Chad Varga – Raise Your Level

Professional basketball player Chad Varga shares how fighting off his mother’s abusive boyfriend gave him the strength to take on life and win.


He had my mom up against the back wall with his fist clenched like this. But my Mom’s boyfriend, I’ll never forget this guy, he had black hair, he had a gray patch on the front of his head. When he heard the door, it startled him. So here’s what he did, he looked over his left shoulder, here’s Chad Varga. I’m standing there in cut-off white T-shirt, basketball shorts, socks and slides. And I’m standing here 14, and he looked at me. When he realized it was just a 14-year-old kid, he kind of smirked at me with this look like, as if to say “What are you going to do big fella?” And he was happy because it wasn’t the neighbor. He wasn’t getting busted for domestic violence. So what he did is he finished what he was doing.

I watched him hit my mom in the face. I watched my mom’s lips bust and her body just kind of crumpled to the contours of that back wall. And I did what you’d do. You know what I did? I went running at him and I remember I’m serious, man, I hit him as hard as I could. I grabbed a lamp off the table, I hit him across the shoulders. I had a little Muhammad Ali in me, I was working him a little bit, you know. I was doing my thing. But the reality was he fell down, I ran over to my Mom. Didn’t know he was gonna jump up. He jumped up, he grabbed me and he threw me against the wall. My elbow dented the drywall and we had a little La-Z-Boy chair. And I stood up and this guy worked construction, right. He had steel-toe metal boots on. When he kicked me, I thought he broke my leg there was so much pain, I fell to the ground. Now let me give you the vision. First thing I did was cover my face and this guy started pounding me in my ribs and I was taking them pretty good.

Eventually I couldn’t breathe so I dropped my hands and he started hitting me. Hit me four, five, six times in the face. Not as bad as he could’ve. He dragged me back to the back bedroom. He threw me on the bed. He’s cussing me out and he’s swearing death over me. And he slammed the door. As I stood up and my eyes swollen shut, blood’s running down my chin and my neck, and I started thinking about my Mom’s boyfriend’s used to tell me. You know what they used to tell me? “Chad, you’re worthless.” My whole life people looked at me and they said you’re gonna be this because of what you’re growing up in. And that night laying in that bed, I made a decision at 14 years old, that I wasn’t gonna get caught up like the other kids.

All these people, you get around successful people, guess what you’ll find. There’s a DNA strand in them that’s different. There’s something in them. It’s insatiable. And what it says is nothing is gonna keep me from reaching my dreams. I learned this, that it doesn’t just happen. When I was your age in high school, I was a senior, had one of the best games in my high school career. It was the best game of my career. Game was over and I go in the locker-room, we gotta shower. Coach Holowicki goes like this, he said “Fella’s, no practice tomorrow.” All my buddies on my team who raised their hand and said they were gonna be successful and go to college, play pro ball, as soon as he said we didn’t have practice, those guys start nudging each other excited because what it meant is that they could go out and they could party and they could drink a little bit, hit the blunt. Now understand this, I didn’t have a curfew. If I wanted to stay gone for three weeks, nobody was calling to see where Chad was at. And I turned around and said “No, I got some work to do.” and I kept walking.

You know what I did that night? While all my buddies on my high school team, while they were at the party, the bonfire party, they were kicking it, popping tops, sucking suds, getting drunk. I went home, no Dad telling me to do it, and I went in my house there on Mary Crescent and I threw on my shorts. I threw on my long sleeve T, my sweatshirt with a hoodie and my running shoes. And I took off and I went on a three mile jog. Some of you look at me and say “Why would you run three miles after playing a game?” Do you know why I ran three miles? First team all state get recruited. My dream was to be the first in my family to go to college, play pro basketball, yes. But you know what my real dream was? To one day have a family and give them a life that I never had growing up. My buddies at school, they started laughing at me, making fun of me, nudging me a little bit, telling me it was never gonna happen. And here’s one thing you can count on. Any time you have a dream in your life, the first thing you can count on is for somebody to come along and tell you what you can’t do and what you’re incapable of.

But what those kids didn’t know in eight grade as I grow to be 6’7″ size 17 shoe, I was actually one of the top recruits, first team all-state. I was invited as a free agent to play with the Dallas Mavericks in the MBA, and right before the summer leagues at training camp, I broke my hand and I was faced with a decision, do I go to the CBA, which is like a minor-league for the MBA or do I go to Europe to play in a European professionally, and that’s what I did. I went on to realize my dream. And I don’t know if you’re getting my point. What I’m trying to tell you is that if you want to be successful, guess what you can’t do, you can’t do what everybody else is doing. Success is not a door you walk through. It’s not a right of passage that falls out of the sky and lands on you. It’s something that takes an incredible amount of hard work.

Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future. Who you surround yourself with is who you eventually become. You get to a place in your life and you don’t know what to do, let me tell you the simple answer. Do the next right thing. If you’ve messed up, the next thing you do is the right thing and you keep piling those choices on. Every single one of you in this room, do you know what you have? You have talents and abilities that are unique to you. Raise your level and I promise you, eventually when you make good choices, if you keep piling them on top of each other, you know what happens? Eventually, eventually it pays off.