Imagine waking up in the morning and being unable to move to get yourself out of bed just waiting for someone to come in that door to get you up. Your patience is tested. It is terrifying at first. Just the feeling of being trapped is something that is hard to get over. Every day starts like this and this goes on for weeks, then months, and then years pass by. Eventually, it just becomes normal. To make the time pass by you put on your favorite playlist on Spotify and jam out to music. You make a make a phone call to a family member or friend who you know is on their way to work. You catch up on your emails. You learn to do everything you can to keep your mind occupied and start your day off right. You cannot be bitter. It is what it is. There is no other way to wake up than with a smile on your face with optimism about the day ahead of you.
For over six years now that has been my morning. Although it took me six years to just recently find out that if I leave my wheelchair next to my bed I can actually get myself into it. This is always something that I thought would be impossible until I actually tried it just once. The first time I did it it felt like I broke out of prison. Once I get in my wheelchair I get this sense of freedom. It’s almost like I forget about my disability.
I always wake up early no matter what time I tell Kate to get here, but once she gets here and gets me dressed the day officially begins. So what does a normal day look like for me? That is hard to say because I do not do routine. I could never be tied down with a normal 9-to-5 job. I am my own boss, which allows no one day to be like the next.
For my business I work as a motivational speaker, I wrote a book, and I am a life coach. I make my living speaking. I only work about 2 to 3 hours a week speaking which is a beautiful thing because it allows me to make enough to support myself while giving me the time to go in any direction I want.
When I meet someone new, I usually just give him or her a copy of my book. Especially if they are in a situation where I feel like my story would help them. The satisfaction of hearing them tell me that they could not put it down and that I gave them a new perspective is worth far more than the $10 I could charge them for it. I do not make any money as a life coach either. I could charge, but I would never want to turn anyone away. The ultimate satisfaction I get is working with someone one-on-one and seeing the progression in their life as I can just be there for them and help them realize that a brighter future is ahead of them.
You would think that now that I have spoken over 250 times that telling the same story would get old fast. This does not even include the countless times I have shared my story with random strangers. Although the feeling I get when I sit on stage alone with that microphone and I look around and can see over 1,000 students with not a single person looking away is indescribable.
The rewarding part is after each presentation there is usually a long line of students just wanting to shake my hand, say thank you or give me a hug. At the end of the line, I can see those students that are waiting to talk to me one-on-one who are really struggling and looking for help. I will talk to them, but I know that just a short conversation is not going to change much. So I always give them a business card and urge them to reach out to me and I tell them that I’m willing to do anything to help them. This is where I build relationships and work as a life coach and try to help make serious changes in their lives. My ultimate goal is to help them find happiness.
Every day I spend a lot of time talking to so many different people that reach out to me for help. Patience is something that I used to really lack. After all that I’ve been through it has become one of my best qualities. More than anything, I love working with these people tirelessly no matter how difficult it may seem to help these people. So many people just need someone to talk to that can relate to how they are feeling. I love being that person. Just to hear that that person had a good day or that I made them smile is all the payment I need.
Even though I only work 2 to 3 hours a week I always have a very busy fulfilling schedule. I love working with children and being a positive influence on their lives. I have been taking care of an eight-year-old boy named Trae for a few years now who I love very much who also makes me feel very loved. I have been working with a seven-year-old boy named Rian who is in a difficult situation and failed kindergarten because his grandfather never took him to school last year. He was very far behind in school so for about two months now I have been working with him a couple days a week to help him learn to read and get his homework done. I do not ask for a dollar to help with these kids.
Rian went from being way behind his classmates to now being in the 98th percentile in reading and 93rd percentile in math. His confidence in school has picked up so much and now he is ahead of most of his classmates. Seeing the change in the life of a child like this is priceless. Being around children makes you want to be a better role model and a better person. They also have no sense of the chaos that is going on in this world and they live in the moment. I feed off their energy, which wakes me up more than any amount of coffee.
A completely different world that I have immersed myself into is the field of developmental disabilities. I currently serve as President of the Ohio Self Determination Association. We help empower the lives of people with developmental disabilities or the “self-advocates”. We work statewide and help to give these people a platform so that they can speak up for themselves about the issues that are important to them.
Through this organization, I have met some of the most amazing and passionate people that I have come across in my life. Every person that works in this field does it for the right reasons. They want to make a positive change in the lives of the people that they serve.
I have met people with just about every disability imaginable. It has been amazing to watch this movement grow as more and more self-advocates want to speak up for their rights. Legislation is constantly changing and these people fight so hard for themselves to make sure the resources are in place so that they can go about and live a better life.
Regardless of their circumstances, I have met so many amazing people with developmental disabilities that tirelessly fight the adversity they face. These are some of the happiest loving people that I have ever met. I have loved every second that I have spent serving them because I know this group of people is so deserving of having the opportunity to live a life where they have equal opportunities as the rest of us.
This is the second year that I have had a grant through The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. This year the focus has been on helping people with spinal cord injuries have hope about their future and showing them resources of how they can live a more fulfilling life. I know how difficult that transition was for me where you basically start life over again. It is an amazing feeling to be on the other side now where I can give back and provide optimism for them about their future.
I spend a lot of time working with recently injured patients with spinal cord injuries one-on-one visiting at the hospital. I am in the process of becoming a Peer Mentor through the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation so that I can make a bigger impact by being able to work with more newly injured patients. I am very excited about this opportunity.
I love all the different directions that my life has taken me. At this point, I am starting to look forward to the future and figure out which direction I want to take. One direction that I am really leaning towards is to get a Masters in School Counseling from The Ohio State University. It just so happens that the best program in the country is right in my backyard. I feel like this would be a very rewarding career and that I would love working with students and seeing the progression in their lives over the years that I can be with them. Once that class moves on I would be able to start fresh and work with another class of students and provide them with direction and coping skills to be ready to face the challenges that lay ahead of them in the future.
I was asked one time if I had a five-year plan. I told that person that the last time I had a five-year plan I had my accident and life went in a completely different direction. I can try to plan my life as much as I want, but I never know what exactly God has in store for me. It is an understatement to say that I am enjoying the ride that I have been on so far. This is a life and career path that I never ever would have imagined six years ago. I just know that wherever life leads me next I will do it with all my heart and it will be something that has meaning and purpose and continues to make an impact on as many people that are brought into my life.