Mark Speckman speaks with former quarterback Grant Leslie. (Naomi Stukey, Willamette athletic department)
Playing in the long shadow of the Oregon Ducks, small Willamette University is hardly a football power. But thanks in part to his success on the gridiron, Mark Speckman, who is entering his 13th season as head coach, is making quite a name for himself on the speaking circuit.
Born without hands, Speckman has spent a career defying the odds. You’d hardly know it from his modest bio, but he started 40 games as a college linebacker, earning NAIA Honorable Mention All-American honors one season at Azusa Pacific University.
Although he had to ask his teammates to put on his shoulder pads and tie his pants, he didn’t need much help on the field. During his college career, he intercepted several passes, recovered fumbles, and was once called for illegal use of the hands. “In some ways [having no hands] made me a better player because I had to be pretty sound technically to tackle somebody,” he says. “The great thing for me was no one told me I couldn’t do it.”
He spent his 20s trying to overcome the stigma of his circumstance. “I finally figured out it wasn’t gonna happen,” Speckman says, so he embraced his handicap: “It’s part of who I am, it’s a good story, and people get a lot out of it.”
After climbing the ranks as a high-school coach, he landed the job in Salem, Ore. His coaching success at Willamette—his teams have gone a combined 19-3 the past two seasons, and his program has qualified for the NCAA’s Division III playoffs three times—has coincided with his rise on the speaking circuit. He speaks to audiences from junior-high-school groups to Fortune 500 companies, charging up to $50,000 per gig. He has also self-published a memoir, Figure It Out, that he sells through the Willamette bookstore.
The message is always the same: “We all have self-doubts, trouble getting over problems, figuring out different ways of doing things,” says Speckman, who can write on a chalkboard, type on a computer, even play racquetball (he tapes the racquet to his wrist). As he tells people, “We can do more than we think we can. We all have gifts.”