By Starrla Cray
WINSTED Surrender. That’s just about the last subject one would expect a professional athlete to speak about, but it’s the message former NFL champion Ben Utecht will be bringing to the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School auditorium Thursday, Sept. 28.
His presentation, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m.
As a full-time corporate speaker, many of Utecht’s appearances are for Fortune 500 companies, but he also enjoys speaking for church groups.
“It allows me to be a little more vulnerable, and share how faith has impacted my life personally,” he said.
The Sept. 28 event is being organized by River of Life Christian Church in Winsted. During the presentation, the audience will hear about Utecht’s life his accomplishments, setbacks, disappointments and how his faith and love for his family have helped him to cope with challenges.
“It’s my journey in football, faith, and family,” Utecht said.
Utecht played football at Hastings Senior High School, and then became a four-year starter at the University of Minnesota. In 2004, he signed on with the Indianapolis Colts. During Super Bowl XLI in February 2007, Utecht helped lead his team to victory against the Chicago Bears.
His career had ups and downs, as he suffered multiple injuries, including five concussions. At 29 years old, Utecht started to have memory problems.
“I never realized the significance of memory until I began to lose [it],” he said.
Every moment with his wife, Karyn, and their four daughters has become more valuable to Utecht. He wrote a song for them, “You Will Always Be My Girls,” and also wrote a memoir, “Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family.”
Utecht said that although the book sounds “ominous” from the title, it has a happy ending. At the time he wrote it, the extent and progression of his memory loss was uncertain, and he was struggling with leaving the NFL.
While writing the book, Utecht was going through a cognitive therapy program. By the end of that, his brain had healed and his ability to store memories had been strengthened. Now, Utecht is an advocate for brain trauma research and treatment.
Although Utecht is no longer playing pro football, he is still in the public spotlight as a speaker and musician. Utecht has always loved entertaining people, and considers speaking an art form that requires effort and practice.
“Growing up, I was probably more involved in choir and theatre arts than in sports,” he said.
Utecht sang in 16 Christmas shows with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and was also a 2012 nominee for the Dove Award, which honors excellence in the Christian music industry.
Utecht is the son of a pastor, and Christianity has been a cornerstone of his life. When he speaks for churches, Utecht shares how faith has shaped his response to difficulties.
“The thing I really love to focus on when speaking at churches is, ‘what does it mean to surrender all?’” he said. “It’s the opposite mindset that you have to have as an athlete.”
Utecht said that, with surrender, a person is giving up total control, which takes “an incredible amount of trust.”
“When you do that, you let go of a weight that a lot of us live with every day,” he said. “It’s not easy, but it’s achievable.”
During his presentation Sept. 28, Utecht is looking forward to talking with the audience and hearing their questions.
“Question and answer is one of my favorite things to do,” he said.
Free event at HLWW, organized by River of Life Church in Winsted
• What: Former Minnesota Golden Gopher and NFL Super Bowl champion Ben Utecht will share his journey of football, faith, and family. The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions. Utecht, who is an accomplished singer and songwriter, also plans to share a bit of his music.
• When: Thursday, Sept. 28 from 7 to 9 p.m.
• Where: The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School auditorium (between Winsted and Howard Lake).
• Who: The event is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is preferred, by signing up at www.rolchurch.org/utecht.
• Why: Utecht speaks for churches as a way to share how his faith has helped him through the challenges of life. Utecht suffered five concussions during his football career, and experienced memory loss.