Time flies. It really does. The older you get, the more quickly the time seems to pass by. The phrase “time flies” is something I think I have said more than any other words over the past few years. Life can get extremely hectic, and it’s very easy to get so wrapped up in trying to keep up with everything that is currently going on in your life that you forget to take a little timeout every once in a while to reflect on the things you’ve done, the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, etc. up to this point. Your past is what has led you to the present, so taking time to pause and look back every once in a while is important. Knowing how you got to your current life situation can help guide your future decisions. You can reflect on your successes while also learning from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them.
As I’m sitting here right now writing this, the thought that is on my mind more than anything else is two years ago. It was two years ago today that I packed my last few remaining items into my car and began the nearly 2,000 mile drive to Orlando. I left behind my family, my friends, and the only life I had ever known. The only plan I had was to earn a college degree, and then figure out the rest. I had no idea what to expect in my new life in Florida. I had no friends down here. And, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do with my future. Because of the person that I am and because of the way I have always lived my life, looking back, I honestly can’t believe I actually left North Dakota. It is absolutely crazy to move to a place thousands of miles from home with no job, no real plan, and hardly any money, yet convince yourself that there is nothing to worry about, because “I’ll figure it out.”
Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love life in Florida. Being the kind of person who can’t stand snow and cold weather, North Dakota was never a place where I would willingly spend the rest of my life. As a golfer and a Parrothead, Florida just makes sense for me. “Never say never” is another phrase I’ve learned to be very true. I can’t say I would never move back home again, but I would have to be dragged back kicking and screaming.
When I look back at the past two years, it has been a pretty ridiculous rollercoaster ride. Most of my close friends and even a lot of my family don’t know most of this, so buckle up, hang on, and enjoy the ride.
My first weekend in Florida, there was a hurricane forecast to make landfall. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. That same week, I started school at Golf Academy of America’s Orlando campus, and played my first round of golf in the Florida heat… in summer. I found out pretty quickly what can happen when you aren’t prepared for the extreme heat and humidity in Florida. I almost collapsed on the golf course from heat exhaustion, and my day ended after only nine holes.
After that adjustment period of getting used to a new climate and a new state, school started off extremely well. I decided immediately that I had chosen the perfect school for me.
Less than three weeks later, I was involved in a car accident and my car was totaled. Since I need hand controls installed in my car to be able to drive, this meant the process of finding a new car and having hand controls installed was a long, frustrating process.
For three weeks, I had to rely on Uber to get to and from class. I live 25 miles from the school, so you can probably imagine how expensive that commute was 5 days a week. When I finally got a new car with hand controls installed, I was relieved, to say the least. Life finally started getting back to normal for me a little bit after that.
At the beginning of January 2016, I became a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder. After a stressful end to 2015, having the option of going to Disney was a nice perk of living where I live. It was nice to escape reality for a bit and just have fun after a busy day at school. As I became more familiar with the parks, I began to visit more frequently. Telling myself, “You get to go to Disney World after your homework is done” was great motivation to work harder and get things done as quickly as possible. That motivation to get things done right away, instead of procrastinating like I had always done in the past, resulted in me consistently finishing each semester at Golf Academy with the highest GPA I’d ever achieved in any previous level of school.
The next several months were filled with lots of school work, volunteer work, Disney visits, and a lot of opportunities I never thought would be possible for me to experience. I got to volunteer at the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day here in Orlando, and then attend the merchandise show for the rest of the week as a guest. I had always seen the PGA show on Golf Channel, but never thought I would have the opportunity to experience it.
Two months later, was another dream come true for me when I not only got to attend the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, but I also had the opportunity to help set up the merchandise tent before the tournament started.
Not much changed for the next few months. I was busy every day between completing schoolwork, and trying to enjoy Disney as often as possible.
Summer of 2016 is when things started to change for me. The realization that graduation was only months away and I still had no real plan for the future started to sink in a bit. I became stressed out and terrified.
One of my greatest fears in life is the unknown. I hate not knowing what to expect in a situation. You can’t control what other people do, but I like having full control in my life, and I felt like most of 2016 was a mystery. I just kept moving forward and hoping for the best without being able to control much. At this point, I started to feel like whenever I was down, life would walk up to me and kick me in the ribs for no apparent reason.
Over the past two years, there have been probably 10-15 times that stand out to me as being times when anybody with any common sense would have packed up and gone running back to the safety and comfort of home. Over half of those times occurred during the summer of 2016.
When things seemed to finally start to settle down in August of 2016, I thought maybe my luck was about to change. I got to live one of my lifelong dreams when I had the amazing opportunity to play a round of golf at Bay Hill. It was well worth the decades of waiting for the experience. One week later, to the day, my doorbell rang. I was served with a lawsuit from my car accident from nearly a year earlier. One of the passengers who was perfectly fine after the accident, decided to sue me, claiming he was injured in the accident.
For those of you don’t know me, I am the kind of person who worries a lot about how the things I do and say might impact those around me. I would never intentionally do anything to harm another person in any way, and tend to over-think and obsess over certain things. The thought of that accident, which I thought was behind me, causing someone to be injured is something that honestly brought me a lot of anxiety. The lawsuit dragged on for nine months before it was settled.
In that time, my emotions from day-to-day seemed to bounce back and forth between relief and near depression. Attorneys told me I couldn’t control anything, so I didn’t need to worry. The thought of me not being able to control the situation made me worry even more. There were many sleepless nights over that nine month period for me. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I found out the lawsuit had been settled. Most people maybe wouldn’t have worried about it as much, but it was on my mind almost constantly for nine months.
One night I will never forget occurred in late September 2016. It was a Sunday night, and I needed to buy golf balls for my tournament the next morning. I was driving into Winter Garden, FL to buy golf balls when I received 3 text messages from different friends within just seconds of each other. My phone was sitting next to me and I saw them as they popped up on my phone. One read, “Oh no!! Arnie!!”. One read, “Oh my God, no!!” The last one read, “Arnie!! What the hell?” Without hearing any news, I knew what they meant. I was stunned and almost swerved off the road and into a tree. When I arrived at the store in Winter Garden, I went inside and everyone was crying. Strangers were hugging and sharing stories of a truly incredible man. Arnold Palmer had passed away. Those of you who don’t live in the Orlando area will likely never understand the impact that great man had on this city. Although I had been around him, I never had the opportunity to actually meet him. That didn’t matter though. Arnold Palmer is the person and the role model that people in the golf industry strive to be like. It felt as though a good friend was gone. I went out of my way to drive by Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge on the way home that night. Media vans and helicopters had already begun to swarm the area. Although I didn’t know Mr. Palmer personally, I went home that night and cried. The next morning, I wore a Bay Hill shirt and hat for my golf tournament and decided I was playing that day in Mr. Palmer’s honor. I ended up playing one of the best rounds of golf of my life.
As graduation approached, I was able to get a little break from every day life when my best friend since birth (we were born five days apart), his wife, and her sister came to visit me for a few days. I hadn’t seen them in over a year, so it was nice to have fun for a few days and show them my new home and my new life.
After that visit, the rest of 2016 was nearly a blur for me. Halloween and Thanksgiving seemed to be about 4 days apart, because my life was in fast forward at that point. Right after Thanksgiving, my dad flew down here and spent three weeks with me.
On my dad’s birthday, I ended up staying at school five hours later than normal to finish a final project, which would allow me to graduate. When I got home, I picked up my dad and we needed to make one quick stop before heading to a restaurant for his birthday dinner. As I was putting my wheelchair into my car to head out for the evening, my wheelchair broke. A metal bar on the side of the seat just snapped randomly. Since nothing in my time in Florida had ever seemed to go as planned, I figured it was fitting that my wheelchair would break as I was in the middle of finishing final projects and preparing for final exams.
As always, life threw me a curveball and I found a way to adjust. It wasn’t convenient and it wasn’t easy, but I did what I needed to do, and I finished school. I ordered a new wheelchair, which thankfully happened to arrive the night before my graduation. What had been a stressful, confusing, frustrating, thrilling, depressing, amazing, fantastic, horrible, ridiculous year ended with me walking across a stage to receive my diploma. Nothing in my life ever works out the easy way, so 2016 was really not a surprising year for me. You just have to take the hand you’re dealt in life and make the best of it.
2017 started out with a lot of promise. I was done with school and ready to get started in my career in the golf industry. There was just one problem. I had interviewed for multiple jobs, and was turned down every time. I have learned quickly that, as somebody in a wheelchair who is new to the golf industry, very few people are willing to take a chance on me. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for me or make excuses, but it’s the truth. There were interviews where I arrived and the person interviewing me said, “Oh…” when we first met, as they looked at my wheelchair.
The most important thing I learned in school is that your success in your career relies more on who you know than what you know. You have to network and make great friends if you want to succeed. Between my unique situation (being the only Golf Academy student in a wheelchair), my background in coaching youth baseball, my perseverance, and my willingness to volunteer as frequently as possible, I quickly became good friends with one of my instructors at Golf Academy.
Soon after graduation, he offered me a position as the director of a special needs junior golf program. He founded the junior golf program in 2008, and added the special needs program a couple of years later. 2017, for me, has been all about learning how to teach and grow a junior golf program for kids with special needs. I still have a lot to learn and need to keep getting better, but I am excited about the possibilities for the future. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I finally feel like I am on the right path in life. I feel like I am doing something meaningful. Being able to be a positive role model and to help kids achieve their goals is something that brings me great joy. I absolutely love what I do!!
Now that it has been two years since I left home, life isn’t perfect. I love my life, but there is always room for improvement. Every day, I try to find ways to make my life a little better. My days are filled with golf and Disney, for the most part. Some people would say that’s a pretty great life. I have to agree. I started blogging a little over a month ago now.
For years, people told me to start blogging. I was hesitant, but here I am, sharing my thoughts and my life story with the world. I realize that many of you who are reading this don’t know me. I appreciate you taking the time to read it, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please like, comment, and follow if you enjoyed this and want to read more. I have lots to say, and I hope everyone gets something out of it. Life is a crazy journey that can bring a wide range of emotions, but I always choose to focus on the positives in every situation. Life isn’t always perfect, but no one can stop you from following your dreams except yourself. Keep pushing, and keep moving forward. As many times as I should have thrown in the towel and gone running back to my comfort zone, here I am positively rolling through life.