I remember back to when I was a kid. I was the shyest kid in the class. Possibly the shyest kid in the entire school. I was afraid of getting in trouble. I was afraid of breaking the rules. I vividly remember in the first grade my teacher had a card system where your card would be flipped to a different color if you did something bad. It was close to the end of the school year and I was the only kid in the class whose card had never been changed. A girl asked me if she could borrow my pencil during the morning announcements and I said, “sure.”The teacher heard it and that one word was enough to get my card changed from green to yellow.
I later pleaded to the teacher and explained the situation and begged for her to change it back. I was devastated that my card would stay yellow for the rest of the day and I cried to my teacher. At the end of the year they had an awards ceremony and the top boy and girl in the class were chosen to receive the Stoliion award. I was so happy to hear my name called off. My twin brother Aaron was also chosen and a girl in my class named Valerie.
Valerie was the only friend that I had made all year. On recess there was a set of two swings that we would go to every day. These were our swings and we even carved our initials above each swing claiming them as our own. Valerie also waterskied which brought our families together and soon enough we were camping together every weekend during the summer. Valerie was the only friend that I needed and I opened up to her and we spent every second together.
In the second grade my older brother Mike suggested that we should be boyfriend and girlfriend. He explained the idea to me and it made perfect sense so soon enough we made it official. She was my first kiss and my first love. I’m sure that most of you are thinking that a kid could not understand love in second grade but I felt like I had found it.
The only other friends that I made during elementary school were the ones that I met because of my twin brother Aaron. Aaron was much more outgoing than I was when we were in school as children. So he would invite them over and I would make them my friends as well. These friends are still the best friends that I have today. Outside of school I was much different than I was in the classroom. I was outgoing and I was crazy. I was the one that would organize the mush ball games in our front yard. I called everyone and planned our bike rides to McDonald’s. I was a leader at a long young age and I brought everyone together. But I was afraid of authority and I was afraid of getting in trouble.
In the fourth grade I remember a man coming in and giving a presentation about something called entrepreneurship. I realized that my dad was an entrepreneur and my uncle and that one day I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew at such a young age that I wanted to work for myself. That mentality still sticks with me to this day and I’m happy to say that I’m finally doing it. I’m doing what I dreamed of as a child.
Valerie was my best friend up until the sixth grade when she broke up with me. But today once again she is my best friend. I was heartbroken and I remember it was right before spring break and when all of the kids were excited to go on vacation I was left there ready to cry. I fell into a deep depression for months. I remember having to get my blood taken to figure out if there was something wrong with me. I could not function. I lost my best friend in the world and I was devastated. Looking back on it this was my first sign of bipolar disorder as I was experiencing my first manic episode but it was a manic low rather than that manic high.
At the end of the sixth-grade we took a trip to a camp where we would stay the night for a couple of days. I came into the camp depressed feeling like I had no friends so I realized that I had to make a change. I had to start talking and I had to be the person that I was outside of school inside of school. So we laid in our bunkbeds that first night and everyone was having a conversation but me. That was when I opened my mouth for the first time. Soon enough I had the entire cabin laughing hysterically. They could not believe that the kid that would never say a word had them all almost laughing to tears. That night I fell asleep with the biggest smile on my face and I was ready to change so that I would not be alone.
We went into the seventh grade and I was a completely different person. I started to talk to everyone. Not just the popular kids but everyone. I did things that took me outside of my comfort zone. At the end of the seventh grade I decided to run for student council president. I made a hilarious video with stuffed animals tied to strings and that video help me to win the election. Ineighth-grade I would now be the student holding the most power out of anyone. In one year I went from being someone that nobody knew or heard to the kid that the next year you have to hear every day on the morning announcements.
I pushed myself to do more and more. In high school. I was elected to student government freshman, sophomore, and junior year. In my junior year I was chosen as one of two students to represent the entire school as part of a program called Junior Leadership Akron. In my senior year I took a tour of the Ohio State University and fell in love. I felt that if I could thrive at a large high school then I could do the same at one of the largest universities in the country. But I was sold when I saw they had a water ski team.
My dad said that if I went away to school I would have to pay my way through college. So I applied for several scholarships and one day I got a letter in the mail that would forever change my life. I opened the letter and read that I had received a full scholarship to the Ohio State University. I jumped up and down and screamed with excitement. My dad was the first one I called and he could not believe it. I called my entire family and I was prouder than I had been in my entire life.
So soon enough I was on my way to Columbus. I was chosen to be a member of the Mount Leadership Society Scholars Program where I would do community service and learn about leadership skills. I was meeting incredible people and making some of the best friends I had met in my entire life. No longer was I that shy kid back in elementary school. I was making hundreds of new friends and soon enough I felt like there were familiar faces all over campus. I got very involved and joined the water ski team. I ran for captain knowing that I would lose but it was a great way to introduce myself to the team. Later that year I was elected to be treasurer of the team. The following year my dreams came true when I was elected captain and then I was even elected for a second term. I had my hands in a little bit of everything at Ohio State.
I decided to join a fraternity which proved to be the worst decision that I would ever make in college. I went through hell week and endured all of the horrible hazing and became an active member of the fraternity. At the end of hell week all I wanted to do was get out of the house. But instead I would be living upstairs. That was when I experienced my second manic episode. I was so horribly depressed that I could not function.
I decided to move out after that quarter and I somehow was able to manage to find a brand-new luxury townhouse that would usually cost $2100 per month for $500 per month. I had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a three car garage all to myself. I started to party like crazy and it got out of control. I threw seven beer pong tournaments which most of them had 64 teams where each person paid five dollars just to enter. I started to smoke marijuana on a daily basis. I felt like I was on top of the world. Instead of going to class I would take out the boat all day long.
At the end of my junior year I applied to this Sphinx Senior Class Honorary and I was chosen to be one of 24 members. This was the highest honor that you could achieve at Ohio State. I remember thinking back to growing up where I was too shy to even make a friend. I was now being recognized as one of just 24 students out of about 10,000 seniors to be a part of this organization. I had finally made a name for myself.
That summer I won the state championship for slalom skiing which was always one of my dreams. My father had done it before and I was now following in his footsteps. But the euphoria that came along with this sent me into my first manic high. I will not go into the details but that is what led me to end up in the psych ward.
So after years of feeling like I was on top of the world I hit rock bottom. I had to fight so incredibly hard to get my mind back. But eventually I got back on track. But I continued to smoke marijuana on a daily basis and eventually that led to my next manic episode which led to my crash.
Looking back on all that I had accomplished growing up I now realized that I set myself up to be ready for such a horrific situation. I was a fighter. I fought so hard to be able to walk again but it never happened. It was so hard to fight for something and not see any progress and my entire life I would fight for something and I would achieve it. I could always fight to get another buoy on the slalom course. I could fight for a better grade in a class. I would always fight and see progress but now I was fighting a battle that I would not win. For once I felt defeated and it was a feeling that I did not know.
During that first year after my accident I felt like I had nothing left worth fighting for. But eventually I looked back at my life and realized all that I accomplished. I had to convince myself that I still was that same person. Eventually I came back with a vengeance and I had to prove to myself that I could still live at that high-level. So when I returned to Ohio State I had a new stage to fight on. I had unfinished business there and I set out to finish it. I would not let my disability get in the way.
When I look in the mirror today I see that person that I saw before the accident. I don’t even see the wheelchair anymore. All I see is a smile that is real. A smile of someone who took control of his life again.
I set out to pursue the dreams that I had as a child. I’m now working with a business strategist to write a business plan so that the government can fund my own business. I have a Kickstarter campaign starting up soon where I will raise money to cover the costs of publishing my book. We will host a big kickoff event in June which I will let you know the details of soon.
The dreams that I had as a child are finally coming true. I feel that it is important to look back on our childhood dreams and make sure that we are on track today. I remember thinking back when I was a child and not being able to see my life past the age of 26. The idea of being paralyzed never crossed my mind. I never thought that my disability would help me realize that I needed to follow my childhood dream.
So today I challenge you to look back to what it was you wanted as a child and look at your life and see if you really are pursuing that dream. Because I feel that as children we understand what will truly make us happy. As adults we lose track of what will make us happy to go after other things such as money and power. Try to be able to be honest with yourself that your childhood version of you could look at your life and say that’s what I wanted to become.