Thursday, January 8, 2015

Former United States gymnast Janet Cantwell-Papale remains invincible

I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Janet Cantwell-Papale recently. She impressed me as someone who has the priorities of family and career properly balanced. She also exhibited a zest for life and a belief in renewable goals that were dually inspiring.

Janet Cantwell's natural athletic talent and drive led to a birth on the United States National Gymnastics team long before she met and married Vince Papale.

Her married name should sound familiar. Her husband, Vince Papale, achieved fame twice. Once for making the Philadelphia Eagles football team as a 30-year-old rookie in 1976 and secondly for being the subject of the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster movie 'Invincible'.
Learn more about Vince through my exclusive Yahoo Sports series: Part 1Part 2 and Part 3. You can also visit to read about the positive efforts that the Papale's are currently involved in.
Success in today's economy
Cantwell-Papale believes in refining her skills and staying up-to-date with the latest technology. Her philosophy has allowed her to become a multiple-year member of the Million Dollar Sales Club at the agency she represents.
"I'm an agent for Long and Foster Real Estate. I sell in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I also manage Vince Papale Promotions as well as our own personal real estate investments," Cantwell-Papale said.
"Anyone can show you a house. My strength is negotiating a deal. I try to create a win-win for everyone involved."
She also utilized her business skills when booking her husband's motivational speaking engagements and negotiating his endorsement agreements.
"You have to constantly encourage people by telling them that they are allowed to fail. There are many people who are afraid to step outside of the box. When people are rigid they can snap and spiral downward. You have to be willing to take a risk."
Growing up
Cantwell-Papale grew up in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. She attended St. Celia's Catholic School and graduated from Northeast High School.
"We had the typical large family. "I'm the oldest of nine. There were six girls, then two boys and finally one girl. We had two sets of bunk beds and our own signing group and I was the worst singer. My Mom had us in the Easter parade and on the Al Albert's Show." (The Al Albert's Show was a popular children's talent show that was televised in Philadelphia television for many decades.)
Athletics were also important in the Cantwell home.
"My first five younger sisters and I were all nationally ranked gymnasts. I was the only one who made it to the United States National team, even though I was the last one to become involved in gymnastics.
"I felt like I was Cinderella when I went to the gym. It was a magical place for me."
After rupturing her spleen when she was nine, she was given the last rites as part of her Catholic upbringing. Her mental toughness and physical strength helped her to recover from that incident, as well as from rheumatic fever and a heart murmur.
A world-class gymnast emerges
When fully healthy, Cantwell-Papale began to pursue her gymnastic career. After many years of work she made the National team and toured with them throughout the United States, England, France and Yugoslavia.
She destroyed her knee in 1973, during an International gymnastics competition against the Hungarian Gymnastics team. Her injury was similar to former New York Jet's Quarterback Joe Namath, in that she tore her Medial Meniscus, Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and Medial Collateral Ligament.
As she was working towards her Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education at Penn State in the mid-1970s, Cantwell-Papale remained involved in athletics. She was a 1 meter and 3 meter diver and also spent one year as the Director of the Nittany Gymnastics school.
After graduating in 1977, the condition of her knee caused her to redirect her athletic interests into coaching. While living in the State College area of Pennsylvania, she accepted an offer to become Head Gymnastics Coach at State College High School.
University of Pennsylvania
Cantwell-Papale went on to become the Head Gymnastics Coach at the University of Pennsylvania, a position she held from 1976 through 1988.
"When I became head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, I taught in South Africa, Malaysia, and Bermuda. So, I did different things with my gymnastics background."
Because the University of Penn was an Ivy League school, Papale recruited kids who had untapped potential.
"One thing about gymnasts is that they are driven and self-motivated. Some can flounder, because they have been coached their whole life and are not free thinkers. They have always been pleasers and have never developed any outside interests.
When I was a coach, I wanted to have a successful team. I liked working with those types of people, because I helped them to realize their dreams."
Meeting Vince

Cantwell-Papale told me that Invincible's depiction of how she and her husband met is different than the real life version of what actually happened.
"We met at Jack Kelly's house in 1976. Vince was with Harold Carmichael." (Kelly was a four-time Olympic oarsman and an Olympic medal winner. He was also the brother of movie-star Grace Kelly, who later became Princess Grace of Monaco. Carmichael was a star Wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles at the time.)
She lightheartedly noted that she wasn't impressed by Vince that day. Her sister was dating the quarterback from Penn State, so being around football players was no big deal to her.
After not seeing each other again for many years, they happened to be on a Board together in 1992. The Board was involved in providing after school activities for children.
"I went off to Europe and then to Barcelona for the Olympics. A friend told me that Vince was a really nice guy. I knew that he was smart as well, so we started talking and became friends.
"Within two months of going out, Vince said that I had to marry him. He said that in February, 1993. By August we were married."
A parent and a spouse
Janet and Vince have two children. Gabriella, 17 and Vincent Joseph, 14.
"I waited until I was 40 to get married. I wasn't going to do it until it was right. Vince believed in me and saw my strengths.
"We are parents first. We are out there trying to do good, to give back, and leave a mark on the world."
Cantwell-Papale has drawn from her own childhood and her experience in raising two children when it comes to parenting.
"I don't know if there is a formula. A good parent supports their children, lets them take risks and also lets them fail. Sometimes kids turn out better when they haven't been coddled."
In addition to caring for their children, Janet and Vince look out for each other. It was through his wife's urging that Vince had a cancer checkup in 2001.
It was good that she urged him to do so, because Doctor Tony Infantolino found that he had colorectal cancer during Vince's checkup. Fortunately, it was detected early enough to allow him to beat the disease.
"I'm like Vince's life coach. I help him to redefine what his goals are and what needs to be done."
The Disney movie Invincible and Papale's first book, Invincible - My Journey From Fan to Team Captain were both released in 2006.
"We don't think of ourselves as famous. We haven't changed. There are more challenges for our kids, than for us."
Current pursuits
"I wasn't happy with just having the movie come out. That is why Vince and I have worked on other projects, including a new book. It's about the principals people should live by."
Papale's Playbook: You Can Be Invincible In Tough Times...Analyze, Adapt and Achieve, is scheduled to come out this summer. They also have a vitamin line that is set to be introduced later this year as well.
"People have to go back to the basics. Like Vince says, everyone has their Invincible moments."
Final thoughts
"I was 40 when I had a baby and that was good. Our life has been like a whirlwind, but it feels like we are newlyweds. Everything is always new and exciting."

Cantwell-Papale's final thoughts were encouraging and also reflective of her positive, can-do nature, "It's easy to give up. Be proactive and take control of your life. If you have to start over, then start over. Keep going and pursue your dreams."

(I hold all copyrights to this article which originally appeared on Yahoo's Voices platform in 2011.)


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