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.”