Tim Tebow on his Journey from Dyslexia to Published Author

The former NFL star and ESPN analyst tells Read it Forward how he achieved success despite his learning disability.

Tim Tebow’s career highlights are well-known. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, which brought the University of Florida sophomore quarterback into football fans’ collective consciousness. From there, the Jacksonville, Florida native was drafted in 2010 to the Denver Broncos and was named starting quarterback for the team the following season, taking them all the way to the playoffs. Tebow went on to play for the New York Jets, the New England Patriots, and the Philadelphia Eagles before leaving the field and heading to the sidelines, where he’s served as an ESPN college football analyst for the last three years. But what is less well-known is how the athlete struggled with dyslexia as a child, never thinking he’d be able to read a book with ease, never mind write one. And yet, Tebow has done just that. In his new memoir Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms, the former NFL star is incredibly candid about his stumbling blocks and why he’s thankful he experienced them. Below, read an excerpt from Shaken where Tebow reflects on his learning disability, and then listen as he tells Read it Forward’s editor Abbe Wright what he hopes everyone will take away from his writing: celebrate uniqueness.

Celebrate Unique

I’m so thankful I am dyslexic. Yes, you read that right. I’m grateful for this learning disability. Keep in mind, however, I didn’t always feel this way. When I was seven years old, I struggled to read. It was hard. My parents de­termined I was dyslexic, which simply means I process things differently. I’m a tactile learner and have better success grasping concepts and ideas hands-on versus reading about them.

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, I was convinced this learning challenge was the worst thing in the world. Why can’t I just pick up a book and read it like everyone else? Why does it have to take me hours and hours? Spelling, memorizing, taking timed tests with essays—these things were nightmares. Going into high school, I wondered if I’d pass algebra, be able to take the SATs, and even make it through college. If you told me when I was young that I’d not only graduate college but also maintain a 3.7 GPA, I’d have laughed in your face. I am so grateful for Susan Vanderlinde, my tutor growing up, whose knowledge and compassion made the learning process so much easier. She was a blessing!

Having a learning or any other type of disability doesn’t mean you’re dumb. Both Albert Einstein, the father of the atomic age, and Thomas Edi­son, the greatest inventor in history, were dyslexic. Now, I’m not comparing myself to these geniuses by any stretch of the imagination. They happen to be telling examples of what’s possible when you understand and utilize the way you were created to process things instead of conforming to everyone else’s learning style.

I’m excited to be able to encourage kids and even adults who struggle with dyslexia. I know that God is using that challenge as part of my platform. That’s what He does. He takes something we see as a disability, a defect, or a mistake and gives us opportunities to help others who struggle in those same areas.

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Read it Forward: Tim, you are very candid in Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms about your battle with dyslexia. You write about the frustration that went into just reading one page—and now you’re a published author. As a child, did you think you’d ever write a book? Do you feel proud thinking about just how far you’ve come?

Tim Tebow: As a kid, I never thought I’d be able to write a book. I’m so thankful for my mom and every teacher I had who instilled in me confidence that I could overcome dyslexia. They also helped me realize that just because I learned differently didn’t mean I wasn’t intelligent. Once I understood this, it made me want to encourage other kids who struggled in the same ways.

RIF: You say this learning disability as something you’re thankful for; when did you realize you were thankful for it? What gave you that perspective?

TT: It took years and years of having to understand how my brain works and how I process things to become grateful for it. Even in college, there were times I wondered how much easier studying would be if I could think just like the other students. But over the years, I learned that we are each created to think a certain way. We are unique. I may see the world different than others, but I like the way I see it.

RIF: What would you like to tell anyone out there who is struggling with a learning disability? What do you hope they take away from your experience and your book?

TT: Don’t focus on your disability. Focus on your abilities. Focus on what you can do. You were created by God in a special way to do special things. The way you view your life and the way your brain works are designed in a way to do unique things. You can help others. You can tackle a problem in a different way. You can approach an issue with a different mindset. Be confident in who you are. Celebrate your uniqueness.


Author Photo: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images

Featured Image: Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

TIM TEBOW is a two-time national champion, first round NFL draft pick, and Heisman trophy winner. After playing in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, Tebow joined the SEC Network. In addition to his role on SEC Nation, the network’s traveling road show, Tebow also contributes to a variety of other ESPN platforms. Through everything Tim’s true passion remains the work of the Tim Tebow Foundation which he began in 2010. The foundation’s mission is to bring Faith, Hope, and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need. The foundation is fulfilling that mission everyday by serving thousands of deserving children around the world.

About Abbe Wright

Abbe Wright

ABBE WRIGHT is the Editor of Read It Forward. As a kid, she used to get in trouble at summer camp for using a flashlight to read inside her sleeping bag after lights out, but these days, she lives in Brooklyn, where nobody minds if she stays up late reading. She has written for Glamour, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Cut and tweets about books (and The Bachelor) at @abbewright.

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