WESTPORT, Conn. – When best-selling author Tim Green was looking for inspiration for his latest novel, he found it right in Westport in Jeff Keith.
Keith, co-founder of the Connecticut Challenge, Swim Across America and Swim Across the Sound, was a promising athlete who had his leg amputated at age 12 during a bout with cancer. Keith worked past his disability after beating cancer, going on to captain his high school ski team, play goalie for the Boston College men’s lacrosse team and to become the first amputee to run across the United States.
Now 35 years later, Jeff Keith’s story is the basis for Green’s 10th novel, “Unstoppable.” The novel is about a middle school-aged star running back who loses his leg after a battle with cancer and the obstacles he overcomes as an athlete.
“I was honored and humbled,” Keith said. “His books deliver really strong messages to kids. There are so many kids in this country in that age group that could still go either way. They just need a boost of self-confidence and a role model, and it’s not always going to be an NFL player. Sometimes it’s going to be the story of a peer.”
Green’s choice of Keith as the inspiration of the book’s main character, Harrison, came partly from his own personal experience. Green’s wife survived breast cancer five years ago.
“We didn't know if she was going to make it. She went through some very difficult treatments and surgeries and rehabilitation,” Green said. “She won the battle. But when I saw how physically reduced she was by everything and when I saw how physically and mentally tough she had to be to claw her way back and beat it, I was just struck by how heroic that was. And I thought that that’s something that’s so much tougher than playing in the NFL.”
Thirty percent of the royalties earned by sales of “Unstoppable” will go to the Connecticut Challenge’s brand new Center for Survivorship in Southport. Keith is hopeful the novel will help spread the foundation’s message even more.
“Tim is helping us pave the way to educate kids how to overcome obstacles and also about cancer survivors,” Keith said. “We don’t want to make it too heavy for them, but we also don’t want to hide it from them. If you can, in a subtle way, teach kids that it’s a part of life it could help spread our message that survivors need help. And I think Tim did a nice job of balancing that.”
Green was a linebacker and defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL from 1986 through 1993. After finishing his pro football career, Green went on to earn a law degree and fulfilled his childhood dream of become a writer.
Green’s novels are aimed toward middle school-aged kids, and take place in the world of sports. They have sold more than one million copies.