Friday, October 26, 2012
One of the most important things about living with a disability is to squeeze every ounce last of independence out of life that you can. For me, that meant facing my fears and learning to drive again.
As a paraplegic, I cannot use my legs. It’s already a big deal to transfer from my wheelchair to a truck. The thought of driving that same truck once I was inside was more than a little frightening. I knew, however, that I didn’t want people to be driving me around for the rest of my life, so I had to face my fears. And like so many other things in life, it was really much easier than I had imagined.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Many people have asked me: “Jon, why did you write this story?” The answer is simple. It’s not what Dwight went through. Bad things happen to good people all the time. It’s not that Dwight overcame extreme adversity and continues to do so every day. That’s a great story, but it’s not enough. What made Dwight’s story compelling was his decision to make it all count for something. It wasn’t easy for Dwight to put himself out there, to be the center of attention, and offer himself as an example of what people with disabilities can do. It took him a couple of years to internalize that decision, to turn his tragic accident into an opportunity, and to become a public figure. Once he did, there was no looking back.
For the first year after his accident, Dwight’s life was centered on survival – both physical and emotional. His constant regiment of surgery and rehab followed by more surgeries, more rehab, more pain, and more setbacks would have crushed a lesser person. And while I know Dwight had a despondent moment or two along the way, his spirit was indomitable. He wouldn’t quite, and his family, his church, and his community wouldn’t either. They locked arms and hearts to make sure Dwight pulled through,, and when he did, Dwight knew something special had happened. Yes, his life changed on a dime. Yes, he lived in pain every day. And, yes, he would be paralyzed forever. But mostly he knew that all that wasn’t enough to keep a good man down.
Slowly but surely, Dwight forged a plan. He started to accept speaking engagements at Middle Schools and High Schools throughout the south. He began his “Before You Drink, Think Dwight” tour, and it was a hit. It was a hit because Dwight wasn’t preachy. Bad things happened to innocent people when you drink and drive, but he wasn’t in the business of scaring people. He was in the business of teaching responsibility to youngsters and showing them what they could accomplish no matter the odds. He filled his talks with humor, funny anecdotes, and serious tales of people with disabilities. Each talk was sprinkled with laughter and tear. Dwight explained that he forgave the driver that put him in his wheelchair, and he spoke forgiveness as a better path than hatred or vengeance.
Later on, Dwight started his own support group for men with disabilities and extended his speaking to college campuses, major hospitals, MADD groups, and more. In fact, he was so tireless that LIFE, an organization associated with AmeriCorps, nominated him for the National Service Award. He was one of many thousands nominated, and he was one of only three selected for the honor.
Dwight’s story is just beginning. He got married after the accident to the love of his life, Tamika, and they are expecting their first child this December. He drives himself to every speaking engagement, and his rams are like tree stumps from all the weight lifting and manual rolling he does in his chair. Dwight has found the courage to build a full and rewarding life and to bring his story of humble triumph to the world. To this write, that’s a story worth telling.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Last week I wrote a description about my introduction to my wheelchair. Wheelchairs are amazing things, and I have learned over the past few years that they hold a fascination for youngsters. Here’s what I mean.
A few years back, I was doing some Christmas shopping for the family. Minding my own business, I hardly had a care in the world. I was meandering slowly through the store and rolling gently around a corner when I was suddenly face to face with a beautiful young girl, perhaps six years old. Her eyes grew wide when she saw me and she blurted: “Mama, I want one of those for Christmas.”
The girl’s enthusiasm and honesty were infection, and her mom was horrified. The young girl, of course, thought my wheelchair was a toy, and she wanted one. It looked like fun to her. I noticed the pained look on her mom’s face, chuckled, and said: “Darling, I love your attitude, but I don’t really think this is for you.” I then smiled at both of them and moved on. As I say In “Still Standing,” I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the little girl’s mom explained what the wheelchair was really all about.
In a second instance, I was rolling down the aisle of a grocery store one day with my gripper extended trying to reach some cereal. All of a sudden, I was flying down the aisle faster than the speed limit on a superhighway unable to slow down. As I glanced behind me, a young adventurer had decided it would be great fun to push this thing with the big wheels. To him, it looked like his Big Wheel back home. He was laughing and shouting and having a ball, and I just had to laugh along with him. We finally came to a stop, and a crowd began to gather, not sure what to do exactly. I told the youngster: “No harm, no foul,” and then suggested he not do that a second time.
What I have learned over the years is that wheelchairs can be an irresistible attraction for youngsters. I love their spirit of adventure, but I am also always on the lookout for that brave young soul who thinks running at full speed pushing a wheelchair would be the best fun ever. To my fellow wheelchair travelers, I say this: “Beware. The under ten crowd can cause some excitement you might not really want.”
Thursday, October 4, 2012
“Dang, Dwight. We’re gonna have to hire a drywall crew just to keep up with the holes you keep knocking in the walls,” my physical therapist would joke. “But don’t worry. You’re getting the hang of it.” And I was. A week later, they were teaching me how to do wheelies, which is important because sometime I have to roll over obstacles or move from a slightly lower place to a higher place. And the fear of tipping over was always there.