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Shawn Alexander: Rushing towards the goal

By Gail Wood

Shaun Alexander remembers the faces, the appreciative smiles. He remembers the eyes of the families lined up single file, eagerly waiting for a Thanksgiving dinner. He remembers the hands of the shabbily dressed children reaching for gifts on Christmas.

Mostly, he remembers his mother, the divorced parent who drove her two young sons across town to the community center to help pass out some happiness, to share in hope.

That’s Alexander’s memory: his mother, helping.

And that’s why Alexander, the NFL’s record holder for the most touchdowns scored in a half, doesn’t run to merely score touchdowns, or to simply pile up yardage as he did last season when he smashed through the Oakland Raiders defense for 266 yards (the fourth-best rushing performance ever). He also runs because it allows him to help others.

Two years ago, Alexander used some of his $3.8 million signing bonus from the Seattle Seahawks to start a foundation that assists single-parent families.

“I play football to make a difference in their lives,” Alexander says. “It’s not just about football. It’s also about helping others.”

In his hometown of Florence, Ky., which is just outside of Cincinnati, and in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he played college football, Alexander has established a foundation that helps needy families. If a family needs help paying the rent, electric bills or buying school lunches and clothes, Alexander’s foundation is there. At Thanksgiving the foundation provides turkey meals, and at Christmas families receive ham dinners, wrapped gifts and a tree. Alexander has also started a college scholarship fund.

“It’s all about giving back,” Alexander says. But he adds, “You can’t out-give God.”

Alexander’s parents divorced when he was in fourth grade. His mother, Carol Alexander, was always generous even though she squeezed apartment, food and utility payments out of her paycheck from Procter & Gamble, where she fielded calls from customers.

“My mom was always helping others,” Alexander says. “That’s where I learned about giving. So, now that I’m tremendously blessed, I want to do what my mom always has done.”

Financial support and gifts are not all that the staff at Alexander’s foundation passes along to its recipients. Many times, staff members will share Scriptures and pray with those seeking assistance. For Alexander, sharing his faith is better than scoring touchdowns.

“What’s the best day of my life?” he asks rhetorically. “It was the first time I led somebody to Christ.”

That might be surprising to some coming from a guy who scored five touchdowns in the first half in a game against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season. But Alexander’s life has been filled with headline moments on the football field, from the day he rushed for 345 yards in a game as a junior in high school to when he broke loose for 291 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt freshman at the University of Alabama.

Dick Vermeil, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, is impressed with Alexander’s peek-a-boo running style, as he hides behind blockers while he makes his way upfield.

“He’s different,” Vermeil said.

Different on and off the field. Just like his unique running style, Alexander has never been one to do something just because everyone else was doing it.

“I’m always the oddball compared to everyone else,” he says. “That’s because I don’t live by their rules. I go by God’s rules.”

Since he was a sophomore in high school, Alexander has worn the No. 37 because his preferred number (44) was already worn by a starting linebacker. To go along with the number 37, he memorized a Bible verse that has helped shape his life, Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (NIV).

Gail Wood is a freelance writer and veteran newspaper reporter living in the Seattle area.

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