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.”

When I Found What Love Feels Like

28 Mar

I waited my entire life to find someone that was worth the pursuit. In 27 years I never met a girl that screamed perfection to me that I knew was worth the chase. I never met anyone who would come to mind every time I listened to a love song. Never anyone who I just found myself thinking about multiple times a day and envisioning a future with. Never anyone who made it so easy to bring out the best in me. A more simple way to put it is that I never knew what it felt like to be in love.

I felt fulfilled when I was around her. I cherished every second that I got to spend with her. The noise around me became quiet when we were together and I was just living in the moment with her. Nothing could distract me. Hours would pass by that would feel like minutes. 

I made it clear to her how I felt about her. I knew how I felt about her within the first few minutes of meeting her. It is said when you meet the right one you just know. I was 100% certain that I had met the one that I had been waiting for my entire life. Life has been different since the second that I met her.

I always wonder if she feels the same way. I was too afraid to ask. I was too afraid of rejection, too afraid to ask for that first kiss or simply just reach over and hold her hand and have her let go. I always wonder how often I run through her mind. I wonder if she thinks about me every day like I think about her. I wonder if lyrics of a song speak to her and she thinks of me just like I think of her.

She’s miles and miles away now pursuing her dreams. The last thing I was going to do was try and stop her. I want the world to recognize her talent and beauty and allow her to share it with the world and have them see the beauty she has inside and outside just how I saw it in her. Her talent and beauty is meant to be shared. I would be selfish to hold her back from sharing it. 

I think two of the most beautiful things in this world are having passion for something and spreading love to everyone in your path. Those are two qualities that she has.

I am so thankful that she came into my life. I am not saying goodbye. I am hanging onto the memories that we made together and I am thankful that she showed me how to love this world and to love others. I am hoping for many more memories in the future, although I am not going to sit around waiting for her. I’m going to continue to explore my options, which will be hard because she set the bar so high. If she comes back into my life one day then I will embrace her with open arms.

Thank you for coming into my life and showing me what love is and what it feels like. We are both living out the next chapters of our lives. Maybe one day a chapter will start that includes both of us together,  but even if that does not happen I hope we both live out chapters that neither one of us could have written any better.

One Man Can Change The World

14 Mar

I remember holding my diploma outside of Ohio Stadium and reflecting back on that seven year journey that it took to hold that piece of paper in my hands. I looked at the words “Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering” and I did not think for a second about things like struggling to make the grade to pass a class. Five years of classes and I did not see myself as an authority in that area. That was not my future. Instead I thought about the struggles that I went through to get that degree outside the classroom.

I thought about two years in particular. I thought about 2008 when I lost my mind and ended up in the psych ward. I thought about the fight that it took to get back my mind. I reflected back on 2011, the worst year of my life, once again fighting to get back my mind and losing the battle to get my body back after fighting harder for it than anything else I had in my life. Those two years talk taught me more than anything you can learn in a classroom in five years. 

I saw myself as an authority on perseverance and someone that knew the difference between right and wrong. So search for a civil engineering job? Absolutely not. 

“You know that I was never going to be a 9 to 5. No, that was never me. I was born with a compass in my hand and a restless soul.” – Andy Grammer

I looked at the paper and I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I knew that no employer besides myself was going to allow me to do exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something special. I wanted to change the world with my story. I wanted to spread hope. I wanted to send a message to the world that no matter how how hard life gets and how many things God throws at you that you are only given these struggles to become stronger in the future. I wanted to make people see the silver lining. Difficult times always lead to better days. I saw myself as a prime example of this.

I learned very quickly after my accident that the best way to help myself was to help others. It all started with one post on Facebook where I opened up to share my story. Right away people I hadn’t heard from in years were telling me that I was giving them a different perspective on life and that they no longer would take the little things in life for granted. Hundreds of blog posts later, speaking nearly 100 times to thousands upon thousands of people, and the reactions that I’ve got from the countless people that have read my book, I know that I’ve made my mark on this earth. 

From the hundreds of letters from students about how I impacted their life, the complete strangers that reach out to me on Facebook looking for help sharing with me the struggles that they are going through and believing that I have the answer, the standing ovations, the simple one on one conversations that I have with people after my speeches who are not afraid to open up to me, to just the kids or people that want to give me a hug or handshake after my speech just to thank me, go to show me that I am making a huge impact on this world. I chose to follow my own path and along that path there are so many beautiful things that I have seen.

I did all of this by making myself vulnerable. There are no secrets that I hold and nothing that I have not shared that cause me to feel shameful. By sharing my mistakes I know that I am teaching others not to go down the same path that I went down and now I’m teaching others to follow me down the path that I am going down now. 

Every day I wake up happier and more optimistic about the future than the day before. I wake up every day like I’m on a mission. I know that I will not have an impact on everyone that I come in contact with, but I do know that I have changed many lives. I’m not trying to be arrogant. I just want you to believe that one man can change the world and show you how you can as well. All you have to do to do the same is to realize that you will find true happiness by helping others. We all have made mistakes in our life and learned from them and all you have to do is share them and make yourself vulnerable because you can help someone else not to make the same mistake and suffer any amount of misery.

I finished my book back in February 2013 and ended it with this quote by Steve Jobs:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I’m one of the crazy ones. Are you?

No Complaints – How to Change One Life at a Time

17 Feb

I’ve been quiet for a while now. That doesn’t mean that nothing has happened. I have found great satisfaction in just helping someone one-on-one and seeing the progression. When you speak to a large group of people you do not get the satisfaction of following up with them and seeing if something you said made a difference in their life. When you work with someone one-on-one and you get to follow them and see how their life plays out. You can see the mistakes that they are making and relate it back to your own life and explain to them the consequences that you suffered. Sharing your own life lessons from both your successes and your failures, you can drastically change the life of an individual and prevent them from experiencing the hardships that you had to face throughout your life. If you stick with that person long enough, have faith in them, and see the growth of that individual, I promise you that it is more rewarding than anything.

Often at my speeches I get the same question, which is, “do you have any regrets?” I think people expect a long list of things that I regret about my past. Although I have the same answer every time and that answer is “no”. I go on to explain that everything I ever did, whether right or wrong, led me to become who I am today. I have found true happiness, purpose, patience, opportunity, and a life where I take nothing for granted. I am who I am today because of the mistakes that I made, but I do not regret those mistakes because I was given a second chance to use those mistakes as guidelines for others not to follow in my footsteps. My purpose now is prevention and to spread hope.

The wheelchair is an incredible tool. I believe that it makes the audience want to listen more closely to what I have to say. I do not want to spread fear, but I believe it does that in a way. Although by spreading that fear and capturing the attention of the audience, they will listen and see that I actually have a message of hope. Being disabled there is a stereotype that people believe that you’re miserable and do not live a high quality of life. People probably look at me before I start speaking and pray that they never end up in my shoes. When I tell people that I am happier now than I’ve ever been, I wonder if they actually believe it. I want to spread the message that no matter what situation you are in you are in charge of your own happiness. No one else can change your mindset and a positive mindset is all you need to find happiness. You can’t compare your life to others. You can’t focus on what you don’t have or what you can’t do. You need to focus on the things that you have in your life and you truly just need to appreciate being alive. The one thing you should never do is complain.

This brings me back to working with people one-on-one. You can’t speak to a crowd for an hour and expect a story to completely change their lives. Maybe they don’t believe you that you have found true happiness. Although when you work with someone one-on-one they see that you’re actually living the way that you claim to be living. This motivates them to believe that they can change their mindset.

Those people that are happily living with a disability are often called an “inspiration”. I’ve heard it many times before, but I do not believe it is fair because so many people have struggles in their lives that aren’t visible, unlike the disabled, and those people never get credit. We all have our own struggles and we can’t compare ourselves to others. It should be inspiring to see anyone living in true happiness without complaints in this high-pressure society. We need more people like that in this world. Those are the people that will change the world one life at a time.

I challenge you to be one of those people. I challenge you to live each day without complaining. If someone complains to you don’t agree with them. Try to help them focus on all the positive things in their life. Try to help them envision a better future. Positivity is contagious.The same goes for negativity. Positivity will attract positive people and make those people with a negative mindset think twice about their life. Change your mindset. Change the people around you. Change the world one life at a time.


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