Whether Coach Benjamin Wade wins CBS's "Survivor: Tocantins" or not, he has already won the real survivor.
Two and a half years ago, Wade, who is the University's women's head soccer coach, fell suddenly off the bench while doing a warm-up set in the Meyer Wellness and Sports Center weight room. At that moment he broke down and wept. Wade was diagnosed with a II mm tumor on his posterior fossa, near the brain stem and cerebellum.
"It was just a crystal clear thought in the weight-room that day when I said to myself 'you are not invincible,' and life is probably never going to be the same," said Wade. "Going through that and being here the whole way and stumbling around, losing my balance and walking with a cane was very traumatic. It was the first time in my whole life when I really got discouraged and couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I prayed harder than I did in all my life."
How fitting was it then, that Wade got the opportunity this fall from CBS to participate in the reality show "Survivor"?
Earlier in 2008, Wade sent in a 3-minute audition video showing him coaching SBU girls' soccer, conducting the Susanville, Calif. Symphony and kayaking 6,000 miles to set the world-record for longest solo excursion. The video caught CBS's attention.
During the summer, Wade was flown out to New York City to meet with producers and interview with the big-wigs at CBS. Then during the fall, he got the call to be on the show and had to leave in a matter of days. His soccer team was 8-2-2 at the time.
"I got the girls together two days before I ended up leaving; with my soccer team it [my story] was very vague," said Wade. With the soccer girls a lot of things have been misconstrued. I told them 'I've got to leave; you know I would not leave if it weren't an emergency. I can't get out of this and I have to go do it. I cant give you the details.' Then they jumped to conclusions that it was tied into what I went through with my brain tumor. That was something that grieved me when I came back and realized everyone was freaked out for my health. I was simply not allowed to tell anyone I was going to Brazil to be on Survivor."
Wade left in mid-October to run some medical tests and get cleared to be on the show.
In early November, "Survivor: Tocantins" began shooting. Wade's main goal was to change way the game is played.
Instead the normal culture of "Survivor," which revolves around making alliances, backstabbing and lying your way to a million dollars, Wade saw it as a chance to display integrity and show America that even a million dollars is not worth sacrificing personal ethics.
"What fascinates me most about reality TV is people that lose complete control of their character," said Wade.
"In almost every reality TV show there are people who come face to face with temptation-- Survivor is doing whatever it takes to win one million dollars. When I went into this game I felt like if I weren't a Christian, with a strong foundation, built on a rock of Jesus Christ, if I did not have that foundation I would have wanted to approach the game differently. Knowing that 'if God is for us, who can be against us' really helped me going down there."
Wade prepared spiritually for "Survivor" by meditating every night he was down on the island.
Wade used an adventure in the past to explain the value of physical and mental preparation for a difficult task. Before he set the world record for kayaking, Wade would sit in his room every night with a kayak and paddles and envision himself as a small speck on the ocean.
However, when he actually got out on the ocean and had to out-live Hurricane Hernan, Wade said that all the physical and mental training could not have prepared him for that.
"The first time I was actually out on the oceanů forget all the physical and mental preparation once I was out there," said Wade. "You could throw that out the window."
Can Benjamin Wade, a cancer survivor, successful coach, and kayaking extraordinaire last on "Survivor", will he change the game? We will soon find out.
"Survivor: Tocantins" will air Thursday, Feb. 12 on CBS. New Life Church in Springfield will host a premiere party at 7 p.m. for Coach Wade.