Long Live Dreams, Russell

Russell Wilson long live dreamsRussell Wilson is the epitome of dreams realized.

He says he lives by the three Ps: perseverance, perspective and purpose. This isn’t some sports cliché. This is how Russell lives – every day.

At 25, Russell is young...very young.  But he inspires people from all ages and backgrounds because he defied the odds, the naysayers and the skeptics to become a successful collegiate and professional athlete. He’s also devoted to his family, his faith and specific philanthropic causes.

Some described him as too small to play in the NFL.  Hmmm... You don't hear that anymore. The fact of the matter is, Russell has never stopped pursuing his dreams. In talking with Russell, I always notice his poise and calm leadership abilities. They’ve inspired his teammates (and a large following of fans) to dream – and do – bigger things.

Earlier this week, we shared Sam Girard’s ‘Russell story.’ His rise to prominence and ability to overcome long odds inspires Sam every day. It’s more than being a fan of a football player. It’s seeing the life lessons everyone can find in what Russell does on – and off – the field.

It inspires people at our company, too. Like American Family employee, Dwayne Maddox, who shared his ‘Russell story’, too – one which began during Russell’s time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and continues in the important work supporting developing dreams in the Russell Wilson Passing Academy.

American Family understands what it’s like to be an underdog, too. It’s why we want to be a source of continual inspiration for our customers and people everywhere. Russell Wilson is part of how we’re telling that story and spreading that inspiration, and why we’re excited he’s leading his team to the biggest stage in sports this weekend.

When you watch the big game, look for a new TV commercial featuring Russell. Then let us know how Russell’s story inspires you.

Long live dreams. 

Russell Wilson: Beating the odds, inspiring dreams

#longlivedreams“I know he’s going to be an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, but he also might be the president of the United States. And I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. The kid has something that you cannot buy, you cannot bottle.” - former Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema on American Family Insurance brand ambassador Russell Wilson

At only age 25, Russell Wilson is already an incredible success story. Few achieve in their whole NFL careers what Wilson has accomplished in just his first two seasons. And for those of us who had the great fortune to witness his season as a Badger, none of it is a surprise.

I’ll never forget the day I first learned about Russell. His commitment to Wisconsin had just been announced that morning, and all the headlines were talking about this “free agent QB” who had utilized a loophole to transfer. I was skeptical. They made him sound like some sort of diva.

Boy was that wrong.

In Wilson’s debut against UNLV, I was blown away. As a Badger fan for more than a decade, I was used to the gritty, run-first offense that had come to define Wisconsin football. But Wilson displayed a style of play that combined electricity and finesse in a way I had never seen before. I was hooked. But what struck me most wasn’t the way he completed passes or evaded defenders; it was his demeanor. Not once did he celebrate after a positive play or show frustration after a negative one. He never wavered.

“I refer to him as almost a perfect person. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s always doing everything right.” - Wilson’s Seahawks teammate Golden Tate

I began listening to his interviews. The humility, poise, and charisma he displayed was characteristic of a born leader. I read quotes from his old coaches and teammates, who raved about his work ethic and hours spent preparing. By the time his season at Wisconsin came to an end, he had become one of my biggest role models. His favorite mantra – “the separation is in the preparation” – has inspired me in the pursuit of my own goals.

Sometimes I wondered if it was too good to be true. I figured eventually Wilson would slip up or display the inevitable character flaw. Years later and I’m still waiting. I wasn’t the only one with doubts though:

“When we first had the chance to talk and visit, you come away from it thinking ‘is this too good to be true?’ He’s so serious, and he’s so determined, and he’s so polite, and so attentive, and so tuned in, you just wonder what a good show this guy puts on. But...the more we were around him, the more we realized that this is just who he is. He’s a remarkable young man.” - Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on meeting Wilson

Every once in a while someone comes along who transcends expectations against all odds to become an inspiration for the rest of us. Russell Wilson is one of those people. While he continues to show the same magic on the football field in Seattle that he showed us in Madison, the truth is that his work ethic and unbelievable character make it’s easy to imagine Wilson being successful no matter what career path he chooses.

“He’s one of those guys that you want to root for, and you’re happy for any type of success that comes his way.” - New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees

Something tells me Russell Wilson’s success is just beginning. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Editor's note: American Family Insurance proudly supports the Russell Wilson Passing Academy. The camp is coming to six communities in summer 2014. For more information visit the camp website. And remember to join us as we count down the days until American Family Insurance brand ambassador, Russell Wilson, is in the big game. Join the conversation on Twitterand Facebook

Teaching – and learning – through Big Brothers Big Sisters

Britt and Je'KyahI was matched with my “little sister” Je’Kyah in June 2007 through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County in Madison, Wis.

The first time I met her in person was at her house. We ate monster peanut butter cookies and talked about what we liked to do. When I told Je’Kyah I liked to go shopping, bake cookies and watch movies, her eyes lit up. She smiled and I knew we’d be a great match.

That was more than six years ago. My little sister is now 16 and has her learners’ permit. For her 16th birthday, we got facial treatments together and went for coffee afterward. It was her first facial (and to be honest, only my second).

As she was driving us back from our appointment, she mentioned that she’s experienced a lot of “firsts” with me. That got me to thinking I’ve had many firsts with her, too. From feeding the geese at the Henry Vilas Zoo on our first outing to sailing and jet-skiing to watching an opera to Take Your Child to Work Day at American Family.

JeKyah and I have a long list of firsts we’ve experienced together.

She introduced me to Tyler Perry movies and taught me how to use a hot glue gun and tried to teach me dance routines. I introduced her to my childhood favorite movies, like Pretty In Pink, picked up books to read together, and took her shopping at the farmers’ market.

Do we have all the same interests? No. But that’s one of the best parts of our relationship. Our differences have helped each of us learn and grow over the years. I’m confident that will continue as we grow up together.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can make a difference in a child’s life for just a few hours a week, contact your local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. School mentoring programs may also be available. 

Editor's note: American Family Insurance is a long-time community partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County. And for 32 years, the Bowl for Kids' Sake event has supported dreams of children. Visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website to learn more about this important event, which raised more than $160,000 in 2013. 

Russell Wilson: Handling success with humility and class

Dwyane Maddox and Russell WilsonThe first time I heard of Russell Wilson was when he decided to transfer from North Carolina State University to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to play one season of football.

As a UW-Madison alumnus, I was curious to see him play. Although I couldn’t  watch all the games that season,  I was able catch the Wisconsin vs. Nebraska game, and I was not disappointed. The Badgers whipped Nebraska by 31 points, thanks to Russell’s stellar leadership and play -- all much to my delight.

His control of the game and skill level were very impressive. So, when I had an opportunity to work with Russell, I jumped at the chance.

American Family Insurance began its partnership with Russell in 2013, and I was happy to have a role. I first met him early last year, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience. Russell was humble, intelligent and extremely driven -- all the traits you’d expect from a rookie who was able to win a job as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

I asked Russell what his interests were and how American Family could partner with him. The first thing he mentioned was his passing academy for youth. The Russell Wilson Passing Academy provides inner-city and underprivileged kids an opportunity to attend football camp, which for many is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. 

I found it extremely telling Russell didn’t want something for himself, but rather help and support from American Family to assist young people in need. This was part of his dream -- to help others first.   

It's refreshing to work with someone like Russell, who essentially has the world at his feet, but has the humility and character to handle his status with class.

Long live dreams, Russell. 

Editor's note: American Family Insurance proudly supports the Russell Wilson Passing Academy. The camp is coming to six communities in summer 2014. For more information visit the camp website. And remember to join us as we count down the days until American Family Insurance brand ambassador, Russell Wilson, is in the big game. Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Be part of someone else's dream

Women in focus"No person has the right to rain on your dreams."

This is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It because it reminds me although the rain will come, by doing for others, you help to protect their dreams and fulfill yours.

I am so lucky, because as a claims care center manager, I work in the dream department. Really, you say? Yep. I get to help protect my customer’s dream every day, along with the other claim care center folks. We are fortunate to be in the position to help others at a time when they are most worried about the deferment of their dreams.

As a "dream protector," if you will, I truly find satisfaction walking through the doors at American Family Insurance knowing today, just like every day, my job is to help my customers protect their dreams. We all know life surely will bring the rain, but if I am doing my job right, I will be a little sunshine, keeping life’s rain from pouring down on you.


Just as I get satisfaction in my professional life from being part of the dream-protecting fabric at AmFam, I try to apply the same principles in serving my community through Women in Focus, Inc. (WIF), a Madison, Wis., organization serving others with gratitude.

Dr. King said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Others have helped me through my journeys and "rain" of life. This inspired me to join Women in Focus, an organization whose charge since 1983 is to help young men and women of color to fulfill their dreams. It helps them pursue education opportunities beyond high school. This is a dream of many, I’d say.

Each year, through fundraising efforts of this extraordinary bunch, of which I am proud to say American Family faithfully supports, these educators, business owners, doctors, lawyers and moms get together and volunteer at the YWCA as part of a literacy program. We also plan the group's largest fundraising effort, which is the annual "I have a Dream Scholarship Ball" honoring Dr. King.

Over the years, Women in Focus has awarded 240 scholarships to Madison-area youth -- to help fund their dreams of education. I like to think we are truly women, in focus.

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." This quote, also by Dr. King, reminds me the efforts flowing from organizations like Women in Focus, and the contributions from companies like American Family Insurance, or simply doing my job with the goal of being a dream protector, do become a small but meaningful part of people's life fabric -- woven into a dream realized and protected.

The gracious part is when you realize in doing things for others, in small but significant ways, whether in your professional or personal life, you are blessed with the opportunity to become, momentarily, part of someone else’s dream.These dream-building moments become the protective fabrics that are then continuously rewoven into another’s, and then yet another.

So as we celebrate Dr. King, who had so many dreams -- for all of us -- I am going to celebrate in the spirit of continuing to do what I can to be a small but great part of someone else’s dream.

Dream with me?

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