Friday, October 26, 2007

An Instant In Time

It always amazes me how many people were at the game the night I got hurt. Many times over the years, I have given a speech and afterwards someone will walk up to me and tell me they remember that night because they were there. It happened again yesterday.

I was in Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom, Minnesota, a small town about 50 miles from my house, and after my assembly with their ninth and tenth graders, a teacher approached me and told me his story.

He said he was an assistant coach at Marshall, one of the schools in our conference and a big rival. His assignment was to scout us the night of September 3, 1971. He told me a few things he remembered most about that night and what he took back to his staff at Marshall.

The night before, I attended the 26th Annual Banquet for the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living in St. Paul, and one of their honored guests was Kim Peck, the Director of the Minnesota Department of Rehabilitative Services. After the banquet, David Hancox, the Director at MCIL, introduced me to this year's keynote speaker, Minnesota House of Representative's first-term representative, Shelley Madore.

There were several people in our circle and as introductions were made, David told Shelley Kim and I had gone to high school together. In fact, Kim sat behind me in ninth grade Algebra class. Kim was also at the game the night I got hurt. Kim told her recollection of that night and what she remembered about coming to visit me in the hospital.

Here it is more than thirty-six years later and I'm still running into people who were there. If you were there, or remember something about that time, and how it affected you, please take a few minutes and comment about it here. I'm writing a chapter for the book about peoples' memories, and I may use your story. I'd appreciate it. Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tim Conway & Harvey Korman's comedy

If you're not a Baby Boomer or older, you never saw The Carol Burnett Show. If you are a Boomer, then I'm betting you'll enjoy watching this clip of Conway and Korman doing a skit with Tim Conway playing the part of a clumsy, dim-witted dentist, and Harvey Korman is the patient trying his hardest not to laugh. Which he eventually succumbs to, and can't stop laughing at Tim Conway's antics.

In my mind, Tim Conway was one of the funniest physical comedians ever. I believe he led the way for guys like John Belushi and Chevy Chase. And he often made you laugh out loud without ever saying a word. His actions and facial expressions were hilarious. He was funny without being vulgar, shocking or insulting.

A friend sent me this clip recently, and I've watched it about six times! It reminded me of being a young, innocent kid again. It reminded me of a time when we didn't have to worry about school shootings, gang violence, meth houses next door, teen suicide, twelve-year-old prostitutes, or kids killing other kids for their shoes. It is just plain funny. Check it out:

Dentist Sketch - The Carol Burnett Show

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

William Rodriguez

William Rodriguez was the last survivor out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed on September 11, 2001. He tells a compelling story about his experience and his life since that fateful morning.

I was fortunate enough to hear him speak Sunday night at a church just a block and a half from my house. In graphic detail, he told about his experiences of that day and how his life has changed. He shared pictures of his journey that has literally taken him around the world.

He has helped write legislation to benefit survivors and families of the victims. He has helped many organizations raise millions of dollars. He has been to the White House five times. He has visited with heads of state in many foreign countries. He testified before the 9/11 Commission. He is a masterful storyteller. And, coming from another professional storyteller, that being me, he said, "Wow! Thank you so much. That means a lot to me."

He's also had his life threatened. Been discredited by so-called experts who were not at the WTC on 9/11. But most notably, not one word of his, and many other eye witnesses of the attacks who testified before the 9/11 Commission had their names, or their personal accounts of the day, even mentioned in the official report!

He saved untold numbers of lives that day because he was in possession of one of the five master keys to the stairwells in the North Tower. According to him, the holders of the other four keys ran out of the building to save their own lives instead of risking their lives to save others like William did.

Against orders from more than one of his superiors, he made several trips up the stairwells and unlocked doors to let people out. Oh yeah, William was employed by a maintenance company. He was a janitor in the WTC for twenty years. His job for the last ten years had been to clean the stairwells of the North Tower!

He has told his story to millions of people around the world, many through Spanish-speaking television. Yet, here in America, most people have never even heard of him. His story needs to be heard before it's too late.

After his speech, he told me how he has started to show some of the effects of all of the toxic dust he inhaled that day. His lungs have, among other toxins, asbestos in them. He told how many of his friends have already succumbed to the affects of asbestos poisoning and other respiratory diseases.

I urge you to go and hear him tell his story if he ever comes to your community. Or, go to his website, and view a video of one of his speeches. You won't regret listening and learning the story of a true American hero. I certainly will never forget his speech.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

YLF Virginia 2007

I made my third visit to the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia in July. I want to tell you about an extraordinary program, group of kids, young staff and a wonderful woman by the name of Teri Barker who directs the program.

Each year Teri brings in twenty to twenty-five students who will be entering their junior or senior year of high school in the fall. All of the students have disabilities of one sort or another; some of them are severely disabled and medically fragile. They have a nurse on staff and five or six extraordinary personal care attendants available at all times to help kids who may need assistance.

Besides the students with disabilities, Teri also has a staff consisting of former delegates, many of whom have been involved with the program for up to eight years. Everyone has his or her assignments and from my perspective, the program appears to run very smoothly. If one were to ask some of the staff members they may get a completely different answer at any given time, especially after they have just put out a small fire.

This year was my third year being at the program and was by far my best experience yet. I can’t wait to go back next year!

Our ride picked us up at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning and took us to Christopher Newport University’s campus. When we got there, Teri, as usual, was there to greet us. Tim got out of the van, and greeted Teri while the lift-equipped van driver unlocked my chair, and began to get me off of the bus.

I started connecting with staff members who I’ve known for two years now. There are many very special people involved in this YLF program and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to know them.

I have spoken at amazing leadership programs all over the country, but none compare to what happens in the week with a small group of individuals at YLF.

First of all, most programs involving young people usually last from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. A lot happens in 48 hours with young leaders in groups of 300 or more high school students! I watch kids come from all parts of the state not knowing anyone and by the time just two short days have gone by, relationships have been made that may last a lifetime. When put in an excellent learning environment, young people surrounded by positive, like-minded individuals grow and develop in ways that are absolutely amazing!

The unique thing about YLF is it runs for five days! It culminates in these students with special needs giving a presentation before members of the Virginia legislature! I have never seen anything like it. When the students arrive on Monday, and are greeted with cheers, applause, hugs and high-fives, they often say that was one of the highlights of their experience on campus.

I spoke with one young lady who told me this was the first time she had ever spent a night away from home. She will be a junior in high school this year and has some very lofty goals. We had a couple of wonderful opportunities to have extended conversations and I believe YLF was something she will never forget. Of course, YLF is something many people never forget.

One of the staff members, Thomas, has been at all three of the programs I’ve attended. He uses a three-wheel scooter to get around, is significantly affected by cerebral palsy, including tight muscle spasms, and a severe speech problem. However, he has a smile that lights up the room!

Two years ago, he and I became fast friends. In the three YLF’s I have attended we’ve made each other laugh more times than I can count. It’s at the point now where all I have to do is look his way, catch his eyes and we both start smiling.

In my address at their mentoring luncheon on Wednesday, I mentioned something about Thomas; he let out a big yell started laughing and practically jumped out of his chair. He doesn’t need to develop character because he is already is one!

On Tuesday night the four groups each put on a skit. Their theme this year was “Learn, Empower, Achieve, Demonstrate – LEAD.” Each group had to work from a scenario and give their version of how that scenario would play out.

Now remember, only two days earlier these young people had shown up on campus knowing no one, many being very shy, and most had never been on stage! They gave four excellent short skits that brought the house down!

One young man, Steven, who has severe cerebral palsy involvement, uses a wheelchair to get around, and a talking board to communicate stole the show when, at the end of their skit, managed to stand up and flex his arms over his head in a bodybuilder type pose. The smile on his face went from ear to ear! As a matter of fact, he did the pose several times. He didn’t want to get off the stage!

In just 48 hours these kids had come from quiet, shy, almost bashful individuals to expressive, cohesive teams performing on stage in what can only be described as heartwarming events.

Tim and I left campus early on Thursday morning to catch our flight back to Minneapolis. While we were loading the students were also boarding buses for their trip to the State Capitol in Richmond where they were to give their testimonies for a panel of Virginia government officials, including legislators from the Virginia Assembly and Senate. They also get a group picture taken with the Governor.

That day is the one I would like to see. I listened to several of the delegates give their testimonies on Wednesday and would love to have seen the students present them at the Capitol.

There’s much more to this story. In fact, there’s an entire chapter in my book “I’m Not Done Yet” devoted to YLF.