What doesn't Dr. Adolph Brown III do? At the age of 40, he just authored his seventh motivational book. Maybe that helps explain how he can ... run the Wellness Group in Virginia Beach, host a radio show as an authority on clinical psychology, coach kickboxing at his 42-member dojo, answer as a semiretired dean at Hampton University, raise seven children with his wife, Marla, and — this is the one he brags about — nurture a large, lush garden at home. But with apologies to the green peppers and butternut squash, his name (just "Doc" please) has gained the most acclaim through his global travels as a motivational speaker. And yes, there is one thing he doesn't do.
"I don't do coffee," he says. "I get high on life! Every single day is a bonus! Whoo! Whoooo!"
And with that he bounces a little bit higher on the Radar Galaxy, a monstrous inflatable tube sitting on the lawn at the Orlando Wakeboard Academy. Working a piece of gum with his jaw and a pair of boxing gloves with his hands, Doc could pass for an intramural athlete instead of a college administrator. Beneath his suit coat and buttoned-up attire is a T-shirt with Doc's personal motto printed across the back: "It's Gonna Be a Great Day!" His enthusiasm bubbles to such an extent that Doc asks if photographer Josh Letchworth wants him to do a back flip ... and slips off the side of the Galaxy, landing in a colorful pile of air-filled towables. He will not stay down for long. In a foretaste of the next 13 hours, Doc will scramble back to top of the heap.
Let's get busy!" Doc has been up since 3:30 a.m. When he hears a groggy voice mention a need for motivation four hours later, Doc seizes the moment for a quick lesson.
"Motivation isn't just a bunch of rah-rah stuff," he says, snapping on a life vest. He uses his hands and eyes to converge on a carefully spoken point. "Motivation is finishing what you start, with a positive attitude!"
One week earlier Doc was stamping his attitude on the island of Fiji. Right now he's struggling for acceptance on a much smaller island known as the HO Diamond Back, which is obviously too small for his solid 170-pound frame — "obvious" because he rolls off the tube before the boat, a Centurion Typhoon, can even pull out of idle.
"I'm OK! I'm OK!" he yells from the giant dunk tank known as Lake Fairview.
"Hey Doc," a passenger yells from the boat. "Just remember … when things go wrong …" There's a pause as Doc collects himself, and mentally digests what is being said before finishing the familiar sentence.
"… you don't have to go with them!" It's a message Doc often uses in his appearances before business leaders and student bodies, and one of several that the tube crew has memorized for moments like this.
Doc rights the wrongs of the Diamond Back by releasing some air from it, then rides on a sliver of its back edge and uses the corners of the diamond shape to keep it under control. Satisfied, he sits on the swim platform, spitting out a cocktail of water and enthusiasm.
"Just because you mess up doesn't mean you have to give up!" he says. "How many more do we have?"
The man who has turned motivation into a career, and vice versa, is told: one down, 18 to go. It's a start.
The O'Brien O-Pod gives Doc a change of perspective. On this, he can lie flat on his stomach and see the water ahead through an inflated porthole. Doc also has a riding partner on the O-Pod. They can't see each other because of a hump of rubber between them, but they do harmonize loud grunts as the tube bounces over progressively rougher water. "Uh … Oh! … Ah! … No!" Doc then hears the following words from his riding partner: "One does not become an accomplished mariner …"
Doc has just a second to speak before the O-Pod hits another avalanche. "… by sailing smooth seas!"
Doc knows this one very well. It's among the most meaningful one-liners he's gleaned from the inspirational lessons of his grandfather, his mother, Gen. George S. Patton, Winston Churchill and mostly from his own life. Doc learned to navigate away from a perilous future after a childhood that had him labeled "at risk" even before his brother was killed at the age of 19.
"That right there woke me up, changed me," he says. "I decided to use my attitude to make a positive difference in lives. Mom used to say I could fall on my head and would always get back up with a smile on my face."
Mom was right, because when the one-seat version of Coleman's Hydrofusion hits a wake and displaces Doc, he climbs back on top as if he's ready to impress a dentist. The towrope is lengthened to give the Hydrofusion extra pendulum ability. After 10 more minutes and two more separations from the tube, Doc is given time to catch his breath. He turns toward the boat's cockpit so everyone can hear: "True success is hitting the bottom and then seeing how high you can bounce back up!"
Heads nod. The enlightened boat passengers repeat his words to each other while Doc whispers: "This is humbling. It's a lot of fun. But I had no idea how tough it would be."
Tough times don't last. Tough people do! So Doc willingly grapples with cheap-shot artists called the Rave Slingshot, Airhead Storm 2, Gladiator Big Brawler and Sevylor Raging Hornet, each of them substantively named. If he is looking through the mound of tubes for a Sissy, a Wuss or a Pudding Bowl, he will be sorely disappointed.
When he catches sight of the Full Throttle Enforcer, he quietly tells one of the observers in the boat, "You can take this one."
He has kickboxed some of the quickest, toughest opponents in the world. So have at least two of his kids, 15-year-old Miranda and 19-year-old Kyle (the top-ranked bantamweight in the United States). And it isn't like Doc is out of shape. He works out 2-4 hours a day so he can tell others, among other things, to never quit. But …
"The mind is alert," he says. "The muscles are screaming."
Still, he grabs the Enforcer much as he grabs life — by the ears. The tube, shaped like a shaved dome, slides into glassy water with a series of speed bumps just ahead. Doc shifts his upper body away from the whip and takes the G-forces at an angle. Smart move. He pushes the Enforcer away from his chest to block the fast-approaching rough water. Not so smart. Doc is decked, but he reacts as if someone threw a bucket of 5-Hour Energy in his face.
It is all attitude at this point, because his flesh has become nothing more than a science experiment. After every ride and between every fall, Doc takes a second to collect himself before giving his audience something to grasp.
He gets catapulted from the stretchy hammock-style seats of the Body Glove Bounce Duo. "A setback … is a setup … for a comeback!"
His weight is too much for the back end of the Connelly Maniac, which rudely topples him. "This isn't a good day. This is a GREAT day!"
A riding partner shows him how to choreograph their movements to spin the Sportsstuff Lulu 2, whether Doc wants to spin or not (his look on every rotation shifts from disbelief to exhilaration to concern and finally to that of someone whose toes are being stepped on). "Teamwork equals dreamwork!"
The two men riding with him on the Connelly Scorpion, one lying face forward and the other reclined like Doc, squeeze him to the edge with splayed elbows and flying feet. "One is lonely. Two's a crowd. But three's a party!"
His cheeks puff out so tight that they nearly explode when the Straightline Big Buster blows him across the wakes, just as a high-octane deck tube should. It's a tough ride for the back end of a long day.
"Here's one I didn't think I'd use today: Always listen to your body."
All the while he is smiling. It isn't just part of his schtick either.
"This is Doc," says Marla. "That's what attracted me to him before we were married 20 years ago. He wakes up every day and decides to encourage everyone around him. Who wouldn't want to be with someone like that?"
So even as he rubs his temples and mumbles something about a Tylenol, he can look at the HO G6 and yell, "Let's do this!"
He crawls into a spot on the hot-tub-size tube, his back resting against its cylindrical center cushion. Four other riders join Doc, one kneeling, one standing, one playing bongos on the community backrest and one hanging off the side. Doc is sitting comfortably, occasionally shouting a "Whoo!" to keep the crew … motivated. But for the most part, this is his chance to ride one out and let the crowd carry him.
And yet, as we return to the dock 13 hours after the day's first ride, there is still one more tube waiting to be ridden. It is a transparent rubber sphere, 6.5 feet in diameter, with a name so ominous that we've attempted to keep it quiet all day. Doc dutifully climbs inside the bubble, isolated from the world. The Barf Ball is so fresh that nobody knows for sure what it, or Doc, will do.
The Centurion roars out of the hole, and as it does, Doc throws his body, headache and all, into the sides of the tube. The Barf Ball rolls and skips across the water. Doc appears as a silhouette inside the ball, which is heaving over wakes between the boat and the sunset. He, not the driver, is doing the work. When we stop to see if he's OK, a muffled voice can be heard.
"This is the best one!" He is lying on his back, exhausted. But the voice is still strong. "Whoo! Whoooo!"
"Hey Doc," I shout into the ball. And then I begin, "If you want something badly enough …"
You can hear one more deep sigh. " … you'll do what it takes to get it!" he finishes, with emphasis.
That's just it. He has finished what we started, with a positive attitude. This isn't rah-rah stuff. This is motivation come to life.