By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Terrell Chestnut is a redshirt freshman cornerback of great promise out of Pottstown, Pa., but that is not the real story, at least not the one he revealed when he spoke during the twice annual “Student Athletes Speak Out” session recently at the Jerry West Lounge.
Like so many of today’s athletes, Chestnut’s background is troubling, but unlike so many of them he has learned to forgive, if not forget, and he sees that as what has allowed him to become a player who is in the mix as starter Pat Miller’s backup.
His philosophy is simple.
“Bad things happen to good people every day. I consider myself a good person and bad things have happened to me,” he said. “While those things are difficult to forget, I have learned to face reality and begin the healing process in my heart.”
Reality, in this case, is difficult to face and, to be honest, far too common as you come to learn the more you listen to their tales.
Chestnut, for example, lived with both parents, two older brothers and a sister.
“Like most kids I wanted to be around my father,” he admitted. “We had a decent relationship but he would get angry at me if I did something wrong.”
And then things got ugly.
“I remember one time when I was 3 or 4 I couldn’t find my shoes. He chased me around the house and beat me as my punishment,” he said.
There was abuse and deeper problems.
“I remember having to have to go to neighbors and beg for food because my father had taken all the money we had to pay for activities he was involved in. Finally it reached a point where a court deemed my mother unfit and we were taken away and placed in a foster home.”
It was a blessing for quite some time, five years as Chestnut recalls.
“Then the worst thing happened. One night I went to bed before the others. I remember seeing my brother Dom using his nebulizer because he had asthma. When I woke up the next morning he wasn’t there,” he began.
“We had to go to the Presbyterian Children’s Village, a place where we went once a week to meet with our social workers. When we arrived we were told Dom had been taken to the hospital and had died.”
Chestnut was 8 at the time and it was a crushing blow.
“Even though I had been abused as a child and taken away from my mother, nothing had such an effect on me as my brother’s death did. He was my best friend and when he passed I felt like I had lost my identity. I still had my older brother Brian, who was and continues to be a role model for me to this day.”
Chestnut regressed. He had been doing well in school until losing his brother.
“That changed. I went from being on the honor roll to receiving all F’s. As a result of that, I was left back.”
The situation at home had changed, too.
“Over the summer, we moved in with my aunt in Pennsylvania because our foster parents never could deal with the fact that my brother had passed,” he said.
His aunt was well intentioned but, with four children of her own, it did not work out. They were outsiders.
“Fortunately, that changed when my grandmother took us in. It was the best thing that ever happened to us,” he said, referring to his fourth home. “For the first time we had a stable environment and for the first time began to develop a new outlook on life. For the first time, too, we had a new relationship with our mother.”
However, his relationships in the eighth grade at school may have been the most meaningful.
An eighth-grade football coach talked him into playing up with older kids and challenging himself, and the principal’s secretary, whom he calls Miss Hawthorne, became something of a counselor to him.
“I met her because I was often in trouble and had to go to the office and receive many of her motherly talks. After that, we became great friends,” Chestnut said. “Those were the only two people other than my grandmother and my brother who believed in me at the time.”
It was then that he began reaching his potential, excelling on the field and in the classroom.
“As I said, it is difficult for me to forget everything that happened to me growing up, but forgiveness is the only way I could find peace of heart. Therefore I have forgiven the people who had hurt me,” he said.
It was, he said, because he was forgiving to those who had hurt him.
“Instead of focusing on the hurt, I have learned to live in the moment because now is when I create my future,” he said. “We have all been given special abilities from God. It is up to us to decide how we are going to use them — for the good or the bad.”
He has decided to use his for the good.
“Every time I walk into the locker room I always take time to think how blessed I am,” he said. “One of my abilities is the ability to forgive. Forgiveness is the highest form of love. When you forgive, peace and happiness come to you and that is how the healing process occurs.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.