Born in the heart of Switzerland surrounded by the Swiss Alps, Dick Williams knew what it meant to live the “good life”. He never had to worry about how he’d pay for his education: his parents paid for a private tutor at a Swiss boarding school, teaching him to speak fluent French & German.
He never had to worry about “getting his name out there”. He was born to Charles Duane Williams, a founding member of the International Tennis Federation — and direct descendent of Benjamin Franklin. His dad was massively successful, and he wanted his son to be the same way.
At 12, his parents stuck a tennis racket in his hand and started teaching him to play the sport his dad loved so much.
And he started to love it too.
With the help of some of the best teachers money could by, he became one of the best in the game—at 20—winning the 1911 Swiss Championship.
It was no surprise, given their wealth and prestige, that this father/son duo decided to cruise in first class on the maiden voyage of the most opulent ocean liner to date, owned and operated by the White Star Line.
They lived on the luxurious C Deck with the majority of the other First Class passengers, enjoying incredible amenities: a smoking room, reading and writing rooms, and an exclusive cafe.
It was a voyage they were going to remember for a lifetime.
But not for the reasons they expected.
“Iceberg!” The lookout cried out the warning in the late night hours of April 14th.
If they smashed into the iceberg, it would be disastrous. The ocean liner, known around the world as “unsinkable,” could sink. The ship’s captain, recognizing the danger, swerved the massive ship to the left, narrowing avoiding the iceberg. Or so he thought.
The ship’s clock read 11:40 pm.
The iceberg was larger than they thought underneath the surface, ripping a gash in the starboard plates of the RMS Titanic.
Water flooded into the special compartments built to contain flooding in the event of a disaster. But the engineers never anticipated a gash running nearly half the length of the ship.
Those compartments were quickly overwhelmed and water spilled over into the engine room, leaving the ship dead in the water.
And if they didn’t escape, the passengers would be dead too.
The crew, knowing the worst was imminent, desperately lowered life boats into the water. Who cared if they were only half-full? They needed to save as many as possible.
Meanwhile, Dick & his father raced out of their cabins to see what had caused the noise.
“HELP!” Dick heard the frantic screams of a nearby passenger, who was stuck behind their door.
So he jiggled the doorknob.
It wouldn’t budge.
Taking a few steps back, he threw all of his weight into his shoulder—and through the door.
A steward, seeing the damage he caused, threatened to report him to the ship’s owners. But that would be the least of all three of their problems.
He and his dad ran up to Deck A, where they huddled in fear with other passengers in the gymnasium, clueless. They were trapped in the middle of the ocean. In the middle of nowhere. Nobody could save them.
So they decided to save others. Racing out of Deck A, they helped load women & children into lifeboats.
Passenger after passenger, lifeboat after lifeboat, they saved others when they could’ve saved themselves.
The ice-cold water was no respecter of persons.
It snatched the life out of anyone who couldn’t escape it, regardless of their political status, socioeconomic status, or prior success.
With the last boat lowered, trapping themselves, they headed up to the captain’s bridge to get as far away as possible from the water.
At 2:20 am, the steel could no longer withstand the stress caused by the water flooding the ship. The Titanic broke apart.
Floating nearly upright in the frigid North Atlantic waters, one of the four smoke stacks broke and tumbled directly towards Charles and his son, two of the wealthiest passengers on the Titanic.
Dick jumped out of the way—and right into the nearly frozen, pitch-black waters.
He looked around, desperate to find his dad in the waters next to him.His dad hadn’t been so lucky. Instead, he saw a lifeboat.
He pulled himself in, not caring that it hadn’t been fully assembled. He just wanted to survive. He sat huddled with other passengers—rich, poor, and everywhere in between, in the frozen darkness.
The only lights came from the ship, the stars, and the distress flares still being fired from the Titanic, as the crew desperately tried to hail a nearby ship.
The minutes continued to tick by.
At some point, he lost feeling in his legs, the same legs that carried him to the Swiss Championship and the same legs he thought would continue to propel him to the top of the tennis world.
Instead, he sat shivering in the dark, wanting nothing more than to survive this nightmare.
Finally, around 4 a.m. on April 15, the RMS Carpathia arrived to rescue the remnants of the unsinkable ship.
As the doctor examined the tennis great’s legs, he came to an unavoidable conclusion: Dick’s legs would have to be amputated.
There was a big chance Dick could develop gangrene from the frostbite.
If he wanted to survive, the doctor said, he had no choice but to lose his legs.
But Dick disagreed. He refused to let his tennis career—and his legs—be cut short.
So every day he would pull himself from the hospital bed and start to hobble, willing his legs to move.
Shuffle. Drag. Shuffle. Pull. Shuffle.
He was obsessed. This was his mission now.
His wealthy background didn’t matter anymore. He needed to survive.
Every waking moment found Dick shuffling, willing his legs to move.
Even at night, he woke up every two hours to hobble along.
He worried that if he slept too much, his legs —and his dreams —would die.
And step by step, his gait started to return.
When he arrived stateside, he decided to stay and accomplish his plan to graduate college and play professional tennis.
A year after the disaster, Dick stood again —this time at the top of the tennis world, winning the intercollegiate singles championship for Harvard.
A year after that, in 1914, he won the intercollegiate doubles championship.
In 1915, he took home both the intercollegiate singles and doubles championships.
He made a name for himself in America, just like he had in Europe —despite his legs continuing to cause him pain.
The longer a tennis match went, the more painful his legs felt from the frostbite.
He compensated for his physical disability with mental and emotional ferocity.
Historian Bud Collins said of Williams, “On his best days, when he had the feel and touch and his breathtaking strokes were flashing on the lines, [he] was unbeatable.”
In March 1916, the tennis community ranked him #2 in the world.
He was unbeatable.
The German Army couldn’t stop him during World War I as he fought alongside other Americans in the deadliest American battle of the war. The US government, recognizing his bravery and tenacity, awarded him the Legion of Honor. The French government also recognized his bravery and awarded him the Croix de Guerre.
He was unbeatable.
After the war, tournament after tournament engraved his name on their championship trophy.
Wimbledon emblazoned his name alongside Chuck Garland’s when they won the doubles championship in 1920.
He helped his team win the Davis Cup in both 1925 and 1926.
A year before his back-to-back Davis Cup victories, he partnered with Hazel Wightman to win the mixed doubles gold at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games—a few short miles from where he fought off entrenched German forces during World War I.
He laid down his tennis racket when he was 44, and retired into a lucrative career as a Philadelphia banker.
On June 2, 1968, fifty years and a day after he fought in the infamous Battle of Belleau Wood, he passed away.
And as they prepared him for the funeral, they realized there was a bulk in the jacket he died in.In the midst of the chaos of April 14, 1912, Dick’s father handed him the flask he had always carried.
And Dick continued to carry it. Never forgetting that night. Never forgetting his dad. Never forgetting that every step mattered.
Being unbeatable wasn’t about not experiencing loss. He faced loss. He faced pain and anguish.
Every day of his life was a fight. Despite the pain of his tragedy, he persevered. He adapted and adjusted. He was obsessed with winning.
Every moment he spent playing the sport he loved was a war against the pain that ravaged his body.
It hurt to win. It hurt to compete. It hurt to battle. But he had made up his mind a long time ago that he was going to be unbeatable.
The exact same mission is available for you. You can live an unbeatable life.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t experience pain and discomfort. In fact, choosing to be unbeatable guarantees that you will struggle and hurt.
You have to make the hard choice to ignore the excuses you create for yourself and choose to rise up one more time to compete.
That’s the secret to being unbeatable.
You don’t have to be the smartest person around.
The size of your bank account or your biceps doesn’t factor in one bit. Not degrees. Not certifications. Not the people you know or the knowledge you can regurgitate.
Living an unbeatable life is about pushing past the pain and fear and doubt that holds you back. You embrace being uncomfortable because you know the agony is making you a better weapon for winning.
The choice is yours. The opportunity is yours. A chance at greatness is yours.
Will you choose to be unbeatable?