WHY I’M HERE… It’s Quite Simple

20 Sep

If you felt some way in your life where the emotional suffering was so unbearable that you would not wish anyone in the world to go through it, wouldn’t it be worth fighting to make sure that happens to no one else?

Physical pain is one thing, but emotional pain I think leaves an even bigger scar.

The driving force in my life that keeps me smiling is looking back on that first year and realizing that I’ve won. I just know now that no matter what Iife throws at me I will never go back to living in emotional agony. There is no reason to live that way. There is no reason to live a life of complaints, regrets, fear, self pity, anxiety, and constant stress and fear of the future.

A second chance didn’t seem appealing it first. What did I have left to live for? The answer I found to be most satisfying was others. I believe that is the reason we are here. By helping others I was helping myself. All I was doing was sharing a story and my emotions. It was that simple. I wanted people to realize that they were not alone and that it’s OK to feel defeated. The outcome of my story was the true testimony. All I had to do was go on living after a tragedy that people would think would ruin your life and make a new story where I proved that life can get better no matter what your situation is. Even better than a life before where I thought I had everything.

A smile is powerful. A smile that has faced adversity is even more powerful. 

People who meet me for the first time don’t expect me to be as happy as I am. When people that really know me tell others that I rarely, if ever, complain they have a hard time believing that it is true. I rarely ever get mad, angry, or upset. People just don’t think it’s normal. It’s because it isn’t normal. The world we live in is full of people complaining about the smallest things, people holding grudges, people getting angry for no reason, or people that are constantly just upset. It’s hard to find people that are content these days. 

I’m not trying to give myself all this self praise. It’s just an observation of the world around me now that I see things from a different perspective. I just got to the point where I said enough was enough. Once you go through so much you get tired of being angry. You get tired of complaining, tired of crying, and tired of feeling bad for yourself. You start to question if it really is that bad. You start to ask yourself what is there left to live for? The answer for everyone is that there is an infinite amount of things for you to experience. There are so many people in this world that if you tried you would never meet all of them. There are so many places to see that you could never visit them all in a lifetime. There are so many conversations to be had. There is just an overwhelming amount of life to be lived by everyone.

This is my second chance. I know that I am here for a reason and so far my purpose has been clearly revealed to me.

All I need to do is live my life, be happy, and be a testimony to others that no matter what life throws at you there is always something to live for.

No complaints. No regrets. No fear. No anger. No sadness. Just love, happiness, laughter, adventure, opportunity, and an appreciation for every second that you are living in right now.

A Call to Action: What I am Fighting For

6 Aug

What am I fighting for? At first it was a battle against myself. A battle against my mind. My inner voice was telling me that it was over. Then I started to hear whispers telling me that this life wasn’t finished. That whisper grew louder and eventually it took over that inner voice that was telling me to give up on myself. I’m not schizophrenic, but now there is this inner voice that drives me every day to keep moving forward. No matter what I accomplish my mind tells me that there’s unfinished business.

I live in a constant state of euphoria and optimism about each day and about what the future holds. It kills me to see all the negativity and pessimism in this world today. I observe people a lot. I see a lot of unhappy people in the society that we live in. So I start conversations. I am not at all afraid to approach a random stranger. Positivity is contagious and that’s what I want to spread. I believe that by being in my physical condition and going up to a random stranger with a smile on my face and optimism in my voice is powerful and it confuses them and makes them question their own mindset. The wheelchair gives me leverage. I think so many people see one and associate it with misery so I am able to throw people off when my attitude is opposite of what people believe is the social norm for someone in a wheelchair.

So this is what I’m fighting for. I fought so hard to find peace of mind and true happiness. It’s something that so many people in this world are lacking. So through all my struggles I found those strategies to live a life where I am content on a day to day basis and now my purpose is to help others achieve peace of mind, realize their purpose, potential, and help them believe that life can get better.

The people that I have met in my lifetime that seem to be the most grateful for what they have are the ones that have endured some sort of tragedy and used that experience to realize what they have left to live for. There are many people that get lucky throughout their lives and get away with reckless behavior without any consequences. Those people never really realize how good they have it. It takes consequences to learn lessons. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom and have to fight your way back to the top to really appreciate what you have in life. There are many people that I’ve met that have learned how to appreciate life this way. Although there are also those that live in self-pity and let a tragedy define them. People need to understand that we are going to be tested in our lives, but you need to use the negative situations that you endure to learn the most valuable lessons of your life.

I urge you if you are struggling to find that silver lining and translate it into something positive. Appreciate all of the good moments in your life. Realize that the negative moments in your life translate into life lessons and turn into something positive. Never dwell on the past. Live in the present. Be optimistic about the future.

When I end my speeches I always leave them with this call to action. I tell people to think about what I would do if I were given just one more day to walk again. Think about what that day would be like for me. I would not take one second for granted. So try to live your life in that way.

Be truly grateful for everything that you have in this life. I am more grateful than ever before when you may look at me and think that so much was taken away. I just feel that I have gained so much more than I have lost. Be grateful for your mind for that is the most powerful thing that you have. Now go out and live your life and realize that whether you have a good day or a bad day every struggle sets you up for success in the future.

Best Man Speech – From Aaron’s Best Man to My Best Man

13 Jul

I’d like to take a moment to thank Jess for giving me this opportunity to speak outside of the country for the first time to share my story. I will be signing copies of “Well… I Guess I’m Not Jesus (hey-Zeus)” in the back immediately after my speech.

Of course I’m just messing around. Today is not my day. Today is a celebration of two extremely important people in my life coming together and finally officially being able to call Jess a member of our family even though she has been an instrumental part of this family for many years.

Now Aaron is my other half and I would not be the same person without him, but I can’t figure out the math about what percentage belongs to Jess now and what portion belongs to me. Although no matter what percentage Jess allows me to keep I know that even the smallest percentage would be enough because Aaron has the biggest heart out of anyone I know. I mean he even fixes hearts for a living.

Growing up as a twin is the best thing you could ever ask for. Aaron has and always will be my best friend. I’ve always had someone to play with, grow with, and learn with.

Most of you would never guess this, but growing up I was always the shyest kid in school. I wasn’t the one making friends. The friends that I made were the ones that Aaron made in school and would invite to come over to play. Aaron is impossible not to love and he attracted the most incredible people from such a young age. Many of those friends that Aaron made are still part of our close circle of friends today and are with us right here celebrating in Mexico.

So throughout our childhood Aaron was right there next to me. Then when college came around we went our separate ways. The hardest part about going to college was being two hours away from my best friend. I know the thing that I was missing was what Aaron had that I lacked completely. That thing was common sense. I could’ve used that down at Ohio State.

My biggest mistake in college was not staying close enough to Aaron. As I made mistakes our relationship started to fall apart and that is my biggest regret in college. I was 100% to blame.

Aaron was there for me every day that I spent in the psych ward. He was so patient as I fought to regain control of my mind and eventually he got his brother back. Then we spent another two years apart when I was back at Ohio State and I started to make the same mistakes. Things would have been different if Aaron was the one guiding me because he has never once gone down the wrong path. I’m the older one, but Aaron was born with a compass in his hand always leading him in the right direction.

When I woke up in the ICU I was surrounded by my entire family. I couldn’t imagine what it what it would feel like if I woke up in an empty room. It was by far the scariest moment of my life, but having my family there made me believe 100% that everything would be okay.

I remember one day in the ICU when Aaron asked me if I was scared. My answer was no. That’s the power that this family has. Aaron and everyone in this family have so much love and support for each other that no matter what we’re going through we give each other faith.

Jess was there from day one too. She was so supportive of me, but more importantly she was there to reassure Aaron that everything would be okay.

I came home from the hospital and it was the darkest time in my life, but there was Aaron. Aaron had just graduated from nursing school and I think it was fate for him to become a nurse because that is what he has always done. He takes care of people.

He took care of me and got me up every morning. Before getting out of bed we would sit there and I would try to move anything I could. Things just became more and more discouraging as nothing would move, but Aaron was strong and patient. He was the one that knew that everything would be okay. He instilled hope in me as each day passed.

All he wanted was for me to be happy again. He tried to get me to focus on other things. We would go work out together. He would go out of his way to include me in everything that we did. Aaron wanted his brother back and he made it his priority for me to have something to smile about. He knew deep down that life would go on and things would get better. He taught me the lesson that the best way to help yourself is to help others. He is selfless and is always one to shine light on others rather than himself. He wanted me to shine again.

The greatest blessing that came from what most would see as a tragic situation is that it brought Aaron and I back together. The two halves are now whole again and our bond is stronger than ever. I have my best friend that I once lost. Aaron never lost hope in me, I just forgot that I was born with the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for. Someone who would stand by me through anything. Someone who loves others more than life itself. His heart is the definition of love.

So now it is time to pass on my other half to Jess, but we’re still going to have to share a little bit because I need him in my life.

Jess, I know that you are perfect for Aaron and this family. I have loved watching the two of you grow together into something truly special. I know that we are twins and that he is my other half, but you make him whole. I have so much love for both of you. You bring the same kind of happiness to Aaron’s life that he has brought to mine and I want nothing more for my brother.

Aaron, you know I have loved you since the minute I waited to meet you when we were brought into this world. I love you Jess, and the love that you have for my brother, for me, this family, and for life itself. You are the amazing piece to the puzzle that my brother has always deserved and of course he loves you and will love you more than anything or anyone because he understands the meaning of love more than anyone. My family and I have been waiting for this day for you to become a part of our family for a long time. We are so incredibly grateful that you will forever be a part of our lives. Welcome to the family! I love you both more than anything.

With What I Have Left…

22 May

With what I have left… Would you think that it would be less than before? Obviously, physically, things are different. From the chest down it’s just dead weight. I have a hand that has been all but forgotten. Although this one working hand is a blessing that I can’t forget to count. Physically I’m obviously different. I’ve had to say goodbye to all my physical passion. My feet rarely touch the ground. Would you think that every day I think about all the different things that I’m missing out on? You know I may think for a second that it would be nice to get back to “normal”, but the thought of what life could’ve been almost never crosses my mind.
That’s where it all starts is the mind. The most important lesson that I have learned is that the mind is much more powerful than the body. I was once asked after a speech by an eight-year-old (yes, an eight-year-old) this, “What hurt worse? The physical pain after the accident or the emotional pain in the year after?” Without hesitation I said, “the emotional pain”. 
Fighting through the emotional pain was far harder than the over 1,000 hours I spent fighting physically to get my body back in therapy. Acceptance took a little over a year. That’s actually very quick for someone with my type of injury. A huge part of that acceptance came from seeing people in a similar situation still bitter after 30 years. It also took seeing those in a similar situation paving a new fulfilling life.

You cannot feel bad for yourself indefinitely. Eventually you’ll just drive people away if you live a life of self-pity. 

So I had a decision to make. Be bitter or move forward? I made the right decision and I never looked back. Over a years worth of misery was enough. I had enough bad days and I recognized that I was given a miraculous second chance and I told myself to wake up every day with a smile on my face and optimism while working to discover the reasons why I was still alive. That was four years ago and I can’t remember the last bad day I’ve had. I had enough bad days for an entire lifetime before I accepted this new way of life and what a life it has been!

I wake up every day like I’m on a mission. After spending so much time focusing on the things that I couldn’t do or have, I changed my focus to what was left. What was left was far more than what was lost. 

Family, friends, the power of conversation, a voice, a sound mind, the chance to change people’s perspectives on their own lives, and the admiration of the beauty of the world around us is just a small sample of what I had left. 

You would think that I thought that I had less, but in reality I found that I had far more. I went through hell and I am thankful for that because in the end it made me realize how much I took for granted and now I appreciate everything that is left so much more.

I live a life now without complaints. I have a career that is far more rewarding than anything I could envision even if I was back on my feet. I have friends making far more money than me, but I hear constantly that they feel like they’re working as hard as they can and feel like they’re not making an impact on the world. 

I would take happiness and a life and career with meaning over a large paycheck any day. I want to continue working towards my dreams rather than working towards making someone else’s dream come to life.
With what I have left… I think I’ll be okay.

HAPPINESS: The 17 Keys From My Life Experiences

1 May

A few days ago marks the date four years back when I was released from the hospital and sent back out into the world. The certainty that I once had for walking again was vanishing along with that certainty of a very successful future. I felt like I had everything figured out in my life before the accident and that I could envision the bright future that I had ahead of me. When I left that hospital the world became a scary place. All I could think of was the worst case where I would never get back on my feet and be the person that I once was physically because I thought without the physical aspects of my life there was no reason to live. 

I was afraid to be alone. I felt like I needed someone there at all times to hold my hand to get through the day. Every thought was filled with doubt. Would I be able to walk again? Would I be able to get back out there on that waterski? Would I be able to finish what I started at Ohio State? Everybody assured me that I would do all of those things again. The biggest doubt I had was, without being able to do all the physical things, would I ever be happy again?
It is obvious today that you know the answer to that last question. Happiness has consumed my life and mind and now I preach how to find it within the lives of others. 
We are tested time after time throughout our lives and put through many hardships. We all live with stress and you can’t avoid that. No two people have the exact same problem, but we all deal with our fair share of challenges. Some people are faced with bigger challenges than most. 
There are two ways that we can respond to the many challenges that are brought upon us in life. The first way is to let it consume you and constantly question, “why me?”. Challenges are put in our life to teach us a lesson to help us grow and move onto the next chapter stronger than before. So the better way to react to a challenge or a hardship is to tell yourself, “this is all part of a plan” so then you must question, “what can I take away from this situation? How will I use this challenge as a way to better myself and better others?”.
Some of the happiest people that I have ever met are those who have gone through the most hardship. They can also be some of the most miserable people I have ever met. Those people that have hit rock bottom and have promised themselves never to go back there are the ones that understand what true happiness is all about. Some of these people have stared death in the face and because of that they are thankful for each and every day they are given. I myself included.
I want to share with you a list of things that I have found to be some of the keys to true happiness in my life. If you try to do, or all of the things on this list, you will not just find yourself to be a happier person, but you will also affect the lives of everyone around you. Here are the keys that I have practiced to find true happiness in my life:

1.) Find beauty in everything and everyone.
2.) Never put yourself above anyone else. Love yourself, but love others just the same.
3.) Find joy in helping others. You’ll find that the best way to help yourself is to help others.
4.) Have a great sense of optimism, not just for yourself, but for every person you meet. 
5.) Focus on your strengths and use them to make your strengths stronger. You can strengthen your weaknesses, but practice more at what you’re good at. Others can make up for your weaknesses.
6.) Talk and speak up for yourself, but more importantly listen.
7.) Don’t let the critics get you down. Sort through it and only listen to constructive criticism.
8.) Say, “hi” or, “how’s it going?” and smile to everyone that makes eye contact with you.
9.) Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with anyone. Don’t let anyone intimidate you and make you feel like they will not listen to you and never feel like you are talking to someone lesser than you.
10.) Listen to music and carefully listen to the lyrics. Don’t be afraid to sing out loud and dance. Most of us suck at it anyway.
11.) Never think that a question is stupid, but think long and hard before you answer it. Just because you think the answer is obvious, that person would not ask the question if they knew the answer.
12.) Believe everyone, including yourself, can get better.
13.) Give, give, give, and give some more. You do not have to spend a dime to do this.
14.) The hardest one on this list is to not let anything bother you and never complain no matter how hard things get. I constantly joke about my situation to make thing less bothersome.
15.) Forgive.
16.) Learn from the past without regret and don’t dwell on it. Don’t focus on the future to avoid anxiety, but still have goals and dreams. Live in the present and work towards your dreams one day at a time. 
17.) Try as much as you can in your life and discover your true passions. You want to look back on your life without regrets and be able to say, “I lived.”

How My Accident Has Increased My Faith

7 Apr

One thing I don’t really discuss is how my accident has increased my faith. What I once saw as a curse I now see as a blessing. I realized that God never puts you in a situation that is too big for you to handle. I have found my true purpose through what most people would consider a tragedy. I have a speech for a program at a church in Avon Lake, OH called Celebrate Recovery where I will be talking to people who are working on their own recovery. Here is a video that I created today about how my accident has increased my faith.

I Want Nothing More Than To Be a Father… Here is Why

4 Apr

I do not think there is anything in this world that I would be better at than being a father. I do not think there would be anything more rewarding or even comparable. I became an uncle at the young age of seven. I remember how proud I was bringing her in for “Show and Tell” in the fourth grade. By the time I was 10 I had two beautiful nieces, Morgan and McKenna. I had the opportunity to watch them grow while I grew.

I remember how much joy it brought to me when I could teach them something new. I remember reading them stories before they went to bed and it was an amazing experience to eventually have them reading the stories to me.

They looked up to me so much. They were and always have been a huge part of my life. When you have a young child looking up to you it makes you want to become a better person and a better influence. It makes you question your own actions.

In the fall of 2008 I went into my downhill spiral. My life was consumed by drugs, partying, and irrational decisions. I lost my mind and ended up in the psych ward. When I got out of the psych ward my older sister Bobbie gave me a copy of my niece Morgan’s essay that was dated for the same day that I was admitted into the psych ward. She had to write about her hero and that hero was me.

Morgan had no idea about all the terrible decisions that I had been making. I read that essay and broke down crying. It was a wake up call for me and it was a reminder of who I was and who I should and could be. At that point I became incredibly driven to fight to become the person that I once was and more.

I became optimistic. I had a great sense of self. I knew that I was a proven leader and I set out to accomplish what I wrote in my application to Ohio State about what I would bring to the University. I stated that I would bring prominence to the Waterski Team.

Maybe I’ve made it sound like I was just a big stoner in the couple years leading up to my accident, which I was, but I was driven like never before. Growing up I learned to become a very patient teacher by helping my nieces and all of the other children that were part of my life. I was great at bringing people together and making them believe in something. I was great at making people feel like they had self-worth.

I can’t say I did it alone, but I played a huge role in building the Waterski Team up from nothing and ultimately winning a National Title. I believed in our team and I made them believe in themselves. I attribute my success of making people be able to believe in themselves from growing up helping my nieces and other children discover what they are capable of and helping them to believe in their own abilities. I’ve always been a coach and I’ve always been able to make the process fun.

I’ll never forget rounding that final buoy at Nationals that would be the end of my waterskiing career. The accident came soon and it was time for the next chapter. Morgan and McKenna were all grown up now. I now had two young nephews in Zach and Keller. Zach was old enough where I knew he would remember how much fun we had together before my accident. Keller was so young that I was scared that he would only remember me as always being in a wheelchair. I didn’t believe that I could have fun with my nephews anymore. I didn’t believe that I could be the same uncle to Zach and Keller as I was to Morgan and McKenna.

Morgan and McKenna now lived in North Carolina and they came up to visit during the summer after my accident. I was miserable and hard to be around. When before I was the one that would always lift them up, now they were trying to lift me up.

I received a letter in the mail from Morgan about a week after they went back to North Carolina. She was crushed to see her “hero” completely give up on life. She told me that she knew I still had it in me to beat this and come out on top. Once again she wrote a letter that was a huge wake up call to me. I had two beautiful nieces and two young nephews that brought so much joy to my life and I wanted to bring joy to their lives. They were who I had to live for and set an example that we are never given a challenge that is too big to handle.

Now that I have weathered the storm, my nieces use my story as guidelines of how to live their life. They know what mistakes not to make and hopefully my life is being used by them as a blueprint for success.

Zach and Keller bring so much joy to my life now, and opposite of what I thought, I bring joy to their lives as well. Keller loves sitting on my lap and driving my wheelchair around. I have so much fun with him now. Every time I see Zach, I am the first one that he comes up to with a smile and he gives me a big hug. They are both so attracted to my positivity.

Recently I have been spending a lot of time with a six-year-old boy named Trae. Spending time with him has taught me that I am totally capable of raising a child. I pick him up from school sometimes, make him food, take him all over Columbus, and most importantly just have fun, make him smile, and I can be a positive influence on his life and be a huge role model.

I want nothing more in my life to be a father. Who knows when that day will come, but I know that I am ready for it and I will be great at it. I know that I have shaped the lives of many children throughout my life, but I also know that they have taught me to laugh, smile, and live in the moment.

I have a picture that was framed for me with fourth-graders that I spoke to a couple years back. Below the picture is a quote that says, “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was… The sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”


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