The Day Of My Graduation Trial By Fire
00:00:00,000 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
00:00:26,700 The following memories take place over many decades, so settle in
with a cold one in. Let me tell you a story. College graduation is the
culmination of a lot of work over a long period of time.
00:00:41,320 For me, it meant that I had one more test to ace before I received my
diploma. I graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson on a very
hot day, but I never realized how cool the day would become.
00:00:57,460 Before the end of the ceremony, a few thousand people would be
watching my every move. Maybe I should start at the beginning. Upon
my arrival in Tucson about two years earlier, I was still wearing long-like
00:01:12,940 I had managed to get rid of those during my first year. Since I was a
transfer student at that point, I only had a year or so to go, and I was
determined to roll out totally on my crutches.
00:01:26,340 If you’ve been listening to the other episodes of this podcast, you know
that I’m not a guy who does anything by increments. For me, it’s all or
00:01:37,540 I’m not the type to start out slowly and take my time to achieve a goal. I
dive right in and give it everything I’ve got. So getting rid of the braces
was my version of trial by fire.
00:01:53,220 I’ve always been fairly muscular in my upper body. Most of that came
from using a manual wheelchair for about twenty years. It was a daily
00:02:05,020 When I left the wheelchair and transitioned to braces and crutches, that
workout moved to a whole ‘nother’ level. In other episodes, I’ve talked
about how the braces were constructed of leather and steel,
00:02:16,780 the waist to heel superstructure, was made even more uncomfortable
by the extremely hot Tucson weather. The thick leather pads pressed
against my skin as if they were spring loaded.
00:02:30,460 Actually, because my legs were constantly pushing forward even after
the lock braces pushed them back into a vertical position, they were.
Wearing heavy leather pads in desert heat creates an incredible
amount of friction on
00:02:45,060 skin. If anything was better about wearing them west of the Rockies, it
was that the humidity was much lower than back home.
00:02:55,700 Believe it or not, I had much more energy. I also found that the dry heat
relaxed my body much like a dry sauna. I still feel that way today, living
in the Las Vegas heat.
00:03:08,740 Anyway, I was determined to do graduation in the exact same way as
every other graduate. That meant I would be testing my new physical
limits. At this point in the story, I should give you a quick lay of the land.
00:03:23,380 In those days, the U of A was a much smaller campus, but it still
revolved around a central quad. It was a fairly wide central grassy area
flanked by a single lane roadway on both sides.
00:03:39,300 Old Main, the University’s original building, was situated on one end of
the campus, while the football stadium was on the other end. It was
probably a football field or more in length, or maybe it just seemed that
00:03:53,660 me. The graduation ceremony was going to take place on the Wildcat
football field about an hour or so after all the graduates assembled in
the gym and waited.
00:04:06,340 So there I was standing on crutches without braces and wearing an
island graduation gown during a mid-efton in temperature that was
around 85 degrees. As hundreds of gathered graduates’ body
temperatures started causing the air inside
00:04:21,660 the gym to become warm and musty, I maintained my resolve to keep
standing, just like everyone around me. The only difference was that I
was beginning to burn a lot more energy than most of the
00:04:33,780 other people in the room. You see, for me, it’s much more difficult to
stand in one place than it is to keep moving forward.
00:04:42,900 I was having a hard time distributing my weight back and forth on my
legs, but even though I was starting to feel muscle fatigue, I refused to
sit down. I kept telling myself that it would only be a few more minutes
before we were walking
00:04:56,700 across the quad and into the stadium. As far as your mind is
concerned, a lie is as good as the truth if it believes it. I thought sure
that my mind would forgive my slight transgression once I was through
00:05:10,940 ordeal and able to take a load off my feet. As it turned out, the walk
across the quad was the easiest part of the day. Football stadiums are
designed to allow the most people possible to watch events with the
00:05:24,180 least amount of viewer obstruction. To achieve this goal, architects add
as many rows as is structurally possible. Here’s a newsflash.
00:05:34,060 The Arizona football field was situated at the lowest part of the stadium.
That meant walking down a lot of stairs without a railing. It would just be
me and my crutches walking down what seemed like the last mile.
00:05:49,140 It was still hot, I was still wearing an island gown, only now I was in the
throes of muscle fatigue from standing for more than an hour before
walking across the quad. Still, I was determined to finish the mission,
even if that meant the mission might finish
00:06:05,660 me. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t walking in front of the journalism class.
Nor was I in the middle of the graduates.
00:06:14,860 My slow and steady wins the race walking game was bringing up the
rear. If things went bad, all I had to do was y’all “Save yourself” right
before I passed out. So I started walking down the stairs.
00:06:29,380 In very short order, I was beginning to need binoculars to see the
journalism students. And the engineering students were starting to
breathe down my neck. I kept my head down as I looked at each step.
00:06:42,500 My one big fear was that I would become Humpty Dumpty. Fortunately,
gravity works in many ways. It also put much less of a strain on my legs
as standing in one place had done in the gym.
00:06:56,700 I just kept staring at those steps and methodically moving down each
one. I was so engrossed in what I was doing, I never noticed that the
journalism students had stopped moving forward.
00:07:09,860 I also didn’t realize that the engineering students behind me had also
stopped moving. I found myself all alone in no man’s land. Still, I was
going to finish the mission.
00:07:23,780 I continued moving down each stair until I fell the tap on my shoulder. A
female voice said, “Can I help you?” “You should know something about
00:07:34,220 I really hate those words because 99.9% of the time, I don’t need help.
There may be a rare occasion when I do ask for help, but don’t hold
your breath because you might end up on life support before you hear
00:07:49,820 I was about to tell this do-gritter exactly that when I took my gaze off the
steps and glanced to my right. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with
a blonde haired blue-eyed angel of mercy. I said, “Yeah, I think I might.
00:08:06,780 Hey, I really hate those words, but I’m not stupid.” So there we were.
The whole graduation had come to a stand still in the only movement
from the top of the stadium to the graduation proceedings, with this guy
on crutches with a beautiful girl by his side.
00:08:23,100 Someone told me that President Schaeffer turned to people on the
podium stage and asked, “Who is he?” “I’m sure a lot of people in the
audience were asking the same question.” Long story short, I finally
made it down to ground level.
00:08:36,860 Sadly, my angel of mercy turned out to be married to another guy in the
engineering class. I received my diploma in my first degree of notoriety.
It wasn’t the first time my actions had disrupted something,
00:08:49,340 and it probably won’t be the last. A short time after that ceremony, the
university offered me a position working with students as a guidance
counselor. I turned down the job because I had other plans.
00:09:02,380 I sometimes wonder what direction my life would have taken if I had
accepted it and stayed in Tucson. Although it would have been a more
financially secure future, inevitably leading to marriage and a white
00:09:15,740 a little voice in my head was telling me that another future was waiting.
I’m an honest to me, it would turn out to be one hell of a ride. From an
early age, I had learned that barriers were meant to be broken.
00:09:28,940 Life back then was a challenge, it still is, and probably always will be.
That’s not a bad thing. I’ve never stopped challenging myself in
everything I do.
00:09:38,940 At this point in my life, I doubt that I could put on the brakes even if I
wanted to stop. It’s like an addiction that I feel comfortable with and
always have under my control. Unlike most addictions, this one makes
00:09:53,340 The adventures I experience between them and now have made me
who I am and I like that person. The women I met along the way were
therefore long and short term relationships are still a part of me. The
gambles I took were riskier than any Vegas casino would ever consider
00:10:10,620 One of those involved walking into the abyss without knowing if I would
literally walk out again. I achieved what was considered impossible by
the time I was 25. The fact that I was able to achieve what all the
experts said I would not be able to do
00:10:26,940 taught me that very little in life is impossible. To be honest, I believe that
anything is possible. For me, tomorrow will always be another
opportunity to prove that belief.
00:10:38,140 I’m not an optimist. I’m a realist. I know the day will come when
something will happen that will force me to stop challenging myself. But
that moment won’t be of my choosing and it will only happen once.
00:10:54,300 Until we meet again, be good to yourself and everyone around you.