A step by stadium step guide to rising from a fall

In many ways, a devastating knee injury shaped my Dad’s life.

A scholarship player from a little coal mining town in Pennsylvania, Ron Kostelnik was just hitting his stride as a defensive tackle on the University of Cincinnati football team when a complete ACL and MCL tear threatened to end his career and any hopes for a college degree.

With a couple of canvas tennis shoes and his mother’s stubborn pride, though, he fought back. He ran steps, inching further and further around the UC stadium until one day he completed the entire circle, that’s 1,482 steps.

Back home for the summer he convinced his sister, my Aunt Martha, to drive nearly six mountainous miles to his friend Johnny McKavish’s house in Peach Creek. Then he got out of the car and jogged back home.

Football wasn’t a lifelong passion for my dad. He never even played the game until he went to high school. But, perhaps spurred on by the threat of never being able to play it again, Dad returned to the sport with a vengeance.

He became a standout lineman for the Bearcats and, with one year of college eligibility left, he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.

A nine-year professional football career, including three world championships and two Super Bowl titles, followed.

One of Vince Lombardi’s less repeated quotes is this, ““To achieve success, whatever the job we have, we must pay a price.”

For my Dad, that price included some long, lonely hours in an empty stadium, dragging aching legs up cement steps.

Today, his legacy includes inductions in three Halls of Fame, including the Central Cambria County, the University of Cincinnati and the Green Bay Packers, all achieved with a big hunk of cartilage missing from his knee.

On country roads and stadium steps, my dad rehabbed his knee and resurrected his football career.
Forced to take summer school in order to keep his scholarship, my Dad met my mom in a music appreciation class. They married two days after they graduated. While he played for the Packers, he returned to UC in the off-season to complete his Master’s Degree.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1999 my brother, sisters and I snuck into the UC stadium with our families and had some fun running around the football field. This was our  Christmas card that year after the Bearcats shocked the Badgers and won 17-12. Inside, the card read “We wish you a Merry Christmas and an upset free New Year!”

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