Bet on Yourself Today

The Philadelphia Museum of Art reports over 800,000 yearly visitors. I
would gamble about 750,000 of those visitors run up the steps, with other visitor’s cheering them on, and raise their arms in triumph when they reach the top of the steps like Philadelphia’s second favorite adopted son Rocky Balboa– a fictional movie character played by Sylvester Stallone.

In 1975 a broke, down-on-his-luck Stallone wrote the screenplay for Rocky. A movie about a broke, down-on-his-luck boxer from Philadelphia. Stallone received multiple six-figure deals from Hollywood studios to turn the screenplay into a film without him starring as the titular Rocky. However, above all else, Stallone believed he was the right actor to play the character Rocky. He finally sold the screenplay for one million dollars and with the stipulation he would play Rocky.

The movie’s most iconic moment happens at the end of a training montage, Rocky sprints up the Art Museum’s steps, looks over Philadelphia, and raises his arms in triumph. An act we have been imitating for almost 40 years. Broke and down-on-his luck, Stallone bet on himself and forever won. Rocky was made in 1976 and earned the Academy Award for Best Picture that same year. The success of the original movie spawned five sequels, a spinoff movie series (Creed) and transformed Rocky into a billion dollar franchise.

The night before Superbowl LVII, a game that pitted the Philadelphia Eagles against the Kansas City Chiefs, I gently forced my kids to watch the original Rocky. I told them Rocky was essential viewing for any Philadelphian. Haley was the first to leave the living room, claiming it was boring. Dylan fell asleep before Rocky reluctantly agreed to fight the Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed. Chase was the only one to watch the whole movie. As the credits rolled, I asked him what he thought about the movie. “It was okay. Kinda boring.” 

I love Rocky but I get it. The movie has little action, the music overplayed, and Stallone’s Philadelphia accent has been long imitated. And even Rocky’s training scenes, which were once inspiring, are now a bit cheesy. When Rocky sprints up the Art Museum steps and raises his arms in triumph it is an obvious metaphor for rising above your challenges. And yet Rocky still gives me goosebumps. Because it’s not wrong. Because, like Stallone and Rocky did, betting on yourself is the only way to triumph in life.

There’s 72 stone steps leading to the Art Museum’s East entrance. The steps consist of five, 13-step sets and a 7-step set at the top of the stairs. After I walked up the first set of stairs my good friend, Shawn, who I asked if he would help me climb the Art Museum steps, asked if I wanted to place a bet on if I would fall or not.

I nodded, ”Sure. 5 bucks that I won’t fall.”

“5 bucks you will fall,” he responded.

And then we shook hands and laughed.

After the third set of steps, I told Shawn I needed a minute. Shawn toed the concrete and asked, “Can I ask you something? Why did you ask me to do this with you?”

“Because you’re the fluffiest friend I have. I imagine if I fell into you it would be like falling into a marshmallow.”

“Now, I really hope you fall,” he said.

Shawn and I met 20 years ago, when we were both teaching English at a private school. We were young, clueless and like most young, clueless teachers we valued entertainment over education. We constantly joked with the students and with each other to help ease the seriousness we suddenly found ourselves in. Though Shawn and I have moved on, and though we only see each other once every few months, our banter, our comfort with each other, our mutual respect has grown stronger. And though our students have long since graduated, in a way Shawn and I have not. And in a way–that’s an accomplishment.

The Philadelphia Art Museum sits at the end of Benjamin Franklin Parkway. A major blacktop artery that snakes through the heart of Philadelphia. A road named after the city’s most famous adopted son.

To introduce Franklin is unnecessary. From signing the Declaration of Independence to founding the University of Pennsylvania to discovering the concept that electricity can be harnessed, his achievements and accolades are endless.

Even 230 years after his death, Franklin is as recognizable and cool as ever. For Christmas, I bought my brother Keith, a high school History teacher, a sticker of a cartoon Franklin flying a kite, mischievously looking over his shoulder, while peeing on the Dallas Cowboys’ blue star logo.

Like Franklin, Shawn has worn many hats throughout his life. Though he was never a foreign diplomat or inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Shawn has always been a simple, hardworking man from Philadelphia. From teacher to taxi driver to real estate investor to writer to an ATM service engineer, Shawn’s success, much like Franklin and Stallone, is the payout for betting on himself. 

When I reached the top of the Art Museum steps I put my hand out, “Pay up.”

Shawn took a deep breath, reached into his pants pocket. and pulled out a five dollar bill, “Lucky.”

For a quiet moment, Shawn and I stood shoulder-to-shoulder looking out over the city that brought us together. The sun was warm and a soft, cool breeze waved across the museum steps. My disease has taught me what you look at in life does matter, but not as much as how you look at it or who you look at it with. We were once young colleagues who are now old friends looking at the same city skyline and who, like Art Museum visitors, cheer each other on.

I turned to Shawn and said, “You know something, you’re sort of like a below-average Ben Franklin.”

Shawn’s eyes held Philadelphia, “You know, I can easily kick out your cane and push you down these steps.”

After taking some pictures and talking about the Rocky movies, incurable diseases, God, real estate, carbohydrates, and the current state of education we settled down at a restaurant for salads when we started talking about fantasy football. My friend explained how he became so disenchanted by the owners of a league he was once in because they were so afraid to make trades.

He leaned back in his chair, “I know it’s only fantasy football but sometimes you have to take a chance. Sometimes you have to bet on yourself.” 

History is made by people who audaciously bet on themselves.

I strongly suspect tomorrow would be much better—if today—everyone decided to gamble on themselves. Odds are we won’t hit pay dirt like Stallone or Franklin and that is not the point. If more people simply bet on themselves–the world would be a better, more supportive place. A place of genuine brotherly love—cheering us on as we climb the steps in front of us.

All 72 of them.

Be well,


If you’ve been following my journey you know I have ataxia–a cruel, incurable brain disease that impairs walking, talking, motor skills and a bevvy of other important functions.

Ataxia research has long been underfunded and awareness has long been underpublicized.

On May 4th, the National Ataxia Foundation and I are hosting Philadelphia’s first “Yo Philly, Stand Up To Ataxia– A Night of Charity and Comedy” event to support ataxia research and raise public awareness. Our goal is to raise $15,000.

I encourage you to check out the event link, donate, and share the event link with your entire network! Thanks!

To Purchase Tickets and Make a Donation Click Here!


One Line One Love with Author Andy Chaleff: Episode 12– Framing Life with “I Get to…”

If you haven’t heard yet… my friend Gail Boenning and I recently launched a podblog called, One Line, One Love.

OLOL is a unique listening and reading experience that will inspire everyday writers, who dream of writing, to pick up their pens and write one line at a time.

This podblog format (a hybrid of a podcast and blog) is for everyday writers who–like me–often need a creative boost, a scrap of encouragement, and practical advice to unleash the writer within. Each episode consists of five wide-ranging, writer-focused questions and a weekly writing prompt.

Please check it out! And please share with any writer friends or anyone in your life who has ever considered picking up the pen.


Purchase Link


Warm greetings to everyone who found me on the University of Pennsylvania’s Ataxia Clinic’s website! Thanks for stopping by. I have ataxia and though I’m not a doctor, I hope my words comfort, encourage, empower, and serve as good company on your journey.


Jay Armstrong is a speaker and an award-winning author. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. The leader of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group, he hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life.

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