A Gift And A Curse

My life has a lot of emotional experiences, just by the nature of what I do. I am on staff at Valley Children's Hospital, in Madera, California. At VMC I am a counselor that works with kids and families hospital wide. Rehab is my main focus, but when time permits or when I am requested I see kids/families in our cancer wing and/or peds ICU. I have been where many of these kids are, emotionally and/or physically. I have talked, hugged and cried with kids who died at an unfair early age. I have held parents who are searching for the reason why their child lost the battle. I have also worked with kids who became paralyzed, for a variety of reasons and help guide them to understand that happiness is still attainable. I have been blessed to be part of many successes but I have also seen kids not reach their potential because of both emotional and/or environmental realities.

My "gift" is that I have been through so much pain and darkness that I understand better than most the feeling of hopelessness, being scared, dealing with pain and not knowing if today would be the last day to share with family and friends. I have an approachable personality. Life has taught me patience and how important the "little things" can be. I have been successful in sports (2 time 2 sport Paralympian - many medals representing my country in both Rugby and Tennis - 6 national rugby championships). I have graduated college with a 4 year degree and my emergency teaching credential. I have been happily married for 17 years and have a successful speaking career. The "gift" of having been through so much allows others to trust me with their feelings and emotions and for this I am forever grateful. As I say in my award winning short documentary "Where I am Suppose to be" ... If I could go back to February 18, 1990 and not wrestle would I? The answer is a definite 100% no! I always tell my audience when this question is asked, "had I not been paralyzed at the age of 16, as a quadriplegic, I would not be here in front of you." You can see in many of their eyes that they "get it" ... that there is a bigger picture than the one we see and exist in. I hope with my "gift" that I inspire others to reach their potential, whatever that may be? I am thankful to share their pain, anger and frustration and then do what I can to assist them in their darkness and help them see that there is a light (no matter how dim) ... and that their story is important enough to reach that light.

Now the "curse." This is said with much sarcasm and with tongue and cheek. This same gift of having an approachable persona makes others sometime a little too comfortable at times and can enter "personal space." I have many examples but today I am only going to share the two most recent. It is important to understand that I find these moments funny, but never the less they would probably not happen to someone who was not disabled (paralyzed), in a wheelchair for life and approachable.

The first "encounter" was when I was entering my gym, that I train at (Kennedy Club Fitness) in Paso Robles. Whenever I am enter or departing the gym I try and hold the door for others and tell them to have a great day or good training session. This particular day I was leaving the gym after a long training session and as I opened the door there was a lady approaching from a distance. She was quite a distance away, but I decided to hold the door open with a smile. She was smiling in return and said thank you as she walked by, but then before I had a chance to let my door go she back up next to me. As she back up she apologized and said, "I am sorry if this is inappropriate, but I have to do this." As she was now next to me, she grabbed my right bicep, squeezed it and complimented me on how strong and defined I was. She then apologized again and just said it was something she had to do.

The second "encounter" was more recent. I was riding my UBE (stationary hand-cycle) at Kennedy Fitness with my green Beats by Dre headphones. Wearing these green headphones I obviously know that I will standout and I am ok with that. I realize that I am an inspiration to others because of how hard I workout, while being disabled. Many times people have stopped me to say thank you for being an inspiration and appreciate me always being willing to talk and answer questions. Well on this particular day a lady, who I do not know by name, walked by me and smiled as I was busting my ass on my UBE bike. I believe that I was on mile 13, when I felt someone behind me and before I could turn around this lady actually lifted my headphone's off my ears. She too said, "sorry ... but I wanted to say how impressed I am with your fitness and also how much I love your green headphones ... they go with your eyes." I said thank you and I hope that you have a great night.

I said the same to both ladies. Thank you very much for the kind words. I am thankful that I can inspire others and make someone's day a little better in some small way. The headphone lady gave me a hug and now just smiles, waves and says hello when we cross paths at Kennedy Fitness.

I do not mind these interactions. They happen often, in all kinds of different ways and in different places. They happen on planes, red lights, restaurants, parks, gyms, clubs and concerts etc. When these interactions happen, and I am with someone who is not use to this, they are taken back and surprised that another person would be so brash. I always tell them that I take it as a compliment and am thankful that I can be approachable because I have learned you never know what moment will have a profound impact. Life has taught me that what others see as "little" or "not important" may in fact save a life. I had a letter sent to me that stated my autobiography and personal time spent with this girl was the reason she did not commit suicide. I will never forget that feeling and understanding that "moments," whether I think are big or small will have an impact. I am blessed to have a life that impacts others and that I am trusted with others "feelings." Thank you all very much! I hope to share in many more "moments" that affect others and myself.