1.) Coming in on top. Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.
I came to Ohio State after much success at my large high school in Stow. I was ready for a bigger stage and I wanted to make a name for myself. I was on a full ride scholarship which gave me more time to be involved at Ohio State.
I got accepted into the Mount Leadership Society. A scholars program that did a great deal of community service and leadership training. I was living with 100 people in a small dorm that were all a part of the program. I was surrounded by highly motivated people that really cared about one another. These people pushed me to do more and during that first year I accomplished a great deal. Surrounding yourself with good people is the key to developing yourself into a better person.
2.) Depression and a way to cope.
The week before my sophomore year started I went through hell week for my fraternity. It destroyed me physically and mentally. I had already signed a lease to live in the fraternity so I was not stuck around those people that had just spent an entire week hazing me. I fell into a deep depression and I needed change.
The next quarter I somehow found a deal to move into a luxury townhouse with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a three car garage for just $500 a month. The depression faded and the party began. My place became the place to get away from all of the rules and restrictions of dorm life. I started to smoke marijuana on a daily basis and threw massive parties. I became less involved at Ohio State and more focused on making myself happy.
3.) The cycle continues.
I did not want to quit smoking and I did not want to get an engineering internship. I decided to get a job at the nicest summer camp in the country teaching waterskiing. This turned out to be the best summer of my life and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I smoked every evening using almost every penny I got from camp to buy marijuana.
I came home to Columbus and marijuana became more and more a part of my life. It drained me financially and the people that I started to hang around were only those that smoked marijuana. Although a lot of these were my good friends, I drove away a lot of the really good friends that I had made my freshman year.
3.) No other way to cope with stress.
In the spring of 2008 I decided to stop smoking marijuana so that I could get a civil engineering internship. I was prescribed Adderall for my ADHD which allowed me to focus and get good marks in school and a lot done but it stripped me of my personality. I fell into another deep depression and I could not snap out of it.
The day that I was accepted into SPHINX I was numb to the situation. I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry but the Adderall stripped me of my emotions. This was enough though to snap me out of my depression.
I gave up on the job hunt and decided to work with my dad for the summer. I started to smoke marijuana more and more. I would disappear right after work just to get high. I would count down the hours at work until I could smoke.
My only two passions were smoking marijuana and waterskiing. That summer a dream came true when I won the state championship for slalom waterskiing.
4.) The euphoria took control of me.
I came back to Columbus and started to make a series of bad decisions:
– Spending $15,000 in less than two months
– Growing marijuana in my closet
– A crazy trip to California
– A drug binge
– Skipping class for four weeks
All of the stress caught up to me and I realized how big of a hole I was in. I was not ready to accept help and I thought that I could do it all on my own.
5.) Losing my mind.
I ended up in the psych ward in October 2008 believing that I was the second coming of Jesus Christ for 2 1/2 weeks. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was put on a heavy dose of medications. I spent 3 1/2 weeks in a partial rehabilitation program with psychologists, a psychiatrist, and group therapy to learn how to cope with stress and deal with life. I then spent three weeks in drug rehab.
6.) A new person with something to prove.
I quit smoking marijuana and when I returned to Columbus I was a completely different person. I realized how important it was to keep a sound mind. But as you get farther away from hitting rock-bottom you start to forget about all that you’ve been through. I started smoking marijuana once again against my doctors orders and did not think it would affect my medications.
7.) Euphoria again.
When we won the national championship for waterskiing for Ohio State I felt that I had accomplished everything I ever could at the University. Three months later I went off my medications for five days and the signs came back that quickly. I crashed my car leaving me paralyzed from the chest down.
I would think back to the day before the accident and remember just how good life was. I couldn’t believe how much I took for granted. I was determined to get back to where I was the day before the accident.
8.) Starting over.
Being in the hospital for almost 4 months gave me a lot of time to think about my decisions. I realized that I needed to stay drug-free and to keep a clear mind because that was all I had left.
I believed so strongly that I would walk again but eventually I started to doubt it more and more. I fell into a deep depression. I contemplated suicide and thought that all of my hopes and dreams were crushed. My only goal and focus was on walking again and I obsessed over it. I thought that without being able to walk and do everything physical in my life that I would never be happy.
9.) A new focus. My mind.
I started writing and I realized that through my story and through everything that I have learned that I had a great message to share and that I could help others. The focus was no longer on making myself happy but on making others happy. This in turn put a smile on my face. I started to create new goals for myself and decided to return to Ohio State.
10.) No looking back.
I met others with spinal cord injuries that had been bitter about their situation for over 30 years. I promised myself that I did not want to be one of those people. I decided that whether or not I walk I would be happy despite my situation.
The worst was over and I realized it could only get better from here on out. I actually had goals for myself other than walking and I was working towards something. I finished my degree and holding that diploma I reflected back on the seven year journey it took me to get there. Now it was time to take control of my future.
11.) A new passion.
I still needed to find that one thing that would replace my greatest passion that was waterskiing. I was asked to speak to a class at Ohio State and I found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was instantly hooked and I constantly kept searching for the next group I could speak too. Since then I have done over 40 speeches to audiences ranging from fourth-graders to college students to scientists and doctors. I have found that my story and my messages can relate to anyone.
12.) A dream come true.
Just recently I published my book titled ‘Well… I Guess I’m Not Jesus’. The book was finished in February 2013 and since then a lot has been added to the story. I am never content and I keep pushing myself forward. I constantly am looking for new opportunities for myself and having a book has opened up many doors for me.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED…
I really look forward to the new chapters that lie ahead in my life. I know the importance of keeping a sound mind and I believe that the mind can be much more powerful than the body. I had to hit rock bottom twice to learn this lesson. I smile every day because I know that the hard times are over. I will never put myself through what I’ve been through again.
I’ve once again learned the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. I have so many positive influences in my life and in turn I want to be a positive influence on others.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I never would’ve thought during that first year that today that I would be happier than ever. I thought life was over but now I realize that it was a new beginning.
I cherish each and every day because I know that God easily could not have spared me. Each night I pray that I am stronger tomorrow than I was today. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we reach the top. I am a survivor and because of that I am going to keep living life to the fullest.
Thank you to all the positive influences in my life and especially my family! Thank you for fixing this broken smile. Here’s to the future!