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Chad Greenway might never have made it big if he hadn’t started small, he told an audience of conventioneers during a speech Monday in Rapid City.

Greenway, who played 11 years as a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, was born and raised in rural Mount Vernon, S.D., where his parents raised corn, soybeans, cattle and pigs.

“There was no better advantage in life that I could have received than growing up on a farm,” Greenway said.

He spoke at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to a convention of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The convention, which continues through Wednesday, was expected to attract about 500 attendees from 18 states.

Although the association consists of government highway and transportation professionals, the association itself is a nonprofit organization. Greenway said he was surprised to receive an invitation to the convention.

“When I got asked to speak at the ‘WASHTO’ conference, I was like, 'What in the world is this?'” he said to laughs from the crowd.

But it was clear that Greenway, who retired in March 2017, has worked to become a polished motivational speaker. Some online speakers' bureau websites list his fee between $10,000 and $20,000.

In his speech, Greenway said his parents worked him relentlessly on the farm from the time he was in elementary school until he left for college. He told stories of wrestling with pigs in a loading chute and fixing barbed-wire fences — responsibilities that he said “mattered to our family’s survival.”

He starred in multiple sports at Mount Vernon and went on to play football on a scholarship at the University of Iowa, where he began to realize the advantage of his agricultural upbringing. While other student-athletes struggled to adjust to their newfound responsibilities and schedules, he said, his transition was relatively smooth.

“Waking up and not having to work for my mom and dad made everything else I was doing pretty easy,” Greenway said.

After his senior season at Iowa, he was drafted in the first round by the Vikings. During his 11-year NFL career, he was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

Off the field, Greenway has four young daughters with his wife, Jennifer, who was a track and field athlete at the University of Iowa. Their Lead The Way Foundation has undertaken numerous charitable efforts, with a focus on helping seriously ill and physically challenged children and their families.

During the latter part of Greenway's pro football career, he accepted a lower salary and a reduced playing role to stay with the Vikings. It was self-awareness, he said, that allowed him to realize that staying in Minnesota, providing consistency for his children and being a leader in the Twin Cities community were more important to him than chasing further athletic glory and a bigger paycheck.

Greenway encouraged the audience members to take a similar approach to the changing seasons in their own lives.

“This is just who I am,” Greenway, now 35 years old, said he affirmed at the time. “I am a 32-year-old, aging outside linebacker in his ninth year, and that’s awesome, and that’s OK, and I’m going to move on with the next step.”

For Greenway, that next step has included focusing on his charitable foundation, coaching a daughter’s fourth-grade basketball team, and turning down some opportunities in broadcasting to spend time with his family.

He and his wife are using chores and sports to instill a work ethic in their own children, he said, and they also have a backup plan.

“I send them to the farm as often as I can,” Greenway said.

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."