The Day I Gambled On My Future
Life is an incredible archive of stories.
If you do it right, or even if you do it wrong, just living long enough will supply you
with a treasure trove of memorable adventures.
The following memories take place over many decades.
So settle in with a cold one in, let me tell you a story.
As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s customary to look back at some of the things that make
us truly thankful in our lives.
There are many things for me to be thankful for as I passed my 69th milestone in life.
Most notably passing my 69th milestone in life.
But perhaps the one that stands out the most is a singular decision I made many years
It wasn’t to go to college, become a journalist, or even move out west.
The biggest positive decision I’ve ever made in my life was when I decided to gamble
on my future.
That may sound counterintuitive, but in hindsight it was probably the most natural thing I’ve
It quite literally made me who I am today.
To understand what brought me to that decision, it’s necessary to go back about seven decades.
I was born three months premature and weighed two pounds of an ounces.
As I approached my first birthday, it was clear that I couldn’t walk even a few steps.
The doctors all came to the same conclusion.
I had cerebral palsy and would be unable to walk on my own.
Based on the prevailing medical knowledge at the time I spent the next twenty years or so
in a wheelchair, or wearing long-like braces and using crutches.
To be honest, my life wasn’t really that bad.
It was all a matter of perspective.
Looking in probably looked a lot worse than looking out.
I’m not saying my life wasn’t any different from my friends’ lives, but those stories
of us saved for future podcast episodes.
In any event I’d pretty much followed doctors orders.
I stayed in the wheelchair most of the time.
There were moments of extreme physical exertion, but for the most part I just stayed in the wheelchair.
I didn’t really mind.
It made my life a lot easier, and the manual wheelchair really built up my upper body.
I never really considered life without the wheelchair until I overheard a discussion
my folks were having when I was about seventeen years of age.
My parents never really argued, but they did have differences of opinion from time to time.
This particular difference of opinion had to do with me.
My mother was, for the most part, an optimist.
My dad was a pragmatist.
I have a little bit of both of them in me.
Truth be told, I’m probably more pragmatic than optimistic.
Anyway, during the discussion my dad said five words that he probably didn’t even realize
he had said.
I was in my room at the time, and they didn’t think I was listening to their discussion.
To be honest, all I remember are those five words because they put my life on a whole
The words were, “He always says, ‘I can’t.’
My dad didn’t sound angry, he sounded disappointed.
It would have been easier to deal with if he had been angry.”
There’s something you should know about me.
I don’t respect people because I should.
I don’t respect a title, it doesn’t matter if that person has achieved a certain degree
of fame, fortune, or reach to certain age.
I don’t care if you’re president of the United States, King, Queen, Prime Minister, Pope,
The only way I’ll respect you is if you show yourself to me worthy of respect.
Through their words and actions, my folks had always shown themselves to me worthy of respect,
which was why it bothered me when my dad sounded disappointed in me.
I respected him too much to let him down.
At that moment I made up my mind to never say, “I can’t,” again.
I never dreamed that the path from talking the talk to literally walking the walk would
be as difficult as it was.
In the years that followed, there were events that slowed me down, but those five words
were always in the back of my mind.
By the time I turned 20 I was on a mission.
I had been relying on the wheelchair less and my long-like braces and crutches more,
and I decided to transfer from an East Coast University to the University of Arizona.
The wheelchair was always there if I needed it, but I tried as much as possible not to need
My folks would have preferred that I had chosen a school in Florida where we had family
friends, but that wasn’t part of my mission plan.
I was about to go for broke and in my mind that men not having a safety net.
I needed to go somewhere far enough away from home so that what I was about to do would
become a more meaningful experience.
Up until that point I had never been away from home for more than 48 hours of the time.
Now I was moving 2500 miles away for months of the time to a place where I knew no one.
Oh, and one more thing.
I was leaving the wheelchair behind.
Less than six months earlier I had stopped using it completely.
If I succeeded, everything would be fine.
If I fell flat on my face, literally or figuratively, my only option would be to figure out
a way not to let it happen again.
Whichever way it went, there would be no safety net.
I would achieve my desired outcome or crash and burn.
I was determined to do whatever it took to avoid crashing and burning.
In my mind there could only be one outcome.
I could tell that my mother was starting to get a little emotional as I turned aboard the
plane to Tucson.
My father was a little more stoic, but as I found out later, just under that cool facade
was a man as emotional as my mother.
I settled into my seat, and a short while later the jet engines revved up for takeoff.
I grabbed both parts of the seatbelt and buckled up.
I had a feeling I was in for a bumpy ride.
You’ve reached the end of part one.
To all my listeners in the United States have a very happy Thanksgiving.
Until the journey brings us together once more, take care and stay safe.