Mr. Irrelevant Spotlight: David Vobora, 2008
From last pick to starter, linebacker to rehab, painkillers to Performance Vault, David Vobora has experienced it all. But it isn’t his accomplishments and his failures that wrote his story, it’s what happened between those times that shaped his life.
Vobora was the last pick in the 2008 NFL draft. The St. Louis Rams invited him to join their team. At that point, he had his mind set on one thing, one goal: play in the NFL. So, he gladly accepted the offer. After intense training and straining, Vobora found himself on the starting line-up as a rookie. A linebacker from The University of Idaho, he had something to prove. He had come from the bottom, and right when he thought he had beaten the odds, he realized just how difficult it would be to stay at the top.
“And to me, as I look back on it, sometimes dealing with success is harder than dealing with failure at times,” Vobora said. “There’s sort of this momentum, like, ‘hey man, I gotta keep this up.’”
And that momentum can agonize the player. Force him or her to sustain the success, no matter what the nature or what the cause.
Vobora failed a drug test while playing in St. Louis, but, just like many other athletes in his position, he forcefully defended his innocence. So much so, that he took it to court, and won against a supplement company.
After winning a 5.4 million dollar judgment against the supplement maker and clearing his name of any wrong doing, Vobora found himself back in the Pacific Northwest. As a member of the Seahawks, Vobora continued to battle that top tier. Victim to continuing concussions and a strained body, he tore his shoulder. It was in this year of rehab, that Vobora succumbed to that pressure. He felt forced to stay at the top, not matter what it took.
But, it took a lot to keep his body on the field. His body, that is, not him.
“You know because as men, especially football players, we’re supposed to be these invincible guys,” Vobora said. “So you just kind of do what you have to do to be on the field. You do what you have to do to be the man, to rise up and face it. So for a while there it became routine to numb myself.”
He was on the team. He was rehabbing. He was training. But his mind wasn’t there. His faith wasn’t there. The real David wasn’t there. The real David, the David known to help, to fight, to be a man for others, was closed in a capsule of pain narcotics.
“When you have so many surgeries, you put your body under so much pressure… I don’t even think I realized the enormity of my situation,” Vobora said.
His body was under pressure. His mind was under pressure. He had this momentum inside him, pulling him to keep going, to be the tough guy, to stay at the top. But that top turned into his rock bottom very quickly.
“I think you numb yourself for so long, you kind of sever the phone line, if you will, to your faith,” Vobora explained. “And once I was willing to set down the things I was using to numb myself, I found myself with a free line, or a new calling card.”
Vobora checked himself into a hospital. He became sober and free from the painkillers. He felt like a better David: “Man, going through that, being humbled by that, getting off of all that, getting free from all that is just a beautiful picture of redemption.”
And he found redemption, but not through football. He looked at his wife after overcoming the biggest battle of his life, and realized he didn’t know if he wanted this. He didn’t know if he wanted to continue to put his life and body on the line.
Simply, his reaction to the call to play another year was, ‘I don’t know.’
“So, I knew that it was time for me,” Vobora thought.
And he left. He said goodbye to the sport that had taken him through childhood, adolescence, college and four years and four games in the NFL.
But he didn’t let go of his passion. He held onto that tightly.
“I didn’t know,” Vobora said. “‘Do I coach? Do I go into scouting?’ Those are the natural paths. But I kind of wanted this thing to call my own.”
So that is exactly what he did. He founded a company for elite athletes called Performance Vault. Three months after the company was founded, Vobora met US Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills. Despite being a quadruple amputee, Mills never lost the inner desire to live “Army Strong.”
Mills would inspire Vobora for many years to come: “I found Travis, Travis found me, and we just sort of sparked this idea of not treating him any differently because he doesn’t want to be treated any differently.”
Vobora paired up with Mills to revolutionize training and strength for people of all backgrounds. The pair started working out together, customizing and adapting to the unique challenges posed by Mills’ injuries. Through working with Mills and engaging the veteran community, specifically those that were severely injured, Vobora developed a passion for helping those with life-altering injuries find a path to life-fulfilling activity and fitness through adaptive performance training.
Vobora recognized a void in the process to living an active and fulfilling life post-injury. While there are many excellent rehabilitation programs as well as adaptive/Paralympic sports organizations, none existed to bridge the gap from basic functional rehabilitation to adapted sport through individually customized performance training. It was out of this realization the Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF) was conceived.
Adaptive Training Foundation’s mission is to restore hope through movement to those with physical impairments. Vobora and ATF help adaptive athletes create sustainable lifestyle changes at no cost to the athletes. ATF now offers REDEFINE, a 9-week intensive training program to Restore, Recalibrate, and Redeploy these athletes to inspire others in achieving what many would view as impossible.
Vobora knows the people he works with are stronger, tougher and more powerful than they could ever imagine. He knows this because the experiences that framed his life, that framed ATF, were real. He never faltered to defeat; instead he overcame it. Which is exactly why he loves the idea of being ‘Irrelevant’:
“In our culture today we are very quick to be so politically correct that we undercut the ability to allow people the blessing of winning and losing,” Vobora explained. “You know what, things are going to happen, and you can’t necessarily control circumstances, but you can always control the framework of your mind, your positivity, and really the kind of attitude you bring to life.”
Vobora’s best advice is to simply believe.
“In the lowest moments, when you’re down to nothing, God is up to something.”
For more information on the Adaptive Training Foundation, visit http://www.adaptivetrainingfoundation.org/.