Tag Archives: Courage

Welcome To Our World

Earlier this week

Earlier this week


In the blog Andyticipation I wrote Andy comes to northern New York because it is much “easier” for him to travel than it is for me. The word “EASIER” was in quotation marks because it is a relative term. At 6′ 4″ 260 pounds, it is usually a disaster when I travel, but it is far from “easy” for most individuals with disabilities to travel any distance.

Andy left here August 24th around noon to return to Utah. He flew from Watertown to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Phoenix and then finally to Salt Lake City. When he got to Phoenix there was a weather delay, so his flight was canceled until Thursday. I’m sure if you stop and think a minute it’s fairly easy to realize the tremendous inconvenience this would be for a man with quadriplegia. The airline decided to put him up in a hotel in Phoenix. Andy got into a taxi and headed for the hotel. He told me the taxi driver was going like a bat out of hell. When arriving at the hotel the taxi driver slammed on the brakes and Andy was thrown out of his chair breaking his leg. He was pretty sure his leg was broken, but it wasn’t until Thursday afternoon he was able to get to a hospital in Salt Lake City where they put on a soft cast. The cast will stay on from 4 to 6 weeks. Imagine what it will be like to be in a manual wheelchair with one leg straight out in front of you for that length of time. How do you get close to anything? Andy, however, is approaching it with his usual determination to make the best out of a bad situation.

Welcome to our world.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Those words are the title of the Bob Dylan song written in 1964 which has become a classic. The song discusses societal changes that were taking place. It covers a variety of new attitudes that were going to happen, Dylan believed, regardless of résistance. While the song says nothing about disability or the disabled community I would imagine it would be fairly easy for Dylan to add a verse today discussing societal changes happening towards individuals with disabilities.

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Just this month (May 2016) we have seen three sign posts that I would present as examples of what is happening in our society today. The most recent would be the presenting of the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars to Niles DiMarco, who won the championship despite the fact that he never heard a note of music the entire time. Niles was born deaf, but refused to allow that to stop him from obtaining goals that many would believe were impossible. In my opinion the most poignant part of all the season was when they stopped all music while he was dancing so the audience could see the challenge he was dealing with.

Charlie Linville

Charlie Linville


The second event occurred May 19 when 30 year old Charlie Linville, an Afghan war veteran and amputee, summited Mount Everest. As if to remind us how difficult, dangerous and demanding this still is, within a couple days of his accomplishment three climbers died while trying to summit.

The final event occurred earlier in May as the Invictus (which means unconquered) Games the place for three days in Orlando Florida. The concept of the games was the brainchild of Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. Knowing firsthand the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces make to defend our freedom and way of life he decided to begin the games as a tribute to those who had made personal and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Invictus Games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America. We have reached a point where our society is so interested in happenings like these that the games were televised on ESPNU. The courage and strength of these individuals were on display for the entire world to see.

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

It is my feelings that these and other events in our society show that The Times Are A-Changin’ and most people are becoming more receptive to those with differences regardless of how they present themselves.

Through No Fault of Our Own

Within recent days I’ve received emails from several friends all struggling with the challenges presented to them by their disabilities. Of them, I am the oldest and I’m pretty sure I have been dealing with my disability the longest. I wish I could do something or make a potion that would make these challenges disappear. But, I know, as they do, that dealing with these crises is not that simple.

Andy and his grandson

Andy and his grandson

Early on, after my injury, it was so important to me for people to understand that my injury was the result of an act of nature rather than a situation I had brought on myself by poor behavioral choices (i.e. Drunk driving). I didn’t want people thinking he got what he deserved. I was always grateful that my quadriplegia was the result of my pursuing an activity that I loved. Even though I was standing in waist deep water when caught by the wave I had actually been body surfing for several hours. A couple of the emails were from people who had been injured while mountain biking. Another was result of the onset of cancer and complications after a stem cell transplant. All causes were out of the individuals’ control. Why them, why me, these are questions we may never find the answers to. Personally, I feel all my pre-accident life was a preparation for my life now. It is comforting to me to think Handihelp, the blog and my public speaking may be helping others, which is all I wanted to do when I became a teacher.

What can be done, what words can be said to ease the physical and mental struggles that those of us in the disabled community deal with almost daily. It’s been my observation over the years that the best “solution” lies in the individual’s mental makeup. The single most important factor is an attitude which can be manipulated. If you look at my early blogs, most of them deal with that topic. When speaking to groups there are a number of observations that I have made over the past 17 years that I believe will be helpful in putting life and life challenges in perspective.

* Life is not fair and owes us nothing.
* Anger, over time, is detrimental to moving on.
* Life is precious; each day is a gift and one should take some personal time each day
to enjoy it.
* Life can be good again, enjoyable again, but it will never be the same. The
sooner a person realizes and accepts that, the better off they will be.
* The most powerful “tool” we have in adjusting to our situation is our mind/attitude.
* It may be difficult, but to ask for help is not a sign of weakness, and
there are many people who wish to help, but you may have to take the initial step.
* Love is an amazing thing, the more one gives, the more one has to give.
* A pet can play a major role in the life of an individual with a disability.
* Love makes everything easier.
* You can’t do it alone. Friends make our lifestyle much more bearable.
* There is a solution to most of the challenges one faces. It’s just a matter of how
much thought, time and effort you are willing to commit to finding it.
* Frustration and struggle will always be part of this new lifestyle.
* Nothing comes without sacrifice.
* Advice is easy to give, but much more difficult to take and even harder to act on.
* Laughter is essential.
* We are all stronger and more capable than we think.
* Life is full of risk.

What a comfort she was

What a comfort she was

Will this help others? I hope so, but it has helped me.

Another Testimony to the Role Nurses Play

In response to my latest blog Nurses I got the following email from a former student of mine who has had many challenges in his life. He has given me his permission to blog it.

“I saw your latest post about nurses and I couldn’t agree with you more. When I was in Boston at Dana Farber I was on 6A which was the bone marrow transplant floor and I had a few special nurses that definitely made a difference for me. They’re a special a breed of nurses as you said and they are definitely different from the general practitioner nurses at the local doc’s offices.

6A is a floor where they see a lot of people who don’t make it and I understand I almost didn’t make it a couple of times myself. It’s got to be very tough for them and I think sometimes they go under-appreciated even from the patients they care for. Although all the nurses on the floor were great there are 3 specifically that stand out for me personally and their names were Nori, Kim and Kim. Unfortunately only two of the three nurses were there one of the Kim’s was not there this visit.

Nori, Dan and Kim

Nori, Dan and Kim

I think there are patients who once they leave that floor never want to see it again because they only have bad memories from there. Personally I make it a point to stop by and see them every year and I enjoy going back there to visit. I think they get a lot out of seeing the fruits of their labor and appreciate it very much when patients return still alive and looking a little different from when they saw them last.

I’m on an annual visit schedule at Dana Faber now and I remember when I was there 2 years ago for my appointment none of my nurses were there. This of course was not good for my mental happiness and I was extremely disappointed but luckily when I went back there last month 2 out of the 3 were there, Nori and Kim. I’ll send you a picture so I can show them off.”

Warrior Transition Battalion

On October 9, 2015 I had the special privilege to be able to address the 3rd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry, Warriors Transition Battalion on Fort Drum. Fort Drum is the home of the 10th Mountain Division, which is the most deployed division in the Army. The invitation was extended to me by the Battalion Chaplain Peter Bahng, who had stopped at the Handihelp display in August during the Outdoor Adventure Day on post.

Friday began with the luncheon at which time I had the opportunity to speak to many of the wounded Soldiers personally in an informal setting. A display board was set up containing pictures of some of the different activities I have engaged in and a digital picture frame showing adaptions from Handihelp.net was also running. My wife Marge and I had an opportunity during the luncheon to sit and chat with a Lieutenant Colonel Johnson the Battalion Commander and his wife.

Displays at luncheon

Displays at luncheon

My talk was held in the post-main chapel and there were over 100 people present. This included not only the Soldiers and their families, but also nurses and support staff. There were displays of adaptions I had made that allow me to continue to pursue the activities that give me quality of life. Since I knew I had no real understanding of what they had been through, I spoke about my accident, the struggles and challenges I have faced over the past 16 years and lessons I have learned that have enabled me to regain quality of life. We spoke about the personal inner strength that exists in each and every one of us and if there were any doubts I mentioned a few individuals who had not only risen above catastrophic injuries, but even went on to inspire others. Individuals like John McCain, JR Martinez, Bob Woodruff and Gabby Giffords to mention just a few.

Some of the Soldiers

Some of the Soldiers

A PowerPoint presentation was then used to visually reinforce some of the ideas and concepts we were talking about. In telling them what I had learned from my struggles with quadriplegia I mentioned the following:

* Your mind is a powerful asset use it
* Recovery and return are a process and so will take time
* There is more than one way to solve a problem
* Know there is a way that will work
* Try to keep solutions simple
* Don’t get discouraged and give up
* Think of failure as an opportunity for learning and growth
* Think outside the box
* Be willing to change and modify
* Be open to the suggestions, ideas and help from others
* Empowerment or helplessness is a choice

In conclusion, the fact is that while we have little control over what happened to us, we have a lot of control over what we do about it. What I had showed them was not to show what I and others had done, but rather to help them realize the potential of what CAN be done by anyone who is willing to commit themselves.
Let me finish by saying what an inspiring group of men and women this was. We can all be proud of these Soldiers and the sacrifices they and their families have made for America and our way of life.

Certificate of Appreciation

Certificate of Appreciation

Unique Opportunity

In August Handihelp was part of an exhibit put on by the Inclusive Recreation Resource Center at the Outdoor Adventure Day at Fort Drum. It was a great day! There were over 30 exhibitors which ranged from the Woodsman Team from the Environmental School of Forestry from Syracuse University to Rangers from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

We had the opportunity to talk to a large number of people, but my interaction with one gentleman proved to be extremely interesting and fruitful. Although he was in civilian clothes I was pretty sure that he was a soldier. He seemed very interested in the adaptations I had on display and the fact that I was also a motivational speaker. When he got ready to leave, he told me he was a chaplain for the Warrior Transition Unit and asked if I would be willing to come and speak to them. Once in a while I had contacts similar to this, but it seemed like nothing ever came of them, but this time it was going to be different. About a week later I got an email from him inviting me to come and speak to the Wounded Warriors.

Flyer

Flyer

There will be a luncheon on Friday, October 16th, after which I will be able to interact with the soldiers. I am truly humbled and honored to be given this very unique opportunity. I want to thank the soldiers for their service and the sacrifice they have made for our country and our way of life. I can think of no honor greater than being able to help them make a smooth transition back to civilian life regardless of their disability.

Talking with a visitor

Talking with a visitor

The Chaplain

The Chaplain and his son

Need Some Inspiration?

Maia, who is a freshman at a nearby high school, is an inspiration to all who know her or watch her. She is in my heart and in my mind. How can so much determination be packed into one young woman? Yesterday, Maia had her first swim meet. Before she finished her first race, she had the entire audience cheering for her including the opposing team. I have known her for a number of years now. We met several years ago at a basketball game at the school where I use to teach. Maia, who was in elementary school at the time, has cerebral palsy and, in addition to the loss of motor control, is also unable to speak. She has not let any of that stop her. Maia communicates very well through a combination of sign language, gestures, and mannerisms. All who know her are impressed by her refusal to allow her disability to interfere with what she wants to do. Maia’s daily life is full of obstacles, but she does not perceive them as problems. She looks at them as challenges and faces them head-on.

This summer, when my friend Andy Dahmen was here I wanted him and Maia to meet. They both play important roles in my life and I knew they would hit it off right away. I was not disappointed.
Left to right Me, Maia, her sister Maddy, her Mom Tonya and Andy
Me, Maia, her sister Maddy, her Mom Tonya, and Andy
All of us face obstacles in our lives. It’s very easy to come up with an excuse that seems plausible at the time, but in reality we are allowing events to dictate how we live our lives. A great lesson can be learned from watching Maia confront obstacles that seem overwhelming to others. She confronts her challenges in a way that we would all benefit from emulating. Next time you need some inspiration think of this young woman, how much she loves life and refuses to allow its challenges to deter her from living life the way she wants to.