Knowing how our country really needs some strong inspiration right now, I wanted to share one of my favorite contributor's story from my new book, When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out
I dare you to read this story and not walk away believing anything is possible...
Several years ago, I saw a news piece about an eight-year-old boy and it blew me away. He had no arms and no legs, but he wasn't letting this adversity stand in his way. I found the clip on the Internet and forwarded it on to everyone I knew, asking for help in tracking him down. I had to meet this little boy. I tried all my networks and even tried to reach the local news station that had broadcast the story. With my contacts leading me nowhere, I swept the Internet. I couldn't find the child, but there was something impelling me to continue the search.
As a last-ditch effort, I took his last name and the town he was from and called Information myself. Maybe the old-fashioned route would work. On the second try, I reached and spoke to Gabe Adams's mother. It had taken me months to track Gabe down. I had an easier time finding Fortune 500 CEOs and fashion icons. It seemed only appropriate that I had to jump through endless hoops to track down a boy who has had to jump through hoops since he was born.
Meeting him in person was much greater than I could have ever imagined. Gabe rolled or hopped wherever he needed to go. He wiggled his way up the stairs, and could flip a cup up with his mouth to get a drink. Regardless of the task, a smile never left his face.
Before I left, Gabe drew a picture of me with skis by holding a pencil between his shoulder and ear. I actually think it was a better depiction than I would have drawn as an eight-year-old. I still have the drawing on my fridge as inspiration to remember that absolutely anything is possible...
I sat at the end of the diving board and stared down at the water, which, quite frankly, seemed miles below. From the side of the pool came cheers from my mother, father and many brothers and sisters. "Come on, Gabe!" "You can do it!" "You're not going to quit now, are you?"
The commotion had drawn the attention of all the other swimmers. The local pool was typically abuzz, but at that moment you could hear a pin drop. Apparently, an eight-year-old boy without arms or legs, dangling off a diving board, draws a lot of attention.
I've found that attention seems to follow me. Wherever I've gone, people always see me as different. Well, not everyone. Not my family. They never let me look at myself as disabled, despite the Hanhart Syndrome I was born with. They helped me see myself as a normal boy who could find independence. I just needed a different approach to accomplish things. And maybe, more importantly, they let me figure out what that different approach might be.
I guess my parents decided that, with thirteen brothers and sisters, I'd better be able to fend for myself. It didn't mean that they had no concerns for how an adopted son was going to work his way into this active family...never mind how I would get around. But my mom told me that, even when I was very young, I wasted no time figuring out how to get what I needed. When I was eight months old, my brother Landon took my pacifier and crawled across the room to taunt me with it. With my first physical challenge in place, I rolled across the room and bit Landon on the leg until he dropped the pacifier. The "getting around" issue had already been solved.
My physical limitations were often compounded by additional challenges. With Hanhart Syndrome, I also had short-term memory loss. One day, I'd learn to climb the stairs by putting my head on a step, then slowly squirming and thrusting my torso after it. The next day, I would yell and cry at the bottom of the stairs because I had forgotten how to navigate this impossible barrier. With the help of my family, physical therapists and a whole lot of repetition, climbing stairs eventually became second nature.
Without any other people like me around to copy and learn from, I often had to invent the tools I needed as I went along. When I saw kids playing jump rope, I figured out I could hop where I needed to go. I realized I could write and draw with a pencil tucked between my head and shoulder. I even found a way to dive onto a skateboard, because that wasn't a thrill I was going to miss. Life became one huge experiment.
Everything took me a little longer to learn, but the reward was always that much greater. There were always people who assumed I couldn't accomplish something. The frustration drove me to work that much harder and prove them wrong.
Very few people thought I could swim without drowning. But my father took me to the pool again and again, and let me battle through the hard days. I adopted a motto that I carry with me for every challenge I encounter: I Can Do It with a Smile on my Face. Not only will I embrace the challenge, I'll stick with it until I have it mastered. And nearly every day, I'm supplied with a whole new challenge.
On that particular day, my challenge was plunging off the diving board. Teetering out there on the end, I had to admit it was one of the scariest adversities I'd ever had to face. I looked around at all the disbelieving people responding to the now almost jeering shouts of my family. My parents and siblings knew I wouldn't feel fulfilled until I had this checked off my list of accomplishments, until I built up my hard shell against one more adversity. And they knew I'd be even more fulfilled knowing I had proved all the cynics around the pool wrong.
I took a deep breath and bounded off the end of the board. Seconds later I splashed into the chilly water below, and that water had never felt so satisfying. I broke the surface with the always-promised smile on my face. But when I came up for air, it wasn't the silence of the other swimmers or the shouts of my family that I heard, but the overwhelming sound of applause. A sound that reminded me it was no ordinary task I had just accomplished. It was the sound of gaining my independence.
So what do I want to be someday? I really liked flying in an F16 at the Hill Air Force Base, and I loved wearing Nikki Stone's Olympic medal. So perhaps one day I'll be a jet pilot or a world-class athlete. Or maybe a teacher who inspires his students to believe that, despite their apparent limitations, the world is their oyster...arms and legs or not.
As you read my blogs, keep in mind that these stories, anecdotes and tools are all based around my philosophy for success: THE TURTLE EFFECT (Highlighted in the new book When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out -- that was featured on the Today Show on February 7th). The Turtle Effect was taught to me by my mother when I was a young girl. She told me that I could achieve anything I wanted to as long as I remembered to have a soft inside, a hard shell, and be sure to stick my neck out.
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