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Celebrated Former 49er Speaks at Mission CollegeSapolu Speaking

Four-time Super Bowl champion Jesse Sapolu spoke at Mission College on September 23 as part of Mission College Library’s Asian American & Pacific Islander Speaker Program. The former 49er spoke about what it took to become a champion and the challenges he encountered with his early diagnosis of a heart condition that, if unchecked, could have been fatal.

Sapolu drew on that experience to encourage students to remain upbeat and determined in reaching their goals. 

“You’re going to be dealt things that people are going to tell you that you can’t overcome, the adversities of life,” he said. “It’s all about your attitude. It’s all about not giving up. Never, ever give up.” 

Born in Samoa and raised in Hawaii, Sapolu spent his entire career with the 49ers as both center and offensive guard. 

Sapolu is one of only six 49ers to own four Super Bowl Championship Rings (1984, 1988, 1989 and 1994). He earned Pro Bowl honors in 1993 and 1994 and was selected to numerous All Pro teams. Sapolu was inducted to the State of Hawaii Hall of Fame, University of Hawaii Hall of Honor and Farrington High School Hall of Fame. He also helped establish the new Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. 

During his entire 15-year NFL career, Sapolu played with a torn aortic heart valve, a dangerous heart condition. 

Funded by a federal Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) grant, the Sapolu event marked the first time a Pacific Islander has spoken as part of the Asian American Speaker Program. The grant also funds the Asian American collection at the library that includes materials by and about Asian Americans. 

About 180 people attended the event, learning not only about Sapolu’s determination to play despite his heart condition but also his views on what it takes to become a champion. The 49ers team of the 80s and early 90s, he said, found a winning formula that, first and foremost, focused on thinking as a team and having individuals put their teammates first. 

That same approach, Sapolu said, can be applied to any situation students may find themselves in, including running a company or working hard to move up the ranks of one. 

“To build a championship company or to become a champion worker that wants to move up the ladder, you have to be unselfish first and foremost,” Sapolu said. “You have to do the best that you can and also make a difference in someone else’s life.” 

Sapolu’s stories can be found in his autobiography, I Gave My Heart to San Francisco.