Category Archives: Stuggling

Don’t Give Up…. Don’t Ever Give Up

The other night, Wednesday 28, I turned on the television expecting to find a pre-game show for the basketball game between Syracuse and Ohio State. I enjoy watching Syracuse basketball and lacrosse and rarely miss a game. However, rather than the pre-game show ESPN was playing a tape of Jimmy Valvano’s acceptance speech for the inaugural ESPY Award. ESPY stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award and it recognizes individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance during a calendar year. The ESPY is also called the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. Jimmy Valvano, for those of you who don’t know, was a young, flamboyant college basketball coach from the late 1960s through 1990. The high point of his career was when his team the North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the heavily favored University of Houston Cougars in the NCAA Championship Game in 1983. I was inspired and brought to tears again and decided to edit and republish an old blog I had written December 4, 2013.

The end of that 1983 NCAA Championship Basketball Game has also been called one of the most exciting finishes in a college basketball game ever. NC State was a huge underdog and most experts believed had little chance of winning. With less than 30 seconds left and the score tied NC State had the ball and were desperately trying for one last shot. With just a few seconds left a player shot the ball 30 feet from the basket and it was obviously going to fall short. As the ball approached the basket with just a second or two left on the clock Lorenzo Charles, one of NC State’s forwards, jumped up caught the ball in midair and slammed it home for the winning basket. The final score was NC State 54 Houston 52. What ensued has become a classic in NCAA championship lore. Jim Valvano ran out on the court, among the celebrating players, running from one spot to another waving his arms as he later said, “looking for someone to hug.”

In 1992 less than 10 years later, Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a result of his courage and positive attitude he was chosen as the first ESPY Award recipient On March 3, 1993, shortly before his death, he gave his now famous acceptance speech. It was also at this time he and ESPN created The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. Jim Valvano died a little over a month later at the age of 47.

One must wonder, as I’m sure many of us do, if he ever thought life was unfair. In 1995 a 20-year-old Boston University freshman went out on the ice for his first shift as a varsity hockey player. Eleven seconds later he was a quadriplegic. Travis Roy has said “There are times in our lives when we choose our challenges and other times when challenges simply choose us.  It is what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are, and more importantly, who we can and will become.”

How did Jim Valvano accept his challenge? How does each of us except ours? Below is a link to the YouTube video where you can watch Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech and if you have never heard it, I encourage you to listen. Oh, by the way Jim Valvano announced at the banquet the Foundation’s motto would be “Don’t Give Up…. Don’t Ever Give Up.”

Since its inception the Jimmy V Foundation, as of August 2017, has donated more than $170 million to cancer research. 100% of the donations goes to cancer research. You can donate at Jimmy Valvano Foundation .

The Struggle Within the Struggle

Most people have no idea what it is like to live with a disability. Every day is a struggle in itself. Some individuals are aware of the obvious challenges, most are unaware of the less obvious majority. I recently read that John McCain, whose range of motion had been severely limited by the torture he received while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had to have another person comb his hair because he could not lift his arms above his shoulders.

Senator Tammy Duckworth

Senator Tammy Duckworth

Many disabilities are visible at first glance. If the individual, when in public, presents well, seems to be in “control” and well-adjusted to their situation people often think to themselves, that’s wonderful or will say “Wow, I could never do that!” Neither could be further from the truth. First, anyone has all the abilities they need to deal with a severe crisis, already in each one of us. When talking to students I will often ask if people like Gabby Giffords, Tammy Duckworth, Jaycee Dugard or John McCain, individuals who not only survived horrendous challenges in their lives, but they went on to become examples of strength and fortitude to others received something special at birth that nobody else got. If the answer is no, which of course it is, then that same strength and courage is in each of us.

Returning to the person with the disability who presents so well in public, it is easy to understand why people come to believe that’s what their day to day life is like. For most, like quadriplegics, nothing could be further the truth.   Every day involves a varying degree of challenges. There is always frustration, anxiety and at times depression. Lack of strength and range of motion issues is a constant problem for many.  Pain, of varying intensity, including phantom pain in areas that have been amputated or paralyzed is not uncommon. Individuals with high spinal cord injuries (SCI) bodies are unable to control their body temperature, have trouble regulating their blood pressure and are usually constantly cold regardless of environmental temperature. There is a myriad of other issues both mental and physical which present from time to time. This is our “normal”. However, one should remember, no matter how bad things are many can pull themselves together when in public which just helps perpetuate the myth.  But, for the individual there is always something to deal with.

Museum of Failure

“The Museum of Failure is a one of a kind international collection of more than 100 innovation failures. For every successful product corporations put on the market, there are many failures behind it.”

The other night, while watching the nightly news, I saw a report on the opening of the Museum of Failure in Sweden. It’s about time. There are many displays in the Museum include the Ford Edsel, Google Glasses and Colgate Kitchen Entrees to mention a few, but without a doubt, my favorite is Harley Davidson Perfume. While the Museum is devoted to failed innovations made by famous corporations, there are however still many lessons to be learned here about failure in general.

Harley Davidson Perfume

Harley Davidson Perfume

Marlboro Ice Cream

Marlboro Ice Cream

When speaking to groups the concept of failure is something that I try to encourage all people to understand better. It is important to remember that an individual’s attitudes and reactions to failure are learned. That is easily proven by looking at a young child learning to walk. Toddlers have no concept of failure. Imagine if they did and decided after standing and falling many times, it wasn’t worth the effort to keep trying. Obviously, they would never learn to walk. One Sunday night while watching an interview on 60 Minutes with Lebron James the interviewer asked him if he could give one piece of advice to young children watching what would it be. Without hesitation, he responded “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Speaking to a group

Speaking to a group

When I was young I often looked at failure as an end in itself. It greatly affected my interactions in just about every aspect of my life. Venturing into a situation where the possibility of failure was great was carefully weighed. Even when I began teaching I was hesitant to try new and different ways to reach and involve my students. Fortunately, after being frustrated by what I perceived as an inability to engage all my students, I began trying new and different methods and strategies. Some were successful, and some weren’t, but learning was taking place in both cases.

For any individual, especially those with a disability, I believe it is critical to look at failure not as an end, but rather an opportunity to learn, grow and move on.
Many individuals who are disabled have some type of compromise of motor skills. It’s not the loss of the coordination that is the problem, it is the loss of the skills associated with it. However, those skills can be replaced! A society usually has a few accepted ways of accomplishing an activity (i.e. Catching a fish). However, looking at all societies there are a tremendous number of other ways developed to accomplish the same or similar activity. If attempts to develop a new skill fails and that is accepted as a final result anybody would have a hard time moving on. On the other hand, if failure is looked at as a temporary outcome to be learned from and grow, the chances of developing the new skills necessary in an individual’s life become possible. So, don’t let failure prevent you continuing from persisting to progress. Start looking at failure as an opportunity.

Oh, and the Museum of Failure is such a great success it’s going on tour.

Open Letter to A Good Friend

Steve & me at Payne LakeMaybe by explaining it to you I can come to understand it better myself. I have a lot of sadness. How it presents in my mind is influenced by many factors. I’m not sure, but it seems to be becoming more prevalent either with growing older or as my years as a quadriplegic increase or both. I find myself longing for some of the abilities of my former life, like independence, freedom, spontaneity and self-reliance. Truly, if I have any part of these they are mere shadows of what they used to be. Oh, I forgot the most important one is control. That’s the issue! What control do I have in my life? Really?

Mental control, I feel, I have more of and most of the time it allows me to keep the other at a distance. Physical control, however, of my overall environment is really lacking. What I can do by myself is limited. Within a mile of my house in either direction are steep hills which once down I could not get back up. To leave, in the van, means someone must be driving me. My four-wheel drive chair, even in my local environment, also has limited physical boundaries. Most of the activities away from home require a supporting cast while activities in the home also require occasional assistance now and then.

At times, when these limiting factors seem to become overwhelming and I feel things are out of control I tend to become passive aggressive a condition I often had to deal with with my special education students Defined on Google as: of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.

Commonly, I will respond negatively taking action over the things I do have control of, even though at the time I know the action is not in my best interest. Most often it involves cancelling doctor appointments, my participation in activities or events I have been preparing for and really want to be a part of or just refusing to do what I should do. I feel better briefly and then wonder what the hell did I do that for and my only thought is “Because I can.”

Simple Gifts*

The song Simple Gifts is a hymn written in the 1840s by a member of the Shaker Community. The Shakers were a religious sect that migrated to America from England in the late 1700s. Their religious principles focused around being satisfied with the simplistic existence and the natural environment. The community produced a lot of very simple items which they sold to maintain their existence. The items stressed simplicity and functionality. You may have even heard of Shaker furniture which is still prized today by many people.

Every season seems to bring with it particular “simple gifts”. This spring was no exception. I have been struggling with an extended period of depression, but with the arrival of spring came certain “gifts” that I always look forward to. One of the earliest is, after a long, cold winter, just sitting in the warmth of the sun and feeling my body warm. (Sitting In The Mornin’ Sun)

Another of nature’s simple gifts is the arrival of the birds which have migrated south for the winter. Many of those returning are notable because of their beautiful colors such as the Baltimore oriole, the Rose Breasted Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting. Being confined to a wheelchair encourages one to spend more time bird watching than when able-bodied. Two of my favorite species to observe are not brilliantly colored, but are enjoyable to watch because of their fascinating behavior and their willingness to live close to man. Since my injury, we have done much to encourage birds to share our environment with us. Every year swallows, set up house in the same nesting box. I have written about them before too. I love to watch them in flight because of their ability to change direction instantly darting left and right as they pursue insects. It’s hard to watch them fly and not believe they are enjoying every second of their lives. While the female is sitting on the eggs the male, who I have named Captain America, sits on top of the eagle on the top of the flagpole and will defend the nest against all comers.

Baltimore oriole at our feeder

Baltimore oriole at our feeder

Captain American

Captain American

The birds, however, that I enjoy watching the most are the House Wrens. Last spring my wife went out to hang some clothes from a clothesline. She reached for a clothespin and realized there were a bunch of sticks protruding from the bag. She slowly opened it and saw it was a bird’s nest with three eggs nestled in the sticks. After some searching on the Internet we discovered it was the nest of house wrens and spent much of the summer observing their behavior. This year, being unable to find the clothespin bag we hung out a <a that I had made during the winter in the exact same spot and were not disappointed as the wrens quickly began building their nest in it.

A female house wren bringing in a sack of spider eggs into the nest. It’s believed that when the spiders hatch, they eat some of the mites that have been brought in by the adults and then when they get bigger they are eaten by the growing wrens.

With both the wrens and the swallows, the males participate in the raising of the young. Below is a video I took last year and last week, which looked like the final day of nest building. The female is now sitting on the eggs while the male spends much of his time sitting on the laundry line poles waiting for the eggs to hatch. Once hatched both the male swallow and wren are totally involved in feeding the chicks and protecting the nest. We have no way of knowing if these are the same birds from last year.

What I enjoy so much about watching these birds is their devotion to each other, raising the young and their seeming enjoyment of life itself even though it’s hard work and demanding. While we humans are ever striving to modernize our lives and gain more possessions, the habits and purposes of these birds have changed very little over time. I think we could all benefit by not being so quick to adopt change for change’s sake to improve our daily lives and be happier with the simple gifts. And, oh yes, the time spent observing and videotaping the birds goes a long way to improving my outlook on life.

*All of the pictures and videos contained in this blog were taken on our property

Maybe I’ll Get Lucky Tonight

The phone was ringing. Shortly after my wife answered it, not only did I know it was our son, but I knew why he was calling. After a couple minutes she shouted to me “Mark wants to talk to you.” As I turned on the speaker my son said “Happy Anniversary.” I couldn’t believe it! We’ve been married 52 years. As our conversation came to a close, I told Mark that we’re going out to dinner at an extremely nice restaurant not far from here. Always looking to make a joke I said who knows “maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.” There was no chance of me getting lucky in the way this quote is usually used. Abstinence, while a choice for some, was just another behavior forced on us by my quadriplegia.

Wedding Day 1965

Wedding Day 1965

It is not unusual when I take questions and answers from a group I’d just spoken to for someone to ask me what do I miss the most. I always answer intimacy. Not sexual intercourse, which it 74 would probably not be a major activity anyway, but rather the subtle displays of affection that take place during a normal day. The warmth and security of a hug, a touch as my wife passes by or most of all snuggling in bed. All of these little shows of affection are extremely difficult for someone who was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Once I’m placed in bed, I can only move my arms and my head. Being unable to roll on my side makes snuggling next to impossible. A hug with a person in a wheelchair is awkward at best. The physical presence of the chair combined with the fact that my wife has to bend way over makes contact difficult and as a result usually brief. At night or in the morning while I am still in bed, I will notice my wife walked by and touch my foot or leg. If I wasn’t looking I would never know that it had taken place.

In reality being a quadriplegic takes a lot of common everyday occurrences away from you. However, there are some things that you become more conscious of as a result of your disability. One of the first things that would be mentioned is the observation that the majority of people in our society are good, caring and loving individuals who want to do the right thing. Unfortunately, most programs on television or the Internet tend to focus on the small percentage of individuals who do not fall into this majority.

To get back to the original statement I made to my son little did I know that it was foreshadowing for the dinner ahead. Our waitress at the restaurant also works in my doctor’s office so she knew who we were. In the course of the dinner we mentioned to her that it was our 52nd wedding anniversary. When she bought our dessert there were a couple candles in it and we laughed as we blew them out. When it came time to pay she informed us that someone, who wished to remain anonymous, had already paid for our dinner. While the restaurant was pretty crowded we did not recognize anyone we knew. For some reason someone had reached out and touched us. People should know the strength and ability to persevere, we draw from such acts of kindness. The reaching out of people like this helps give us the strength we need to move through the struggles that we face in our daily lives. Thanks to all of you who reach out to all of us. Oh, and by the way I did get lucky that night.

Our family on our 50th anniversary

Our family on our 50th anniversary

Alternative Facts

Alternative Facts

Alternative Facts