Growing up in Sumter, S.C., Rod McDowell could live with his disability. He couldnt live with the teasing.
The corrective shoes doctors told him to wear made him stick out in just the way no 10-year-old boy wants to stick out.
A lot of kids used to pick on him. He didnt want to wear shoes with an extra heel, Rods mom, Roxanne McDowell-Solone, recalled. He wanted regular sneakers, and hed put tissues in one trying to correct the imbalance between his feet.
Rod McDowell, born with a condition called clubfoot, just wanted to run. Now, McDowell is the starting tailback for fourth-ranked Clemson, which will play S.C. State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Death Valley.
McDowell waited four years to be Clemsons featured back. Against then-No.5 Georgia last weekend he gained 132 yards on 22 carries.
I dont call it a disability. I call it as a gift a gift because Im still walking and running, McDowell said.
He was born with a right foot that curved inward, so it planted abnormally. Clubfoot is one of the more common congenital deformities, occurring once in about 1,000 births. It causes children to walk on the side of their foot, if not their ankle.
Doctors placed McDowells foot in a cast almost from birth, looking to retrain how the foot planted.
The fate of that cast was the first clue Rod McDowell wasnt going to let this condition hold him back.
He learned to crawl in a cast, his mother said. He broke that cast three times. The doctors couldnt imagine how he did it.
That rambunctious personality carried over through an operation when he was 9 months old. According to his mother, doctors cut into the back of his heel attempting to pull down ligaments so the plant of the foot would even out.
He kept running through casts and braces and corrective shoes. He was fast, but his foot still wasnt landing normally. So when he was 8, a specialist suggested another surgery, with this caveat: The procedure could improve his condition, but there was a 50-50 chance it could make it worse, perhaps putting him on crutches for the rest of his life.
Roxanne prayed on the decision, then came to this conclusion:
I said, God, if this how hes going to be, then thats your will, and she put off the surgery.
Turns out more therapy did the trick. Fifteen years later, the only visual evidence McDowell once had clubfoot is that scar on the back of his heel and a right calf slightly smaller than the left.
He showed up at Sumter High expecting to play wide receiver. He was told they had too many wideouts and not enough running backs.
Then Im a running back, McDowell promised the coaches, having learned from an early age to adapt.
He ran for 1,892 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior year at Sumter, drawing recruiting interest from Clemson, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina.
McDowell showed so little evidence of a foot problem that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didnt initially know what he went through as a kid. Swinney said the thing others should take from McDowells story is the power of persistence and will that great challenges can be overcome if people dont surrender to what theyre dealt.
Roxanne McDowell-Solone told her son to share his story.
This is the grace of God, Roxanne said. This is your testimony: That whatever God gives us, you cant just say, I cant.
The patience McDowell learned growing up in casts and braces carried over to Clemson. He played little his first four years behind the likes of C.J. Spiller and Andre Ellington. But now he has his degree in sociology and the starting job on a top-five team.
If you cant survive waiting and being patient in football, then when you step out into the real world, it will chew you up, McDowell said.
People said, Rod, why are you going to Clemson? They already have all the running backs. Youre not going to play with C.J. Spiller! My response was if you want to be the best, then surround yourself with the best. Thats what Ive done.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129 Twitter: @Rick_Bonnell
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/09/04/4286764/clemson-running-back-rod-mcdowell.html#.UihWsxaWfcZ#storylink=cpy