2017: The Year of… I Don’t Know

Every year at the end of the year, I take some time to look back and reflect upon the past year. It’s a great way to remind myself how far I’ve come, and what I need to do better in the coming year. Here is a look back at my 2017, a year that has been hard to describe.

I ended 2016 by graduating from Golf Academy of America’s Orlando, Florida campus. It was an exciting, yet scary time for me. There is endless potential in the golf industry, but nothing is guaranteed. As is usually the case in life, you get out of it what you put into it. I was proud of finishing school, but scared to death not having a clue what I was going to do next.

I began teaching golf at the end of 2016, and I quickly realized that was what I wanted to do when I finished school. My mom taught preschool for 20 years, so, without realizing it, I was learning to be a teacher just by being around my mom while I was growing up. Public speaking had always scared the living sh*t out of me. It just did. I have never enjoyed being the center of attention. I think a big part of growing up in North Dakota is being taught to not talk about yourself or draw attention to yourself. That is how I was raised, and it has taken me 32 years to break away from that mindset.

In January of 2017, I, once again, got to attend the PGA Merchandise Show here in Orlando and volunteered at the PGA Demo Day. Both were great experiences. The highlight for me had to be on the second to last day of the show when somebody randomly handed me a wristband to get into the Cobra/Puma after-party where I got to meet professional golfers Greg Norman, Blair O’Neal, and Jesper Parnevik. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be in this after-party, so I did my best to act like I belonged and not do anything stupid that would get me kicked out. haha

The weekend after the PGA show, one of my teachers from Golf Academy who became my boss when I started teaching golf asked me to attend a certification class and learn to teach golfers with all kinds of special needs. At the end of the day, I was asked to go through my pre-shot routine and explain to people how I play golf. For those of you who don’t know me, I was born with Spina Bifida and rely on a wheelchair to get around, but I play golf standing up. I ended up speaking to the group for about 10 minutes and hit a few shots to show how I play. Immediately after the class wrapped up for the day, my friend/teacher/boss pulled me aside and asked me if I would be interested in taking over the role of Program Director and Lead Instructor for his special needs junior golf program. At this point, I had been done with school for six weeks and had no clue what, if anything, I would be able to do in the golf industry. I was thrilled to accept this position with Little Linksters!!

February was a new beginning for me. I was now the Director of the Little Linksters G.O.A.L.S. program, and had no experience whatsoever. This whole year has been a learning experience for me, but I am now starting to realize what I did well and what I need to do better.

In March, I got to volunteer at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill here in Orlando again. This time, I knew what I was doing and enjoyed it even more than last year. Those of us who volunteered in 2016 had the incredible honor of knowing that Arnold Palmer himself was watching us work our asses off to make sure the job we were doing was acceptable and made him proud. I’ve said this in a previous post, but one of the greatest honors of my life and one of my proudest moments was when Mr. Palmer made eye contact with me while I was working, smiled, and gave me a thumbs up. It was a moment I will never forget as long as I live. Since Mr. Palmer passed away in September of 2016, I didn’t know what to expect going into the week of Bay Hill this year. When I arrived the first day of setup, those of us who hadn’t seen each other in a year hugged and took a moment to catch up, then we all said, “Let’s make him proud this year.” To be perfectly honest, I think we all worked even harder this year. We all kept waiting for Mr. Palmer to walk into the merchandise tent and ask, “What do we have going on in here today?” His presence was felt all week long. Although he is gone physically, we all knew he was there watching over us all week long. The tournament was a success, and I believe Mr. Palmer would have been proud of us. The highlights of that week for me were getting to watch the unveiling of the new bronze statue of Mr. Palmer, and getting a brief moment to say hello to Mr. Palmer’s grandson, PGA Tour player Sam Saunders.

My dad spent a few weeks here in Florida at the end of February through the beginning of March while he recovered from back surgery. I rarely get to see most of my family now that I live 1,500 miles away, so I always enjoy any time I get to spend with family. One funny moment for me was the day of my dad’s surgery. One of his nurses said I looked familiar for some reason, but we had never met. A while later, she came back and asked if I play golf. I said I teach golf. She apparently recognized me from a segment about junior golf that aired on Golf Channel. I wasn’t interviewed for the segment and my name wasn’t shown on TV, but there were several brief clips of me teaching lessons shown, and she somehow remembered seeing me. I think this was the first time my dad realized that I am getting to do some pretty cool things in my life.

April was when I started to feel a change in myself. Our Little Linksters G.O.A.L.S. program is partnered with Jordan Spieth’s foundation. A picture of me teaching a golf lesson was posted on the homepage of Jordan Spieth’s website. There was also an article about our program on Jordan’s website. This was really great exposure for our program, and, selfishly, it was an incredible moment for me. I have been a fan of Jordan, both as a golfer and as a person, since he first debuted on the PGA Tour. Knowing that my picture and name were on his website during the week of The Masters was a pretty big thrill. As I said before, I grew up not liking being the center of attention. I was taught to not draw attention to myself. This was the first time in my life that I was thrown into the spotlight and absolutely loved every second of it. I was proud to be someone who people could recognize as one of the faces of our Little Linksters program. Not THE face, but one of the faces.

May was a busy month. One of my favorite singers is Jimmy Buffett. I’m a Parrotthead, and actually have a cool story about that. The first time Jimmy Buffett’s fans were referred to as “Parrottheads” was at his concert in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 28th, 1985. I was born (1,000 miles away) at the same time that concert was beginning. In a way, I feel like I was born to be a Parrotthead, and, randomly, I have ended up having a strong connection in my life to the Cincinnati area. I got to see Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band in concert for the first time in Orlando in May. It was well worth the wait. What an amazing show!!

Since I volunteered at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, I was able to go back to Bay Hill in May to play a round of golf. Although I had been teaching golf all year, I hadn’t actually played golf since before I finished school back in December of 2016. Spending most of my time in a wheelchair and being active all the time, it’s easy to forget how little I use my legs and how little I walk when I’m not playing golf regularly. I was completely exhausted after 3 holes, and was very thankful when a massive thunderstorm rained out the rest of our round. Physically, I wasn’t able to continue anyway. We were told we would get to come back at a later date to play again.

The last weekend in May, I got to catch up with one of my best friends for the first time in over a year. For those of you who don’t know me, I got to live my childhood dream of traveling with my favorite band for 6 years. The band’s sound engineer/tour manager was my roommate on the road and he is still one of my best friends. Earlier this year, he was hired to run sound for an internationally known Country music artist that we have been fans of for years. I actually got to sell merchandise for this artist for a night back in 2012, which is when I became a fan. Anyway, this artist played on the final day of the Country 500 Festival at Daytona International Speedway, so I drove up to Daytona to spend the day with my friend and catch up. I got to see several familiar faces that day from my years spent on the road. Wheeling up on stage and looking out at a crowd of 75,000 people was pretty amazing. Getting to watch Kip Moore, Keith Urban, and Kid Rock from the front of house tent was awesome. Keith Urban is one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met, so it was cool to see him, his band, and his crew again. I would never expect Kip Moore to remember that I sold merchandise for him for one night 5+ years ago, but it was cool to see him again, and it was even cooler to see my friend run sound for him. My friend is the kind of guy who, for as long as I’ve known him, has always worked harder than anyone and has always done a really incredible job. In our years as roommates on the road, he was still up working on things for the next night’s show when I fell asleep, and he usually woke up before me the next morning, too. He deserves to do what he loves to do at the highest level, and I’m damn proud of him.

At the end of May, I got a phone call that turned my whole year around. I was involved in a really bad car accident back in September of 2015, 3 weeks after I moved to Florida. A passenger in the other vehicle who was perfectly fine at the scene of the accident, decided later on that he wanted to take advantage of the situation. He ended up suing me, and it turned into a 10 month process that led to countless sleepless nights, a ridiculous amount of stress and anxiety for me, and pretty much made my life a nightmare. The phone call I received was from my attorney, telling me that the lawsuit had been settled, and I could put it behind me completely. Instantly, I felt my stress start to melt away. It’s a pretty horrible feeling to spend 10 months of your life scared to death to check your mail, answer your phone, or hear the doorbell ring, because it might be more bad news. The effects of that time in my life are things I’m still trying to get over. I’m not the kind of person who would ever intentionally harm another person, and I legitimately feel horrible if I do anything that takes away from another person’s happiness, so being sued over a car accident was something that probably affected me more than it would most people.

For the most part, June and July sucked here in Florida. Specifically, the weather was unbelievably terrible. It rained most of the day literally every single day for almost two months. The temperatures and humidity in Florida are pretty brutal in the summer typically, but this year was a special case with all of the rain we had. I spent most of those two months sitting at home, stuck inside. It was depressing.

I got an e-mail informing me that my rescheduled round of golf at Bay Hill was on the afternoon of June 28th, which was my 32nd birthday. Happy Birthday to me!! haha Every single day for several weeks, I used my crutches and walked back and forth across my living room until my legs completely gave out from exhaustion and I fell to the floor. I pushed myself as hard as I physically could to get in shape for that round of golf. It was a special treat for me to be able to play golf at Bay Hill on my birthday, and I wanted to be as ready for it as I could possibly be. My hard work paid off. Although I played horribly, my physical condition improved a ton. Weeks earlier in May, I was exhausted after 3 holes. On my birthday, I was able to play 17 holes. I was disappointed in myself for allowing myself to get that out of shape in the first place, but I was proud of the progress I made in such a short time. I’m not the kind of person who makes excuses or wants to be treated differently from anybody else, but, for someone who uses a wheelchair 99% of the time, to push myself to the point where I was walking 10,000 steps per day and was so exhausted and in so much pain that I was crying and fell to the ground every single day, I feel like what I was able to accomplish in getting myself ready to play golf again is something that people should recognize and applaud.

When I got to Bay Hill that day, I knew that I hadn’t practiced golf and knew I wouldn’t play well, but I just hoped to finish the round. I enjoyed my day on the course, and got another awesome birthday surprise when I found out baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. was playing in the group in front of me. What a thrill!! I love baseball and grew up watching Cal Ripken Jr. play.

In July, I had a lot of time on my hands, since the rain still hadn’t let up. For years, people had told me I should write a book or start blogging. I ignored it, and figured no one would care to read anything I would write. Finally, in the middle of July, I gave in. Positively Rolling Through Life was born. I will be honest, establishing a blog and getting people to read is not easy. Some people have had more views in their first month of blogging than I’ve had in over five months, but it’s all good. I write for me. I write what I want to write. I want to share a message of love, positivity, and happiness. If people choose to read and enjoy what I write, that means a lot to me. If not, I’ll keep writing for me. I would love to make this blog a success. I would love to make money doing this. So far, that hasn’t happened. If it never happens, I’ll still keep writing, and I’ll keep hoping someone somewhere likes it and gets something out of it.

August, September, October, and November were all about a few things for me: blogging, teaching golf, trying to make sense of life, and Disney.

I spent most of August at Disney World. Every day that I could be in the parks, I was there.

Due to a lot of uncertainty in my life, August wasn’t the best month for me. If certain things hadn’t worked out the way they did, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue my current path in life. The thought of being forced to move back to North Dakota became an unfortunate possibility for me, and I had to try to find a way to not let it happen.

September began worse than most months of my life. I was relieved that I would be able to stay in Florida still, but immediately after those details got worked out, hurricane season happened. Hurricane Irma was headed directly toward Florida, and became the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. To make things worse, a guy I met during my time on the road who played a major role in helping our band take its first steps toward getting to the next level was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. I only got to meet Troy once, but he immediately treated me like an old friend and welcomed me into his world. I will never forget that. Although I really can’t say I got to know him on a personal level, the impact that he had on what became my future made that loss truly heartbreaking for me. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me when my friends started sharing posts on Facebook about the crash. I hoped it was just another celebrity death hoax, but quickly realized that it was all too real, and that Troy was gone.

Because of the timing, I don’t feel like the reality of Troy’s death has really hit me yet. Two days after that tragedy, Hurricane Irma moved north off the coast of Cuba and headed directly toward Florida. It was my first experience feeling the full effects of a major hurricane, and it was something I will never forget. I was one of the lucky ones. I never lost electricity, and I didn’t have any property damage. When the outer bands of Irma moved into the Orlando area, I was on the phone with my dad. I got an alert on my phone saying there was a Tornado Warning and that the storm was moving 90 mph. Within minutes, it looked like a bomb exploded outside my window. I dropped to the kitchen floor and hoped I wasn’t about to die. Within a few short minutes, the tornado passed by, but buildings and trees around me had been heavily damaged. Power lines were down, yet I somehow still had electricity. In the distance, I could see somebody’s house on fire. The hurricane was still 200 miles away at this point. If you want the full story, I wrote updates during the hurricane, so you can go back and read those if you’d like. My takeaway is this, as bad as Hurricane Irma was here in central Florida, we got lucky. The things that happened from the Keys all the way through the Caribbean are pretty unbelievable. I can’t begin to comprehend how horrible that storm must have been for the people who had to ride it out. If that wasn’t bad enough, Hurricane Maria was shortly behind Irma. I have made a point of saying all along that no matter how bad things were here in Florida for some people, we are not the ones who need help. The Caribbean is still destroyed. Those people need help. I hope they get that help. The whole world needs to do their part to help these people. That is the only way they will get things back to somewhat normal.

In November, I got to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it was much needed for me. When you go 5-6 months without getting to spend time with anyone from back home, you get homesick. The way my life has worked out, I haven’t been able to go back home to visit since May of 2016. There are a lot of people that I am really missing right now, as much as I don’t miss North Dakota itself.

When you move away from your family and friends, you realize fairly quickly who cares enough to keep in touch. You realize who is deserving of your time and effort, because they also put in the time and effort to keep in touch with you. I’ve had a bunch of wakeup calls this year, and I feel I’m better off because of it. A friend that I have known for several years now was down here the week of Thanksgiving visiting Disney World with her family. We never spent a ton of time together when I lived in North Dakota, but she was someone I always enjoyed seeing and being around. Since I moved, I feel like I have gotten to know her better (from a distance). She is somebody that I really admire, and she inspires me every day to improve myself. Although it was very brief, I got to spend some time with her at Disney World, and it was THE highlight of my nearly 2 1/2 years in Florida. When you meet someone and then move 1,500 miles away, you never imagine that someone from your old home will be someone you get to share a memory with in your new home. It was just a really special experience for me. I know that she reads my blog, but I hope to someday tell her face-to-face why that was such a special night for me.

December has been a busy month for me. My dad just spent two weeks here visiting again, and we stayed pretty busy the whole time. I am now starting to take a little time to let 2017 sink in and get ready for 2018.

When I look back every year, there is a common theme that has come up throughout the year. I have decided that 2017 has been the year of “I Don’t Know”. There has been so much uncertainty and so much that has changed in my life that I really don’t know what to think of this past year. Even more fitting, the Jimmy Buffett concert I went to back in May was part of his “IDK (I Don’t Know) Tour”. 2018 is a year that has a ton of potential. 2017 was just a lot of uncertainty. It had its ups and downs, but I can take away some great lessons learned from this year.

Every year until now, I have written a Facebook post at the end of the year telling the story of the past year. I have now transitioned that to my blog. Last year at this time, I wrote that I hadn’t changed as a person over the past year. I was still the same person I had always been, except I had learned to accept who I am. This year, I am not the same person I was a year ago. Not even close. I am forever changed. This year, I learned to love myself. I’m sorry if this sounds arrogant in any way, and I apologize if it does, but I’m a damn good person. I KNOW that I’m a good person. I do what makes ME happy. I live my life in a way that I want to live it. The things I focus on and the things that are my top priorities are the things I want to be the most important in my life. I am far from perfect, but I am happy with the person that I am now. I no longer care if someone wants to judge me in a certain way. It won’t change who I am or what I do. My goal is to spread love, positivity, and happiness with the world. I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference in some way, and every day of my life I am working toward that. I’m the most optimistic person you could ever meet. I love life and I believe in making dreams a reality. There is no reason why a fantasy world and the real world can’t become one. I basically live in a fantasy world. I spend every possible second of my life at Walt Disney World. In 2017, I visited Magic Kingdom 110 times, Epcot 31 times, Hollywood Studios 3 times, and Animal Kingdom 6 times. You can do the math on that. In 365 days, I visited Walt Disney World 150 times. Some people get to visit Disney World once a year, some people just a few times in their life, some only get to visit once every few years or once ever, most people never get to experience Disney. I am there enough that many of the performers recognize me. Other cast members recognize me, and some know me by name. There is nothing cooler in the entire world than going into Magic Kingdom and hearing a cast member say, “Hi, Danny!! Welcome home!!” It truly is the “Most Magical Place on Earth”. It just is.

A lot in my life is going to change in 2018, and I am now better prepared for it. I love who I am as a person and I have learned who matters most in my life. I know what I want to do and how I want to go through life. Knowing those things, I am better prepared to take on whatever comes my way in 2018. This may not be my last post of 2017, but if it is, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read this. When I started blogging, I figured a few of my close friends might take the time to read my posts on occasion. I am far from being a successful blogger, but people from around the world read my posts, and I think that is pretty incredible. Hopefully the message I share is something that can make a difference in the world. If I am able to, in some way, make this world a better place than it was before I came along, then I feel like I am living my purpose.

I hope you all have had a great 2017, and I wish you all a 2018 filled with love, peace, happiness, positivity, and good health. Thank you all for joining me in this journey of Positively Rolling Through Life!! 😀

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