Where were you in August 1994, and what were you doing? When I tell you where I was, you won't believe it (of course, you'll have to read to the end to find out).

You were at least buying stocks, right?
I wasn't. I sure wasn't gambling $1,800 on a company I'd never heard of. But somebody was, and he was about to make some money. I know this for two reasons.

First, that one trade made this guy a minor legend. Second, this Fool shouted his intentions before he went long, then tracked his returns online for all of us to see.

Five years later, his split-adjusted $0.46 shares crested atop $50. Before you could say "Mad Money," Money.com called him "among the most widely followed stock market advisors in the world," and his $1,800 stake ballooned to $190,000.

Yes, you read that right
That stock was America Online -- and the "guy" was David Gardner. Granted, we were in a massive bull market, and that helped. But AOL was also a first-mover in an emerging industry that was about to change our lives. And this may surprise you: David's AOL investment is still up. Way up.

If you'd bought AOL with him, you'd be up 3,520%. Or maybe you didn't see that one coming? Maybe, like me, you thought the future was biotech. I was stunned to discover that Biogen Idec (Nasdaq: BIIB) performed even better over the same period, up some 12,000%. Genentech (NYSE: DNA) was up 980%.

Even if you rolled the dice on old-school EMC (NYSE: EMC) or Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), a former tech darling once held up as a poster child for the tech stock bubble, you'd be sitting pretty -- way ahead of what you'd expect from non-equity investments.

I'm shocked, shocked to hear ...
Maybe that doesn't surprise you, but it did me. In fact, it recently had me revisiting two long-held beliefs -- in one case, leading to an epiphany.  

First, people heading into middle age who want to save for their future have to invest. For me, that means buying stocks, whether they look overvalued or cheap -- and not selling. That part about not selling goes double whenever we manage to catch lightning in a bottle. And it does happen. Here's proof.

Earlier I mentioned David Gardner. Well, it turns out AOL isn't David's only great call. He also told me about Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL) before Spider-Man and about game developer Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI). Both are up more than 500% since then. But take away the 3,520% winner, and David looks downright human, right? Well, yes and no. More on that just ahead.

But first, the epiphany!
Slow and steady may not win the race. As you know, I typically side with David's stodgy brother Tom when it comes to picking stocks -- citing data supporting Warren Buffett's steady-as-she-goes, win-by-rarely-losing value approach.

But I wonder: What if David's right to point out that on most nights, we only need a few big swings to walk off winners? Or, put another way: What if nine out of every 10 stocks we buy really can go to absolute zero and we'll still break even if we find just one 10-bagger?.

Forget the what-ifs. It's true. And that's a 10-bagger -- a solid 1,000% gainer. Now, what if you smack a 3,520% home run? I'll let you run the numbers.

Because I have news for you ...
"The Tortoise and the Hare" isn't a true story. It's not even based on one. Take away AOL, Marvel, and Activision ... and David's pretty average. But that's crazy talk. You don't compare the batting average of a singles hitter with that of a slugger.

The fact is, David's kamikaze style works over the long run. And not just in the '90s. To prove it, David launched his new Rule Breakers newsletter in 2004 to find this decade's great growth stories. How does he do it? It's part science, part art. But he starts with a six-point checklist:

  • Is it the top dog and first-mover in an important, emerging industry?
  • Does it have a sustainable advantage?
  • Does it have strong past price appreciation?
  • Is good management in place with smart backing?
  • Does it have strong consumer appeal?
  • Has it been called overvalued by the media?

A stock with all six of these traits is a Rule Breaker in the making. In fact, a half-dozen of David's newsletter picks have already tripled in value, including the Nasdaq-topping Intuitive Surgical.

If you're not earning returns like that and would like to, do what I did. Use David's six-point checklist to get started. Even better, take a free trial of Motley Fool Rule Breakers and go straight to the source. This way, you can sample the complete Rule Breakers service for 30 days without paying or risking a cent.

To be honest, Rule Breaking investing isn't for everyone. But it's a blast. And as you've seen, the results can be spectacular. Plus, you can find out if it's for you easy enough. To find out more about your free trial and to take your swing, click here.

This article was first published May 31, 2007. It has been updated.

In 1994, Paul Elliott was writing bad poetry and banging around the Midwest in a Ford Econoline. He doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. Biogen Idec, Marvel, and Activision are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Intuitive Surgical is a Rule Breakers pick. You can see all of David Gardner's Rule Breakers picks and his entire scorecard with your 30-day free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.