Together they would eventually have three children: sons Prince and Elijah and daughter Asha. It would initially be another stunted relationship, mostly because Ricky also had children with two other women — a daughter, Marley, in Massachusetts and a son, Kekoa Blaze, in Hawaii. (The Honolulu kid was a product of a trip to the local Solid Gold, says friend and former Dolphin Floyd Raglin: "I told Ricky: 'Don't fall in love with a stripper, man!' ")

Ricky was traded to the Dolphins before the 2002 season. He became a common sight on South Beach, rolling around on a beach cruiser with a camera around his neck. And in Miami Gardens that first season, at age 25, he played up to almost superhuman expectations, but at the expense of his body. He led the NFL with a whopping 383 rushing attempts for 1,800 yards, was named First Team All-Pro, and started the Pro Bowl, even as the mediocre Dolphins missed the playoffs. After games, Ricky would sit in dark rooms alone to recuperate. He couldn't lift his arms above his head, and his knees were nearly arthritic.

It was sadistic overuse by head coach Dave Wannstedt, says Ricky's current business manager, Elkin King. "Wannstedt was trying to run his ass literally out of the league," King says. "You give somebody 380-something totes, you either love them or can't fucking stand them. And I don't think it was love." (Wannstedt, who is now a defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, did not return a phone message left at his home.)

Healing is Ricky's here and now.
Nichole Alex
Healing is Ricky's here and now.

So when the 2003 season rolled around, Ricky was disheartened to see that Wannstedt was apparently sticking with the run-Ricky-into-the-ground playbook. "The Dolphins didn't get a good quarterback," Ricky says (the starting quarterback in 2003 was Jay Fiedler). "They didn't get a good receiver; they didn't do the things to build around me. They were just depending on me to do everything."

Without quite knowing it, he began fumbling for an escape valve from football. During the offseason, after a 10-6 2003 campaign during which Wannstedt ran him 392 times, Ricky picked the farthest English-speaking place on the map — Australia — and traveled there for two months to look at rural property.

In the outback, nobody knew Ricky Williams. When he returned to the United States, he had a revelation: "I started to realize no one here really related to me as a person. It didn't feel good."

No longer motivated to crack playbooks, he now rifled through stacks of philosophy textbooks. He rode a Harley-Davidson that helped him think. It was his meditation before he knew about meditation. He was on the hog a few weeks before the start of the 2004 training camp when he was finally hit by the implications of the phrase that had been bouncing around his head for a year: You're allowed to look at the world any way you want.

At dawn the next day, Kristen found her off-and-on boyfriend wide awake in a rocking chair and holding their 1-year-old son, Prince, at their apartment in Plantation. "I don't want to play football anymore," he blurted and laid out his detailed plan. He would lead the Dolphins to a championship in 2004 for the final year of his contract and then travel to Peru for at least six months to learn Spanish. Then he would get a coaching job at UT.

If you were anywhere near a TV set in 2004, you know that's not how it worked out. Five days after that early-morning announcement, news broke that Ricky had for the first time failed a drug test for marijuana.

Kristin believes he might have subconsciously sabotaged his standing with the league to avoid explaining his urge to retire at age 27. Because why else, she reasons, would he smoke a joint the day before his scheduled NFL urine test?

In August 2004, filmmaker Sean Pamphilon received the strangest offer of his career. Ricky Williams had quit and disappeared to Australia after the failed drug test, leaving the Dolphins with a year on his contract. ESPN was on 24-hour indignant alert, treating it like the sports catastrophe of the century.

And now the AWOL football star was calling from halfway across the globe, asking Pamphilon to interview a list of friends and family members and put together a DVD.

Ricky explains he wanted his kids — whom he had left in the United States — to understand why he had abruptly retired. "I wasn't going to be in it at all," he says of the film. "It was just going to be something to have, to show to my kids or to carry with me."

To Pamphilon, it was too weird to turn down. Ricky essentially offered him a blank check for his services. The filmmaker, along with two crew members, ended up charging $66,000 for a 33-day shoestring production of interviews in Miami, New Orleans, Texas, and California.

While Pamphilon was conducting the interviews, his millionaire boss was living in a tent in rural Australia with a skinny semihomeless man he knew only as Steve and whose spine was curved by scoliosis. Ricky had befriended Steve because the Australian native was wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt, and they spent their days hopping through giant tide pools, tending to papaya trees, and making an extremely simple pan bread that they ate for dinner. Steve philosophized about the "corn state" of a person — that moment after they'd been "cracked" and were in their purest form.

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