From World Series champs to Olympic gold medalists, athletes and coaches share uplifting stories of turning tragedy into triumph in “Champions”


New book bringing sports fans behind the scenes

For some athletes, the journey is just beginning after they receive a championship trophy. This is certainly true of the athletes and coaches who share life lessons in “Champions: 15 Inspiring Comeback Stories from Sports and Life,” a new book releasing on Feb. 22, 2018, by acclaimed journalist George Castle and sports consultant John Schenk.

The sports stars featured in “Champions” – ranging from football and volleyball players to swimming and rowing athletes – have accomplished some of the highest honors and achievements in their sports, but have also experienced some of the greatest challenges and tragedies including life-threatening illness, death of a loved one, suicidal thoughts, mental health issues, sexual abuse, injuries, addiction, job loss and more. These powerful stories journey with heroic sports stars through their on-field accomplishments. But the book also focuses on issues they overcame off the field, making them who they are today. As it turns out, their accomplishments off the field are often far superior than the medals, trophies, championships and Hall of Fame nominations these athletes have received during their lifetimes.

“Champions” is an uplifting book for sports fans well as student athletes in middle school, high school and college who are facing setbacks in life – such as the difficult decision choosing what sport to dedicate their time to, a breakup with a significant other, getting turned down by a college or job of their choosing, health issues, injuries, and those who want to see the personal side of these athletes.



15 Inspiring Comeback Stories from Sports and Life

George Castle and John Schenk
Feb. 22, 2018
Published by Signature Strength
ISBN: 978-0-9995298-0-5
$17.95 (paperback)
Sports • Inspirational

“Champions: 15 Inspiring Comeback Stories from Sports and Life” recounts the true stories of top-tier competitors whose greatest victories came against the fiercest of all opponents: life. From Victoria Arlen, a swimmer who came out of a coma to set a world record; to Bob Love, a busboy who fought his way back to the pro basketball ranks; to Kyle Schwarber who started out the Cubs’ 2016 season with a torn ACL and finished with a World Series Championship; these and a dozen other athletes will inspire you to overcome your own obstacles on the field and off as you pursue your dreams.

Sports Stars Featured in “Champions”
Marv Levy – National Football League Hall of Fame coach
Bob Love – Former all-time leading Chicago Bulls player; current Bulls’ Director of Community Affairs
Fergie Jenkins – Major League Baseball Hall of Fame member
Victoria Arlen – ESPN on-air personality; model; gold and silver medalist; current “Dancing with the Stars” competitor
Scott Touzinsky – 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist (volleyball)
Barry Lyons – Member of the 1986 World Series Champions New York Mets team
Ed Hearn – Member of the 1986 World Series Champions New York Mets team
Chris Krug – Built the iconic Field of Dreams, which inspired a movie
Thomas Henderson – Super Bowl XII champion; Pro Bowl player, known as “Mr. Hollywood” during his years with the Dallas Cowboys
Imani McGee-Stafford – Olympic gold medalist in women’s basketball
Kyle Schwarber – Member of the 2016 World Series Champions Chicago Cubs team
Tom Gamboa – Coached both professional level baseball in the United States and overseas, managing Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic
Rich Hill – Pitched in the 2017 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers; American League Pitcher of the Month in May 2016 and July 2017.
Moran Samuel – Won several Olympic medals for rowing representing Israel
Casey McGehee – National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2014
Mark Prior – 2003 Baseball All-Star
Dr. Richard Lehman – Member of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame; serves as medical director of the U.S Center for Sports Medicine; pioneered articular cartilage reconstruction procedure



“Champions” is George Castle’s 15th book in a busy author’s career since 1998. Subjects of his books have ranged from broadcaster Harry Caray to volatile manager Lou Piniella to the top 50 game changers in baseball. Castle also has written or co-written five children’s books focused on teams’ histories. Growing up in the cheap seats at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, old Comiskey Park and Chicago Stadium, Castle eventually switched to the press box for a nearly-four decade career chronicling baseball, hockey and basketball. The NFL was his fourth sport, but he expertly timed his Bears credential s season – for the 1985 Super Bowl XX run. He covered the 2005 White Sox-Astros World Series and the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup Finals won by the Blackhawks. Castle’s worked for newspapers, magazines and online sites. From 1994 to 2010, he hosted and produced Diamond Gems, a weekly syndicated baseball radio program. And he has served as historian for the Chicago Baseball Museum. Throughout his sports journalism decades, Castle has forged positive relationships with Hall of Famers and star athletes, attributes that helped him craft his books and particularly were a benefit in assembling “Champions.” He also has taught writing and editing for three colleges in the Chicago area. Castle lives in Chicago’s northern suburbs with his wife, Nina, their Australian shepherd, Patches, and 25-year-old African Grey parrot, Casey. Their daughter, Laura, acquired her love of baseball from the old man.

John Schenk’s entrepreneurial journey began at age 9 and propelled him from purchasing and selling autographed sports memorabilia to becoming the youngest sports agent in the country by age 16. Schenk business achievements were recognized by the Missouri House of Representatives in 2008 when he was presented the Glory of Missouri Award for exemplifying the virtue of Enterprise. Since then, he has started and acquired several holding and operating companies including John Schenk & Associates, LLC. As owner and president, he likes to think “outside the box,” bringing new and innovative ideas to the table. He offers clients more than a decade of consulting, marketing, publishing and booking services while sharing his sports and entertainment management knowledge and expertise. Schenk’s experiences, coupled with his belief in building a strong foundation by developing personal and positive relationships, have allowed him to partner with and earn the trust and respect of professional athletes, musicians, producers, songwriters and event organizers. An avid Cardinals baseball fan, Schenk also enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures along with different foods and coffees. Schenk’s desire to serve the less fortunate was recognized when he was presented with the 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Model of Justice Award for his continued charitable involvement. To this day, he is involved in an array of charitable causes centered mostly around organ donations, mental health awareness, ALS research, and police and military organizations. Schenk currently resides in Dallas, Texas.


An Interview with George Castle and John Schenk

What inspired you to write “Champions?”
George: I had covered so many injured athletes in my long sports journalism career that I wondered how they mentally handled being idle and rehabbing at the same time. I also heard of off-the-field illnesses and diseases with which they dealt. So when the opportunity presented itself, I put the concepts of how people, whose fame and fortune do not shield them from human frailties, handle personal and professional setbacks.

John: Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with a variety of professional athletes. During my interactions with these athletes, one thing that stood out to me was the significant life challenges they’ve overcome, both on and off the field. I’ve seen firsthand how these athletes, sharing their personal and powerful stories of despair and triumph, have inspired and motivated others to get back on the field, both literally and figuratively. These stories moved me to write and publish this book so that I could pass these life-affirming stories on to people who are struggling, and to provide role models to look to when they are facing some of life’s biggest challenges.

How did you choose the athletes featured in “Champions?”
George: I had long-standing relationships with many of the baseball personalities I profiled, making it easier for them to open up about their issues. For those in other sports, I heard about their challenges and believed they’d make compelling reading. I appreciated their candor.

John: All the athletes have stories that personally inspired and encouraged me. Due to my personal relationship with many of the profilees, they really showed an uncommon level of vulnerability while sharing their stories. I also spent a good amount of time researching and contacting many of the other athletes that had stories of hurt, despair, and healing, as their stories also played an integral part in making this book happen.

Do you have to know anything about sports to read “Champions?”
George: It helps only from the standpoint of knowing the basic structure and rules of the respective sports. However, the comeback stories can be understood by non-sports fans. Again, the angle that celebrityhood as such does not shield you from issues is universal.

John: All the narratives in this book recount true stories of hardship, and they all share one thing in common – none of these comebacks could have been possible without the help of others. These extraordinary champions are ordinary people. So the reader doesn’t have to worry if these athletes aren’t from their favorite sport or team; they all have a lesson to teach in the greatest sport of all – life.

What sort of off-the-field challenges do the athletes and coaches featured in “Champions” talk about?
George: Debilitating injuries and illnesses lead the way. But there is also personal tragedy as several profilees talk about the deaths of their children. Nothing can replace those losses, yet some lessons are to be learned that life simply cannot stop for the survivors.

John: These athletes came back from insurmountable challenges and tragedies – life-threatening illness, death of a loved one, suicidal thoughts, mental health issues, sexual abuse, injuries, job loss, and more.

Who’s story were you most surprised by?
George: Victoria Arlen. Victoria made an amazing comeback from being in a coma-like state and then being confined to a wheelchair amid a slow recovery. She ended up on “Dancing with the Stars” – most people have two left feet and could not do that. Even more amazing was amid media politics thicker than politics itself, Victoria was hired at 21 as the youngest on-air personality ever at ESPN.

John: Rich Hill. From making a successful Chicago Cubs debut in 2007 to his present jackpot status on the Dodgers, which allowed him to be in the starting rotation in the 2017 World Series games, he faced endless physical injuries and emotional fallbacks. As an example, Hill showed extraordinary patience and perseverance as he dealt with the pressure of playing for six big-league teams, while also logging minor-league time in two other big-league organizations, and even a few weeks in 2015 on an independent team on Long Island. It certainly did not help when Hill had to deal with the reality of his injuries catching up to him, which ultimately required Tommy John and labrum surgery in order for him to still stand a chance of performing at the big league level. Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Hill’s story was dealing with the death of his second son, who was just short of 3 months old, and the ways he was present to love, support, and guide his grieving family through that terrible tragedy.
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