The Bible says to ask and you shall receive.
Mike Godfrey knows that. Believes that. In his case, it’s true.
As a professional bull rider, Godfrey was mired in drug and alcohol abuse and seeking a change in his life. That change came when a bull threw him.
The fall broke Godfrey’s neck between the fifth and sixth vertebrae. In an instant, he lost most of the strength and control of his limbs.
Now a member of the U.S. Paralympic table tennis team, Godfrey trains in Tarleton State University’s touted Wellness and Motor Behavior Lab.
“I wanted to ride this bull,” he said. “He’d been a finals bull, so I knew I could score well on him. It was a good show, but what really gets me now — transitioning between forehand and backhand in ping pong is very similar to the movement of my hands when that bull changed directions in the middle of the ride.”
Since that night nearly 22 years ago, Godfrey has had no use of his legs and only limited use of his arms.
“I prayed for a major change in my life and I broke my neck two weeks later,” he said. “Now I know how God is going to use me. He has a lot bigger things in mind for me than I ever had.”
Those bigger things include parlaying an extraordinarily competitive drive into world travel and championship status.
In high school Godfrey excelled at baseball, basketball, football, soccer and golf in an effort to overcome learning disabilities associated with dyslexia.
“I made up for it on the sports field. I played soccer in Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka. When I was 21 years old, I took a break from rodeo, took a cruise and began playing ping pong on a ship’s team. While I played for them, I was asked to try out professionally, but I liked rodeo too much.”
Coming from his home in Proctor to the kinesiology lab in 1999 to exercise his underworked muscles, Godfrey suggested adding a ping pong table to quench his thirst for competition and provide a little added motivation to make his therapy appointments.
Now he comes every Wednesday for his cardio workout … and to play ping pong.
“With the help of the interns in the kinesiology program, Mike has figured out how to train,” said Dr. Joe Priest, director of the Wellness and Motor Behavior Lab. “He’s done hundreds of thousands of revolutions on a recumbent bike, which some people think is impossible.”
One of the interns, Rob Pereira, a senior kinesiology major from Salado, is an experienced table tennis player who helps Godfrey hone his game for international competition.
“Working with Mike has been educational,” Pereira said. “I’ve never worked with people like this before. His attitude is so good, and it’s that attitude that’s giving him a chance to play with the Paralympic team.”
Godfrey freely admits he likes competition — one reason he rarely misses his workouts.
“It’s good to have someone who can play,” he said. “It helps me with timing and ball placement. It’s like golf, not every shot is the same. You have to learn to hit them all.”
The former bull rider is earning lots of frequent flier miles since his life changed.
“I entered a tournament in Belgium last year for an icebreaker. It was a good move because it got me ready,” he said. “I won silver there and clinched my spot on the national team.”
He’s preparing for an international competition in Italy this month, then the Pan American Games in 2019 and finally the Tokyo games in conjunction with the summer Olympics in 2020.
“I’m focused on Italy and getting to the Pan American Games in Peru. My long-range goal is the Olympics but I have to go step-by-step and not get ahead of myself. I’ve been working on this for 10 years. That’s why I take this pretty seriously.”
Besides his faith and his physical regimen, Godfrey credits Pathways, what he calls an emotional boot camp, in helping him set and maintain personal, professional and spiritual goals.
“There have been a lot of trials, ups and downs,” he said. “You either let it get to you or be stubborn, like me, and just keep going. I’ve been very blessed.”