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Alexis Serna : “If You Have A Dream, Never Give Up”

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The attention of football fans across the nation in 2004 was drawn to Alexis Serna during his freshman year in the game with #3 ranked Louisiana State when he missed three extra point attempts that could have won the game for the unranked Beavers. The emotional moment was caught by a photographer that showed Alexis throwing off his helmet in frustration.

Hundreds of letters poured in for Alexis Serna to encourage and inspire him to keep going. The most powerful came from 12-year-old Austin Pierce, a boy from Spokane, Washington recovering from cancer treatment at Sacred Heart Hospital. He encouraged Alexis not to give up, and inspired Serna to draw an A on his left thumb and a P on his right one before every game to remember this remarkable boy and his words of faith in Alexis.

Serna also felt a great responsibility to his heritage. “There are not many Hispanics in football. I want to be the best role model I can be for the young Hispanics growing up,” said Serna. “I was taught growing up that nothing is given to us, especially since we are Mexican. I had to learn that if I wanted it, I would have to work twice as hard as anyone else.”

In spite of the public humiliation and scores of people telling him to forget football, Alexis did not allow this setback to determine his future. He did not give up. He persisted and worked hard to turn this experience into a positive. By stepping up his training, by adding more weight lifting and focusing on accurate kicking, he gave himself the edge he needed. He kicked a 58 yard field goal and consistently brought in the extra points in a game that gave the edge to OSU. In 2005 he won the coveted Groza Award as the best kicker in college football.

This last year, Serna made the field goal in the historic civil war game with the University of Oregon at Reser Stadium bringing Beaver fans to their feet in celebration “We were the second team in school history to win 10 games in a season, the most of any team I have ever played on. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed playing this year with this team. It was a special group of guys,” said Serna.

Serna hopes to hold the NCAA career record of topping 85 field goals with an accumulation of 62 so far. He has his eye on earning a Pacific 10 Championship ring before graduation. He holds several Oregon State records including the Oregon State record for kicking the most field goals in a single game.

He credits his Mom, Celia, as the role model who inspires him to keep going, to overcome, to make it happen. She came from Mexico at 14 to face and endure a language barrier, prejudice, and difficult circumstances. Working two jobs, getting married, and raising a family, she still took the time to take Alexis and his brother to soccer practice and talk to them about working hard to go to college. Later she went to college herself part-time, still keeping her two jobs and raising her four children after their father left.

Now she is a teacher in a public school, so she makes a difference in the lives of many young people. He says he gets his strength from his mom. “Seeing all of the things that she has had to go through and everything that she has accomplished. No matter what I have accomplished, I still don’t understand how she did it all,” said Serna. “She was strong every time I struggled. She gave me the drive to keep pushing off.”

Serna grew up playing soccer in Fontana, California. Later he discovered the kicking clinics developed by Hugo Castellano, a social worker who has been a big influence in his life. The clinics are called Snap, Hold, and Kick. This is where he learned how to kick and hone his skills. Castellano started the free clinic and used his own money to keep it going for ten weeks during the summer to steer kids away from gangs and to stay out of trouble.

Serna flies south on some weekends to help support this important work that gave him his start. During this time spent helping at the free clinic, he has learned about building a winning program, soliciting donations for a worthy cause, and the influence that this program has in the lives of at-risk kids.

Castellano is someone Serna wants to model himself after and plans on taking over the clinic when Castellano can’t do it anymore. “He’s a great guy,” said Alexis. “He goes out of his way for these kickers. He definitely goes out of his way for me and I appreciate everything he’s done.”

Currently, Serna is coaching new talent, Justin Kahut and Jake Webber, on the steps to consistent kicking success. But the biggest lesson he is teaching them is the mental game and the focus necessary for accurate field goals. When he steps onto the field on game day, Serna gets a mental strength that comes from hours of daily practice, conditioning, weight lifting, plus spending time by himself imagining himself kicking the ball through the goal posts.

Called a “bridge builder” by Linda Johnson, Associate Athletic Director at Oregon State, Serna is able to ask his team members for personal time and involvement in departmental activities such as community service investing time at various functions. “This is huge!” she says. “He leads by example.”

Serna has encouraged participation by some Beavers football players in the Student Athletic Advisory Committee making sure that Beaver football was represented. He is also ctive in Operation Santa to gather gifts for the Marines and send them to Iraq, giving back is as important to Serna as football and family.

A history major, Serna sees life after OSU going in two possible directions. Inspired by Castellano, his mentor and kicking coach, he is thinking about getting a masters degree in social work. The alternative is to teach history in high school and become a coach since he understands that this position has an impact on youth that can influence their lives.

His contributions to his community are many but his motivation is simple. “I take pride in my last name on the back of my jersey. I want to do great for my family,” said Serna. “I want my family to be able to say that’s my cousin, that’s my brother, that’s my nephew, that’s my son. I want to represent them well.

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24 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Brandon – Kentucky said:

    As a college football fan, I instantly remembered the name and the young man’s very public struggle during his freshmen year. I even remembered cringing as I watched the highlights from his three crucial missed extra points against LSU, and feeling genuine empathy for the kid.

    Knowing nothing about Alexis Serna before reading the piece, I hoped to find a compelling story about overcoming failure and embarrassment. I can’t necessarily say that I was completely disappointed with the piece, but I thought it was poorly written, particularly regarding its lack of style and craft throughout.

    I did learn a bit more about Alexis Serna, and came away with a deeper appreciation for his struggle and the way he responded to failure.

  • Cole – Indiana said:

    I found this article highly inspirational, containing moral values and lessons which transcend barriers of age and social status. This article is the type of read that anyone would feel good about afterward, something that adds positivity to one’s day. The title sets the tone for the article. It gives the article a personal theme most people can quickly relate to or identify with, setting up a positive vibe from the beginning. The writer lays the story out in a way which reads easily, tying together the past and present effectively.

  • Asha - Germany said:

    My interest was stimulated as the story of Serna’s struggle as a minority was told. I grew up as a minority in Malaysia and I feel the struggle very close to my heart. I also found it interesting to read about the people in Serna’s life that inspired him. The beautiful ripple effect you wrote about in your blog, The Ripple Effect, would have added some poetic substance to the story at this point. I was very curious to know how Serna managed to overcome his challenges and motivate himself to achieve his dreams. The article satisfied my curiosity a bit, but not enough. I would have liked to know more about what went on his mind and the techniques he used to build up his determination. It’s great to be inspired, but it’s even better when one can actually apply and practice what is being said.

  • Julia – Montana said:

    Serna’s background story, his present accomplishments, and his future goals are all inspirational and fit together nicely in the article. I like how the article isn’t even really about sports. It’s about an individual with a dream, how hard he’s worked to accomplish it, and it’s about the people who have helped him along the way.

  • Cynthia said:

    This is my favorite article in the magazine that I have so far read. I like the writing style and the point of view. I think the author did a great job at inviting the reader into Alexis’s life. I got a good sense of his personality and motivations. I also felt confident that the author fairly portrayed the subject and did so with intelligence. It was a good choice of subject as the the story came full circle, as it began and ended (tentatively) with the relationship formed in the kicking camp.

  • Ailsa Roddie said:

    The memorable moment here may have been the moment in which Alexis Serna missed three extra point attempts, but the critical moment was the moment in which he decided that he would move forward in a positive way. This reminds us all that we always have the choice of how to respond to a situation, however unfortunate the situation may be, and that it is how we respond that counts.

    This is not just the story of Alexis Serna; this is the story of his mother Celia, of Austin Pierce, of Hugo Castellano and undoubtedly of many others. This story really shows us how winners can influence one another and together create a powerful force for improving all our lives.

  • William – California said:

    I really liked this article about the hispanic football player.

  • Anika – Michigan said:

    I feel as if your magazine gives opportunity for readers to examine the many viccitudes of life. As a Motivational Speaker, I can absolutely identify with the neccesity to uplift others through material that tells of real life situations of overcoming adversity. This article is an article that clearly explains this. Alex Serna’s story is one that describes determination but also expresses the pressure that many minorities feel when they are placed in unique positions.

    When it comes to playing team sports, especially in regards to wins or losses, many times we hear phrases like,”There is no I or U in team.” I am sure that we all can agree on that. But, for many people, especially minorities, this concept is difficult to grasp. Many feel a great responsibilty to become overachievers and take failures very personally. Alexis stated that because not many Hispanics are represented in the sport of football, that he “felt a great responsibility to his heritage to succeed.” This holds true for many minorities especially those who have and are attempting to break down racial barriers and/or stereotypes. These people often times are expected to become trailblazers and the pressure can be enormous.

    For many athletes, there is an expectation to perform well and proudly represent thier teams,schools, families and friends. But for many minorities, there is an added pressure to represent thier entire culture. The “mental focus” that he mentions can often times be challenged when one carries such a huge responsibility. The article touched on this subject briefly, but I wish there was more in depth information on specifically how he managed to overcome this “mental” challenge. For some minorities, the added pressure is too much to handle and many don’t even try to attempt things that they feel may be “too risky”. The risk of failing ,criticism or embarrassing thier culture and magnifying preexisting negative stereotypes,keep many from possibly achieving great things.

    The message of,“If You Have A Dream, Never Give Up”, is a great one but I wish that more details were given on how one can “mentally” prepare and overcome these challenges.

  • Alejandra said:

    The surprising thing about this article is that even though I am not a fan of football, it managed to captivate me. I appreciate the way the writer managed to captivate a wide audience by making it applicable to many in a deeper level. Perhaps not everyone loves football. But don’t we all have dreams?

    Another reason why I felt connected to this article was the fact that it featured a Mexican, and I am Mexican as well. It was inspiring to read of a fellow country man who is not wasting time just talking about hypothetical plans and dreams, but getting out there and living them! I feel the author did a good job of conveying his struggles on his pathway to success, thus helping her readers to identify with Serna. It also made my heart smile to see how Serna accredited his mother for his success. Amazing.

  • Cecil – New Jersey said:

    I really enjoyed the Alexis Serna article. It showed a lot of tact.

  • Christopher said:

    I am extremely passionate about the themes of determination, inspiration, and believing in dreams that your website exudes. My favorite part about this article is the credit given to Serna’s role models, both his mother and Castellano. I believe in paying love forward, and I think it’s wonderful to see hope passed down through the generations. Just as he had great examples growing up, he now has the opportunity to serve as a powerful role model to others, not just because he has overcome hardships, but because he continues to push himself toward greater, higher goals

  • Aleasia – North Carolina said:

    This inspiration piece personally touched my heart for several reasons. One,it precisely identifies Serna’s struggles; ups, downs, and triumphs. What’s particular encouraging is that he utilizes the kind/inspirational words of an ill child to change the outcome of his future. Two, Serna decides to pay-it-foward and obtain a Masters in Social Work. And, thirdly, it is ironic that he has opted to
    become a Social Worker. I have a Major in Social Work and have worked in the field for over 20 years.

    and that is my dream- I refuse to give up!

  • Aujan said:

    I love the way the title was constructed and not just settling for the name of the iconic individual being talked about. The powerful tagline truly helps. Subheadings used which are the ones appearing in bold make an additional impact too for readers especially since there are people who just look for highlighted aspects in a long article.

  • Marie – Florida said:

    Well The First Thing Ive Noticed Is That the Stories in This Magazine Arent Just Everyday Stories, They Are Stories That Grab Your Attention..Not Jus Any Booring Article, But Heartfelting Stories. Things That Actually Matter And You Dont See A Lot Of That Now Days.

    Now I Did A Quick Read Thru All The Tittles And The One That Caught My Eye The Most Was This One about
    Alexis Serna.. The Title Is so Good – If You Have A Dream Never Give Up

    Why I Found This So Intristing Is Because
    I Could Relate To This.. My Dream Has Allways Been Writing Writing Poems, Writing Music, I Sing Too And Well My Whole Life Everyone Has Said THings To Tear Me Down And Make Me Stop. But Not Only Have I Not Given Up But I Cant Stop..If Its Truly There Than Their Is No Stopping =]

    And He Diddnt He Kept On N He Proved Everyone Wrong..And His Mom Was His Inspiration Cuz Even Tho Bein A TEacher Isnt Making Much Of A Differance In This World..TO Him It Made A Differance..It Affected His Life N Great Ways That He Finally Acheived..

    So The Main Point Of That Story Is If You Really Want Something Go For It, Make It Happen, Never Say Never, Cuz In The End, Wat Other People Say Are Just Opionions, And What U Say..Encourages You To Make That Differance..=]

  • Elma -- Phillipines said:

    While readers can certainly draw inspiration from the many articles featured in winnerswithinus, I most appreciated the story of Alexis Serna. Failure is, and should be, a great motivator to succeed.

    Not a very lengthy article, it still managed to capture the essence of Alexis’ struggle to exert more effort in order to excel. Writer Wendy Marie Haber was able to illustrate varying degrees of the human spirit — at its lowest, and at its peak.

    It is written simply, although I would have preferred a bit more quotes that could connect with readers at a deeper level. I like a good cry now and then, and the most effective lines are the ones that can trigger my tear ducts even when so little is said.

    Perhaps it would also have been more effective to put sub-headings just to break the text up a bit and lead readers to the next thought.

    I congratulate you for putting up this magazine because at a time when all that seems to be magnified in this world are the negative, you attempt to give the world something to smile about and look forward to.

  • Catherine -- Michigan said:

    I enjoyed “If You have a Dream…” because it wasn’t a story of instant fame and success. This was a young man who showed that things didn’t come easily but that never stopped him from doing his best. That he didn’t let the nay-sayers bring him down and kept his focus. I especially liked how the writer found that one main point of encouragement that helped Alexis move forward and achieve his goal while setting new ones. My question on this story is this, has a story been written on Austin Pierce?

  • kathy -- Vancouver Canada said:

    I think what you are doing is wonderful. This story had a special resonance with me.

    I was at once struck by this story’s power and of the incredible journey Alexis has lived. I immediately got the feeling that this person is meant to be doing exactly what he’s doing – which for a lot of people, can seem out of reach. Certainly there are so many inspirational stories about how people defy the odds to live their dream and I think most people think “that only happens to someone else.” “That only happens to the lucky ones.”

    But as seen in this well-written and emotionally-inspirational story by Wendy Marie Haber, Alexis didn’t start out lucky. Still, he had to MAKE his dream happen, despite everything because there is an internal driving force that is so strong, he just HAS to listen to it. I also think people can relate to the fact that he had humble beginnings, has made something out of himself, and still remains humble and pays what he’s learned forward. It’s Alexis’ down-to-earth, authentic realness that really makes him a hero. His rise in the game of football is merely the public platform his real self is set against. I found Haber’s words easily flowed and had real emotional impact, meaning she wasn’t just mechanically giving a chronological view of his life.

    And 12-year-old Austin Pierce is also a hero. Not just for having to battle through cancer at such a young age, but in taking the time to send such a stirring and motivational message to Alexis. What that says to me, is we never know what kind of impact we’ll have on other people. That message from Austin was probably the most pivotal of Alexis’ life – and makes us all remember that age has nothing to do with the level of wisdom, empathy, and compassion one possesses. Here Haber reminds us that God/the force, or whatever you want to call it, is always at work in our lives, connecting us in so many unexpected ways, and that each one of those connections is a gift.

    Again, I found this story powerful, with exactly the right combination of pacing and flow, and very well-rounded in telling the facts and stirring emotions that had me rooting for Alexis right from the outset. As I made my way through, I found I was also rooting for everyone else in his life and for those he is now teaching. This story has a lasting, influential message that can inspire people at any age for years to come.

  • Jess -- Canada said:

    I read this article at first simply because the title spoke to me as I too am having a difficult time pursuing my dreams at the moment. I was inspired by Serna’s courage in facing so much adversity both growing up and in his football career, but I must say the story of Austin Pierce writing Serna a letter which would then inspire a tradition for the football hero was one of the moments which struck me most powerfully. Not only because Serna’s life was touched so deeply by the letter of one young boy, but because in some small way this makes me believe even more strongly that we all have the ability to make a difference in someone else’s life, famous or not. I also connected quite strongly to the fact that Serna’s mother was his inspiration in times of great struggle. My own mother has been strong for me since I was very small, even while undergoing chemotherapy herself and she continues to be an inspiration and a pillar of support for me. The icing on this heart-warming account was that Serna didn’t just rise to greatness himself, but that he strives to pull others up with him- especially his fellow Mexicans, who face great adversity even today.
    I found the article itself to be a little quick-paced in terms of ‘writing voice’, but this is my personal opinion. I feel like such an inspirational story would do better with more heart and less naming of facts, although the facts do play a strong role in emphasizing just how far Alexis Serna has come from his humble beginnings. I felt at times as if I were reading a list of his accomplishments rather than the story of a young man who rose above the ridicule and humiliating defeat to become a mentor to the young and in my humble opinion, the point of the article became blurred. After all, the magazine is called Winners Within Us™
    and not ‘Winners Who Win At Things Alot’- I don’t mean to sound rude here, it’s just that I value the bravery and the struggle of a person as much as the achievements they’ve racked up over the years and I feel that in this particular article the balance was more in favor of the latter when it should have focused more closely on Serna’s community work.
    As a whole, however the article is very well-written and obviously pays close attention to both detail and fact. I like the blend of community, personal and family ties Wendy expresses and I also loved the inclusion of Austin Pierce’s story in relation to Serna’s.

  • Jean -- Canada said:

    I went to your website and searched out an article that at first glance would normally not have interested me in the slightest. I have never been a fan of football so I chose this one about Alexis Serna. my reason for doing this was I wished to know if the writer could hold my interest even if the topic itself was not one I would usually gravitate towards. Right from the beginning I was not only impressed but could also relate to inspiration coming from an encounter with a young person. When I first found myself being pulled back in the direction of writing I stumbled upon a group of children in the Philippines who changed my way of looking at the world so this article really hit home.
    What I love about this story is that is begins with a brief glimpse at possible failure but shoots off immediately into an inspirational story about not only success but a willingness to give back what has been given. That he drew strength from so many people, including a child really expresses to me who this man is inside. To be willing to lean on others, to learn from them and then offer what has been learned so openly to the world is a unique way of expressing inner strength. Thankfully the world is full of people like him, with more coming forward every day. The article leaves me with not only wanting to meet the man, but with wanting to meet the child and hug the mom. Perhaps now, although not yet a fan of football I might consider myself to be a fan of at least one football player out there. It is a never ending fascination with me, the power that words have to heal the heart and I can truly appreciate what both this article and your magazine is trying to do.

  • Camillia -- North Carolina said:

    I enjoyed reading this article. I love to hear stories about people who have overcame trials and hardships because I am facing mine as well. While reading the article I loved the part about Austin pierce and how Alexis wrote A & P on his thumbs while playing games. This to me was the best part.

  • Richard Q -- New Jersey said:

    I am of spanish heritage and I always want to see someone of my background do well, but I also am a die-hard sports fan and do it for a living. I live and breathe the games, while experience joy and hardships on players faces weather they are in HS, College or the Pros. I remember this kid well and I remember how close he was to quitting football. And I also recall his mother had to push him and tell him to not let others and disappointments get the best of him, kind of how my mother pushed me. I thought it was a well written piece, especially how the story of the sick boy inspired him and how he drew his initals on his thunbs. As a reader that drew me in to read more.. Thanks, Richard

  • al said:

    Just sunday morning at church my pastor talked about dying empty. He explained that we should want to die empty. There’s so many people who have pasted away that never lived out their dreams. Among those graves could have been a president, a doctor, an author, maybe an inventor. So many people die without living out their dreams, and they didnt die empty. We should all live out our dreams and in some houses the kids continue to give up on their dreams or find themselves discouraged, this is most likely because their parents gave up on a dream or two. Alexis Serna fought through that. A story like that can really touch a young spirit and I’m sure many people like myself can relate to it.

  • Giorgos said:

    I like what you’re doing, as I believe that everything starts and concludes with the individual. Human stories about “ordinary” people, that give the message of trying harder and follow one’s dreams. Like this Alexis Serna story, for whom I hadn’t heard of before: that unfortunate occasion in 2004 turned to motivation and winning Groza
    Award in 2005. These are the people that deserve publicity: hard working,with down to earth attitude and great moral values.

  • Bill Maurer said:

    I liked your piece on Alexis Serna, as I watched almost every OSU game during his career there.

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