So it has been a long while since I last wrote a blog / posted. Summer just flew by, as did my busy spring before it. It’s pretty hard to believe it is already mid-November. Though I am very happy that it is mid-November because that means I am in Winnipeg speaking once again on behalf of Manitoba Public Insurance’s Friends For Life Tour. It kicked off today! So far so great! Much love too everyone at Elmwood High School today. You were a great audience.
I am going to try and connect the dots between now and my last post as concisely as I can because contrary to the lack of writing on here A LOT has gone down. Summer was pretty tough this year. One of the toughest I have ever had. Straight up. I think it’s safe to say besides the summer of 2000 when the crash happened, this was my toughest summer yet.
I am not going to boo-hoo here or anything. Just give people the low down if you care to read and hopefully some positives can be taken away for having read. I also imagine this is going to be cathartic for me as well. Where to begin…
I guess the bummer summer all started in a big way because it was in such stark contrast to the rest of 2015. January to June ’15 was EPIC! Just to quickly sum it up… I was in a Reebok commercial that aired during Super Bowl. I got trained as a crisis responder for IMAlive.org and conquered a big hurdle in the shape of a suicide prevention talk in Long Island attended not by a room full of teens, but rather professionals in the field. Standing ovation. Yeah I did. Then came a ton of touring… Jackson, Mississippi a 3000+ standing ovation at the Teens on the Move state conference. Some rad chilling in New Orleans afterwards; punk rock bowling in Vegas… And there are so many great places visited, faces met, humans inspired and memories made. Too many to list really! It was probably the best 6 months of my life.
I ended the speaking season in New Jersey, which was an ideal way to go out for me because I always have the sickest audiences in New Jersey. I decided to treat myself to a little NYC vacation the weekend leading up which was also stellar. My good friend Mido just so happened to be in NYC while I was there, as was another buddy named James from Winnipeg. So I got to hang with some brothers and also meet some new ones.
Let me tell you all about my bro Mido. This dude is the most connected person that I know, yet he comes from very humble beginnings. Mido is my age, 35, and grew up in Croatia. It was during his teen years that the Kosovo war took place. For those too young to remember, or who haven’t learned about it in history this was a very bloody and brutal war that took place in recent times. While I was home watching the OG 90210, much like many other in my age group in the mid 90s, a teenage Mido was also watching the kids from Beverly Hills on a weekly basis. Only outside his window bombs were dropping.; culture of people were being ethnically cleansed and unspeakable atrocities were just steps from his living room.
Mido vowed to himself that one day, he would find his way to Beverly Hills. He yearned for that normal life, at least in Hollywood terms , that a teenager should have. The teen years that I had and most everyone if they grew up in North America likely had or his currently having. This inspired Mido to pursue his education with extra vigor, and he ended finding himself in Monaco up after graduation, one of the richest and smallest countries in the world. Not a bad start for following his dreams. Because Monaco is so small there was plenty of competition for the tiny population of residents and tourists by all of the local businesses. My man Mido saw this as an opportunity and essentially came up with the idea that would eventually come to be known as Group-On.
Dude, sold his idea and made enough money that he would never have to work again. Talk about achieving ones dreams. Mido lived all over the world and travelled and played and enjoyed the finer side of life. But something was missing. After some years of not working Mido decided to turn his good fortune into something positive for the world. And it was at this time that Pixhug was born. For those of you who have not heard of Pixhug, picture Instagram. Now instead of your friends ‘liking’ your photos, when you post on Pixhug a like will be called a ‘hug.’ But that’s not all. Best yet, every single hug your photo receives will become a dollar donated by sponsors to a charity of your choice. Thus turning every user of Pixhug, no matter their age or where they live or what their background or education, into a philanthropist. Game changer. World changer. How sick is that!!??
So this is my buddy Mido. Dude is hooked up. Dude hooked me up. I have been promoting Pixhug since him and I met up in Whister at a BBQ a couple of years ago because I love the idea. And I love that I can share this positive use of social media with all of the young people I speak with. I am all about sharing the positive vibes. So there is the back story. I am also very proud to announce that Pixhug is being launched on the slogan “The Selfless Selfie.” Guess who came up with that catchy little moniker?? Yep, yours truly.
So back to the spring… Mido and I are chilling on a patio in NYC and along come a couple of his friends, Timothy and James. Timothy is a well respected Hollywood photographer and James as I recall works in finance. Despite their successes, much like Mido, both Timothy and James are very down to earth chill humans. I was very pleased to hear from both of these guys that they had great respect for the work I do with young people. Talk about a humbling moment.
Now here is the cooker… James starts asking me questions about my injury. I am happy to answer. I figure the more people who know about my situation the better. You know it makes it so things aren’t uncomfortable, and who knows maybe one day James or anyone I have had the pleasure of explaining my injury and life thereafter with might one day meet someone else in a similar situation and not have those barriers or fears to just talk openly.
Out of nowhere, James tells me something that nearly stops my heart for a moment. His brother Michael is a leading surgeon out of Ohio / Pittsburgh who specializes in stem cell treatment. WHAT!!!??? Not only that, James tells me he would like me and his brother to meet. Actually he says, I am going to call my brother right now. Suddenly, I am onboard to potentially get stem cell treatment. Who knows what could come of it?? Any improvement would be great and here is fairly good potential for something to happen. See my spinal cord was never severed. It is all intact. There is just a bruise from the trauma. That is it. But the issue with spinal cord injuries or why they don’t heal on their own is because once those nerves are damaged, unlike in other parts of our bodies, they do not regenerate or heal themselves. However, by taking my own stem cells out of another part of my body and introducing them to my injury area there is a chance that the stem cells will form into new nerve cells and hopefully allow the messages that have been blocked from traveling from my brain through my spinal cord to the rest of my body to once again commute.
PRETTY HUGE!! F’N SCIENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I remember calling my sister Allison that night because I just had to tell somebody. I am that kind of person who tends to keep things to themselves until they are done. We were both in tears. It was such an incredible evening. So yeah 2015 was going beyond splendidly! It was basically the best year of my life, and after some good times in NYC I went to New Jersey and gave 3 presentations at 3 different schools that all were homeruns and ended the speaking season halfway to the moon!!! Man was I stoked.
From there I came home and hit a buddy’s weddingg in Whistler, which was great. I spent the first few weeks of summer chilling with friends and family especially and my two cats Karma and Zeke who miss me a lot while I am gone. They don’t leave my side when I come home from a road trip. All was going great and then the anniversary of the car crash rolled around. This is never an easy time of year. And this year was 15 years. This year hit me harder than any I can think of previously. I am not sure why exactly. I was thinking about Brendon and his family and friends a lot. I swear that side of things only gets harder with each passing year. But I cope as best I can.
I also began thinking about my future and what lay ahead. Up until this time I had all but accepted that I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. A big part of this resignation was that I felt that I deserved to be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I had killed a friend and taken a loved one from his family. It seemed fair to me to never walk again, so beyond trying to move my legs and body on my own here and there, I never really pursued any kind of therapy. Now I was potentially looking at the prospect of getting treatment. It was surreal.
For some reason that glimmer of hope scared the crap out of me though. I was scared to believe because if I did I was worried that I may be let down one day, and I wasn’t sure how I would handle it. It would almost be like getting paralyzed all over again. I couldn’t imagine having that hope crushed. I struggled with this a lot over the summer. I spent a lot of time on my own and tried to sort out these feelings. This was some heavy stuff. Heavy indeed.
To free my mind during the summer, my favourite pastime is riding my hand cycle. So I tried to do that as often as I could, but this summer was hot. DMN HOT!! Many days were too hot to ride, and I found myself a bit lost as to what to do with all of this spare time and my distressed mind. It was pretty extreme the way I went from 100 miles an hour during the busy spring to essentially zero overnight.
My health was also not challenged all summer. I was plagued by bladder infections that sucked the energy out of me and eventually led me into some full on depressed days and times. UTIs are a fact of life for most paralyzed people. Things just don’t work and flow like they used to. Since I have had these chronic infections for some 15 years now, I have become immune to certain antibiotics. I am now in a situation where I cannot easily cure my what ails me with a quick dose of meds. Most of the times I did take meds, I did it would clear up for a few days and then come back with a vengeance. This wore me out emotionally and physically.
They say when it rains it pours… July 5th I learn the news that an old school buddy named Todd who I have always held in high respects crashed a bike in Melbourne, Australia. He did so while crossing off one of his top to-dos off his bucket list. Biking down under was Todd’s dream come true. Todd died riding his bike. Details were scarce at first but started to trickle home. It sounds like he either wiped out taking a very sharp corner and slid into an oncoming vehicle hitting him head on and killing him almost instantly. The other theory is that the driver crossed the centre line and hit Todd. Regardless, a dear friend was dead – sadly leaving behind not just siblings and parents, an extended family and huge group of friends, but also a son. That one hit me hard.
THEN about a month later, as I am still trying to pull myself out of my funk an even closer buddy and a role model for so many, just a beautiful human named Angus Atkinson is hit on his bike. Him and his brother Ty, one of my best friends, were out cruising in the Shuswap area of BC after having a birthday dinner for their mom. Ty got a bit ahead of his brother and then slowed down to wait for him. Angus never caught up. Ty eventually turned around and back tracked a bit, only to ride into his worst nightmare. His older brother and hero had been struck head on. Angus died in Tyler’s arms. In this case distracted driving as well as substances may have played a part in the driver of the car that hit Angus crossing the line. Such a loss. Angus was so full of life and such a giving and beautiful human. His funeral was so tough. Friends, that was the summer of 2015.
So with all of this going on, I had some pretty low lows this summer for sure. I struggled in ways I had not for a long time. And the struggles also seemed to last longer than a typical shitty day. For weeks I was borderline depressed. Just miserable. I remember one sunny day riding my hand cycle to a nearby park. The sun was shining. The air was fresh. I had tunes playing. Everything that would normally make me smile. Yet I just sat on my bike in this field feeling so down. This overbearing feeling of misery just couldn’t be shaken. I didn’t even feel like myself.
Through all of the hard times this summer there is one thing besides my family that kept me hanging on. I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be back on the microphone speaking to young people. I miss speaking anytime I put the mic down for any significant amount of time. But this stretch has been the toughest to endure yet. All people need purpose. A reason to get ourselves out of bed in the morning. An outlet for our passion. Something that gives us personal reward. Speaking fills these desires for me.
I cannot deny that a lot was lost on June 25, 2000. But as long as I am able to speak to others and inspire and teach and give hope then I am ok with never riding my skateboard or snowboard again. I am cool with never playing hockey again or walking again or doing all of the things I used to do pre-injury. Speaking fills every single void that was left in the wake of the crash and also more importantly has given me an avenue to turn something very negative into something very positive. I am able to honour Brendon and my other friends whose lives were cut short. I am able to give them purpose beyond their physical time on this earth. I am able to keep their spirit alive in a positive way through sharing their stories / our story with others and inspiring people all over the world in turn.
About a month ago I shipped off a disc with hundreds of MRI images to Struebenville, Ohio to James’ brother Dr. Michael Scarpone. I have hope that something positive will come of this experience. I can’t say I am going to walk again, but who knows? Maybe I will. Any improvement would be great. But even if there is no change, I will be ok. As long as I have a microphone and an audience I will be ok. I know that.
This school year alone I have spoken locally at Terry Fox Secondary in the lower mainland of BC. I have spoken near Portland, Oregon in what turned out to be just EPIC presentations starting with the Oregon Department of Transportation state safety conference. Another standing ovation from a room full of sharply dressed professionals. But even better was the 2200 student standing ovation I got at Oregon City High School the next day. That feeling. Man, that is what I live for. Later that night I had yet another stellar experience speaking at a community forum. The two days later I found myself speaking to packed gymnasiums in D’Iberville and Biloxi, Mississippi. KB hit the Gulf Coast. I came home back on top of the world. I came home happy because I was living my purpose.
And now here I sit in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I have about 12 or 13 presentations ahead of me in the next ten days, and I could not be happier or more excited for all of the amazing experiences to come. Day one down and it was a success. Many more days like today ahead on this trip and into 2016!
Thanks for reading!