I was in Chicago recently when I passed a hamburger chain that brought back some old memories. When I was 11 years old my family spent Christmas in Michigan. My brothers and I were a competitive bunch. And while visiting relatives, we found ourselves having a hamburger-eating contest at White Castle. When the tray was brought out to the table, the square hot sliders were piled high. We were all hungry, eager to start the contest. Only one would be crowned champion.

One slider was down. Then two. Then three. All of us kept eating and one by one contestants bowed out.

Four down. Five down. Then six. A few more dropouts.

Seven. Eight. Nine. More–gone.

Ten. Eleven. Twelve. More tap-outs.

In the end, I was the last man standing, somehow forcing down 13 sliders. And I will forever be remembered as the King of White Castle.

Fast forward a few years. I was about 15 years old. My high school friends Jeremy and Brett decided to have a taco-eating contest. I told them that I had already eaten. But that didn’t matter.

In no time, we found ourselves at Taco Time ordering a bunch of hardshell tacos. Jeremy’s dad, Brent, drove us there. He thought he’d be entertained by watching the contest and even offered to buy all tacos over ten.

The first few tacos were good. Nice and fresh. Crisp. And flavorful.

The ensuing few were almost as good, and I enjoyed them. But after tacos nine and ten I was beginning to feel the effects of my previous dinner. My stomach was filling up. I couldn’t stop there, though. From that point on, Brent was going to buy all the tacos I could eat.

My pace slowed way down and the crispy shells suddenly became less crunchy. The yellow hard shells turned soft and somewhat transparent from the oil. At the rate I was eating, I seemed to have the time to notice how nasty these tacos really were. Grease rolled down my hand and dripped onto the wrapper as I held the taco, ready for the next bite.

Brett was finished.

I forced three more tacos down, pushing Jeremy to his limits. He finally threw in the towel.

I finished another…and then…another…and was crowned Taco-Eating Champion after consuming 15 hard shell tacos (for the price of 10).

My reward was bragging rights…about three dollars worth of free tacos…and a night of feeling sick.

It’s kind of funny, but when I saw that White Castle burger place last week in Chicago, an analogy came to mind about doing your best. Put forth your best effort—in all that you do.

It’s not a message about winning, but one of trying.

I love the sign hanging in the locker room at Notre Dame. Players see it, and hit it, on their way out onto the football field. It says: Play Like A Champion Today.

If we play like a champion in everything we do—if we put forth our best effort—then nothing else would matter, would it?

That’s all we can expect from ourselves. To try and do our best.

Calvin Sparks and the Crossing to Cambria is a testament of just that. A project in which I put forth my best effort. And now that work has been published for the whole world to see. I spent countless hours writing Calvin Sparks. And many more dreaming about it. The result is a 300-page chapter book that children, teens, and adults are finding exciting and entertaining. It’s a story that the reader can get into quickly and feel like they are actually in the book–right alongside Calvin and his friends as they embark on adventure after adventure.

I believe I played like a champion when I wrote Calvin Sparks. I put my whole heart into it. I gave my best effort.

And to me…that’s all that matters.

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