By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Former Auburn football standout Justin Garrett knows the second lap of the 800 meters is going to be painful.
“I haven’t run track since high school,” said Garrett, a linebacker from 2011-15.
The 800 is the tenth and final event of The Chicago D10, a national athletic tour founded by former Auburn runner Dave Maloney that raises money for pediatric cancer research. Garrett will compete Aug. 5 at Lane Tech.
“Being able to put my athletic abilities to use for a greater good, instead of personal accolades and glory, to help out pediatric cancer patients, to save lives,” Garrett said. “Once Dave presented the case to me, I was sold, I was all in.”
Garrett hopes the countless hours he spent in Auburn’s weight room will benefit him next month in the D10, just as his seasons on The Plains helped him get off to a fast start in his career.
“My time at Auburn under Coach Malzahn greatly prepared me for success in making the transition from athletics into the corporate world,” Garrett said. “It taught me how to become an effective leader, hard worker and how to remain poised when facing adversity. Always remembering that if there's a will, then there's a way.”
Modeled after the Olympic decathlon and the NFL Scouting Combine, The D10 features a 400-meter run, football throw, pull-ups, a 40-yard dash, dips, a 500-meter row, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle sprint, bench press and the 800.
“The kids, the patients in the hospital who we’re doing this event for are fighting for their lives every day,” Garrett said. “Why can’t I go out there for a few hours and compete in the decathlon?”
Garrett, a territory manager for Baxter Healthcare Corporation, landed his job thanks to assists from former teammate
Nosa Eguae and Baxter executive Richard Ward, the father of an Auburn graduate.
“Having great counterparts who are part of the Auburn family who have been mentoring me and assisting me in making the transition, it’s incredible,” Garrett said.
The first two times Garrett applied, he was denied. Not enough experience. He paid the bills by doing lawn care, bolstering his resume with a sales job in Atlanta.
“When you go through adversity, you’ll never know what doors may open for you,” Garrett said.
Garrett’s goal of playing professional football ended when he reinjured his hamstring during a tryout with the New England Patriots last summer. With a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and a master’s in adult education, he originally intended to work in athletics administration before the healthcare opportunity arose.
“I didn’t know I would like the career I’m in as much as I do,” he said. “People ask, ‘Do you still want to go back into sports?’ I say, ‘No, what I’m doing right now is a lot more beneficial.’ Only 1.6 percent of college athletes make it to the NFL, 98.4 percent will end up in the same boat I was in, trying to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives.
“I feel like I can be that spokesperson to assist a lot of athletes make that transition while I continue to chase my dream and be passionate about helping others.”
As a senior in 2015, Garrett had a career-high 50 tackles and was named team captain, battling back from a foot injury that limited his playing time in previous years.
“It speaks to the persistence, hard work and determination,” Garrett said. “I get knocked down seven times; get back up an eighth time. That’s what my mindset has always been about. Dealing with adversity. Continually getting knocked down and just bouncing right back up with a positive attitude, knowing that at the end of the day it will all work out for the greater good.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer