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.