Resiliency: Making it to Round 10

Rick Clark stands with a backpack in a hallway.

April 16, 2019
Rick Clark ('19)

The following is a speech written for and presented in a communications class. Rick Clark, who began his college journey at age 45, shared this note on Facebook days before his speech: “I ain’t scared. These are the moments I live for. My speech is on resilience. If you are in a rut, if you are struggling, dig deep and find a reason to stand up one last time. Go as hard as you can and savor the moments that lead you out of the struggle. You got this.”


Good morning, class. I am honored to be here today speaking in front of you. I don’t mind going first – I am the oldest and have the least amount of time left on this Earth so I should probably go first. I want to talk about what it means to be resilient today, and how some people seem to be able to “overcome” obstacles and challenges quicker or better than others. There is actual science behind this and I will be discussing some pretty cool stuff. Then I would like to share one of the greatest examples of willpower and resiliency that I have ever seen. It was during a professional boxing match-up between James Buster Douglas and Iron Mike Tyson in 1990.

Let’s start with the science of resilience. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, and/or threats.” People have asked “Is someone born resilient or is it something you can learn?” and science has proven that it can, in fact, be learned and you can train yourself to be more resilient. Stress and adversity are never going away, and we need to learn how to become more resilient to life’s challenges. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper.

People who learn not only how to bounce back but also learn to bounce “forward” are living healthier, happier lives. By using setbacks or challenges as learning opportunities instead of things to weigh you down, over time you will build up resilience.

One of the best examples of resilience that will go down in history, is the fight between Douglas and Tyson. Let me set the scene:

It’s February of 1990 and there is to be a fight in Tokyo for the heavyweight title. Tyson is set to fight Douglas on his way to Evander Holyfield. Douglas was thrown into this fight after another fighter “canceled.” Now, you have to understand how terrifying Mike Tyson was in 1990 and you will understand why fighters often “canceled” or got knocked out in under a minute. Tyson was a beast of a man and came from a very tough New York neighborhood as a misguided youth. His professional record was 37-0 when this fight took place, with 34 of those being knockouts. Tyson struck terror in the eyes of his competitors.

I remember gathering with friends as a 19-year-old to watch his fights on Pay-Per-View, knowing that his fights may last 14 seconds. Most of Tyson’s fights ended within the first round or two. Only one casino would hold odds on the fight, the Mirage, and it made Douglas a 42-to-1 underdog! The only bets allowed were on what round Douglas would lose in. Weeks leading up to the big fight, Douglas’ mother was going around town telling people, “My son is going to beat Mike Tyson!” He begged her to stop. Sadly, two weeks before the fight, Douglas’ mom passed away after having a stroke. This journeyman boxer – who just lost his mom, had no contact with his father, his wife recently left him AND the mother of his child was struggling for her life in a hospital – stepped into the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world.

The fight started and, round after round, Douglas kept fighting. In round eight, Tyson landed an uppercut that knocked Douglas to the canvas. The world erupted and knew the end was near. Douglas had trouble getting back on his feet, and he finally stood up as the ref counted out “nine” and then at 10, they squared up again. We all held our breath knowing what was coming next. Tyson charged him like a starving lion locking eyes on a steak. Just as Tyson got to the center of the ring where Douglas was wobbling, the bell rang. Douglas was saved by the bell. Round nine started and Tyson unleashed a fury of punches to close the deal as he had done his entire career, except this time his opponent would not go down. In round 10, the world was rocked when Douglas knocked Tyson out. I remember the crowd of thousands all taking a gasping breath at the same time on national television. The unthinkable happened.

Douglas took his struggles and used them to build a foundation to stand on. He never gave up on himself, even when the entire world did.

As I stand before you today, I myself have had a Buster Douglas moment. My mother passed away eight years ago, before my big fight. My big fight was going to college after being a high school dropout for 28 years. My mother would also brag to friends and tell me that I was going to do something big in my life, I was going to be someone special. And like Douglas, I would tell my mom to stop saying things like that. I struggled with homelessness, a failed marriage and dead-end jobs. I have been in round eight and been knocked down. But I have also used those struggles to stand back up and continue to throw punches. In May, I will be at Gonzaga’s graduation ceremonies and I will walk across that stage and grab that degree. This May, Tyson gets knocked out.

In your life you will experience bad days. It may be when you are 20 or it may be when you are 40, but you will find yourself in your darkest hour and you will need to ask yourself, “Have I done enough to stand up one last time and fight?”

You will need to lean on all of those times that you used adversity to build on, to grow. And when you do face those moments, be like Buster Douglas.

This spring, Rick Clark began his own non-profit, Giving Back Packs, to continue what started as a simple way to show kindness to those on the streets. Learn more at