Shun Fujimoto

October 18, 2008
Shun Fujimoto after the Montreal Games

Shun Fujimoto after the Montreal Games

The 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada was host to one of the greatest acts of courage in Olympic history. The Japanese team arrived with high hopes for Olympic gold. They knew however that in order to achieve this lofty goal they would have to win out over the incredibly strong Russian team.

As competition began Shun Fujimoto, a member of that Japanese team, found himself up against unthinkable decision. During his floor exercise, he’d broken his leg. He now had to choose whether he would continue, working to help his teammates succeed, or, give up and hope for the best. Obviously having had this kind of injury no one would question his lack of desire to move on.

But,he did move on.  He reasoned that his teammates would need every point he could contribute. So, without telling anyone, the judges, his teamates, or even his coach, Shun moved on to the next apparatus; the pommel horse. He did well in this event, scoring a 9.5 out of a maximum 10 points. As difficult and daunting as this task was he knew that it would pale in comparison to what lie ahead.

The apparatus that followed was the rings. Shun knew that success in this event would be largely dictated by his ability to successfully complete the high-flying dismount. The level of concentration this challenge would require would be an entirely different matter altogether. But, true to form and thinking of the success of the team he assumed his position and began his routine.

Shun flew around the rings in near perfection. His performance was almost flawless. But as he moved through his routine he knew that in order to get the score required he would have to nail his dismount, a triple somersault with a twist.

Tears filled his eyes as Shun’s leg absorbed the force from his 136 pound body hitting the mat. His leg gave way just a bit, and gritting his teeth he threw his arms in the air.

He tore ligaments in his leg, dislocated his knee and had to withdraw from the rest of the events, but, in the end, the judges awarded him a 9.7, the highest score of his career. The Japanese team was awarded the gold and they beat the Russians by .4 points (the smallest margin of victory in the history of the Olympics). Everyone on the team knew that without Shun’s courage this victory would never have been achieved.

Later, reporters asked Shun about his experience. He replied;

“It brought tears to my eyes. But now I have a gold medal, and the pain is gone.”

In our lives there are surely times when we have to pull together all the courage that we can muster, and move forward. Often, we feel injured, or less than a whole, and many times are “teams” success relies on our ability to complete the tasks that are ours.

We will do better and more easily find the wherewithal to succeed if we will remember Shun’s words and example. For, no matter how difficult our struggle is today as we work towards our goals with dedication and resolve, then someday like Shun we may be able to say;

“[The adversities in my life] brought tears to my eyes. But, now I have [reached my goals] and the pain is gone.”


Below you can find a short video on Shun

Buyin’ Slurpees

October 17, 2008
My therapist outside 7-Eleven

My therapist and I outside 7-Eleven

As a result of my auto accident I spent a straight 13 months in the hospital. The first few I was working just to stay alive. After that months were spent overcoming the surgeries that were required to fix my broken body. Once I had been in the hospital for about five months it was time for me to learn to sit up again.  When you lay flat on your back for that long, your lungs begin to settle making it necessary to strengthen your lungs such that they can operate with your body upright. The first day the therapists came in to “teach” me how to sit up, I lasted only a few seconds. Literally the therapists lifted me out of bed, I passed out, and they put me back in bed. That day, I knew that this was going to be a long process.

I didn’t do much better the rest of the week. But slowly, a few seconds turned into a few more and I was able to set up long enough to realize that I was sitting up. With the passing out phase gone, he was onward and upward. 10 seconds turned into 20 which eventually became 30, and before I knew it, I was sitting up for a full minute. That minute turned into five minutes, then 15 and on and on until I could set up for one full hour.

Unfortunately, once I reached an hour I hit a wall. Try as I might, I simply could not sit up for longer than an hour. I went at the problem from every angle I could think of, and every angle the therapists came up with as well.

By this time it was summer and since it was beautiful outdoors and I had spent far too long indoors my therapists would take me outside and let me do my exercises there. The young men that served as therapists at the care center were all about my age and we shared a common interests. So, by this time we had become friends. And after my therapy was over they would take a few minutes and walk up and down a path that was behind the hospital. It was always time I cherished. The path went right along a little river and felt a million miles away from the bed I had spent so much time in.

One day, on one of these walks as my body began to hit that wall telling me that I had almost sat up for an hour, my therapist, Kelly Alvord, told me that at the end of the path there was a 7-Eleven. He said that if I could make it to the end of the path than he would buy me a Slurpee.

By this time in my life I had been eating hospital food for nearly 7 months, and a Slurpee sounded like ambrosia. I don’t know that I can recall a time before or since then the thing ever sounded so good to me. Positive that I could make it to the 7-Eleven and back before my body would give out I excitedly agreed.

We got to the 7-Eleven, I got my cherry Slurpee (large) and we made our way back to the care center. As I sat in my room trying to suck every last molecule of that Slurpee, I looked at the clock. The distraction of the Slurpee had allowed me to sit up for an hour and a half. An hour and a half, half again as long as I had ever been able to sit up before.

Every day one of the therapists from East Lake would take me outside to do my therapy, and then walk me down the path to 7-Eleven. And, every day they would walk a little slower. With my mind on my Slurpee I set up for an hour and a half consistently. That hour and a half turned into two, and then three hours. The barrier was broken. Once my body had the strength to sit up for three hours on a regular basis I could continue on by myself. Their Slurpee trips allowed me to gain the strength to sit up all day long.

I later learned that in order for them to have the time to make my 7-Eleven journey possible they gave up their breaks, and their lunches, and sometimes had to stay later to complete the work they were required to do. This gift of their time changed my life. I say that with absolutely no hyperbole. They literally changed my life.

Every day I wake up and am able to sit up for the entire day is a gift from these therapists. Had they not been willing to spend their time buyin’ Slurpees who’s to say that I still wouldn’t be stuck in bed.

These made a difference in my life because they helped me find purpose. Our Slurpee runs made a difference as they changed my days from sitting up for the sake of sitting up to sitting up to get my Slurpee. This purpose helped me progress.

How then can we follow the example of these good young men. What things can we be a part of that can help give direction to another’s life?  Everyone wants to be about something, and a part of something that matters. When you find those people who  needed distraction from the frustrations in their lives, share some of your purpose with them.

Maybe, you have an assignment at work and could use a helping hand. Maybe, you’re part of a committee in your community that could use another’s help. Maybe, there’s work to be done at your church, or charitable group that someone else might participate in. When you find those people who need a little purpose and involve them, in these ways or others, you will change their lives and are real and meaningful way. With absolute surety and complete confidence I can tell you that there are people you know and interact with on a daily basis who need a little purpose; who need a Slurpee.

As my body needed strengthening, so to might someone’s courage. Like my lungs needed to stay upright, so to might someone’s attitude. In the same way I hit a wall,  someone you know maybe stuck as well. In the end, all it will take to help them find the strength, stay upright, and breakthrough their barriers is a little shared purpose.  As the quote says:

Happy are those whose purpose has found them.

There are countless ways to help others better enjoy their life. By sharing some of the purpose we’ve found in ours we can help in ways we might never have imagined. I know those therapists had little idea that change their purpose would have in my life.

As we walk down the path of life let us never forget the purpose and an influence we can share by buyin’ Slurpees.


One Hour

October 14, 2008

Hard times and bad days are a part of everyone’s life. No matter how dedicated we become to having a positive attitude, no matter how much effort we put in to looking at the good in our lives, life is filled with adversity and difficulty. The most positive, optimistic, cup half-full person in the world will have times when the experiences in their life becomes so overwhelming that they can barely put their heads in their hands.

As I travel around the world and have the opportunity to meet thousands of people in thousands of circumstances,  no matter where I go and no matter who I meet, invariably someone asks how I have dealt with the tremendous adversities that have been a part of my life.  the question is usually followed by a story of a substantial struggle or difficulty that has recently been either a part of their life, or the life of someone close to them.

When this question comes, and it does more than any other, I do my best to share some insight that might help them deal with the hardship that is become a part of their life experience. Depending on the adversity and the situation, I will try and find different pieces and parts of my experience to help. But, no matter the adversity or the situation, there is one piece of advice that I always share.

In the days and weeks after I broke my neck my life literally hung in the balance. Even on the good days the doctors were unsure if I was going to make it. One doctor remarked that in his over 20 years as a pulmonologist, I had the worst case of pneumonia he had ever seen. At 15 years of age this was a wake-up call to the fragility and uncertainty of life. At a young age I got the opportunity to gain just a little understanding about the incredible gift that living is.

This realization, as powerful as it was, could not stay the sadness, frustration, and anger that my adversities brought to my everyday.  But, what this understanding did do was help me realize that life was too short to be spent mired in depression. So, I made a decision.

I decided that when the difficulties were too much to bear, I could take one hour. I gave myself one hour to be down, depressed, frustrated and mad. During this hour I could kick, bite, cry, scratch, scream, throw things, sob, or sulk. I could sit in silence. I could talk of giving up, and I could think about how life was unfair.

But, when an hour was over, I had to make sure that the depression, the frustration, the anger, the sorrow, the weeping, the wailing, and the gnashing of teeth had to be over as well.

This little bit of inspiration saved me. It gave me the chance to get out all those feelings of sorrow and ineptitude all the while keeping me from getting caught in that never-ending spiral of depression and gloom. It took discipline to keep it to an hour especially on those really bad days. But, every time I remained dedicated to the ideal I found my life to be better and my prospects brighter.

Life is hard. Everyone knows that personally and intimately. We, all of humanity, deal with difficult, arduous adversities that push us to the very brink, and we need time to express the frustrations that come from our hardships. However, although it is true that life is hard, it is also true that life is short — too short to be spent concentrating on the repugnant and forgetting about the elegant.

At the end of the day. all the anger and frustration in the world won’t change our situation. All the depression and sorrow you can muster won’t chase the adversity from your life. Whether we are happy or sad, we will still have to find our way through the difficulties that are part of everyone’s life.

I know that happy or sad I will still be a quadriplegic. Happy or sad, I will still be unable to move my hands. Happy or sad. I will still be unable to walk, and happy or sad, I will still be in a wheelchair — so I might as well take an hour and enjoy the ride.


A Little Inspiration From Hawkeye Pierce

October 10, 2008

I think I have been a fan of M*A*S*H* as long as I’m been a fan of television. Which for me, has been a long time. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the movie, but I can nearly recite every episode of the television series from memory. (This is what happens when you spend literally years of your life in the hospital.)

I have to say that of all the characters from Radar, Klinger, Trapper, and both of the Colonels, Hawkeye was always my favorite. Of all the witty things Alan Alda’s character ever said the quote that I remember the most goes as follows:

“I am continually amazed at the total frailty of the human body, and the incredible resiliency of the human spirit.”

As we go into this weekend let us all, like Hawkeye, remember that although it is true that no matter how much effort we put into strengthening our bodies they can and will be broken, if we strengthen our inner spirit he truly can be indomitable.


Bulls or Bears?

October 9, 2008

As the economy continually swings back and forth we often hear about bulls and bears. A bullish market is one on the rise, a market that is doing well. A bearish market on the other hand is one in decline and filled with concern. As I watch the evening news and hear these terms they not only remind me of the market but they remind me of the choice I get every day of my life.

Each year as the new year approaches my father asks us how we feel about our opportunities for the coming 12 months. He’s big on goal setting and so New Year’s resolutions are right up his alley. Regardless of what your answer is, he’ll always tell you how optimistic he is about the new year. “I’m bullish about 2009,” he’ll say. No matter the year, he’s always bullish about the time ahead.

He is the ultimate optimist. He sees the good in every situation, and the potential in every person. Not once in my entire life have I ever gone to my father with an idea that he is told me it is impossible to accomplish. If he were placed in the middle of the largest ocean with only a 2 x 4 and a toothpick, he’d hop aboard the 2 x 4 and row for shore.

In my life I want to be the same; and it’s something I work on every day. I am quite sure that that is the only way to be that kind of a consistent optimist. It’s easy to be “bullish” on the good days and “bearish” on the bad. But keeping a positive mindset and optimistic outlook through the good and the bad takes real work.

In New York City, near Wall Street, there is a bronze statue called the “Charging Bull.”  After the stock market crash of 1987, Arturo Di Modica spent over $360,000 of his own money to create the statue. Of his own accord, as a Christmas gift to the people of America he placed the statue in front of the stock exchange as a symbol of the, “strength and power of the American people.” The police seized the sculpture, but eventually the Department of Parks and recreation installed it on their own a few blocks away.

When you look at the bull today, you’ll notice that its nose is lighter than the rest of its body. This tarnishing is a direct result of all the brokers who touched the Bulls nose on their way into the market. They touch the statue hoping for a bullish day.

What if we did the same? What if every day we entered our lives we took a moment to remind ourselves to have a bullish life? All sorts of things to be our “Charging Bull.” Maybe a positive quote placed somewhere that we will see a multiple times a day, maybe a saying that we can repeat ourselves at the beginning of each day. Maybe, we find a little trinket in the form of a bull.

What our “Charging Bull” is doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we find some way to remind ourselves to play the optimist instead of the pessimist. If we will, no matter how deep the ocean we find ourselves stranded in, and no matter what tools we have to work with, every day we will row for shore.


Removing The Strap

October 8, 2008

After breaking my neck, of all the countless things I had to learn to do again keeping my balance was far and away one of the most difficult. From the moment I was off the respirator and healthy enough to be out of the bed my therapists worked every day to help me regain my balance. This may not seem like a difficult thing to acquire, but without the assistance of your abdominal muscles to keep you upright, or the help of the muscles around your trunk to keep you steady, it took hours and hours of work.

From the very first day I was in a wheelchair I had a Velcro strap around my chest to keep me from falling on the ground–and least that’s the idea. At first, I leaned on my strap all the time. But after a while, I only used it from time to time. By the time I left the hospital, I had gotten to the point where I was fairly secure in my balance. Still, the ground looked fairly ominous and wanting to keep my face as far as I could from the concrete, I kept the strap.

Months later, after I had been home for some time, my mom was in my room helping me get ready for church. It felt like just a regular Sunday like any other Sunday. Little did I know that this particular Sunday would be one I would never forget.

Everything was going normal, my mom helped me put on my pants, sat me in my chair, buttoned up my white shirt, tied my tie, and slid my sport coat on. Then, acting as though it was something we did every day, she removed my strap. I proceeded to inform her that that wasn’t going to work. I tried to explain that I needed to strap and that without it I would fall out of my chair, and although some might find it entertaining to watch, the idea horrified me.

She then told me that while we were in the hospital one of the therapists told her that she felt that I could get to the point where I would no longer need the strap to keep my balance. My mom then informed me that I had in fact reach that point (whether I knew it or not.) She told me she believed in me and was sure that I’d be just fine.

I on the other hand was positive that she was wrong. But, the strap was gone and it was obvious that I was going to church sans strap unless I could convince one of my brothers or sister to disobey my mother’s edict, and I was pretty sure that that wasn’t going to happen.

I was furious. How could she do this to me. “Did she want me to fall?” I wondered. But, angry or not, I was loaded in the car and we headed to church. Glaring at my mom during the entire meeting I concentrated on sitting up. As I worked to keep myself upright I silently waited for the moment when my efforts would fail and I would fall. Then, I could prove to my mother that I was right and she was wrong.

However, contrary to my belief I made it through the meetings sitting up the whole time. Now, I was really scared. This was a big problem. For, if I made it home without incident, I would never see my strap again.

As the meeting ended and my mother pushed me out the chapel doors. Heading to the van I knew that it was now or never. I saw a crack in the sidewalk and knew that this was my chance. My front wheels hit the crack and as the chair jostled just a bit, I threw myself out of my chair. My upper body slammed against the concrete pinning my legs underneath my torso. My mother came from behind my chair to help me get off the ground and as she did I repeatedly cried, “See, I was right. I told you I need my strap.”

Once I was safely back in my chair, my mom looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “You may fall a few times but eventually you’ll get it figured out.” Fuming, I understood that my strap was gone, and that all falling out of my chair was going to get me was a concussion.

In the end, my mother was right. I sit up today in my wheelchair without a cumbersome strap because my mom saw my true potential, and was willing to do whatever it took so that I could see it as well. In my life today I work hard to see past the “straps” in my life that limit my ability to see all that I can become. I try every day to look at my life through the eyes of my loving mother that I might see all that I can be.

Now that I am older, I can only imagine how difficult it was for her to remove my strap and see me fall. It would have been so easy for her to just give me my strap. Had she done so however, I would have been safe in the knowledge that I would never fall, yet always wondering what more I could have been.

Each of us have straps that we allow to stay in our lives and keep us from reaching our full potential. We have to take heart from my mother’s courage and remove the straps that keep us down so that we can find our own balance. Odds are good that we will fall. But those scrapes will heal and in the quest to unlock “The Champion Inside,” our lives will become full of opportunity as we realize and utilize all that we are and all that we can be.

All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother. — Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)


Wake-Up Call

October 6, 2008

In my work, I am required to do a lot of travel. I must say it sounds a lot “sexier” than it is. Mostly, it’s arriving late the night before an event and departing late the day after, and usually little more than airport-hotel-airport.

On one such arrival, after I had gone through the process of checking in, I was so tired I was aching for bed.  The hotel was a small hotel, and it was obvious that the gentleman at the front desk did everything from check-in to setting out the morning bagels, so I decided to ask for my wake-up call right there.

He agreed to my request, and as he began to get my information, he remarked how the hotel doesn’t get as many wake-up calls as they used to, and that people seem to prefer the alarm on their cell phone instead. As I thought about it, the same seemed true in my own experience. All the people I traveled with from my wife to my siblings to my aides preferred using the alarm on their mobile phone. I looked back at the attendant, who was quietly waiting seeming to hope that this information had caused me to change my mind and lighten his workload.  I told him that his information was interesting and, although he was probably right, I still wanted my wake-up call.

I like wake-up calls. They are my security blanket. I too use my cell phone’s alarm, but I always set a wake-up call to go off about 10 minutes after my alarm, just in case. That way, I can go to sleep knowing that I won’t wake up late due to some mistake I made or phone failure. Wake-up calls help me make sure I don’t sleep through the important things I can’t afford to miss. When I think the wake-up calls, I can’t help but remember a Saturday morning when one changed my life.

On this particular Saturday morning, I’ve been asked to speak to a group of children about how we are all different, and whether we have red hair or we don’t, are in a wheelchair or we aren’t, everyone is “O.K.”  As I got ready early that morning for the event it was obvious that it was going to be one of “those” days when everything seems to turn out far from “O.K.”

I failed at nearly everything I tried to do that morning, and the things I didn’t fail at still turned out badly.  My pants were all askew, I’d gotten toothpaste on my tie, breakfast turned out lousy, and on my way to the event I realized I had left the directions on my kitchen table. It was most assuredly a day where it didn’t feel like it was okay to be in a wheelchair, when it definitely did not feel okay to be “different”, and the last thing I wanted to was to go try and convince an hundred kids that it was.

But it was too late to cancel so I went. I remember thinking this was the last thing I needed that morning and hoped that I could just get in, get out, and move on.

Upon arrival, I introduced myself to the woman who had scheduled me for the event.   She proceeded to tell me they had brought three other individuals with disabilities to speak as well, so, instead of speaking to all kids at once, they were going to divide the children into four groups and rotate them through.

“Great,” I thought, “now I don’t just have to talk about how I have a great life in a wheelchair once, I’d have to do it four times.” This just quadrupled the amount of time I was going to have to be there that morning.

The meeting began with all of us in the same room. The children were given instructions and just before they were set loose, the woman in charge of the event had all of the children sing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” reminding everyone there about what a wonderful thing the body was. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I knew the song and so I sang with everyone else.

As I began to sing, out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the other speakers with a disability. He too was in a wheelchair, and from the way he sat in his chair, it seemed our disabilities were very similar. But what wasn’t similar, was the way he was throwing his arms all about. For the life of me, I could not figure out why a grown man would move around in such a way in public during the song. I remember thinking that he looked like he was conducting the music. The only problem was, he wasn’t facing the children, and that was definitely different.

Just as the next sarcastic remark began to form in my mind it hit me. He was deaf. Like me, he couldn’t move his hands and so he had had to come up with his own sign language. That was why his arms were moving about so. And what’s more, he was doing it all with a smile on his face.

Talk about a wake-up call. All of a sudden all those things that frustrated me so much that morning didn’t seem so big. In fact, they seemed quite small-petty even. He had so much less than I and yet his attitude was so much better. I never even spoke to the man and yet he taught me a lesson that I will never forget, and because of my poor attitude I nearly missed it. It is easy to get lulled to sleep in our lives, and if we stay that way we will miss the many lessons those great people around us have to teach.

We have to wake up and listen to the lives of those around us and let them teach us to be better the way this man taught me. Then, fully awake and fully aware each day a new person will teach us a new way to live happier. If we will look, we can find examples in books, on television, in our neighborhoods, and on our streets. And if we will see, we will learn to live with more gratitude and grace instead of complacency and complaint.

We need wake-up calls. They help us make sure we don’t sleep through the important things we can’t afford to miss.