The Stories We Share

OUR_STORIES

By Mark E. Smith

When I entered San Francisco State University’s creative writing program some two decades ago, I did so with one goal in mind – to be a better writer. After all, writing is a technical craft – not unlike painting or music – and if you want to get better at the craft, you expand your skill set. And, I wanted to possess the largest skill set possible so that, as a writer, I could write about virtually any topic, in any form. If writing was carpentry, I wanted the skills to build anything.

Upon my first week in the program, I realized it wasn’t what I expected. The fact was, I quickly learned that the true craft of writing wasn’t about technical skills at all. Yes, as students, we’d long learned the formalities of writing, with more to come. However, what we were there to really learn was the power and universal impact of stories. We learned what it was like to be impoverished and black in the south under Jim Crow laws through Alice Walker. We learned what it was like being a disenfranchised white, middle-aged male through Charles Bukowski. And, we learned what it was like to be a teenage heroin addict through Jim Carol. The stories went on and on, and we learned that every one has a story – ones of universal impact. We learned that writing wasn’t just about a skill set, but more so a deep acknowledgment of the human condition we all share.

As students, we were required to write with courage and vulnerability, to share our stories. Writing workshops, where you critique each others’ pieces, were cathartic, safe places where we could write and share the stories in our lives. The beautiful twenty-something who seemed to have it all wrote about her struggles with self harm, cutting her thighs with razor blades. The silent guy in the army surplus jacket wrote about being raped in his high school locker room by three jocks. And the happy-go-lucky, surfer dude wrote about living on friends’ couches because he was disowned by his parents when he came out as gay. What it taught us was that everyone had a story – including ourselves – and the true craft of writing isn’t just about telling stories, but honoring them.

During that time, my twenties, I was struggling with a lot. I was trying to understand my identity as one with severe cerebral palsy, and struggling with the guilt of separating myself farther and farther from my dysfunctional family. When we go through these periods of our lives – deep emotional struggles – it’s impossible to not feel alone. It’s unfortunately intrinsic to the process. Yet, our individual struggles – read that, stories – are universal to the human condition, and whatever we’re feeling or have experienced, we’re not alone.

What I gained from attending the two-year creative writing program – and writing of my struggles in the process – was recognizing the importance and vulnerability in sharing our stories, as well as embracing those of others. While there’s a time and a place for light conversation, it’s in sharing our stories that truly connects us.

Since that time, not the writer in me, but the person in me, has lived a life of connecting with others – through stories. Of course, I’ve shared mine countless times, as cerebral palsy can’t be hidden and understandably can become a topic. However, what’s shaped my life are the stories that others – with trust, courage and vulnerability – have shared with me. See, I’ve learned that no one’s story is more or less significant than another, just different. And, we intrinsically relate to them all. Pain, joy, sadness, fear, courage, failure, success, heartache, love, guilt, pride, resentment, elation, self-doubt, confidence and on and are all emotions that we universally share. They unite us.

However, sharing our stories does more than unites us. The process has far more power. Sharing our stories can heal, uplift, inspire, empower, and most of all the process shows us we’re not alone.

I don’t know what your story is. Maybe it’s one you’re struggling with alone. Or, maybe it’s a story that can help another person in your situation. Share your story. Let it out to someone, somewhere, in a safe place, where I promise it will change both your lives. None of us need to be writers to be courageous and vulnerable in sharing our stories. We just need to be ourselves.

Broken Pianos

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By Mark E. Smith

The story of American jazz piano great, Keith Jarrett’s, 1975 concert in Cologne, Germany, is legendary. See, Jarrett was scheduled to perform solo that night at the Opera House in front of a sold-out crowd of over 14,000 people, to be recorded live for an album.

However, when Jarrett arrived at the Opera House the afternoon of the concert – exhausted, with a bad back from touring Europe – he was horrified to find that they didn’t have his required piano. Instead, they had an old, small broken piano – not concert worthy.

The young promoter called around, but couldn’t come up with the needed piano. The best she could do was get the old piano tuned, but the upper keys were all but useless and the pedals didn’t work. Jarrett was done, insistent that he couldn’t perform without a proper, working instrument.

With 14,000 people waiting until close to midnight and recording equipment set up, the young promoter begged Jarrett to perform. With nothing but tenacity, Jarrett took a leap of faith in himself and walked onto the stage, standing behind the tiny, broken piano. The packed Opera House was silent.

Jarrett focused on only the piano’s center keys, the only ones that worked, and pounded them with ferocity that allowed the tiny piano to project, rearranging the songs in real time with each key strike. The result was over an hour concert that ended in a standing ovation – and became the best selling solo jazz album of all time, The Koln Concert, with over 3.5 million albums sold.

How often do we, in our own lives, find ourselves in Jarrett’s situation, seemingly not having what we need to succeed? How often do we only see limitations in the face of adversity? But, more importantly, how often do we have the tenacity and courage to do as Jarrett did, and not dwell on what may limit us, but strive to find that which may elevate us?

I’ve had my share of adversity in life, as have many who I’ve known. After all, adversity doesn’t discriminate. What I’ve learned is that when we succeed in adversity, we do so by using what we have, ignoring that which we don’t. We’re fearless experts at playing broken pianos.

It’s trite, cliché and undeniably true: Never let what you can’t do stop you from what you can do. There’s stunning form waiting to be played on our own broken pianos.

Projecting Oneself

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By Mark E. Smith

My friend texts me from a restaurant on New York City’s Upper East Side. He explains that it’s full of those who are ultra-wealthy, and they’re acting awkwardly toward him, as if they’ve never seen a person using a power wheelchair. He further texts that there’s an attractive, older women next to him who seems possibly approachable.

“Say to her casually, ‘I’m just back from London, and I’m amazed at how warm the weather is here,’ and see where the conversation leads,” I text back.

Of course, my buddy has never been to London and, yes, my reply was sarcastic.

We live in a culture where people may make totally uninformed, ignorant presumptions of us – and we can feel it sometimes, can’t we, like my friend in that restaurant. They perceive us as they wish. I mean, think about all of the stereotypes people can make about a gentleman using a wheelchair in public. And, it’s so easy for those of us who use wheelchairs to absorb those. It would be understandable for my friend to want to avoid that restaurant scene and high-tail it out of there. But, there’s every reason to stay.

No matter who you are – disability or not – you have far more control over such situations than you likely know. The fact is, just as others attempt to perceive us, we can completely project who we are, totally reversing the process. My text to my friend wasn’t meant for him to literally lie, but rather to imply gaining comfort in his skin. There was no reason for him not to fit in. It wasn’t up to those in the restaurant to tell him who he was; rather, he had the power to project who he was.

Being humble is among the most admirable traits. However, feeling as though you need to apologize for who you are should never be in our emotions. I use a power wheelchair, with severe cerebral palsy, right down to muscle spasms and labored speech. At 44 – and it took me a long time to get here – I don’t feel awkward in who I am, and I certainly would never apologize for who I am. As I go through the entirety of my daily life, I am who I am, and I’m not making an issue of it, and neither is anyone else, per me. Here I am, as I am, period.

And, that’s what I’ve learned: We teach people how to treat us by both how we view ourselves and what we project. If I’m in a conversation and I spasm, I correct my posture and keep with the conversation. If I don’t make it an issue, typically neither does anyone else. It’s amazing how our reactions and projections can completely dictate how others react to us. Just be you, and you’ll be impressed at how others recognize you as just that.

As for that awkward restaurant scene, how would I handle it? …I would just be myself.

The Iris Effect

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By Mark E. Smith

Ninety-four year old fashion icon, Iris Apfel, once said, “I’m not going to be a rebel and offend anybody, but I’m not going to live in somebody else’s image.”

Being somewhat of a public figure, I recently was engaged in a several-day online banter with an individual being very critical of me, to the point of irrational. Still, I felt the need to respond to his criticisms. For one, I didn’t want false statements about me left unaddressed in a public forum, and secondly, I was trying to be respectful and not ignore the individual. I didn’t take it too personally, but I also didn’t just let it emotionally go – and logistically it consumed a lot of time. However, I finally realized I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, and I didn’t care what else was said of me – and I simply ceased the unhealthy dialogue. I know who I am, I know what I do, and I’m proud of it all, so there’s no need to waste time with concern over others’ opinion of me – good or bad.

Most of us have been in this type of predicament, sometimes more serious than others, right down to abusive. I mean, maybe you know what it’s like to be inappropriately criticized, judged or condemned by others. And, it’s most painful when it’s by those who claim to love us. Something as small as a comment like, “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” after we’ve gotten dressed up can sting. Of course, situations like when parents stop talking to a child because he or she came out as gay can crush. From tiny comments to huge judgments, it all just hurts, doesn’t it?

But, there’s a way to stop it all, to take away the pain – and, more importantly, remove the power of others from effecting us. We need to realize that, if we’re good people, living good lives, no one has the right to criticize, condemn or judge us, period.

As I grew up with a severe disability, it was always in the back of my head whether others would accept me? This insecurity extended well into my adulthood. Granted, I was really good at concealing it, where self-confidence was a mask I wore. However, in my 30s – and it’s unfortunate that it took me that long to come to such a simple truth – I realized that I was to be accepted as I was, and I didn’t need anyone’s approval toward my having a disability. It’s really a brilliantly childish life strategy: I don’t need anyone to accept me because I don’t accept anyone who doesn’t accept me. It’s my ball, and if you don’t like the way I play, then I’m taking my ball and going home!

See, the prize is in you and me, not those who criticize, condemn or judge. I’ve run into several circumstances where friends have come out as gay to their parents, only to be shunned. Again, imagine how painful it is to have your parents shun you. However, who should shun who in such a circumstance? It’s painful and hard, but a child needs to say to his or her parents, I’m your child and I deserve to be loved as-is, and guess what, folks, until you love me as I deserve, you’re going to have an empty chair at the dining room table.

Life and relationships are full of compromises, but our intrinsic value isn’t. We shouldn’t live to others’ criticism, condemnation and judgment. I know, it can be hard to break free of investing in what others think of us, especially when it’s gotten to a toxic level in family dynamics and relationships. Yet, we owe it to ourselves to be our own cheerleaders, champions of the self, where the only opinion that counts is our own, based strictly on the positive, meaningful lives we lead.

What’s in a Question?

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By Mark E. Smith

If you ask my colleagues what I’m most known for in our interactions, most will tell you, asking questions.

It’s true. Most of the time I leave my office, it’s to go ask someone a question. No, not ordinary questions, but usually ones that make us both think, further question, and explore a topic – and ideally find innovative solutions. The result is that we both not only learn, but we often discover insights into improving our company and its products and services in some way. What I’ve learned is that great ideas rarely just happen; rather, they begin with a single question – the whys, hows and what-ifs?

For me, having lifelong cerebral palsy has taught me a lot – invaluable lessons that I’ve grown to recognize outweigh the intrinsic challenges. And, among the greatest lessons has been to never accept any presented limitation, but to question it, the whys, hows and what-ifs that move me beyond it. The fact is, in order to succeed with disability – and in all of life! – you have to be a master problem solver, and it all begins by questioning what is in order to get to what can be. No one needs to be a rocket scientist or super hero to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. One merely needs to question a seeming status quo until an action-based solution is found.

I work in the power wheelchair industry, and over the past nine years, multiple Medicare funding cuts have impacted mobility access for those most in need. At this writing, another cut is waiting in the wings, and so a petition was started by a small group in our industry, where 100,000 signatures were needed within 30 days to have the White House consider the issue – a possible stop to the cuts. Unfortunately, the petition failed, with less than 30,000 signatures.

As a result, I’ve been hearing mumblings from some that the failed petition just proves that those with disabilities don’t care what happens to mobility funding.

What I haven’t heard is anyone ask a vital question: why aren’t those with disabilities more inclined toward advocacy? If you want 100,000 signatures, the answer to that question is key.

So, I’ve been exploring that question – why aren’t those with disabilities self-advocating to a successful level? – and that single question leads to profound causations and solutions. See, statistics tell the real story:

Only 7% of those with disabilities own their own home, compared to 69% of the general population. Why? Because the median household income of those with disabilities is half of that of the general population, and those with disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty. Why? Because those with disabilities are 1/2 as likely to have completed high school, and only 1/3 as likely to have a bachelor’s degree, as those without disabilities.

When we follow those series of questions, it becomes evident that those among us with disabilities aren’t involved in advocacy and the political process because we’re among the poorest, least educated, and ultimately disenfranchised groups. Yet, the questions also reveal to me a solution:

If we want to have a culture of solidified disability advocates – and more importantly, socio-economic equality – we need to skip petitions for now and address the root causes. We literally need to focus on programs that help high school students with disabilities transition from high school to college, then college to the workforce. Once you have a population succeeding, not just surviving, then you can have a galvanized constituency.

Now, I’ve just taken you on a wild ride where a single question led to profound issues and vital solutions. But, that’s the eloquence of asking questions – you never end up where you started. In our relationships, in our careers, in our hearts, if you want to grow in any way, start with a question. It’s not My relationship is struggling; it’s Why is my relationship struggling? It’s not I’m dissatisfied with my career; it’s What would I love to do? It’s not I can’t do it; it’s What if I try this? We need to have the courage to ask direct questions that all but force us to act.

Indeed, questions are the sparks that don’t just ignite areas of our lives, but possess the power to change them.

Intersection of Purpose and Hope

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By Mark E. Smith

I was recently in Boston, working a consumer trade show for disability-related products, including my company’s power chairs. If you’ve never been to Boston, it’s a stunning city – from the architecture to the cobblestone streets to the harbor – and I found myself in Boston at an amazing spot: the intersection of Purpose and Hope.

No, the intersection of Purpose and Hope isn’t a literal street corner in Boston, but it can be found in any city, and in any of our lives. For me, in Boston, it was found in my meeting a seven-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.

He reminded me a lot of… well… me at that age. He was a little guy, squirming all over the place in a manual wheelchair due to spasms and tone, symptoms of cerebral palsy. And, the reason why his family was at the show was because he needs a power chair to keep up with his siblings and peers – read that, to just be a kid.

We had our top-of-the-line power chair there in a pediatric seat size, and as I soon realized, uncannily as if made to fit him exactly. To address his involuntary body movements, I had our reps unbolt lap belts from other units, and we got him seated, strapped in and stable. And, like he’d been in a power chair his whole life – or, more aptly, a NASCAR driver – off he went!

I looked at his parents’ faces, their eyes, knowing how bittersweet these moments can be. On the one hand, a parent wants his or her child to have all of the independence in the world. Yet, no parent wants his or her child to have a lifelong disability. A child going into an advanced mobility device can be a parent’s emotional tug-of-war.

However, his parents understood the liberation he was gaining, and their expressed emotion was joy as he roared around an empty part of the convention hall.

“He’s going to be a little terror,” his mother said with a huge grin. “…From the playground to chasing his brothers on their dirt bikes.”

For me, I was blessed in that moment in living my purpose as one who’s found so much emotional reward in my career of serving others who are on the path I, too, have traveled. And, the family expressed so much hope toward the quality of life a power chair will bring to their son. All of this is the breathtaking beauty of the intersection of Purpose and Hope.

Where’s that intersection in your life right now? Sometimes we bring our purpose to the corner, and sometimes we come needing hope. I’ve been on both sides of the corner. Regardless, when we simply have the initiative and courage to place ourselves at the intersection of Purpose and Hope, all lives involved are elevated.

First Drafts

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By Mark E. Smith

When my daughter told me that her first reading assignment in her college freshman English class was Ann Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” I was thrilled. Now there’s a professor who knows how to teach!

“Shitty First Drafts” was never a stand-alone essay, but an excerpt from Bird by Bird, Lamott’s 1994 book on writing, aimed at writers living the writing life, and goes back to Hemingway who coined the subject of shitty first drafts. Yet, Lamott, who you might recognize as a very pop-culture and, interestingly, irreverent Christian writer, infused Bird by Bird with life lessons, where I, for one, have always viewed “shitty first drafts” as another one of Lamott’s ultimate metaphors for life.

Lamott’s assertion is that, as writers, the only way we ultimately get to clarity and success is by having the courage to embark on shitty first drafts:

…All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts…. Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do – you can either type, or kill yourself.” We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.

Chances are, you’re not a writer. But, if your life is like mine, it’s certainly checkered with shitty first drafts. As Lamott puts it, we typically have no idea what we’re doing until we do it. And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of hardly any success in my life that didn’t begin as a shitty first draft – from living with my disability to school to career to finances to relationships to working out, and yes, writing. In fact, I have shitty first drafts every day, where based on my disability, two or three tries at any daily living task is the norm. However, I’m always thinking, learning, getting wiser as I do a task, so rather than getting frustrated, I hone in on getting better, improving with each “draft.”

When it comes to our lives, it’s vital to give ourselves permission – and have the courage! – to have shitty first drafts, namely because, as Lamott puts it, they lead to good second drafts and terrific third drafts. Do you know how I learned about finances and relationships, two cornerstones of life? Shitty first drafts! In my 20s, I got into debt up to my ears, by my 30s I paid everything off, and today I haven’t used credit in over a decade, living totally debt free. Relationships have had a similar path, having to learn about love through a lot of painful trial and error, but I think I’m a better partner today than I was 20 years ago. There are so many aspects of life that generally start with shitty first drafts; but, if we’re cognizant, self-aware and dedicated to growth, those shitty first drafts aren’t shitty at all – they’re assured paths to ultimate success.

So, as my 18-year-old daughter moves through her first semester of college, she’s not just reading about shitty first drafts, she’s undoubtedly living them at times, as we all have and do. Yes, it’s hard as a father not to jump in and correct my daughter’s “shitty first drafts,” but I know that by allowing her to learn and grow from them, her second and third drafts – read that, her accomplishments – will be amazing.

Ultimate Rebellion

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By Mark E. Smith

In preparation of my daughter leaving for college, we cleaned out closets. To my daughter’s delight, we found a stash of 20-year-old newspaper stories on me. One was titled, “Limbaugh of cripple guys.” No, it wasn’t because I was a right-wing conservative – far from it – but because I had a pretty popular voice in mainstream columns and articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and alike that intertwined disability culture with all sorts of topics. When Ghirardelli Square was being pressured by those around the newly-enacted ADA to spend $2 million dollars to build a ramp right around the corner from an existing up-to-code ramp, I was the only one with a disability to write that such money should go toward more rational causes like addressing the city’s homeless problem. Those with disabilities were outraged at me; the general readership applauded me. I, however, didn’t care what anyone thought. I was simply a writer who had my own sense of social justice, and wasn’t afraid to voice it – with a little youthful rebellion mixed in.

I recently took my daughter to see “Straight Outta Compton,,” the bio-pic about N.W.A, the pioneering rap group that was truly misunderstood – and took both a page from the Civil Rights movement decades before and foreshadowed 21st-century race relations. I remember hearing N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” album in 1988 – and have listened to it ever since – thinking, This is a brilliant, brave, rebellious protest album above all else.

F@ckin with me ’cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics

Those lyrics placed in context of what we’re seeing today – the incredibly painful, strained relations between the police and, namely but not exclusively, the black community – prove historically accurate and eerily prophetic.

The next eve, I was with my fiancée at a jazz festival, where so many were of my generation and older, some having lived during the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and everyone sat neatly in rows of folding chairs, the bands cordially playing. And, I thought, Where’s the rebellion, where’s the social commentary from the diverse stage that black lives matter, especially given the events of recent, not to mention history? Even my daughter’s pep band at George Mason University has taken to playing a very political Rage Against the Machine song. Come on, Spyro Gyra, pound out an instrumental of N.W.A.

Then, as I sat there pondering all this, it happened. I saw a breathtaking example of the truest form of rebellion, about not being constrained by the social conformity of sitting in perfectly-formed chairs, listening to politically-correct musicians, following the other sheep, but about being true to what you stand for, who you are, what compels your soul.

In the row in front of us, a young lady with a progeriod syndrome – bald, aged facial features, frail stature – walked out to the aisle with who I presume was her father, and they began getting down, dancing. I bet many at the event would love the self-freedom, the rebellion to just follow their soul and dance in front of hundreds of composed strangers in perfectly-aligned folding chairs. But, she was the only one who did.

I understood at that moment that the spirit of true rebellion comes from one simple truth: no matter if you’re N.W.A or that dancing young lady, true rebellion is when you have the courage and the confidence to just be yourself.

Jumping Out of Airplanes

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By Mark E. Smith

Have you noticed that when it comes to making big life decisions, there’s rarely a “right time,” and that those who wait for the right time, rarely end up making such life changes? Why is that?

Typically because there’s never a right time when it comes to making big life changes. Yet, so many of us create right-time rules that seem responsible, but really prevent us from ever making big moves – because the fabricated right time never comes. People set the most unrealistic prerequisites that they ultimately sabotage what’s truly important, never making big life moves. I’ve had kids – there’s never a right time, but it always remarkably works.

My fiancée and I, as responsible 40-somethings with kids – one off to college, the other, second grade – have had the “right time” all figured out. Being bicoastal, we went between the two coasts for almost two years, ultimately planning every “right time” detail for her move to the East Coast. Details surrounding houses and dogs and kids and finances went on and on, and every time we tried to figure out the “right time,” something logistical wasn’t the right time. We began in May working on the move with August being the “right time.” However, based on our right-time ideals, certain logistical aspects simply hadn’t worked out. What we’re we to do? Put off the move, put off the wedding, ration our love until the intangible “right time” somehow appeared, maybe next spring?

No, we decided the only right time was now. I mean, really, with houses, dogs, kids, finances and on and on, there’s no right time! We just had to do it. We didn’t have it all figured out, but got creative and focused on what was most important, what was at our core desire: to bring our family together. So, on a Sunday night, we booked one way plane tickets, and declared three weeks from then was the “right time” to move. Of course, it wasn’t logistically the right time – but it never would be! – but it was emotionally the right time.

And, that’s what the right time comes down to – that is, are you emotionally ready to make a life changing decision? I don’t care how responsible you think you are, if you play the waiting-for-the-right-time game, you will almost never accomplish your goals. Accomplishment comes from doing, not waiting. You have to have the courage and the confidence to go for it.

See, there’s only one way to skydive – you jump out of an airplane. If you wait, you just end up back on the ground, sitting in an airplane seat. However, if you want to experience the awesome thrill of skydiving, you just have to jump.

Life is like skydiving, if you wait too long, opportunity passes you by. However, if you know what you want, and you take a healthy leap of faith, you’ll be astounded at the rewards that you experience.

Guts and Glory

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By Mark E. Smith

There’s guts and there’s glory, and they don’t always go together. And, I like it that way – the authenticity of guts is where real character resides. Guts for the sake of glory is a facade, just as easy to put up as it is to take down.

When I met MMA champs Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson in the green room at Fox News I, frankly, wasn’t impressed. I mean, they were nice guys – and could literally kill me with their martial arts skills in an instant – but they looked like normal-build, relaxed dudes. Once they’re in a cage, I guess they strive to beat each other to death, but in everyday life, they struck me as average guys. We chatted a bit and they seemed pals – that is, until they got on the air to promote their upcoming fight and feigned being enemies.

Earlier that morning, I got up at 4 a.m., and slid nude from the tall hotel room bed to the floor – more of a fall, really. From there, I crawled to the roll-in shower, tensing every muscle in my body to keep my balance. That’s one of the odd aspects of my cerebral palsy – even on the floor, I can still fall, and I do.

Once in the shower, I couldn’t reach the valve, but there was a grab bar just below it, so with my right arm, I did a complete one-arm pull-up, struggling with my left hand to turn on the valve, my knees banging against the tile wall. Without coordination or the ability to accurately adjust the temperature or move clear of the shower head, it was a crap shoot whether ice cold or scalding hot water would rain down on me. But, I didn’t care. I just needed a shower, and was willing to do what it took, painless or painful. And, with the shower just being the start in my process of getting ready for the day, it would be another three hours of vying until I was in my power chair. Nothing comes easy, and some of it is downright harrowing. The only thing on my side in these times is tenacity and a bit of fearlessness. Guts, I would say.

Now, my disability experience is no different than that of many others. We quietly overcome extreme daily obstacles, often enduring pain and taking huge risks – braking a bone or busting your head open isn’t hard to do in a situation as mundane as using the commode. And, to me, that’s where guts come in. You know the risk, but move beyond it because you have no choice if you wish to be independent.

See, while I respected the dedication of the MMA fighters, they didn’t command my admiration like my peers with disabilities. The MMA fighters are in it namely for the glory, they can turn guts on and turn guts off. You can’t do that with the daily challenges of disability – you’re all in, and there’s no tapping out.

Soon, we were all on set, Daniel and Alexander being interviewed about their upcoming fight. And, as I waited off camera, my segment coming up next, I listened to them talk about how tough they are. Admittedly, the ego in me – the MMA fighter within me with guts but no glory – was hoping the anchor would ask them, “OK, I get that the fight is coming up, but tell us about your challenges in the shower this morning….”