The Revolution Will Not Be Paralyzed

Last week’s trip to DC was our shortest yet, but we packed quite a bit into those four days in terms of advocacy, growth, and memories made. Being my third year at the ROCH, I wasn’t as awed by the idea that I was about to be rolling through House, Senate, and Capitol buildings. Granted, not being distracted by the chaos of broken wheelchairs and lost luggage like the previous years helped me retain a little more of the education I received the day prior, so I was ready to take The Hill with my paralyzed tribe on Tuesday morning.

We caught a curveball, however, when we rolled in to Congressman Denny Heck’s office for our first scheduled visit and saw the breaking news about the Supreme Court upholding President Trump’s ridiculous travel ban. It’s interesting (and slightly embarrassing) how the gravity of news seems to hold more weight when it’s happening while I am in town. Such was the case on the final day of last year’s Roll when a left-wing nut job opened fire on Republican Congress members during a baseball practice for a charity event, seriously wounding Louisiana Representative and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The whole ordeal cast a surreal shadow on the visit for me because it showed how idealism can easily be shattered by a senseless act, and here I was again watching history unfold, and feeling frustrated that there wasn’t much I could do about it.

The notion that that decision will somehow keep us safe is preposterous. Policies like this and the recent separating of refugees and their children give credence to those who say we are a country of xenophobic hypocrites who fail to recognize that a decent majority of our latest terrorist threats haven’t been of the vaguely browner people outside our borders, but a bunch of homegrown, crazy white dudes like the one who shot Scalise.

It definitely gave me a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as we kicked the day off, but I felt a little bit of relief as I bounced from office to office with my fellow advocates. Unlike the 36 years prior to my first participation on the hill, I could find solace in the fact that I was doing my part to affect a small amount of change in the areas I have experience. Since I’ve been going to DC, it has taken two years of collective advocacy to ensure Medicaid coverage of specialty medical equipment like the cushion that saved my life for power wheelchair users, and we were another year in to the fight for those in manual chairs while also trying to protect ADA rights and make our long-overdue case for accessible air travel.

As anticipated, it was awesome for Claire and me to be joined by Ian and Teena on our Hill visits. Because our stories and platforms are just different enough to counterbalance one another, we fell into a comfortable give-and-take right away. Having Teena and Claire’s perspectives as a mother of a quad and wife/OT practitioner, respectively, rounded out a robust representation of our local community’s issues. Add in a couple of heavy hitters in United Spinal board members Andy Hicks and Wendell Matas, and we had quite a formidable group of advocates.

In total, we made five visits on Tuesday, three together plus solo visits to our respective district representatives’ offices. The cool part for me was seeing familiar faces from Hill visits of ROCHs-past, which meant the dialogue had already been opened somewhat. I’m learning it’s all about fostering relationships with the people who can help affect change. For the most part we were preaching to the choir on each visit, which, on the one hand, is comforting to know you have allies, but it would’ve been nice to try and sway some of of those in opposition. All in all, it was a fantastic day with a lively group.

After a quick jaunt around the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, we reunited with the rest of our peers that evening at a Congressional award ceremony to highlight a few key players’ accomplishments from the past year.  First up was Gretchelle Dilan, an advocate from Puerto Rico who Claire and I had met last year and spent some time with doing a flash mob for inclusive dance just a few months before hurricanes Maria and Irma laid waste to her community. Proving that sometimes The Path finds you, she stepped up and worked endlessly to help people with disabilities on the island get the services and equipment they desperately needed. Her acceptance speech for the 2018 Outstanding Community Service Award was a fierce call to action for us all to constantly push for those who need help.

Next came Earle Powdrell, an aerospace engineer whose brain stem stroke in 2009 rendered him a locked-in quadriplegic, leaving him only the ability to blink and move his eyes. Despite that, he manages to use a computer with a TOBII eye-tracker to communicate, delivering brilliant speeches to encourage others to never give up hope. For their relentless efforts on the national stage since the ROCH began seven years ago, he and his spunky and dedicated wife of almost four decades, Kathy, received the 2018 Finn Bullers Advocates of the Year Award. Their acceptance speech was a reminder that we are only as paralyzed as we think, that our voices can be powerful agents of change.

After the ceremony, a large group of us made our way over to Union Station to grab dinner and chat. I’ve always enjoyed my Congressional visits, but the opportunity to connect with peers from all over has always been my favorite part of the event, and it’s the reason I keep coming back year after year. Getting to hear about all of the projects they are working on in their home states always gets me charged up with ideas for things to incorporate back home.

The evening ended with a two-mile haul back to our hotels which shouldn’t have been a problem for the brand-new batteries in my backup chair, but Life decided to make things interesting. We played a fascinating game of late night wheelchair Tetris inside the Metro elevators to expedite the trip, but it wasn’t enough to get me back under my own power, and Mama Dreads & The Mrs. graciously pushed me the last third of a mile up the hill Homewood Suites was perched on that Ian later dubbed Mount Muthaf*cka in their honor.

The next morning featured “coffee” with Sen. Patty Murray, which was more of a photo opportunity with 100 or so other Washingtonians with a pot of coffee in the corner. One perk was having all of her policy staff present when we each had the opportunity to share who we were, and why we were there. After all the introductions were made, her transportation specialist made a beeline toward me to talk more about my thoughts on air travel.

After that we headed back to the hotel to pack our bags and charge my batteries for a trip down through a couple of my favorite monuments. Claire and I made a late night mad dash through the Martin Luther King and Franklin D Roosevelt memorials a year ago, but I wanted to experience them to their fullest extent with Ian and Teena because he and his mom have played such a major role in my evolution as an advocate. Our friendship goes back six years to him calling me an idiot in the nicest way possible, and that exchange led to the formation of The Here and Now Project.

Both MLK and FDR before him were major cogs in a social justice machine that we are still pushing forward through our own efforts and being surrounded history helped to remind us of the bigger picture. As we cruised around snapping photos of our favorite quotes, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that our elected officials could benefit from a field trip through their own backyard to remind themselves of the ideals this country was founded on.

One of my favorite features at Roosevelt’s memorial is a bronze statue of him in his wheelchair with a quote from his wife Eleanor engraved on the wall behind it that says “Franklin’s illness…gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons – infinite patience and never ending persistence.” There’s a vein of that strength, courage, patience, and persistence in Ian, myself, and all our paralyzed peers, so we snapped a picture of us knee-to-knee with our paralyzed forefather to recognize the considerable impact one paralyzed person can have.

We made our way back to the airport without needing to push me, and it was all wrapping up to be a phenomenal trip… Until the after flight home, that is, when Ian’s chair came up from under the plane at SeaTac with considerable damage. Thankfully, it’s his backup chair and he was able to patch it together enough to limp home, but it could have easily been significantly worse. It’s another glaring example of what we put at risk to make the trip and advocate on that very issue. That is three chairs damaged in three consecutive trips to DC, which is unacceptable.

Fortunately, I’ve been down this road plenty of times now, and know that this is just the beginning of a fight we will continue having for years to come until we get where we need to be. It was a good reminder that not all revolutions take the form of tidal waves, but trickles that cut slowly through granite-like opposition, and that I will have to continue to channel FDR’s special blend of vigilance if I hope to carve out another bit of equal rights for myself and those like me. With people like Claire, Ian, Teena, Wendell, Andy and so many others by my side, there is reason to be optimistic for what the future holds.

Another Lap Around the Sun

I have written about it a handful of times, and each time, I’ve found that my relationship with the anniversary of my accident has evolved. The first few years, I didn’t need a reminder because I’d been counting the days, breaths, and heartbeats that I’d survived along the way. At five years, I couldn’t find the words. When the decade came, it was time to exercise some demons and celebrate. Now here we are at 14 years and, as always seems to be the case, it’s hard to wrap my head around just how far I’ve come.

I look back at pictures of the early days and remember just how disoriented I was in the months and years after my accident. For a long time I couldn’t leave my room, let alone my house, or even the block we lived on. This life just did not make sense. I never could’ve imagined that six years later, the cute nurse from rehab would wander back into my world and show me how to “do life.” And when the mosaic we built during our two-year whirlwind relationship came crashing down and I found myself at the lowest point of my life, I clung to one question like a life preserver: Where will I be six years from now?

And now here I am, living a healthy, productive, and meaningful life on a level I could not have have fathomed back then. I’ve got a semi-regular gig writing for one of the leading disability magazines, my little pet project has gained traction and is building a critical mass up here in the Pacific Northwest, and, oh yeah, I’m on the verge of marrying a woman who has played an integral part in helping me get here by standing by my side as I’ve pushed past comfort zones of all kinds.. It’s a level of productivity and motivation I’ve always wanted, but never truly thought I would find post-injury.

On the one hand, it’s a testament to all of the work I have done on myself, especially in the last six years, on my mental, spiritual, and emotional fitness. On the flipside, I know none of it would have been possible without the hordes of people who have been there to catch me every time I fell and helped carry me until I figured out how to make this life make sense, especially my mom, my dad, my sister, and Kristen. I know there’s no proper way to thank each and every one of you except to continue pushing forward to help others as you have helped me.

The only question now is where will we all be six years from now? If the last 14 years have taught me anything, it’ll be a mixed bag of the sour and the sweet, but we will get there together.

Goodbye to One of The Greatest

There really is no proper way of explaining him. Like any other force of nature, his energy and impact had to be experienced firsthand. My earliest memory of him is that he had a tattoo, definitive proof in a three-year-old mind’s eye that my Grandpa Ed was a pirate. His gravelly voice, perpetually tanned skin and adventurous spirit could make anyone think he’d dug up the fountain of youth on some remote Pacific island during his tours on the USS Tuscaloosa as a teenager in the early 40s.

Part of me knew that the day would eventually come – our last visit with the 91 1/2-year-old back in October featured about three conversations in a cycling loop, his dementia starting to take over. But another part held onto the childlike notion that my WWII veteran granddad would live forever; that, for the rest of my life, I could go down Indian Trail Road and find him at the end of his driveway in an “Old Dudes Rule” T-shirt waving an over-sized American flag like a man possessed.

Tragically, a respiratory infection set in just after Christmas and he was gone before we could even get a chance to get down and say goodbye. Life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. Although I had made a concerted effort these last five or six years to drink in every nuance of him that I could, sneaking as many videos and snapshots of “Eddie-isms” along the way, I still had infinite more quips, jokes and anecdotes I wanted to capture. That’s one of the most frustrating truths about life; you never know how many of those moments you have left.

Although I’d had months to prepare for the trip down for his memorial, there was no way of knowing how I’d feel until I got there. As we made our way up the hill towards the High Desert late last Thursday night, into Yucca Valley and through Joshua Tree on our way to Twentynine Palms, I could feel my throat closing more and more with every mile. Even arriving under the cover of darkness couldn’t hide the evidence of his absence and it hit me harder than I could’ve imagined.

The 5 acre patch of dirt he homesteaded back in 1950 and transformed into an oasis overflowing with fond memories for three generations had windswept sands piled like snowdrifts on the walkways and and fresh weeds creeping in through the perimeter. It looked as though, after a 70 year lease, the Desert Gods had already pushed ahead with their foreclosure. The world without him just didn’t make sense.

It wasn’t until I saw Grandma Betty cautiously waiting under the porch light that I felt my chest loosen up a bit. Over the next few days, all five of his children and most of his grand- and great-grandkids descended on the compound. It was the first time that many of us were together in more than a decade and a half. There were plenty of tears, but a good majority of them were accompanied by sidesplitting laughter as we partook in all the usual shenanigans that come with a visit to the desert. Some played games around the dinner table while others climbed the hill west of the house we all call The Saddle. After dinner we all had “Skippy Cups” of ice cream and did our best impressions of his corniest jokes.

At some point, probably midway through his memorial at the Eagles lodge that Saturday where friends and family shared story after story of his capricious nature and heart for helping others, the realization finally stuck – How lucky was I to have him so long? Many people don’t ever meet their grandparents, let alone get to experience a remarkable set the way I’ve been able to these last few years. Instead of dwelling on all the moments I’d never get back, I could hold on to the many gifts he’d given me over the years, whether directly or indirectly through his oldest son. Looking around at my aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and acquaintances, I could see his legacy in every one of them, too. His gift of storytelling, his special brand of dad-joke humor, his craftsman’s eye, his ability to make anyone feel special and loved – it was all on display. It was the perfect way to memorialize one of the best of The Greatest Generation.

When we left the desert on Tuesday night, the emotions came rushing back to the foreground. Could this be the last time I bounce down that dusty old road?  Grandma said she’ll stay for a while, but is already considering a move closer to family and relative civilization. It’s obviously the right call, but it’s hard to imagine my trips to Southern California without making the long haul up the hill to what will always be my favorite place. As we awkwardly bounced around the corner of Mesa Road and onto the concrete, I was confronted with the idea that, as the only grandson to hold his name, I have no idea how I will even begin to explain to my future kids how utterly unique and almost magical their Great Grandpa Salvini truly was.

For some reason that first image of his tattoo flashed inside the still-three-year-old section of my mind. Maybe I’ll just say they’ve got a pirate’s blood running through their veins.

Edward Allen Salvini Sr – July 11, 1925-January 10, 2017

Full Circle

There is a Kierkegaard quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” After taking a couple days to decompress from our travels, it’s time to take a look back at the last few days of this trip and see what I can learn. The first and most obvious lesson: What a difference a functioning wheelchair makes.

Having all three of my previous trips interrupted by malfunctioning and/or broken wheelchair parts, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Last year’s trip to Las Vegas to connect with fellow paralysis advocates from all over the country was cut short by a pair of broken motors. Of the three days we were in town, I was only able to catch the last hour and a half of the last day.

And granted, I did attend all the festivities for the Roll on Capitol Hill this summer, but you would be surprised how hard it is to focus when you can’t even control where you are going – let alone mingle and socialize with other attendees – which almost made it worse. It was like being stuck sitting at your desk while all the other kids were out playing at recess. I recognized a few faces from afar, but couldn’t play any of their reindeer games.

Thanks to the good folks at Alaska Airlines not mangling my only usable form of transportation, this conference was an infinitely more rewarding experience. I spent Thursday night at the welcome reception clumsily reconnecting faces with names whereas Saturday and Sunday were mostly devoted to a myriad of topics ranging from volunteer recruitment to fundraising to web layouts. And while I really enjoyed every one of the presentations, it was the people I could meet that was the most interesting.

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Listening to dozens of my peers speaking passionately about their various advocating efforts in their respective states, I could feel a constant buzz of inspiration simmering somewhere deep within me. Hearing about organizations that have been around for decades and others that are merely weeks into their formation was both motivating and relieving; despite my innermost fears, The Here and Now Project is on the right track, with plenty of resources I can call at a moments notice to ask for advice. Just this one picture above features representatives from Southern California, New York City, Hawaii and the good ol’ PNW.

After a brief lunch with the West Coast chapters on Sunday, the girls and I shot out to the suburbs to connect with Kevin Pine, my wrestling coach for the first half of my college career. We met his two daughters, Kennedy and Tatum, and got updates about his son Josh who is away at college, which doesn’t seem possible since it felt like only yesterday that one of my roommates and I babysat him as a toddler. Kevin whipped out a couple of photo albums from back in the day and we started retracing our time together when we stumbled upon a few photos from my very first trip to Las Vegas, triggering a few memories.

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It was the end of 1999, and I was a redshirt freshman on the CWU wrestling headed for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, one of the toughest tournaments in the country where hundreds of malnutritioned 18-25-year-olds with mangled ears descend on Sin City to compete the first weekend of December each year. I wasn’t even supposed to be on that trip because I was second line behind my former roommate and future two-time All-American, Shaine Jamie. But, as always, Life had other plans.

I vividly remember standing over a boiling pot of water with a box of mac & cheese in my hand about to pour the noodles in when the phone rang. It was Kevin, telling me that Shaine was out and they needed me to be on weight and in Vegas the next morning. Only fellow wrestlers can understand the depth of sadness I felt as I set that blue box of noodles down, knowing that I had a decent weight cut in front of me instead of that tasty meal.

I eventually made the weight, and the team made it to Vegas. With powerhouse Division I schools like Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Arizona State and many others in attendance, our guys took quite a few beatings in that tournament, especially me. I think I was outscored 32-2 in two technical falls at the hands of athletes from West Virginia and the Air Force Academy. It wasn’t pretty. But the tournament itself was not the main part of Kevin’s plan for us. No, the more important matches were the duals against fellow Division II rivals like Colorado School of Mines and Western State Colorado the night before. He wanted us to have exposure to people working and competing at our own level. He wanted us to grow.

I learned a lot on those trips to Las Vegas and other places like Southern Oregon, Eastern Colorado, South Dakota and West Virginia. I also took a lot of beatings along the way that are only starting to make sense right now. 17 years later, I can start see the correlation in all my recent road trips to connect with a new set of teammates with wheels. You’re going to have to take your lumps no matter where you go, but you’ll be better for it in the end.

Now it’s time to get back to the grind and keep pushing for a little more growth.

 

Reasons and Seasons

November has always been a difficult month for me. Before 2010, the majority of those troubles were of the self-imposed, “first-world-problems” variety due to my choice to forgo Thanksgiving dinners so I could roll around with other sweaty malnutritioned guys in spandex in gymnasiums across the country but, at the time, those struggles were as real to me as anything else. That all changed on Monday, November 15 of that year when I flatlined in the emergency room of Auburn Regional Medical Center from septic shock caused by a bladder infection, and Kristen and my parents had to watch five excruciating minutes of CPR followed by a week and a half with me on life-support, not knowing whether I had brain damage or not.

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And it was another Monday, exactly 53 weeks after my brush with death that I lost her to her addiction – the most cunning, baffling and powerful disease on this planet – just  two short months after our wedding. It goes without saying that each November since has been an emotional roller coaster for me and everyone else in my life. It’s hard to put into words the effect those two events and that one person had on my life. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a lesson I learned back in seventh grade art class.

I remember coming into the classroom to find my teacher standing behind a table filled with a myriad of ceramics; pots, vases and tiles in all shapes, colors and sizes. It was just when I started to get excited about what I could only assume was a pottery lesson that the teacher pulled a hammer out from under the table, donned a pair of safety glasses, and proceeded to smash all the beautiful clayware right in front of my eyes. I remember being stunned, wondering why she would lay waste to someone’s handmade artwork and if I could possibly reconstruct them somehow.

As you can probably imagine, the day’s class was on mosaics. It was all about taking something broken and creating something memorable. Whereas a blue ceramic vase may spend most of its life hidden in a cupboard only to be seen once or twice a year, it’s pieces, when placed together with those from other broken items, would hang on a wall and be appreciated every single day. It’s this idea that helped me cope with Kristen’s passing four years ago, because I could see that we were one of those mosaics.

When I was hurt almost 12 years ago, I was that dumbfounded seventh grader all over again, only this time it was my fractured identity I saw laying in a thousand little pieces on the hospital room floor. It didn’t matter what the cute rehab nurse said about me still being able to “do life”, I wanted the girlfriend I had at the time, I wanted to fix my body, I wanted the life I thought I was building. It wasn’t until almost 6 years later that that same nurse wandered back into my life and, using some of her own broken pieces, helped me cobble together a life I never could have fathomed when we had first met.

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Losing my wife so suddenly was by far the most difficult thing I have had to endure. After all, it had taken us six years realize we were soulmates, and we burned through the two we’d had together at such fevered pace that it felt like the only matter of weeks, especially the second year after having my near-death experience raise the bar that much higher. But as that Thanksgiving melted into Christmas and into New Year’s and beyond, that story from junior high comforted me like a warm a blanket. It reminded me that I’d been shaken to my core like this once before, and if I could muster a little faith, maybe time would help me make peace with it somehow.

So here I am, four years later. And once more, the life I have now is unlike anything I could have imagined in the days and weeks after she passed. Kristen taught me so much over the eight years we knew each other. Her unshakable optimism brought me out of my shell and showed me how to do life, and her tragic flaw taught me infinitely more without a doubt. Our struggle with her disease led me down a spiritual path that has fundamentally changed the way I look at life. It also revealed the importance of getting next to people who have been where I have, and it’s quickly become my life’s work.

And while I had to grudgingly admit at the time that sometimes soulmates come into your life for a season or a reason, it’s starting to make a lot more sense in the last year or so. Here’s a hint.

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So for everyone out there who may find themselves entering this holiday season with a cracked vase or, God forbid, a few shattered hopes and dreams in their hands, you are not alone. Hopefully with time you’ll come to see how this current trial gets folded into this messy but beautiful mosaic we call life. I know that’s been the case for me.

Make your mark

So I was sitting in my hospital room the other day, high on a cocktail of morphine and Ativan (breakfast of champions), when my buddy Big Jim walked in.  Yep, you read correct… my hospital room.  Around 11 o’clock one Saturday last month, I started to get the chills, but didn’t think much of it.  Just wrap me up in some warm towels, and call it good, right?  Wrong.  An hour later, I was rocking a fever of 104° with a mean case of the shakes while throwing up like a champion.  Sweet.  The last time I had similar symptoms, it was 5 a.m. on Christmas morning two years ago, when Santa, the bastard, left a nice, neat little emergency kidney stone surgery in my stocking (not to mention three more scattered over the next few months).  Good times.

After about an hour or so of intense denial about the need to go to the ER, I finally gave in, and was whisked away in one of the local fire department’s red and white chariots, complete with sirens and flashing lights.  Go big or go home, yeah?  Another few hours of blank stares from ER doctors, and I was admitted with what was deemed just a really bad bladder infection, with no real explanation, or concern for that matter, as to why I was shaking like an epileptic in the throes of a grand mall.  Solution?  Bring on the drugs, baby. We finally discovered the culprit after a couple days, a negative CT scan of my kidneys and more than my share of early-morning (see: butt-crack of dawn) blood tests.  It turned out to be a fairly mean case of cellulitis on my left thigh from my knee all the way up past my hip.  New, much more advanced solution?  Some battery acid-like antibiotics, more than a week in "the joint" and, you guessed it, even more drugs.  Hooray for me.  Considering the loopy-as-hell state I was in, it’s a miracle I remember Jim’s visit at all.

Big Jim was one of my physical therapists in rehab after I got hurt.  On the outside, he’s one intimidating guy, complete with a shaved head, some burly tattoos and more muscle than most would consider humanly possible.  The tough exterior is completely betrayed, however, by the permanent smile he wears, and the unwavering positive attitude he brings to the hospital each day.  We had an instant bond through wrestling, because his boy Zack can only be described as an absolute stud in the sport.  Well, the word "phenom" also comes to mind… so does "beast."  Anyways… By the time this kid reaches middle school, he will probably have wrestled in, and won, more matches and major tournament titles than I did in my entire 12 year career.  I have an autographed T-shirt… and you think I’m kidding.  I’ve followed the boy’s success solely through his proud father’s stories, and I could tell by the smile on his face that morning that he had a yet another doozy for me.  I’m just glad he showed up in between hallucinations, or else this story would be about purple trolls wrestling in sequined jumpsuits or something.

A deep, booming voice teamed with animated deliveries, Jim’s wrestling tales are never lacking in the entertainment department.  This particular story came from one of the many wrestling camps the big man and his beast of a child attended over the summer.  While watching a coach show a high-percentage scoring maneuver during the technique portion of the day, Jim could have sworn he recognized the name of the move, but could not place where from.  As the session came to a close, the man sat all the kids down and told them that the technique they had just learned was named after a rather successful wrestler he knew who used it to win a lot of big matches throughout both high school and college.  This man, who was paralyzed in a tragic skiing accident, always had a great work ethic and an even better attitude.  The name of the move was of course… "the Salvini."

Jim could not recall the man’s name as he told me the story that day, but he didn’t have to because he’s a friend of mine.  His name is Randy Connelly, and he was the head wrestling coach at my old high school when I was away at college.  The epitome of the word "coach," Randy’s competitive spirit is overshadowed only by his passion for his sport, which tends to spread like wildfire throughout his teams.  Every time I came home on a holiday break, he eagerly turned practices (sometimes full weeks) over to me with the hopes that what I had learned from competing at a higher level would be passed on to his kids.  I can still remember his enthusiasm the day I first showed "the Salvini" to his guys during a practice over the Thanksgiving break.

And so it is, I have officially made my mark on the sport that helped make me who I am today.  Now, I have always been a firm believer that when we finally do leave this world, each of us will be remembered based upon a few key moments in our lives.  Because of this, I always tried (keyword: tried) to carry myself accordingly.  The way I saw it, no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, you never truly know who might be watching and, especially when it comes to younger people, possibly looking up to you.  Did the move get its name because I created it?  Sorry, I didn’t.  Because I was the best wrestler ever, perhaps?  Sadly, I wasn’t.  Or is it more likely that kids halfway across the state are learning "the Salvini" not because of what I did, but because of who I was?

How will you make your mark?  How do you want to be remembered?

Happy birthday

St. Patrick’s Day.  Such a goofy holiday (I mean, of all the saints that could be honored).  Most of us think it has something to do with snakes in Ireland, anyhow.  It’s mainly the day that gives that annoying kid in class an excuse to be even more of a nuisance, and the party crowd a reason to drink themselves EXTRA retarded off odd colored drinks.  For me, however, March 17th means something else entirely.  It represents a birthday that was never celebrated… a person I’ll never meet.

"Here is your baby," the doctor said, motioning toward the white blurb on the monitor that morning four and a half years ago.  I cocked my head sideways and, sure enough, I could see a tiny person.  My eyes lit up.  I instantly had a million questions for the little figure on the screen. Would you be a chip off the old block, or daddy’s little girl?  Would you have my eyes?  My smile?  My untamable thick hair?  Would you be left-handed like your old man?  Would you inherit my ridiculous sweet tooth?  Perhaps my mild case of ADHD as well?  Lost in my thoughts, I barely heard what the doctor said next.  Pointing to a miniature chest on the ultrasound, he said, "And right about here… is where the heartbeat should be."  I got so excited as I looked for the… wait, what?  Did he say… should… be? 

As my mind wrapped itself around those last two words, my heart ran the gamut of emotions; overwhelming excitement, frantic confusion, sheer devastation, furious rage.  I looked at the doctor.  Should be???  He had said it so matter-of-factly, as if he were merely reading the menu at his favorite restaurant.  Just cold.  I wanted to kill him.  Strangle him, rip his throat out… anything to make him understand the pain he had caused us with his callous delivery so that, maybe next time, he would show a little more tact when shattering two young people’s hopes.  As we stepped out of the clinic that day, his words echoing in my head, the world completely lost color.  Everything seemed to be in gray tones.

Should be. Those two syllables haunted us for a long time.  A toxic combination of anger, bitterness, depression and inability to cope properly proved too much for us to handle, and we eventually parted ways.  Lost and frustrated, I wanted an explanation. Why us?  Why now?  What if…?  Infinite questions.  Zero answers.  I started to wonder if it was my fault.  Maybe I had done something wrong, and this was my punishment.

But as time passed, I slowly made my peace with the idea that what was supposed to happen, in fact did.  I can now look back and see the bigger picture I didn’t have the capacity to at the time.  We were young and it was probably the most difficult thing either of us will endure in our lives, but it helped shape us into the people we have become.  Had we not suffered that tremendous loss, we would not have the strength, wisdom or appreciation of our families and life in general that we have today.  And though the relationship did not survive, a great friendship did, and for that I am forever thankful. 

The whole situation taught me that time truly does heal wounds, but it doesn’t make you forget.  So while children are getting pinched and drunks are pounding green beers, I will be thinking about a hyper little kid bouncing around up in Heaven, getting ready to blow out four candles.

Happy birthday, kiddo.  Love, Dad.

A Christmas story

I know what you’re thinking, and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with me shooting my eye out, getting my tongue stuck to a pole, or a leg-lamp (FRA-GI-LE!  Must be Italian!)…. I wish my stories were that cool!  Fact of the matter is, although they may not be movie-worthy, we all have some sort of holiday story from our past that is held on to, be them heartwarming or embarrassing.  The best stories from our past, I think, are the ones told by someone else.  I didn’t hear mine until a few years ago. 
 
For what seems like forever, I’ve never known what I wanted for Christmas.  My mom would ask every year, and I would just say "I don’t know… nothing, I don’t really need anything."  She would get so frustrated, because I could never help her out, couldn’t even point her in a direction.  I could never figure out why, but I just could not bring myself to ask for something.   It wasn’t until college that my mom informed me why that was.  It was Santa’s fault.
 
When I was a kid, I was POSITIVE that Santa Claus was real.  My parents always did a great job of keeping that illusion alive with us.  For example, when my sister came home crying because someone had said Santa wasn’t real, my dad got on the roof late Christmas Eve, shook sleigh bells, and slid pieces of wood across the snow-covered shingles so that it would look like sleigh tracks in the morning.  After seeing/hearing something like that, how could we not believe in Santa?
 
So since he was the real deal, my lists to the red clad fat man were rather detailed and extensive every year.  Without fail, they were always packed with requests for G.I. Joe’s, Legos, Nintendo games and God knows what else, and he would always pull through for me as best he could.  But like all of our childhood myths, I finally came to the realization that he wasn’t real one day… and I was FURIOUS.  Trying to console me, my mom asked what was wrong and I replied, "If I would have known that you were Santa Claus and buying all those gifts, I would never have asked for so much."  Ever since then, my mom says I have never asked for anything again.
 
Okay, so it’s not as glamorous of a story as receiving a vicious beating at the hands of a cursing psychotic kid named to Ralphie, but it’s a story, and it’s all mine.  So here’s to you and yours creating new stories this weekend that you can pass on for years to come.  And while you are unwrapping presents this weekend, remember that the true gifts are the hands that wrapped them.  Happy Holidays everyone…

Chicks dig scars

…okay I’m not really sure if that’s true, but it’s a good title.  I don’t know if this could be considered an extension of the post before last, I guess it’s just another one of my philosophies for my life along the same lines.  Can’t quite recall how we got on the subject the other night, but somehow a lady friend and I got on the topic of scars, and it really got me thinking.  Apparently, she’s not as big of a fan of scars as I thought girls were.  I, on the other hand, think they are absolutely vital if you want to fully experience life.  The whole conversation made me recall a great quote I once read:
 
"Scars are tattoos with better stories" – Unknown
 
I saw this quote in a magazine advertisement for Toyota (or some other truck manufacturer, can’t quite recall), and loved it.  It is so true.  I have pondered the prospect of adding a little ink to my body for a long time, but have always come to the same conclusion.  I simply cannot find a something that means enough to me personally that I would want it etched on my skin permanently.  I see so many people who get tattoos just for the sake of having one, with no real meaning behind them, something completely insignificant to their life.  A sun here, a butterfly there… with no real meaning, and most of the time, far less originality.  Yet another problem with tattoos.  You can strive to be as creative as you want, but there still might be someone else walking around with your same tattoo one day.  Scars, on the other hand, are always completely unique… AND come with a built in story! 
 
I don’t care who you are or where you have been, EVERYONE has a scar and a story.  As you could probably imagine, my lifestyle left me with plenty of stories to tell.  There are the wrestling scars from wounds that may or may not have needed stitches, but were super glued shut in order to continue competition.  Some of the scars don’t come with as thrilling of anecdotes as those, but they are stories nonetheless.  For every tale I have about getting stitches from wakeboards smacking me in the face or gouging my stomach on a broken beer bottle while diving into a shallow lake (apparently the water had come up over an old fire pit), I have the truly embarrassing scars from hitting my myself in the face with a pickle ball paddle.  And of course the accident gave me some really crazy stories about metal objects being screwed into my bones! 
 
Most people keep journals and diaries to keep track of memories without ever realizing they are a walking tribute to the things they’ve experienced.  Every mark on our bodies is a reminder of where we have been, and what we have been through.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a tattoo with a meaningful story behind it, but scars remind us of pain we endured, and ultimately overcame.  They show us that our bodies aren’t as fragile as we think, and we really are stronger than we give ourselves credit for.  I have plenty of scars, and I wouldn’t change a single one of them because they have made me the person I am today.  They are physical proof that without pain, I would never truly know what it means to be alive.
 

The question

 

Honestly I could not tell you how many time it’s been asked. The same question, over and over. I completely understand people’s curiosity, I would wonder the same myself. The question? "If you were able to snow ski again, would you consider it?" Anyone that new me before the accident hears that question and laughs, especially my mom. Ask her, and you will get the same answer as the rest: "It’s Kenny."

I have said before that this site is only a microcosm of the person I am, and people reading this are only seeing a small part of me. That being said, I do think one could find the answer to that question in just about everything I have written, from the high-five to "a broken man’s plea." I just spent two days trying to find a single word that could accurately describe who I was before the accident, and the only one that makes any sense is this… intense. I was intense.

Looking back, I think I operated on two distinct levels; full tilt, and asleep. Be it work, recreation or love, I always gave everything I had. The way I looked at it, why not? What is the point in living, if you don’t put all that you are behind all that you do? If you don’t push yourself to the limit, you will never realize your potential. This applied to every aspect of my life.

I chose a sport that would push my body further than I thought was possible. I learned that I could drop 25 pounds in 10 days, and still have the ability to run a mile in five minutes flat. I picked my major in college because it was rumored to be the most difficult one at the school, only to find out it wasn’t hard enough. I applied, and was hired, for a job in advertising that I was in no way qualified for on paper because I knew it would be a challenge (okay, and because it would make me a lot of money). I did everything I could every day to make those around me feel happy, cherished and loved.

I spent my downtime pushing myself as well. I was always fascinated with the human body and the potential it has, and I spent my time exploring that potential. I tried snow skiing, wake boarding and skateboarding (to name a few), and they each taught me something about myself. The first two gave me a sort of enlightenment as to what you can achieve, both physically and spiritually, when your body and nature come together. Skateboarding taught me that sometimes that achievement is simply bleeding. Gosh I was terrible.

Since my accident, I have heard countless people say they would never ski again because of my accident. "It’s just too risky. After seeing what has happened to you, it just can’t be worth it. Never again." The funny part, is that these people think that I would condone such a vow. In reality, I get so frustrated when people say these things. I think the main reason I lived the way I did was because I was not afraid of failure. I think I learned to be that way when I was 16, spending the entire summer trying to land a back flip on my wake board. For three straight months, I did nothing but fall on my face, swallowing gallons of water and peeling my eyelids back over my head (or so it felt). Just when I began to think it was impossible, I succeeded, and it opened my eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities I had never considered. I realized that it’s only through our failures that we can really know the meaning of our successes. If you fall down, you get back up and try again.

But Kenny, there is no reason to be that risky, you say. The thing is, I wasn’t being risky at all. I trusted my body’s abilities, and knew what I was doing. I was completely under control, and outside circumstances caused me to get injured. What happened to me was an accident, nothing more. Accidents happen every day. Hell, if you want to be afraid of snow skiing… you should probably be afraid of everything in life. Don’t drive your car, you could get in a wreck. Don’t use electricity, you could shock yourself to death. And for god sakes, don’t fall in love, you might get your heart broken. Everything has its risks, outside factors over which you have no control. 

So, would I ever consider skiing again? My answer is simple. No. I wouldn’t consider it, I would just do it.  Because ultimately, it all boils down to a standard I set for myself long ago: I refuse to live my life consumed by fear. I urge you to do the same. Take a chance, feel alive.