Over the years, world renowned superstar Sylvester Stallone has motivated millions with his stirring portrayal of resilient boxer Rocky Balboa. This fictional small-time fighter from Philadelphia earned the once-in-a-lifetime chance to battle a heavy-weight champion — ultimately going the distance for his own self-respect.
Through the course of six subsequent sequels, the “Italian Stallion” managed to win the hearts of movie fans all around the globe. Perhaps that’s because Rocky was so near-and-dear to Stallone’s own heart: The legendary character was conceived, written, and portrayed by Stallone himself.
Now, a father of two from Manchester, England, is weighing in with an inspiring tale of his own. 49-year-old Mark Riddell credits Stallone with helping to transform his life.
Riddell currently works as a trail-blazing government advisor, with specialized insight into social work and care services. Under his dedicated leadership, the Trafford Council became the first Local Authority to earn an “outstanding” rating for its leaving care service — which helps young people make a smooth transition toward independent living.
Riddell has also written a moving memoir called “The Cornflake Kid.” This book recounts his own childhood experiences in the Scottish care system, while coping with some incredibly challenging family circumstances.
As a youngster growing up in Aberdeen, Scotland, Riddell originally lived with his alcoholic father after his mother died of a brain hemorrhage. Because the house often had little food, gas, or electricity, Riddell eventually ran away and wound up in a residential care home.
He began working at the age of 16, but struggled with depression and often contemplated suicide. Searching for direction, he started traveling abroad when he turned 19 — and that’s how he ended up in Israel, with an offer to work as an extra on the set of Stallone’s film “Rambo III.”
Riddell and about 100 other hopefuls were initially transported to the desert for their audition. He told media sources that he was simply standing there in the sand, when “a swarm of Hummers came towards us, and Sylvester Stallone jumped out.”
Stallone ultimately chose the finalists himself. And over the next several weeks, Riddell’s short but powerful conversations with the star began re-shaping his outlook completely.
Riddell told news outlets that Stallone would often join the crew for lunch. The esteemed celebrity would sometimes recount his enduring resolve to bring “Rocky” to the big screen, in a way that stayed true to his original vision.
“I started to speak to him about my background,” Riddell recalled, “and he told me about always having determination.” The on-set exchanges themselves were relatively brief — but their lasting impact has been enormous.
“He showed me to keep things real, and never to give up,” Riddell said. “Sometimes,” he added, “it just takes one person who shows a little bit of interest to change your life.”
So take a substantial cue from Sylvester Stallone himself: Stay down-to-earth, engaged, and encouraging with everyone you meet. The impact could be much more profound than you realize.
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