From Listening to Their Talk

My memory is foggy when I try to think back to the invited guest speakers who gave talks to my class in high school. But I do remember, vaguely, one or two speakers with varying physical disabilities who gave motivational talks at the high school. At the time I didn't think much of the talks other than the fact that I was able to miss a class, or at the very least have a particularly miserable class be shortened due to the "special guest presentation."

High school years were the time of my life where 'disability' wasn't a part of my language. It was something else that other people dealt with, folks who in my mind were actually disabled - and in my mind I was not one of them. I was just another debate-team-geek in the tenth grade happy to not have to go to Algebra II.

The particular guest speaker that most clearly comes to mind is Travis Roy. Before I actually figured out his name I entered into Google: "hockey player paralyzed after injury motivational speaker." The first hit that came up was Travis Roy, and his picture cleared up a little of the fog in my memory. Still, I don't remember much of his talk other than he told us about those crucial seconds and minutes that changed his life forever: going from college hockey player to successful motivational speaker with a disability. In between of course was the time he spent in rehab, re-configuring his life, and then going on the speaker-circuit to spread the story of possibility for the likes of suburban high school kids. I think it was early on in his opening speech where he said he could challenge anyone to a sitting contest. That was the only time in his talk where I remember: dude I could totally meet your challenge! As shallow as that might seem, it was the only time, that I remember today, of seeing something in common between Travis and my 15 year-old self. And I also knew, I was the only kid in the high school who could.
After the talk I don't really remember any follow-up discussions that took place in class, and I certainly don't remember if any of my friends or classmates had much else to say other than possibly: "he's so cool, what an inspiration! Go him!" 
As I exited the auditorium I waited in the hall to see if I could meet him. (Even back then I was somewhat a social butterfly and wanted to talk to everyone, at least once). Sure enough he and an assistant came down the hallway and I remember saying something along the lines of: "Hey, I'll take you up on that sitting challenge." And to this day, even right now - I cringe at the thought of what came out of my mouth. I remember he gave a good natured laugh as did a couple of the teachers who were milling around us.

I wish I had said anything else other than what I did. What I wish I had said was "how did you learn to drive?" "why do you bother telling a bunch of teenagers your story? The majority of whom don't have a disability?" "What do you get, beyond fame and money, out of talking about the story of your disability?" Maybe these would have been questions that could have helped me see my disability as less  an alien 'thing' and more a positive, even "cool" thing.

But then I am also thinking, it is so clear to me now from what actually did come out of my daring-blunt-carefree-teenage-swagger: "Hey, I'll take you up on that sitting challenge.." that I really was trying to connect with someone else with a disability. Even if it was less than graceful and a bit brash, my comment was probably made with some desire to say hey, I get some part of your story because I see a little tiny piece of it in my own. And that is kinda awesome. 

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