SPORTS BOOK REVIEW – In Spite of the Odds: A True Inspirational Journey from Walk-on to Full Scholarship at Ole Miss.
By Richie Contartesi
Richie Contartesi is known to many as the number one ranked Motivational Speaker in America (according to his website), and indeed as the inspirational football player who despite a small (by football standards) frame and weight, made it to the football team of one of the ‘Grand Dames’ of the college football scene – the team known as the Ole Miss Rebels, from the University of Mississippi. Few know him as an author per se – but his self-published book ‘In Spite Of The Odds’, is a decent testimony to his skill as an author. More pertinently however, is Richie’s ability to read his own book as part of the Audible library attached to Amazon. I listened to In Spite Of The Odds which Richie performs himself and it’s clear to the ear, this man’s story is one of passion, drive and commitment.
Contartesi takes us on a journey that starts with a regular American boy, aged five, and obsessed with football. That obsession and clear love for the game, drives Richie up the ranks of high school football and into a position with a second tier university. The football program and Contartesi don’t gel, and it’s clear – this is a baller who wants more, who has a standard higher than the one he’s currently within, and has self-belief pulsing through his veins.
When Contartesi makes it to Ole Miss (via an academic transfer), he embarks upon a stringent and diligent course to marching onto the field for The Rebels. This book takes us through that course – piece by steady piece. The attention to detail in In Spite Of The Odds is its blessing and its curse. This book is definitely not for the reader that wants a sports book that moves from huge action to huge action; it is a more pensive sports book, one that rewards a slower burn and a more dedicated read that truly conveys the aggregated marginal gain that is the reality for those that make it to the top of their respective games. Does that make it less exciting than others in this category? Yes. But is it by comparison more interesting? Absolutely.
In Spite Of The Odds carries the spirit and purpose of college football in the United States in a truthful and emotive way; we get a sense of the tradition and unity that runs through the soul of Ole Miss, the meaning of the games and the associated rituals. I had no idea that to ‘dress’ for a game as a player, was an honour, even if you didn’t actually make it onto the field. Contartesi’s writing (and voice) allow the celebration of game day to sing out from the page, and his general sense of awe when first introduced to the Ole Miss facilities, is 100% palpable. Indeed, the way he relishes his opportunity and what it means to him and his family, allow us as readers to really root for him and support the quest he goes on.
And that quest is not an easy one by a long shot. His path is not a ‘from the bottom to the top’ trajectory in any way at all. In fact, he has to endure moving from one high to a new low with alarming regularity. Even as someone who stays very much in touch with college football and online coverage, I was left exhausted by Richie’s experience – balancing intense training with academia and then with the intricacies (physical, emotional and to a large extent, political, ) of the football team, but I admired all the more so for his defiant ability to not take anything lying down.
In essence – and indeed outlined on his website also – Contartesi believes in having a vision, building relationships, overcoming fear and employing persistence to truly get to where you want to go. To a great degree, In Spite of The Odds could easily be a self-help book, but Richie’s ability to show us rather than tell us, how he dealt with the heavy blows of disappointment, allows it to steer itself firmly into the sports section. We’re taken through his training sessions, his own crafted training programs that he actually did put together himself, his electing to work with different trainers to improve himself physically and – most shockingly – how he realised that making himself available as a Field Goal specialist rather than a Running Back, could be a way to team selection. It is such decisions, and such determination to do whatever it takes to make the team, that is Contartesi’s secret weapon – and that makes him all the more of a champion for readers of this book.
As mentioned, this is not a book for those seeking all out action, but as a book that offers a glimpse of college football for those who do have to fight harder than scholarship players because they are not ‘the chosen ones’, In Spite Of The Odds is a superb read. Honest (there is a wonderful moment where in a rage, Richie calls his dad and, plagued by the frustration of ongoing by-a-hair-failure, unleashes all the pent up anger and disappointment he has built up over years. In that moment he contemplates quitting football entirely….. but thankfully, he calms down!); at times heart-breaking (when Ole Miss win a game but Richie is not invited into the locker room to celebrate with the rest of the team, his devastation is total and heartfelt by the reader. In true Contartesi style though, he vows that he will never again sit on the bus whilst the rest of the team celebrate a win.), but with a constant spine of self-belief and possession of his own destiny, our hero does win out. The closing scene is a magical one and, although relatively plain, yields a sense of elation, simply because this long pilgrimage is one we have shared with Richie himself.
In Spite Of The Odds is a solid and inspiring book. What it lacks in glitz and glamour it more than makes up for in grit and sporty zeal, and is a must read for anyone in a high school or college sports program – American or not. With a huge high five and bucket loads of back slapping and good cheer, we award this book a noble 7 out of 10.