The elephant in the room: The pen is mightier than the barbell


Pranav Jandhyala

It was the summer before freshman year when I decided to play high school football. All of the anxious first year players, myself included, stepped into the weight room one by one. We later took our initial physical measurements.

My height was the first thing measured: 4 feet 11 inches. Then my weight: 87 pounds.

The rest of the soon-to-be players jeered and laughed, but the coaches looked very concerned. They did not say it at the time, but I was one of the smallest 14 year old boys they had ever seen. I was half the size of most of the other players on the JV team. Soon after, I was welcomed onto the team when one of the coaches was able to find some miniature football pads in a pile of gear that were meant for elementary school children. They fit me perfectly.


PicMonkey Collage the pen
(Left) Before my freshman year of high school. (Right) 2 years later, after my sophomore year of high school.

Two years and 50 pounds later, I moved up to varsity for my third football season with an enormous chip on my shoulder. I had something to prove, and I was going to devote everything I had to proving it. It was on the last day of the arduous varsity summer scrimmages that my life changed forever. I was a defensive player, a cornerback. As I threw all my force at the charging ball carrier, the blocker turned around and thrust himself at me. I was hit from both sides all at once. As I struggled to get up, I heard the both of them laughing. The devastating blow was planned. I tried to get up several times but kept feeling an enormous sharp pressure on the back of my head. It was as if I had been hit with the weight of the world. I knew right away that I had sustained a concussion.

I assumed my position on the field. I was willing to die to prove something. I still don’t know what it was. Play after play, I was drilled by the blocker opposite from me whose crooked mouth continued to turn upwards, frozen in place like a grin from hell. I was once again reduced to a practice dummy. I can’t remember feeling any pain nor can I recall how long I faced the ceaseless abuse, but I remember eventually being able to collect myself just enough to clamber off of the field.

I remember eventually being able to engage in some low-level thinking. I remember realizing how lucky I was. I still had the privilege of sweeping possibility. This fundamental privilege is almost always overlooked, only realized later on at the end of life when one laments at what could have been on their deathbed. I had two arms, two legs, a functional mind and an endless supply of ambition. I wasn’t going to squander my ability to exist, to be somebody. As far as I was concerned, I would be starting from scratch. A blank slate of opportunity. Anything was possible.

I read Chaucer, Plato, Emerson, Thoreau and even Karl Marx; Orwell, Tolstoy, Kafka, Twain and even Ayn Rand.
My hunger for answers grew as I progressed. With each new connection I made, my capacity to act, to make some noise amid the clamor of the world incrementally grew.

I read for days and days in the summer heat, as the flowers blossomed outside into carefully intricate displays of vivid cerise and precious plum patterns, which glistened under the bright summer sun. I read from when the first hue of dawn peeked over the rolling grass hills until the last bit of tangerine sunshine disappeared back behind the tall, lilac mountaintops along with a surging array of flushed clouds.

I started writing. It seemed to come naturally to me. My fingers would type madly and automatically when the perpetual flow of of my reflections led me to some insight that was exclusive in the way it moved me.
As I read contemporary nonfiction, I explored the atrocities that continued to plague the world like our broken criminal justice system. The passionate fire in me was once again lit.

As I saw my old teammates earn starting positions on the varsity team, win games and become campus heroes, I stuck to my path because I realized that it is not my athletic ability or the size of my body that can fix the world’s problems or make a significant difference in the end. It is the size of my mind and my heart that will do so.
I made myself a promise that I would not leave Earth without doing anything and everything I can to positively impact the lives of as many people as possible. That, in my opinion, is the greatest legacy I can forge for myself.