I put it simply in my book that if life was a poker game then in my first 24 years I had a royal flush. But I wasn’t playing my cards quite right. I was ready physically for anything. I had strength, balance, stamina, agility, and speed. But mentally I was damaging my mind through self-medication. I put my body first and my mind second.
I said that in life since the accident the dealer gave me a pair of twos. Now that is not much but it still is enough to win any poker game. I’m sure that most of you thought the odds were against me and they were. The chances of making a full recovery were 0.9% and I lost that hand. But since then I think that I’ve been dealt a new hand. My accident has opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunities. Because the focus that was once before on my body is now 100% on my mind. Since making this realization my life has been better than ever before.
My life now is totally focused on helping others. I no longer care about material things like cars, boats, or money. I want to help others believe in themselves to not give up and to push themselves to be the best person that they can be. So I will not keep quiet.
I just reread my book in the last couple of days and realized that it ended with me just talking about my goals and dreams for the future. But since I finished it in February I have started chasing those dreams.
A few of the highlights were doing a TED talk, getting back on to the water, and just recently speaking to Jim Tressel’s class. It all started with me sending an email to him about my Kickstarter explaining to him how much the autographed picture and card meant to me when I was in the hospital. I also had a connection in that my grandmother’s late husband, Gordon Larson, got Jim Tressel his first coaching job at the University of Akron.
In the days leading up to the speech I prepared by reading his book ‘The Winners Manual’. I took a great deal away from this book but what was great is that a lot of what he was trying to explain were some of the things that I’ve made a realization about since my accident.
For most football players their dreams of ending up in the NFL are not going to happen. So they must find a new passion and purpose for the life that is different than football. My life was completely focused around waterskiing and when I had my accident I thought that my life was over. But I found out that what it did was that it gave me a new direction and gave me a new purpose in life that would bring more happiness to me than ever before.
I’m yet to have a dream about waterskiing since my accident so I have not even been able to relive the feeling in my dreams. But I have found that I am still able to drive through a slalom course and to enjoy my time on the water. I’m more of an observer now than an active participant in water sports. But now I found joy in teaching the sport and just watching something as simple as my nephew kneeboarding. I’m content and happy just to see others smile doing something that I used to really enjoy.
Now back to the speech. I spoke to a class of incoming freshman at the University of Akron. He introduced himself and then I pointed him in the direction of my grandma. Her smile lit up the room as he approached her. She desperately needed the satisfaction and afterwards Jim Tressel introduced me to the class and then started talking about my grandma and her late husband Gordon. It made me so happy just to see her smile.
I then went on to give my speech with the class, Jim Tressel, and a reporter from the Akron Beacon Journal listening in. It’s a great feeling when you look around and you see that you have everyone’s attention. I showed the Kickstarter video and then afterwards I asked them if they had any questions. These were incoming freshmen so they were pretty shy and timid.
Tressel took leadership and came to the front of the class and started to ask me questions which led me to give advice to the incoming freshman. He asked me about the importance of surrounding yourself with good people which I am a firm believer in. I believe that the type of people that you surround yourself with will be the type of person that you become. I think that it was something that I said that made Jim Tressel realize something that he never talk to any of his players or classes. He talked about the importance of surrounding yourself with good people but also how to keep yourself surrounded by good people. He said that you need to be a good person to others to keep those people around.
I studied the way that he talked to the class. He talked slowly and took long pauses between thoughts. He made everything very easy to comprehend. It made me think about my speaking style and how I can change it for the future.
Afterwards we took some pictures with Tressel and my family and then he walked me over to the football stadium. He asked me if I knew of a guy named Tyson Gentry. This was a guy that he named as one of his few heroes in his book. We are friends on Facebook but we have yet to really get to know one another. He suffered a spinal cord injury in practice for Ohio State football in I think 2004. He admired Tyson’s strength and he understood what it took to recover from this type of situation. He just thought it was great that we could both still have a smile on our faces and find purpose in life after such a tragic accident.
I was to speak to the football team but we got there a little too late. Jim Tressel showed me the indoor athletic facility at the University of Akron which was incredible. We got to talk as a photographer from the Akron Beacon Journal took hundreds of pictures of us. He then took me upstairs to meet the coach of the University of Akron football team, Terry Bowden.
While we were in his office I shared some of my story with him. He told me that he would love to have me come speak to the football team in a classroom setting. He thought that they would not have my full attention that day because they just finished with practice.
After I left his office I had Jim Tressel sign the book that I had read. Then I walked through campus with him until he said that he had to run because he had so many things to do that day.
I greatly appreciate the time that he spent with me that day. He could’ve easily left much earlier but he was very considerate and interested in helping me. I learned so much just by spending spending a few hours with the guy.
That was a day that I will never forget. I was hoping that they would write an article in the Akron Beacon Journal that included something about my story. But we contacted the reporter later on and she said that they were only there to get the story about Tressel. I will have to wait for my time.
I have a team of five people that call themselves Team Adam that are working with me weekly to help me reach my goals and my dreams. The meetings are incredibly organized thanks to a man named Ken. He has come up with a priority sheet, an agenda for each meeting, and a spreadsheet that allocates jobs to different people which is constantly updated when we meet. The other day he met with me about how to take over leadership of this group. He even used a connection at the Ohio State University Medical Center to get us the nicest meeting room at the medical center for next Friday for a meeting.
Yesterday I took part in a CAT meeting that is run through the organization called Greenleaf that is been helping me on a weekly business to help pursue my goals. I shared my story at the meeting and then afterwards everyone there had suggestions on how they could help me.
I was approached by a man afterwards who told me how companies are now required to teach their employees about working alongside people with disabilities. He had a connection at Cardinal Health that we are going to get set up with. There is also some type of conference where I am trying to find an opportunity to speak at about living with a disability. I think that this will be a great opportunity for the future in finding speeches in the corporate business world.
After the meeting I went to my first day of drivers training. I thought that I was just going to be evaluated to drive and I had no idea that they would get me in a car that day. He helped me transfer into the passenger seat of the car and then we drove over to the west campus lot at Ohio State. Then it was my turn to drive.
The vehicle was equipped with hand controls and a spinner knob on the wheel. All I had to do was push forward for break and then bring it back and pushed down for gas with my left hand. In that hand I have very little function so I was worried that it would be a huge problem but it was not at all. I gripped the spinner knob with my right hand and he showed me the proper way to hold it. Then it was time to take the vehicle out of park and put it into drive
I cannot believe how excited and nervous I was at the same time. The last time that I drove was the night of my accident. But this set up is very similar to driving a boat which is something that I am very used to.
I had no problem getting around the parking lot so he told me that I was ready to get out on the road. I cannot explain the feeling that I got when I was back on the road again. I felt so free and it was like the first time I got my drivers license when I was 16.
We returned back and I transferred out of the car. I had to sign some paperwork and he said that it would take a couple weeks to process until I could start the actual training. Having the independence from driving again is going to make my life so much better. You never know what you are capable of until you try and this was one of those things that I was unsure of.
So after finishing reading my book I knew that there was much more that I had to add to it. People like to hear that others have dreams but they would much rather hear about them chasing their dreams and actually accomplishing their goals. So now I have a lot more to write about to add to my story.
I greatly appreciate all the little things in life now. I appreciate a sunny day or just having someone to talk to. I used to let the littlest things bring me down. Like a day when there was a storm and I would not be able to take my slalom set that day. It took a lot to make me happy but now it takes very little.
Appreciate the simple things in life. Not all of us are dealt the greatest hand but we are all capable of succeeding and winning in this life. There is so much to live for. If you’re surrounding yourself with people that are constantly bringing yourself down go out and search for someone new. But remember that you must be a good person to them in order to keep them around. It will all payoff in the end.
Now I’ve got some writing to do…