By Cheryl Conway
Get inspired this Father’s Day with a book written by a West Orange father and his two sons that give readers an inside look into the struggles faced by star athletes, their will to overcome and achieve.
Recently released on May 3, “Rising Above,” is a compilation of true stories of ten athletes in various sports and one coach who encountered overwhelming challenges in their youth but still prevailed. Gregory Zuckerman and his two sons – Elijah, 14, and Gabriel, 17 – spent the past 18 months researching and conducting interviews to complete the anthology best suited for young readers.
Published by Penguin Random House in NY, “Rising Above” is available in hard cover and e-book in most bookstores and online. It is recommended for readers ages eight to 12, but is truly quite inspiring for sports fans no matter what age.
“Our book gives some behind-the-scenes tales that are entertaining, moving and touching, but we think there are some real life lessons by players who overcome so much in their youth,” describes Gregory Zuckerman, a special writer at “The Wall Street Journal” for the past 19 years.
Zuckerman says, “The book is about perseverance, grit and the ability to turn negative into positive; setback can be positive.” Through the book, “life lessons can be learned; a lot of young people need guidance, inspiration and motivation.”
Gabriel, a junior at Ray Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, says the book “teaches lesson that can be applicable to all walks of life and every type of challenge.”
Eli, an eighth grader at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, adds, “it doesn’t matter what people think you are or what people portray you to be; just be who you are. Whatever your goals are, you can accomplish it.”
It was Eli who came up with the book idea.
“I love sports,” says Eli, who plays goalie on his West Orange Travel Soccer team and his school team; as well as third baseman for the WO Baseball team with plans to try out for the school team next year. “I know about the athletes and how they overcame obstacles in their youth.
“It’s very inspirational,” continues Eli. “I’ve researched the stories and the athletes and said ‘we could do a book on it.’ So we did it.”
While individual stories exist about the athletes and their struggles, “Rising Above” groups all of their troublesome pursuits into one book.
“We wanted to group them together,” explains his dad. “You can learn a lot by grouping them together; there’s some themes.”
One main theme in the book is the idea of “how many stars not only overcame setbacks but turned those disadvantages into advantages.” Like Jim Abbot’s one hand, “he made it into a strength” and became the best fielder in baseball history; or Team USA goalkeeper Tim Howard who used his hyper-focus tendency brought on from his Tourette syndrome to his advantage, allowing him to practice even longer making him that much stronger.
“There’s beautiful flip side,” explains Zuckerman.
Another theme in the book is ‘perseverance and never giving up,” explains Gabriel, a defender on his high school and travel soccer teams. A good example is the story of Serge Ibaka who grew up in poverty, wartime violence, with a mother who died and a father who was arrested. He “didn’t even have basketball shoes; he persevered and learned to play better with better equipment.”
Other athletes in the book include basketball stars like Dwayne Wayde, Lebron James and Stephen Curry; and other athletes such as Althea Gibson and hockey coach Jacques Demers.
With each chapter, the authors researched and interviewed the stars either on phone, in person or via email starting in Oct. 2014, speaking with players, agents and managers. Each includes a lesson, a summary of their challenges and how they overcame.
The trio picked athletes from various sports and various obstacles whether physical, racism, emotional issues, physical and sexual abuse, illiterate and poverty.
Eli and Gabriel used their expertise by identifying players with amazing stories; they researched past and present star athletes and “found remarkable and moving stories,” says Zuckerman, who did most of he writing. The boys also found contacts for their agents and then helped with the editing. All three did the reporting together when possible.
The greatest obstacle was trying to track down the players packed with busy schedules and line up interviews.
Zuckerman is the best-selling author of two adult, non-fiction books, “The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters:” and “The Behind –the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History.”
He had pitched the idea of the book to his publisher who put him in contact with a publisher for young readers.
Writing this third book with his sons is an experience he will always treasure, as he shares his profession as a journalist and author with his offspring serving as an inspiration and role model.
“I have the two greatest co-authors in the world,” says Zuckerman. “It was great doing a project with them.”
He also found that having two young people with him during the interviews encouraged the star athletes to divulge more details.
“When you have young people with you, they tend to share more lessons in their life; stars were more likely to open up,” says Zuckerman. Even those who faced issues with abuse, “quite sensitive for them” were eager to share lessons for the next generation.
“It was cool to experience it,” says Gabriel, “to go through the writing process, take ideas and put it down as a finished product.” Gabriel enjoys history and serves as senior editor on his school newspaper.
Eli, who enjoys English as a favorite subject in school and inspires to be a journalist one day, agrees: “I see my dad writing these books.” To be part of it, “it’s amazing, it’s better than ever.”
Their friends are excited too, wanting to buy the book and asking for their autographs.
With 2,500 copies already sold, the Zuckermans have had a few book signings at the Barnes & Noble in Livingston with more scheduled in the near future. They plan to appear on “Fox & Friends” on June 15 and are open to speak at schools.
Since all the athletes in the book are male, except for one, the Zuckermans are already working on a similar book featuring famous female athletes with a publication goal of 2017.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an authors’ visit.