Kevin Atlas, a former Division 1 basketball star from Pleasanton, California, is on a mission to make the world a better place.
Atlas was born with what he calls a nub for a left arm, caused by a complication with the umbilical cord that had wrapped around his neck twice and caught what should have been his arm. He was not exactly starting off with the best options, athletic or otherwise, and his childhood only got more difficult from there. When he was 4, his parents divorced and he became a child of split custody. A few years later, his father was diagnosed with cancer and died when Kevin was in fifth grade. He remembers holding his Dad’s hand as he took his last breaths on their family room couch, feeling guilty that he couldn’t save him.
He was handed a terrible start in life. Then he chose to change it.
“I think most people eventually go through hardships…a lot of people are traumatized for some horrible things that should never happen to people,” Atlas says. “It kind of sucks, but I’ve learned as a human being I’m much happier not worrying about things that are out of my control and instead how I react to them.”
Atlas has spent the past six years building a better life for himself and spreading the message to others through his Believe In You Challenge with Varsity Brands, a company with Herff Jones.
After first being told by the middle school coach to find a different sport because “basketball is a two-handed sport,” another coach took him on and told him to use his “nub” as a weapon, which helped him succeed not only on the court, but beyond. This is the moment he uses to explain how everyone in high school can make a change for their own lives and for others, no matter their weaknesses. As he says in his speeches, “Everyone has their own version of a nub.”
It’s part of a message he brought to Salinas High School on Aug. 27, where he spoke to teachers and students in the Performing Arts Center.
His “Believe In You” challenge, asking students to support others by appreciating them and supporting their interests. It’s what helped him in high school, and he believes it is an essential part of what can make high school actually enjoyable and successful for students across the nation.
“The majority of my life’s been insanely hard,” Atlas says, “but looking back on it and kind of pulling them [the students] out and giving them a rope and a flashlight, if nothing else, to try to help them as someone did for me.”
By the end of his hour-long event at Salinas High School, Atlas saw almost every student in the auditorium raise their hands to show they wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives. He has traveled to 49 states over his six years of working as a motivational speaker and has seen lots of kids light up this way, but says Atlas is an especially positive place.
“This school is actually really, really good,” Atlas says. “For the most part it’s made a ton of improvements, they have an awesome [Associated Student Body] program, and the facility is doing some pretty cool things to make positive improvements.”
Mark Dover, student activities director at Salinas High School, says Atlas is an inspiration to students because he is truthful and connects with kid.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for our kids,” Dover says.