How do I judge my program's success?

I have had  a letter telling me that I influenced this girl in a way that stopped her from committing suicide. She wrote me, that after reading my autobiography and talking with me personally she realized that through her darkness and pain their was an opportunity to be happy and impact the world in a positive way.

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I have been the story and I have been the audience

I am so blessed that to have a life that can inspire and have an impact, when given the opportunity. I also know that there are many others out there that feel the same way about their life's journeys too. I hope that I am a single voice for many out in this world that are "different" in whatever way. Being "different" sometimes can have a negative connotation because others do not have a reference to understand or choose not to learn (and be ignorant). I think I was both before my spinal-cord injury, many years ago. My journey from February 18, 1990 (day of my paralysis) to now has had many ups and downs, but all have shaped who I am, what I believe and what I want my future to be. I am a good person (that makes mistakes, but hopefully learns from them), with a huge heart that wants to inspire, educate and leave a hand-print of change globally. I believe our past shapes our future and that we all have an impact on each other. We choose whether that impact is positive or negative. I would like to think my impact is 99% positive. I believe I have a gift, that was unwrapped as I triumphed in the face of much adversity. I have seen the impact that I can have and want more...much more. I want my future to be full of change, both that I create in others and that is created within me. I want my future to be helping out others (especially children) who may have difficult paths (whether self inflicted or not) and show them that there is a light at the end of their dark tunnel! I want to do this by example and not just words. It needs to be tangible, which is why anytime that I can be "present" and get "hands on" I do! Tangible experiences are powerful. I have seen a deaf student wear my Olympic medal as he came in first for his school's 5K (that he trained for because of wearing my Olympic medal during my speaking presentation at his school). I had a letter that stated it was my "time" spent with this girl and autobiography that stopped her from committing suicide. I have thousands of other examples of how others were inspired because of tangible experiences related to my presentations. I have recently had "decision makers" that "get it" and understand my impact, even though I am disabled and their students or audiences are not (although some may be). They trusted me that my message would translate and even be more powerful because of the tragedies that I have to overcome to accomplish my dreams. I understand that not everyone has a reference that will make "getting it" easy to understand, but I hope that they will take the time to learn (not just for my selfish reasons), but because there are many stories that need an audience and when given this audience lives will be inspired and changed forever! I have cried the tears. I have hugged the inspired. I have been the story and I have been the audience. 

Paralympics or Student Assemblies?

I had to make a life changing decision, on many different levels, that would have lasting implications. The decision was to continue my Paralympic dream of competing in 3 Paralympics in 2 different sports or continuing my inspiring speaking programs. For those that do know my history, I competed in the 2004 Paralympics in wheelchair rugby and the 2008 Paralympics in wheelchair tennis. I was on my way to completing my dream, by competing in the London 2012 Paralympics in wheelchair rugby. Then in 2010 I contracted a blood infection. This sepsis infection came within days of taking my life, causing me to spend 7 months 24/7 in an hospital bed with 3 IV'S administering antibiotics for 4 months. It was during this 7 months, when I could not make the Paralympic rugby training camps, that I lost my place on the 2012 Paralympic team. Everyday in that hospital bed was mentally torturing, knowing that I was not going to be competing in London. It was the toughest time of my life. It was much harder than being paralyzed since the age of 16. What made this my toughest tragedy and lowest valley was partially my age, because I understood what I was doing to my family and I could see the pain, sadness and worry on my mom, my sister and my wife's face. It was a huge mountain to climb, knowing that reaching the peak was starting in a hospital bed for 7 months fighting for my life. 

At this time, when I had to make the choice "Paralympics or Student Assemblies, my school programs were becoming very popular, with ambitious of going global. I have been hired multiple years by Bakersfield School district to work with their inner city schools, along with many other schools in many districts all over California. Last year I did over 100 assemblies. People have asked why I need to choose between Paralympics and student assemblies? The answer is because both take a full time commitment and there is no way I can give 100%  to both. There are only so many hours in the day and I need more! Whatever I do in life I give my entire "being" to it. The reality is that I am not going to divorce my beautiful wife, I am not going to leave my position as the Peer Counselor for Children's Hospital in Fresno. This leaves room for only one more major time consuming passion in my life.

My choice was very difficult and emotional. The way I made the decision was by imagining myself on the podium in 2016 at the Brazil Paralympics with an Olympic medal around my neck versus presenting my school assemblies (experiencing all the student love) over the same amount of time. After struggling with this for a month and dreaming about this tough decision it finally became clear and I was at peace. The decision was to choose the student's love and leave behind the paralympics, knowing this was my last chance to complete my "Olympic dream." I feel that my athletic legacy is clear and proven. I am a 2 sport Paralympian with an Olympic medal. I am also tied with only one other athlete for having the most national championships in wheelchair rugby. We both have 6 national championships. I also have many world team cup championships in both rugby and tennis. As I receive so much love and positive feed back from my presentations it became easier and easier to make this very difficult decision. I have had a girl tell me that my time and autobiography was the reason she did not take her life. She contacted me and said that If I could deal with my adversities, she too could deal with her pain. I have also had students tell me that they will no longer "bully" after having me on their campus. I have worked with every type of school and student that you could imagine. I have presented at schools where a student was shot and killed the day before I was scheduled. I have worked in wealthy communities where every student had an Ipad and the school bought books for the students. I have also worked in poorer communities where the students only had the basics and not much more. What is powerful about message and my life is that my "story" crosses all lines of wealth and adversity. Students need to understand the "hardest things you have to work for will mean the most to them." My message is for these students to believe that dreams are possible, but you have to be willing to give a 100% and not be afraid to fail. I try and teach acceptance, the importance of not listening to negativity and believing the impossible is possible, but only achievable with hard work and dedication.

I am at peace with my decision to choose "students" over Paralympics. When I read all the letters and thank you's from students, parents and staff my heart melts. When you know you are changing lives, life takes on a different meaning and importance. I will end this blog the same way my autobiography ended stating, "I ended up at a higher place than the place from which I fell." Thank you to everyone who has supported me, allowing me to make footprint in this world! Hugs and Love.

2013 - 2014 School programs coming to a close

     I had an amazing 2013 - 2014 school year, with my book/school programs. I worked with schools in northern California all the way to southern California and many schools in between. This school year I worked with many different grades and different students. This what made this year special. I worked with disabled students, deaf students, special education students and "regular" ed students. I worked with schools that were wealthy, where students had Ipads and were filming me speaking to them. I have also worked in "low income" districts, where I was told to park (by school staff) because it would be the safest. There was a school in northern CA where a student was shot and killed the day before I was scheduled to come. They called and asked if I wanted to cancel or change the date. I said, absolutely NOT. This is when my program is needed the most. It was an emotional day that went great and changed lives!

     I want to acknowledge Bakersfield School District (BCSD) this year because they are the first "District" to hire me to work with 11 of their schools. Usually a school's PTA, teacher or principal gets in touch with me, to book my assemblies. It was a big step to have a district believe in me and understand what I can bring to students and staff! Another special part of this year was being asked to come back to schools multiple times or do 2 day programs back to back, so that we could have smaller assemblies, making them more intimate and powerful. I saw students with tears, as well as, teachers and principals with tears. This is a great sign to me because it shows that we are affecting people below the surface. I am getting to the hearts and souls!

     I did over 35 book / school programs this year and loved everyone of them. I hope to do more in the 2014 - 2015 school year. We are already starting to plan a few of them. I will also be going out of state for the first time when schools start back up next year. This is very exciting and I am looking forward to this new opportunity. My vision is to be global and have that kind of impact. People have asked me what my favorite moments were? This is an impossible question to answer. Every school had special moments. Now that I am thinking about it ... I can say that my favorite moments are the hugs that I get from so many students. Some of these hugs are so heart felt. They have been from pre-K to the "toughest" high school students.

     In the next blog post I am going share some of my frustrations because I want to be fair and balanced. Not everything is always positive, but when I get to the students the negativity I had to endure was worth it every time. A first grader wrote me a letter this year that breaks my entire program down and reinforces why I do what I do. The letter said, "Mr. Poppen has big muscles and makes kids happy."  l am still receiving letters from students and I read everyone of them and respond when I can. Sometimes I show up at their school to answer certain questions in person. I know how a "special moment" can affect a person and have an impact. I try and create these moments at all my assemblies. Thank you to everyone who supported my programs in any way. Thank you to all the schools, PTA'S, parents, teachers and administrations that trusted me with their kids. It was a pleasure and blessing on my side. I am looking forward to many more schools and moments in the next school year. I can always be reached for questions about my assemblies, books or regarding my availability..Thank you in advance for considering my programs.

HUGS: Brent

1st BLOG - - changing lives - 5/24/14

I am so thankful for all the amazing moments that I have been apart of and look forward to even more amazing moments (if that is possible). My book/speaking presentations have been very successful these last two years and I am looking forward to continued opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others! I will try and update this BLOG on Sunday nights, so a new BLOG will be here every Monday morning (and on occasion throughout the week). On facebook I do not share the private negative messages I receive or the frustrating aspects of what I am trying to do in this world (and some do not 'get it'). When talking about negative messages or aspects of my program I will never use "true" names, but will be honest with the positive and negative.

I want to share how my program book / speaking program works. I have never "cold called" for a presentation. All my programs have been because word of mouth, where someone has seen or heard about my impact and then has contacted me, saying, that they want my presentation (for a variety of reasons). I do all my own scheduling, preparations and marketing in regards to my speaking presentations ( ... helping students against adversity). I am excited that I have created this website to support my programs and hopefully create more support for "team hugs." Just to be clear "hugs" stands for Helping stUdents aGainst adverSity. Below is a story that I wrote on facebook recently that had a positive response, so I wanted to share it here. I wanted my first blog to be positive. There will be shared negative feedback that I receive (I have never received negative feedback from my presentations), I want to be balanced and I do receive some negativity. I am truly thankful for all the support because without it there would be no "hugsbybrent" and students would not be influenced by my life's journey, of overcoming serious adversity to make dreams come true. I am proud to share that I have never gad a negative response from students, teachers, schools, districts or any other place where I have presented. I take what I do serious because the impact created is serious. I have received a letter that my books and time were the reason one girl did not take her life! I have had students tell me they realize they are bullies, but will no longer choose to be that way. You can see some of the students feed back on the home page and also on the "student letters" link. I am proud of 100% positive reviews.

Below is an amazing story that I was recently a part of at Newcomb Academy in Long Beach, where they had me come present my book/school assemblies. Rad!

"Here is the "tear jerker" story that I was hinting at last couple of days. I finally have time to think about how to describe it. I hope that you read through this and feel my tears rolling down my cheek in font of 50 ish elementary students. Last Friday I presented my book/speaking assembly 5 times and 1 lunch program (where I bring my sport's wheelchair out to the playground and let the students push in it, to get tangible experience). The day started out hot/muggy with no air conditioning in the packed auditorium. I am sweating on stage and students are sweating in their seats ... but still on point and not making a peep. All teachers and staff were amazed at their "perfect" behavior. During the q and a part of my program I received an original question (which after over 150,000 students is not easy). The 4th grade girl asked me, "Mr. poppen what is your goal today?" This caught me off guard, but was awesome. Ok, after third assembly it is lunch time, so I take my tennis wheelchair out to the hot playground because students are lining up and asking where am I? I was stuck in auditorium where students snuck in and brought "things" in for me to sign and I loved it. The students are having a blast pushing my tennis chair on playground and like always the line is getting bigger and bigger, with more students. Then the special ed teacher comes over and asks me if her student (who has severe cp) can cut to the front and try my tennis chair? I of course "take care of my own" ... so he struggles with his walker to come over and we get him sitting in my tennis chair and he is smiling ear to ear. Due to his "cp" hands he is having a hard time pushing, but I let him struggle a bit and he starts to figure it out .... and when he turns my tennis chair around ALL THE STUDENTS waiting in the heat and not getting a turn ... started clapping slowly getting faster until all the surrounding students were clapping making this disabled student feel "special" and like he was just another student ... his smile described what words could never do. That moment was worth getting up at 2am and driving directly to school and doing my assemblies. As these students continued to cheer and that disabled student's smile got bigger a few tears dribbled down my cheek. These students were not asked to cheer or led by me or another adult .... it was a moment of honest love and support that was special! Staff came up to me put their arm around me and said, "Mr. poppen without you here today and your programs this moment doesn't happen, thanks for loving our students." Hope this long post was worth the read ... it was worth the drive.

I am also going to share a letter (below) that a 5th girl handed me on her own, telling me she has a hard time talking.

"Mr. Poppen you really made my day today. I have dreams and hopes any many people say that I can't do anything, but thanks to you I think that I can do my best and become the greatest I can be. Thank you for coming to my school and by the way I'd love to read your autobiography. Katherine."

I love being trusted to create "moments!" Sweet dreams y'all. thanks for supporting me, so I can do what I do best.

HUGS: Brent