Through the years, I’ve come to realize that there’s a clear line of thinking that separates the world’s most successful people from everyone else.

Those who end up head and shoulders above the rest are able to take any of life’s challenges and make the most of them.

This week’s case in point is John John Florence. The 26-year-old phenom from Hawaii has won surfing’s world championship twice and this season was well on his way to a third title. In fact, most of surfing’s prognosticators had already been discussing who was going to finish runner-up to Florence because he had jumped out to such a huge points lead after four events.

However, as fate would have it, Florence tweaked his knee during a heat at the world tour’s last stop in Brazil. It turned out the injury was more serious than originally thought as news spread this week that the champ would need season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

Mind you, this latest setback follows a whole year off tour when Florence had to nurse the same knee back to health following an injury sustained in Bali last year.

Many people would curse at such misfortune, lamenting that the deck is stacked against them, and they can’t catch a break. But Florence isn’t an average person.

In announcing the injury on his Instagram account Monday, he mentioned how much fun he was having on tour this season, thanked his supporters and then wrote, “I’m excited for this new adventure and everything I will learn along the way.”

No time for “woe-is-me” or feeling sorry for himself. Instead, Florence is focused on the positive: He sees the injury as another chance to grow as a person and learn more about life.

That struck me as such a positive message for surfers and non-surfers alike — both young and old. In essence, Florence has nailed the concept that it’s not the challenges and troubles that define a person. It’s the way we respond to those challenges that makes all the difference.

While we don’t control the weather, other people’s behavior or a host of other circumstances that are part of life’s journey, our response to those challenges is within our realm of control. How we react dictates our life’s trajectory.

Here’s betting that when Florence returns to the tour next year at Snapper Rocks, he’ll be better than ever and lighting the place up again. Wishing him well in his recovery.

Stephen Hadley is a longtime surfer who lives and works in Galveston. If you have an idea for this column, email him at

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