Well seeing that it’s 2015 now and that I have this sweet new website AND since last week was about as EPIC as they come I figure it’s time to get typing. First blog of 2015 on my slick new website! Here we go…
I should start by saying that 2014 was another RAD year! I don’t even know where to begin. I traveled all over Canada and the USA to some great places I have been before and love. I also visited some new great places I had never been before and fell in love with. I met a ton of awesome people; added some new ink to my body; saw countless rad punk, metal and ska shows and just all-in-all had an incredible year!! No complaints on 2014 from this guy.
2014 also saw me taking an indefinite break from my pals at ICBC after 12 years to focus on new directions and opportunities. It was a bit of a scary leap but the move to being totally solo has lit a fire under my butt and I have all kinds of projects underway that shall soon be surfacing. This website being one of them. It’s exciting times!!
I closed out 2014 with my 5th Manitoba Public Insurance “Friends For Life Tour.” It was the best one yet. I spoke in 15 schools in 8 days. It was busy but awesome! Man I love Winnipeg – even when it is sub zero temperatures outside. Thanks for the opportunity MPI!
My two final talks of the year were fittingly at Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, not far from where I live. I have spoken at this school more times than any other over the years, and it’s always awesome. My grande finale presentation for 2014 was at Foundation in Vancouver, yet another regular and favourite stop of mine. A great way to close out a phenomenal year!!
Big thanks to all of the schools, organizations, sponsors, students and advisors, staff and students, community partners and everyone who worked hard to bring me to your community and / or school in 2014. To all who made me feel welcome and at home and who took my words and message to heart I would not be able to, nor want to do this, if it wasn’t for you amazing folks.
Things got kind of quiet once the speaking ended for the year as per usual. The weather in Vancouver is normally pretty wet and gloomy leading up to the Holidays. 2014 was no exception. I spent a lot of time at home chilling with my cats Carmelita and Zeke, playing guitar and singing (if you can call it that haha) and cooking. I also caught up with friends and family. Lots of friends. Lots of family. Throughout the Holidays that is what I did most – chill with loved ones at their home or mine. I also created a pretty RAD heavy METAL Xmas tree, as has been the theme for about 5 years now.
After the Holidays things were pretty uneventful. I was admittedly being kind of lazy then laziness turned into a bout of insomnia. I think my insomnia may have been guilt induced due to my recent lack of productivity. I had a few sleepless nights where at some point I just gave up, grabbed my note pad and started typing. I came up with a bunch of ideas for projects to come, and again these I am happy to say are under development now. And once I started working on these projects I got pretty into it. Over the past month I have spent a lot of time in my 700-ish square foot punk rock / metal man-den. Productive yes. But this reclusive lifestyle also gave me a bit of cabin fever. A cure for the fever was around the corner.
Last Sunday one of my all time favorite bands the Mad Caddies came through Vancouver with openers The Aggrolites and The Bunny Gang. Totally sick tour. I have seen the Caddies lots over the years and have gotten to know all the guys, especially their trombone player Eddie. Me and Eddie are bros. So when they come through town now it is more than just a show. It is a reunion with friends – and usually family. Mad Caddies are pretty fun music, and out of all of the bands I listen to I have turned more friends and family onto the Caddies than any other band. And the range of people goes from friends, male and female alike, sisters, aunts, uncles, my mom… you name it.
For this show we had a crew consisting of my sister and bro-in-law Allison and Jeff, my sister Hayley, my uncle George and Aunt Carol-Lyn (both in their 60s) and a slew of friends. Everyone had rooms for the night so good safe fun was in the cards. We met Eddie pre-show for some eats and what-not before heading to the show. The show was at a place called The Imperial ( a newer venue in Vancouver located in pretty well the worst part of town). Regardless of it’s sketchy location, the Imperial is a great venue. I hope to see more shows there in the future.
The Aggrolites were on when we entered the venue. They sounded better than I had ever heard of their recorded material even without their lead singer. Their singer had laryngitis, so the bass player was trying to sing the lyrics when not passing the mic around the audience for gang vocal assistance. They ended with a cover of The Beatles song “Don’t Let Me Down” which has pretty much became my anthem since. I learned to play and sing it last night in fact.
I never thought I would see my 60+ year old aunt Carol-Lyn in a mosh pit but there she was, along with my uncle, sisters, friends and many other eager onlookers as Mad Caddies took the stage. As always they killed it. Their set was pretty heavy on the reggae which was good because the pit stayed pretty chill for the most part. I was upfront the entire time taking a beating. Mellow pit or not, take a wheelchair to the front of a pit and you are getting smacked around a bit. But hey it was worth it. We had such a sick time.
I personally had such a sick time that I decided to follow the tour to Victoria on Vancouver Island after Vancouver. For those of you unaware Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, the province where I live. Any Americans wondering, BC is just above Washington state. I know some of you know, but I get asked all the time on the road where exactly I am from. Vancouver Island is off the coast of mainland BC in the Pacific Ocean and is absolutely beautiful. Victoria is the gem of the Island. It’s a RAD city.
The night in Vic started very similar to Vancouver: friends, Eddie, guest list then show. I missed The Bunny Gang Again but did meet the dudes in the band. In fact, being the rad guys that they are they lifted my chair above their heads and carried me to the pit where I did my best ever crowd surf to date. OH EPIC TIMES!! I was so excited the next day when pictures and videos started popping up online because otherwise I would have never got to see what it looked like from the perspective of the band and / or crowd. I think pretty knarly. Here is the link. You be the judge.
I was having a blast so I just kept going…
Seattle was next. I missed The Bunny Gang again due to a bit of truck trouble, but by now we were all buds. I chilled with them all in awe as the legendary Lynval Golding of The Specials took the stage with the Aggrolites and played 3 songs including “A Message to You Rudy.” Classic early ska music. The Specials are to ska what Bob Marley is to reggae. Man was that sick. It was so sick that I drove to Eugene, Oregon the next day and caught the show one last time The Bunny Gang and all. What a rad week. And man did I come home with some band swag (a couple more black ts and another black hoody). Not to mention new jeans and boxers. I had no intentions of traveling past Seattle, so I had to buy clothes just to have clean ones to wear. Any excuse to hit the Volcom Outlet store in Centralia, Washington.
I spent the weekend in Portland, Oregon with a friend of a friend who turned out to be super fun. We had a blast both nights. Portland is such a great city. It is such an eclectic city. I saw a dude dressed in a gorilla costume walking down the street in broad daylight and nobody even flinched. I like it there. Skateboarders and punks everywhere. Portland, Oregon is so chill. I stayed in a purportedly haunted hotel called The Benson. I saw no ghosts, but spirits or not in my opinion this is the place to stay if you go to Portland. Structurally, it’s super old school – well over 100 years old. Tons of history and character. The staff are great and the rooms are super comfy too.
What a rad weekend to top off an epic week. Saturday night was a beauty. Highlights include dueling pianos. SO cool. I had heard of this but never seen it. Well worth checking out anywhere you see dueling pianos advertised. And karaoke. Kevy Metal made his debut in Portland singing renditions of Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” and Greg Kihn Band “The Break-Up Song”. The crowd was loving it. I was too. I ended up getting asked to sing with a bunch of other people. I think I even sang a Whitney Houston song haha! Who would have thought??
By the time Sunday morning / afternoon came around I was beat. I was ready for home. BUT IT WAS SUPER BOWL SUNDAY!!! I strongly considered visiting my friends and partners Cara and Jason from the Drive To Save Lives, but home was calling my name. I drove 5 hours straight from Portland, Oregon north to Surrey, BC stopping only once along the I-5 for drive-thru Subway (my favourtie kind of Subway!!)
As I sat in my truck and ate my sub and drank my chocolate milk, the big game between Seattle and New England was just beginning. Suddenly my phone sitting beside me absolutely lit up with every conceivable form of message possible. Cara was calling too. I dodged her first call because I thought she was calling to give me crap for missing her Super Bowl bash. I did however answer her second call only to learn that I had made the Super Bowl!!!
I have been public speaking for about 13 years now. I started when I was 10 years old haha. If you believed that I love you! Anyways, I have covered a lot of ground and spoken to thousands upon thousands of people over the years, as I am sure you could imagine. Sometimes former students contact me years later or we run into each other somewhere and they recognize me. It’s pretty rad. It actually happens a lot. As I edit this blog I just got a cool Facebook message from a former student who saw me speak 8 years ago in Cranbrook. I am stoked my story has legs. I am so tempted to plant a crappy wheelchair joke here… too easy!
Anyways about a year and half ago I got an email from one such former student named Kris. Kris is originally from Nanaimo, BC (also on Vancouver Island). I spoke in his old high school maybe 8 years ago. In his email Kris explained that he is now a casting director living in Vancouver. There was a part for a music video by an artist named Sonreal that bare a lot of similarities to my life story. Kris wondered if I would like to audition. Lesson in life my friends… even if it seems crazy or like you would never have a chance… when an opportunity lands in your lap just say YES. Take it. I did. It paid off. I got the part and ended up with a significant role in the music video that went on to air on national TV in Canada on Much Music. Super rad! If you haven’t seen it check this.
Well about a year after the first email, Kris got a hold of me again. This time the audition was for a Reebok commercial called Project Freakshow. I know perfect right. Reebok were looking for real people with real life of overcoming both mental and physical barriers in life. Once again I figured I may as well give it a go.
I showed up to the audition address wearing cut off acid washed black jean shorts and a bright red LRG tank top with a massive lion on the front. Yeah totally prepared right?! My one arm is pretty well a sleeve and my feet are always adorned with Vans. I hadn’t read too much into what I was auditioning for. As it turned out I was auditioning for a Crossfit commercial. So here I am in street clothes, while surrounded by all these very fit, very extreme athletes. If you have ever heard of Crossfit you know what I am saying. Pretty impressive. But here I am dressed like a skid. My normal attire haha.
I had done my only other audition for the Sonereal music video over Skype, so this was all new to me. For whatever reason I got bumped to the front of the line to do my audition which was a series of questions concerning my personal story. Yeah kind of had an advantage on that one. When it came to fitness swimming was the one thing within the Crossfit realm that I do or really can do physically (the only tires I flip are the ones under me when I fall ass over). Only problem. No pool in sight.
I get invited to a second audition anyways. And since dressing like a skid worked for me the last time, I decide to try my luck again. I wear basically the same thing only I replace the LRG tank with a faded Motley Crue “Too Fast For Love” t with the sleeves torn off. I roll into another Crossfit gym. I am still pretty clueless. I see dozens of people sitting at desks and my first instinct is I guess we are doing some kind of class or something. YA… NO! These are all producers and directors and industry folks wanting to see if I am legit enough to be in this commercial.
Again I am interviewed. Once again they film me. Once again I nail it as far as I can tell. Afterwards one of the producers says we love your story and you, but we need to see you doing some exercises. Oh crap. So I am given this ball about the size of me. A trainer shows me how to bounce it off the wall and catch it. My limited trunk muscle makes it pretty tricky to balance but I awkwardly pull off a few bounces. Wasn’t pretty. I leave thinking I probably am not going to get this one. Oh well, it was worth the experience.
Not even a couple hours later I get a text from Kris saying they want to see me swim. What does that mean I wonder? I assume they have a pool in mind and will watch me or something and I am down for that. But schedules were tight so it was up to me. I called Hayley my sister to film and my aunt and uncle Cheryl and Art to see if I could use their pool. We shot some footage that I then sent to Kris who passed it along. It worked.
So back to Super Bowl Sunday… I know the commercial is coming out soon. It has just been released online. I have been too busy crowd surfing in my chair to pay it much mind though. I am eating Subway in a parking lot in Chehalis, Washington when my phone just lights up and everyone is calling, texting, tweeting, messaging, commenting etc to tell me “DUDE I JUST SAW YOU IN A SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL!!!”
What an amazing moment! I have to say. The coolest thing of all was the messages came from friends, family, students, teachers, community partners, sponsors… all over the board from all over America. My cousins Stacey and Brett, whose parents pool I used for my audition tape, were in a bar in Phoenix right in the middle of the Super Bowl action. They said I came up across 60 televisions! It was a very proud moment for me to say the least. And then it happened again a couple hours later. This time my phone went berserk as I got to the US / Canadian border. Only this time the messages etc were from people from all over Canada. It had aired in Canada now too. The experience was just as rad!! I am pretty stoked on all of this. If you haven’t seen it, here is the commercial.
I am quite honoured that Reebok would choose me to be in their commercial and to share my story as an inspirational one. Swimming truly did change the direction of my life because it was a swim across a lake / fundraiser I held very recently after becoming paralyzed that led to my first invite into a school to speak to kids. And here I am 13 years later still going strong. It is funny how life has a way of bringing things together like that and coming around full circle. Kris casting me after me speaking in his school for instance. We meet so many people in life. You never know whose life you may impact, who may in turn come back to impact yours down the road. A good reason to be good to others. What goes around truly does come around.
This entire journey I have been on was not planned out. I still have to almost pinch myself sometimes to think of where I was before: laying nearly dead, paralyzed, contemplating pulling the plug, hopeless, heartbroken and absolutely lost – to where I am now: living an independent life, achieving my goals and dreams and creating new ones constantly. I live to push boundaries I never thought I could overcome and overcome obstacles that back in the day I would have never thought possible. I have learned much over the years. The mind is a wonderful mechanism. Our minds are powerful machines. Sure sometimes life is tough, brutal, sucks, is unfair… But if we can somehow get through the dust that sometimes surrounds us when life kicks us down there always is a way to move forward, to get back up and to show life that we are going to play on our terms. Not life’s. Life may create the obstacles. But with our minds and our heart we create the path through and over those obstacles!
Thanks for reading folks. I look forward to unleashing a whole new level of awesomeness in 2015!!
HUGE thanks to Cara, Suzy and Jason at Vision Fillers for the awesome new website!! And everything else you guys do for me. Let’s make 2015 the most epic year yet!!