Times bestseller. He is the winner of two ESPY awards.

Maynard is known as one of the most inspiring speakers living. He also happened to be born with arms that end at the elbows and legs near the knees. How he overcame that challenge to become who he is today will amaze you.

We are appreciative that Kyle is making time to join us on Saturday night. And we are appreciative that his friend, Ron Shapiro, the renowned sports agent, management consultant and author, who is a friend of my brother Rex, connected us. We are thankful to Keith Alper, CEO of Creative Producers Group in St. Louis, for all his guidance.

Those who hear Kyle Maynard speak Saturday night will never forget the experience. The show is sold out. But if you have tickets, be prepared to be inspired.

Ultimately, the event is not about the speaker. It's about the kids who will be honored. Still, we're excited that Kyle will be with us. We think the kids -- we think everyone -- will love him.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.