The past week or two has been filled with a lot of flashbacks for me. The end of July and beginning of August is a busy time of the year for birthdays in my family. I always looked forward to celebrating birthdays with my family, because, no matter how busy we all were, those were guaranteed dates that we would all get together and catch up and have fun.
With all of those great birthday flashbacks running through my mind, I also started having flashbacks to other really great memories created with friends growing up. Growing up in North Dakota, you basically have two options: you learn to love the cold weather and snow, or you suffer for over half of the year. Since I use a wheelchair everywhere I go, learning to love the cold and snow was never an option for me. Wheelchairs and several feet of snow on the ground don’t mix well. haha I do have fun memories from the winters when I was young, but the older I got, the more I grew to hate the cold. Looking back at my favorite childhood memories, nearly all of them are summertime memories. Summer always has been and always will be my favorite season. I love sunshine, and I love the heat… even though it can get a bit out of hand at times here in Florida. haha
This week, there is a fireworks competition going on at the fairgrounds back in my hometown. Every night, there are several fireworks displays as part of the competition. This is something that is held every year in different locations across the U.S., but the memories of the years this competition was held in my hometown while growing up ended up being some of my favorite memories. I remember getting a big group of friends together every night and sitting in the open field behind our old elementary school to watch the fireworks. Those memories will stick with me forever.
In some ways, it feels like just yesterday. Yet, in some ways, it feels like forever ago. Life changes. People change. The world changes. This was back in a time when a group of kids could wander off on their own and have fun without parents watching everything they did, or having any other kind of supervision. This was back before everyone had a cell phone or some other form of technological device superglued to their hand. We could just go off and do whatever we wanted to do, and our parents knew we would be home when we were supposed to be home.
As is usually the case with me, the thing that stands out the most about those memories is the people. These are memories that were created with friends from my neighborhood. We had known each other, in some cases, since birth. I have forgotten more memories I had with those people than I will ever create with most people I’ve met since then. The sad thing, looking back at those memories now, is realizing that I only keep in touch with two of those people now. I don’t recall a time in my life where I’ve ever ended a friendship with someone because of a fight. Sometimes people just grow apart over time. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.
I often wonder what life would be like if I could go back in time to when those memories were created and relive them. I wonder if those memories were really as great as I remember. I also wonder how my younger self and my friends’ younger selves would react if they knew the things I/we know now about how life would turn out, and how most of us would rarely, if ever, keep in touch just a few short years down the road.
Anyone who knows me well, or anyone who has read my previous posts, knows that I am big believer that everything happens for a reason. In a lot of cases, I still don’t understand how a lot of my friends and I drifted apart. Some of the people I lost touch with became increasingly negative as we grew older and were not much fun to be around anymore. Others, I have no clue. It seems like none of us changed much, yet we gradually started spending less and less time together, for no real reason. I would love to get together with those people and catch up one of these days. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I would love to regain those friendships. But, maybe things worked out for the best for all of us. I don’t know. As for the others, sometimes things are better just left in the past. We shared some really great memories years ago, and that is how it should remain.
I have been reminded several times in my life that life really is short. You have to spend as much time as possible being happy. You have to spend time in places that make you happy. You have to do things that make you happy. And you have to spend your time and effort on the people that make you happy. When you have wonderful memories with an old friend who now spends all day every day talking about how much life sucks and how much they hate everything, that is not the kind of person that anybody wants to be around. They are toxic friends, and will drag everyone around them down. I have had a few of those friends, and I really did try to help them to look at life in a more positive way, but you can’t help somebody who doesn’t want to be helped. It’s hard to love people who don’t love themselves. You have to let those people go and move on with your life, as sad as it may be at the time. Learning to love yourself is something I will discuss in a future post. (Spoiler alert: It is important! You can’t be afraid to love yourself! It’s not selfish, it’s necessary!!)
As we get older, things seem to start to fall into place. The things that happened when you were younger start to make more sense. You realize why they happened the way they did. As I started to quietly and politely phase certain people out of my life, I started to realize how much more time and effort I was able to focus on the right people. People who enhance my life. I made new friends who have brought a great deal of happiness and positivity to my life. These people are out there in the world. I hope you’ve all been fortunate enough to meet some of these people, but there are more out there who will eventually come into your life when the time is right. But, in my experience, you have to let go of the things and the people who are dragging you down first. Let go of the negativity in your life, focus on the things that make you happy, and keep moving forward!!
This post took a lot of convincing before I started writing it. There is a chance that a lot of people I don’t know could end up reading it, so I had a hard time convincing myself to write it. When I decided to start blogging, I said I wanted to write about real life, so here it is. This is real life. This is as real as it gets…
Today would have been my mom’s 63rd birthday. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a mama’s boy, and I’m proud of it. My mom was a really amazing person who touched so many lives. She taught pre-school for 20 years, and was loved by everyone who knew her. She lost her nearly 19 month battle with colon cancer in January 2008, but, as is always the case, life happened, because life happened. That may sound confusing, but stick with me.
I am a huge believer that everything happens for a reason. It just does. Everything that happens in life leads you to whatever is next for you. The things that happen in life aren’t always what you want, but it’s all part of the journey through life. You can cry, yell, scream, swear, throw things, break things, have a complete breakdown, and try anything you want to numb the pain, but nothing will change the fact that you have to eventually face reality and deal with life.
Losing my mom was the worst thing that could have happened in my life. We were very close. I am the person I am today because of my mom. She taught me how to treat people and how to view the world. I am a very open-minded person who loves meeting new people. I don’t judge people. I am very understanding. I am probably the most patient person you could ever possibly meet in your entire life. I try my best to be kind and polite to everyone I meet in every situation. I love life and have a very positive view of the world. I always look at the bright side of things. I smile all the time. I believe in helping others. I believe in trying to find a way to brighten other people’s day, just because I can. I believe I am incredibly fortunate to be in the situation I’m in at all times, because I know there is always someone in a worse situation. I believe this world is an amazing place, and I feel that there are really great people everywhere in this world. I trust this journey we call life to all work out for the best in the end. I am the person I am and believe the things I believe because of my mom.
Later in my mom’s life, she and I traveled to several concerts. I grew up loving music, specifically country music, because of my mom. That shared love of music started when I was very young.
When I was 3 years old, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be Randy Travis.” A couple of years later, she asked me again what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be Garth Brooks.” The only thing that stopped me from following through with those dreams was lack of actual musical talent. I hear having musical talent helps when you want to grow up to be a musician. Crazy thought, I know. haha She never laughed, she never teased me, and she never told me to be realistic. She believed I could do anything I wanted to do in the future. I was surrounded by people who told me to “be realistic” when I was growing up. I was told all the time that I would never be able to do certain things. If my mom agreed with them, she never told me. She always encouraged me to do my best and keep moving forward.
Growing up, my mom never once missed one of my baseball or basketball games. She enjoyed sports, and she was there for every game I ever played.
As I got older, I never gave up on my crazy dream of getting into the music industry, even though I had no real talent. My mom and I attended every concert we possibly could within a reasonable distance from home. I honestly couldn’t even begin to guess how many concerts we watched together.
In August of 2006, my mom and I saw our favorite local band, 32 Below, play a show in downtown Fargo. The whole night, she kept saying how tired she felt and that her back was sore. Neither of us thought much of it. She had been working a lot of extra hours for the previous couple of weeks. She wasn’t the kind of person who complained about things, which is something I learned from her, also.
Over the next couple of weeks, she was in so much pain that she couldn’t stand it anymore. She went to the ER multiple times and was given different reasons for the pain. She was given medication and was sent home. None of it ever helped for more than a few hours.
At the end of that month, I was involved in a bad car accident, and my vehicle was totaled. It was the first day of school in my third year of college. I was one block from campus when the accident happened. I sprained my wrist and was in pain for a few weeks, but it was nothing major. Things could have been much worse, even though my car was totaled.
The weekend after my accident, my mom was, once again, in more pain than she could stand, and ended up in the ER again. This time, more tests were done, and she ended up having emergency surgery. She was diagnosed with colon cancer that night. The next several months brought a lot of ups and downs, but she was eventually declared cancer-free in the spring of 2007.
The middle part of 2007 seemed to be pretty great. Mom was doing well, and life seemed to be getting back to normal. That summer, 32 Below headlined a show at the fair in our hometown of West Fargo, ND. I had become friends with the band by that time, and was invited to hang out with them backstage that night.
During the show, the guys brought me up onstage with a video camera to record the crowd. It was a huge crowd and a great moment. I very clearly remember being front and center on the stage with the spotlight shining in my face, and I looked out at the grandstand. It’s hard to see very far with a spotlight shining in your face, but I saw my mom when I looked out at the grandstand. I saw the smile on her face. I wasn’t singing or playing any instruments with the band, but I was onstage with our favorite band. She knew it was a “dream come true” moment for me, and I think it was for her, too. I think I hid it pretty well, but I started crying on stage in front of 10,000 people. That is a moment I will never forget as long as I live.
Later that year, mom’s cancer came back and spread quickly. For me, knowing how well she had been doing for so long, it was hard to comprehend. I didn’t understand how things could change so suddenly.
In late 2007, the youngest of my three older brothers called me and told me to keep a night open that week so we could hang out. He’s a busy person, so that was a bit strange. We spent the evening together at a bar drinking, and, on the way to the bar, he explained to me that my mom was not doing well at all. I don’t know if I was just in denial or what the deal was, but I didn’t realize exactly what was happening before that night. We stayed at the bar drinking pitchers of beer and playing darts until closing time. When the bar closed, my brother went home, but I was still trying to process everything we had talked about that night. I still lived with my parents, and didn’t want to go home, knowing my mom would still be awake. I went to my best friend’s apartment, and ended up staying there. I wasn’t in a position to really deal with reality at that point, and tried my best to not remember that night. My mom called me at 3:30 AM and asked where I was, since I never came home. I just told her I was staying at my best friend’s apartment that night. I conveniently didn’t mention that I was in the process of making a liter of Jim Beam disappear, after closing down the bar with my brother. Let’s just say I had a pretty rough couple of days after that night. As common as it is to drink to forget about things when life gets tough, there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make me forget about what was about to happen.
I spent as much time with my mom as possible over the next couple of months. She was in too much pain to sleep in bed, so she slept in the recliner in the living room every night. Every night, I would sit on the couch and talk to her and watch TV with her until she fell asleep. After she fell asleep, I would sit there for hours and watch her until I finally fell asleep, too.
In the days, weeks, and months after my mom passed away, my family spent a lot of time together. In my opinion, it was a lot of time spent together, but not really dealing with the loss we had suffered. We were together physically, but we never really talked about what had just happened. Maybe that was fine for everybody else, but it wasn’t fine for me. I need to talk about things in order to deal with them. My family has never been the kind of family that has shared our emotions. Growing up, we rarely hugged or kissed each other. Crying was something that would result in me getting laughed at by one of my brothers when I was little, so I learned to not cry as much growing up.
I went through some tough times in high school where I pretty much hit rock bottom and was completely depressed. Hardly anyone knew, and I wanted it to stay that way. I learned at that time that I couldn’t bottle things up inside of me. I needed to get everything out. I needed to talk to people. In college, I started writing when I didn’t have anyone to talk to.
After my mom passed away, I think my family thought I was trying to ignore what had happened and that I was hiding from it, but I started spending a lot of time away from home with friends. I felt more comfortable at that time with my friends. I talked. I let everything out, and they listened, whether they wanted to listen or not. Eventually, I started traveling more often to 32 Below concerts. I started traveling longer distances for their shows. That time spent alone in my car allowed my mind to wander. Even though I was by myself, I could feel like I was talking to someone. I just let out all of my thoughts. It was like therapy for me. I could get out any emotions I needed to get out, and then I could go to a concert when I got to my destination. The more I traveled, the better I got to know the band. I started offering to help with certain things after the shows so I could stay at the venues longer. I didn’t want to go home. I eventually ended up traveling across the country with the band for six years selling their merchandise. It was an amazing experience. I still consider those years to be the best years of my life. The thing that never changed in all of that time was the difficulty of dealing with the anniversary of the day I lost my mom and her birthday every year when those dates fell on days that I was on the road.
It’s funny how things work out in life when you stop and take time to look back later. You may find yourself in situations that seem like the end of the world. You may think you’ll never get through the hard times that life makes you deal with at times, but you just have to keep living and know that things will eventually turn around. Losing my mom was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve never gotten over it. I never will get over it. It hurts. It hurts bad. It hurts every single day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, 9 1/2 years after she passed away. I also never would have felt the need to get away from home and start traveling if I hadn’t lost my mom. I never would have spent the best years of my life on the road if I hadn’t had to learn to deal with that loss. I wouldn’t have quit college if I hadn’t lost my mom. I wouldn’t have ended up eventually going back to school and moving to Florida if things hadn’t happened the way they did.
As horrible as things can be sometimes, you have to remember that everything happens for a reason. Everything that happens in your life, whether it’s good or bad, leads you to what is next. Life is a journey. It’s a series of events over many years that eventually lead you to your destination. I would give anything to have my mom back again. 53 years is just not long enough to do everything that we all want to do on this planet. I always find a way to look at things in a positive way though. As horrible as losing my mom was, and as much as I wish it had never happened, I know that it was just part of the journey. It has led me to where I am today. It has helped me to realize how important the things she taught me were. It has made me realize that my mom isn’t really gone. The older I get, the more like her I become. She lives on in me. She lives on in my brothers. She lives on in our whole family. She lives on in the hearts of everyone she knew.
Looking back at how life has changed since January of 2008, I wish my mom could have seen the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been. My life has not gone even close to the way she would have wanted, but I know deep down that she would be happy and would be proud of me. I really can’t ask for more than that. I wish she could have been around to see this journey I’ve been on, but life happened. And because life happened… life happened.
Happy Birthday, mom!! I love you!!
Before I begin, I want to give all of you a little heads up… this is going to be pretty long. But, I promise it will be well worth the time it takes you to read all of it. I am combining what could easily be two posts, but I feel there is enough of a connection between the two posts that combining them into one is fitting. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I hope it inspires you to maybe take another look at the way you live your life and interact with others on a daily basis.
Those of you who know me well, and those of you who don’t know me, but have read my previous posts, know that I am a die-hard fan of Disney. I live close to Walt Disney World and spend as much time as possible in the parks. There is very little in the parks that I am able to experience that I haven’t yet experienced. I love certain things about all of the parks, but Magic Kingdom is my personal happy place. No matter what is going on in my life or what I have dealt with that day, when I enter Magic Kingdom, all of the stress and negativity from the outside world just melts away. This is the place where I can truly live in the moment and not have a care in the world. As anything Disney-related should be, my time in the parks is just pure happiness.
I have certain spots where I prefer to watch the parade and fireworks every day. I have spots where I like to go to get away from the crowds and feel like I have some privacy for a little while. There are certain things going on throughout the day that I plan my entire day around.
Now that I have experienced nearly everything that I am able to experience in the parks, I am proud of the fact that I can help other guests find certain places throughout the parks, and that I can make recommendations to help make their experience a little bit better.
Visiting the parks as much as I do, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is as fortunate as I am. People travel here from all over the world, but not everyone has the luxury of visiting the Disney parks five days a week. Whenever somebody tells me they are visiting for the first time, or that they don’t know if they will ever get a chance to come back, I want them to get as much joy from their experience as possible. I want them to experience the parks the way I do.
I should note, I am not employed by Disney and am in no way (other than being a huge fan) associated with the company.
Since I have experienced most of my favorite things countless times, I find that I now get more joy from watching other people enjoy their experience as much as I do than I get from actually enjoying it myself.
A few months ago, while waiting for the afternoon parade to start, I met an elderly lady from New Jersey who had first visited Magic Kingdom shortly after the park opened, back in 1971. She told me that she was starting to have health issues and that travel has become difficult for her. For those reasons, she decided that would be her last trip to WDW. Throughout the parade that day, several of the characters and other performers happened to see her and spoke to her. A few of them gave her hugs. When the parade ended, she was in tears and said that experience was the highlight of her trip. I wished her well before we parted, and that experience obviously had a lasting impact on both of us, considering I still remember it months later. Seeing how happy this lady was and knowing how special that trip was for her has made that one of my all-time favorite experiences at one of the parades.
About a week after that memorable parade experience, I was waiting for the parade again when a family from England walked up next to me. They were visiting WDW for the first time. They told me that their youngest son who has Down Syndrome had wanted to visit WDW since he first learned to speak. His favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast. At the beginning of the parade, Beast waved to me. I waved back, and then pointed to the young boy sitting next to me. Beast waved to the boy, and Belle blew him a kiss. The boy cried for the rest of the parade and started shaking from excitement and happiness. Seeing how excited the boy was, the rest of his family started crying. They knew it was a moment he had been looking forward to his whole young life.
Fast forward to earlier this week. I spent a great day at Magic Kingdom, and was able to get my favorite spot to watch the fireworks toward the end of the night. A large group of young ladies surrounded me and waited about an hour before fireworks started. I overheard them talking about how excited they were to see the new fireworks show for the first time. Two girls in their group had seen the new fireworks show, which just debuted less than three months ago. The rest had never seen it, but were anxious to see it, because the previous show had become a tradition for them on their annual Disney trips. The girls who had seen the show already told the rest of their group that they would all be crying halfway through the show. I chimed in and told them that I am a regular park guest and that the new show is far superior to the show they had grown to love on previous trips. I also made sure to mention to them that the specific spot we were in is my favorite spot in the entire park.
As the show began, they were all singing and dancing along to the music and were in awe of the fireworks. As their friends predicted, halfway through the show they were all crying. The show hadn’t ended yet, but they were already talking about how they can’t wait to come back on their next trip and enjoy that experience again. Seeing the joy that moment brought to these young ladies made my whole day. It was hands down the highlight of what had already been an amazing day.
Any time that I am able to make someone else’s experience in the parks a little bit better, I am happy to do it. Things as simple as inviting a young child to stand or sit in front of me so they can have a better view of a parade, or giving up my spot completely for a first time park guest so they can fully experience something I’ve already seen 100 times can make an enormous difference in their enjoyment of that moment. I have seen all of my favorite shows and attractions literally well over 100 times. I don’t need to have a perfect view every time. I am happy to share with people who haven’t had those opportunities before.
I could go on and on about great experiences I’ve had in the parks in the time that I have been an annual passholder, but not everyone can relate to the experiences I’ve had in the Disney parks. Not everyone is a fan of Disney either. Everyone has their own interests. However, you don’t have to be at Disney to have these types of experiences. They can happen anywhere in the world. It’s about sharing the magic and the joy you feel from whatever it is you’re most passionate about.
When I began planning to move to Orlando to attend a golf school, I knew that I wanted to find a way to use golf to help others in some way, but I just didn’t know how to go about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the golf industry after I finished school. My main focus was improving my own golf game.
Within just a few short weeks of starting school, I realized that I was more interested in helping others learn to play golf than I was in actually playing myself. Teaching became my main focus for the rest of the time I was in school. The answers I had searched for before moving to Orlando came to me naturally. I realized that I wanted to help people by not only teaching them to play golf, but by also inspiring them to improve themselves off of the golf course. I coached youth baseball back when I was in high school and college, so getting involved in youth golf seemed to be a natural fit for me. I am now the director and lead instructor of a junior golf program for kids with special needs of all kinds. Our program is every bit as focused on teaching valuable life skills as it is about teaching golf.
I was born with a physical disability called Spina Bifida. My disability has forced me to find my own ways to do the same things as my peers, but it really hasn’t slowed me down much. While working with special needs kids and teaching them to play the great game of golf, I hope to set a good example and to be a positive role model. Whether they decide to play golf for the rest of their lives, or it’s just a temporary interest, I hope I can inspire these kids to never give up and to never settle for less than what they deserve. My whole life, people have told me I wouldn’t be able to do the same things that “normal” people can do. I have always taken great pride in finding ways to prove people wrong. I don’t want this to sound like I’m bragging, but I’m glad, looking back, that so many people have said I wouldn’t be able to do what “normal” people do. The reason I’m glad they have said that is because I honestly feel that a lot of things about me are special. I don’t want to be “normal” and just fit in. I stand out and am proud of it. I stand out physically, because I look different from other people when I do most things. More importantly, I stand out because of my personality and my drive and determination to persevere. I don’t mean to imply at any point in this post that I feel like I’m a hero or that I’m better than other people. I just live my life the way that makes sense to me. I live the way I believe everybody should live, which is doing the best we’re able to do in our own unique situation in life.
I have met so many able bodied people in my life who have been faced with a difficult situation and have immediately said, “I can’t”, “It’s too hard”, and “I give up”. That is something that I just can’t relate to, as common as it is. There are definitely things in this world that I’m not able to do, but my inability to do those things has nothing to do with lack of effort on my part. If I fail in any situation, I will go down swinging every time. I ALWAYS try my best. Nothing in the world beats the feeling of proving somebody wrong when they don’t believe in you. It’s an incredible feeling, and it’s something that I want everyone to experience. I want to inspire people to keep trying their best, and to do really great things in this world. Simple gestures that require almost no time or effort can make a world of difference to the people around you. Share the magic with them!!
As I said, you don’t need to be at Disney to create a magical moment for someone. You don’t need to be in any special situation at all. Something as simple as smiling at a stranger and saying “hello” as you pass by could be enough to turn their whole day around. You never know what the people around you are going through. You never know how much a small, simple gesture could mean to them. Just think how much better this whole world would be if we all did our own small part to contribute to the happiness and positivity of those around us. People say world peace and universal happiness can’t exist. I couldn’t possibly disagree more. It absolutely CAN exist, if we all work together and make it happen. It takes all of us working together to share the magic of our happiest moments throughout the world.
Think about it… when was the last time you went out of your way to do something nice for a complete stranger? Do you really, genuinely feel joyful when you see happiness in others? Do you try to have a positive impact on the world every day? No wonderful gesture is too small to have a positive impact on the world. You have to start somewhere. I challenge all of you who read this post to go out into the world and do something nice for somebody. Make them smile. Don’t ask for anything in return. Whether you stay close to home or travel around the world, find a way to spread the love and happiness to everyone around you. You might be surprised how good it feels to know you were able to, in some way, make the world a better place than it was before that moment.
Thank you to all of you who took the time to read all of this!! I hope it means something to you, and I hope it has inspired you to go out into the world and spread positivity, happiness, and love to everybody you meet.
Home can mean so many different things to different people. Some people think of home as the place where they grew up. Others think of it as the place where they are currently living. To me, home is any place that you really love. It’s a place where you feel comfortable and happy. It’s a place where you feel like you belong.
When I think back, I couldn’t even begin to count all of the places I’ve been that have felt like home to me. That is a really incredible feeling. To fall in love with a place you never thought you would even get to visit, and to be accepted by the people who live there, is pretty awesome. Sometimes the place is so amazing on its own that you fall in love with the place. Sometimes the people you meet can make you feel welcome and make you feel like a local. The most special places are the ones where the place and the people both make you feel like you belong.
For six years, I got to live my lifelong dream of traveling across the U.S. with a band. When you get to do something like that, the band isn’t just a band. You spend so much time together and travel so many miles together that you become a family. Throughout my time spent on the road, I reminded myself every day how fortunate I was to be able to live my dream. I have so many incredible memories from that time in my life that I could write a book.
When I take the time to look back at that time in my life, it’s pretty over-whelming to think of all of the places we visited and all of the people I met. In countless places, we arrived and were greeted by a local saying, “Welcome home”. Visiting a city that feels like home makes staying out on the road for long periods of time not only tolerable, but very enjoyable. The first time I ever experienced this was the first time I got to visit the Cincinnati/Dayton area. When we arrived at the club to set up for the show that day, a group of die-hard fans (people I am happy to say are still good friends of mine years later) were waiting to greet us. They knew the “new guy” was going to be with the band for the first time that weekend and were curious to meet me. I will never forget jumping out of the band van and hearing, “Welcome home!! You’re gonna love Ohio. We’re happy to have you here.” They had no clue how right they were about me loving Ohio. Even though Cincinnati was an 18 hour trip for us, I always loved getting to go back and looked forward to it for months before each trip.
Throughout the years, several places became my favorites. The same thing I experienced on that first trip to Cincinnati happened in these other cities. I fell in love with the cities and made some really amazing friends. I was fortunate to make such great friends, but I’m even more fortunate to still be friends with these people, even though I haven’t seen most of them in years. I miss getting to visit all of those places on a regular basis, but, most of all, I miss the people.
Probably the biggest surprise for me was Chicago. Chicago is a huge city, and it gets a ton of negative media attention. My personal experience in that city is the opposite of the image most people have, thanks to negative stories in the news. A lot of it has to do with the specific places I got to visit, and even more of it has to do with the specific people I met. Chicago, to me, has always felt like a massive small town. I think that is the highest compliment I can possibly pay to a city. Millions of people live in this huge city, yet the people I met made it feel like going back to a small town every single time. I always told people in Chicago that I was happy to be “home” again every time we were there, and I meant it. The people made Chicago feel like home. I hope some of the people I met there are reading this right now, because I don’t know if I ever really properly thanked them for how well they treated me and the rest of the band. We were all extremely well taken care of, and I could never thank those people enough. I had always wanted to visit Chicago, but never thought it would happen. To make friends there and to be welcomed into their world was truly special.
I don’t want to make this too terribly long, but I could easily keep talking about other cities that I loved. I’m sure I will talk about some of them in posts sometime in the future. When I look back at my time on the road, I tend to most often think of my favorite places and the people in those places more than anything else. I miss those people and I miss those places. I miss Cincinnati. I miss Chicago. I miss Mankato. I miss Minneapolis. I miss Rapid City. I miss Sturgis. I miss the friends I made in other cities, too. There are just too many to list all of them.
The more time I spent on the road, the more I realized how much I enjoyed being on the road. The saddest day of the week for me was always Sunday when it was time to go home. Before even getting home at the end of the weekend, I already started looking forward to the next weekend on the road. I looked forward to seeing my family and friends, but grew increasingly disinterested in my hometown. I knew that eventually something would have to change. Home should be a place that you look forward to getting back to, not a place that you look forward to leaving.
I now am proud to call Orlando my home. I fell in love with this place the first time I ever visited, and I decided within a weekend on that short trip that someday I would live here. Although I’m no longer traveling every weekend, I still have a place that feels like my home away from home. It’s a place most people wouldn’t expect. My home away from home is now Walt Disney World. Specifically, Magic Kingdom. Most people think of WDW and immediately think of chaos, huge crowds, screaming kids, and stress. For me, it’s a place to shut out the outside world and just relax. It’s a place to take time to think and remind myself just how fortunate I am to live the life that I’ve had. It’s a place where I can just live in the moment and love everything about the joy and magic that fills the parks.
Since I moved to Florida, I have gone back to visit my hometown twice. I enjoy going back to visit, and love getting to catch up with family and friends, but I noticed on both trips that, as much fun as I was having catching up with everybody, I was excited to get back home to Florida. On both of those trips, I found myself spending a lot of time wondering what was going on in Orlando and wondering what I would be doing at that time if I were at home. That, in my mind, told me that I am now living where I should be. I have found a place that I look forward to getting back to when I leave.
So, what makes a place “home”? Is it the place itself? Is it the people? Is it your current life situation? Is it something else? To me, the answer is obvious. Yes!! Home is something different to everybody. It can be anything or any place. It can be a specific place, or it can be any place where you’re surrounded by your favorite people. We all have to find our own place that we’re proud to call home. When you find it, life just feels better.
I very clearly remember nearly 20 years ago sitting in my 6th grade class. Every day, I would look out the window during class and watch cars pass by on the interstate. I always wondered who was riding in those cars, where they came from, and where they were going. I wondered what they would get to see, do, and experience along the way. I wanted to go where they were going and experience that journey. I still do this quite often when I see a plane fly overhead.
As a 6th grader, you most likely haven’t had a chance to see much of the world yet. I know I hadn’t. All you can do at that age is dream and wonder what is out there to experience in this world. I not only wanted to see the places these people were traveling to, but I also wanted to experience what life is like in those places. To a 6th grader, those places were all just dots on a map hanging on a classroom wall, or on a page in a textbook.
I don’t want to sound like I knew how my life would turn out or that I could tell the future in anyway, but I just knew that I needed to travel and experience new places someday. The last place in the world I wanted to be was in a classroom in North Dakota looking out the window and wondering what was out there. Life happens, whether it’s the way you want it to happen or not. You can dream and wish, but things don’t always turn out the way you had hoped. You have to roll with the punches and keep living life.
That school year had been especially difficult for me, because I was recovering from my third surgery in less than three years. I spent a lot of time sitting at home not able to do much. When all you’re really able to do is sit at home while you recover, you start to think about a lot of things. You start to dream of better times and a better situation. Somehow, I just felt like I knew I would end up traveling and experiencing new places someday. Looking back, it’s crazy to think about, because I have spent several years of my life traveling, and I now live on the opposite side of the country from where I grew up.
That time in my life taught me that you can’t just accept the things other people tell you. If you want something badly enough, you can find a way to make it happen. The only limitations you have are the ones you place upon yourself. I wanted to play on the 6th grade basketball team at my school that year, but my doctor told me it wasn’t possible, because my leg would never be healed in time to play after my most recent surgery. I remember leaving the doctor’s office after being told basketball wasn’t an option for me that year. The first words I said to my mom when we got into the car after that appointment were, “I’m playing. I’ll find a way to make it happen.” This isn’t a surprise to any of my former classmates who may be reading this, but I did play that year. That was just one of many times in my life I was told by somebody else that something I wanted to do was impossible, and I proved them wrong.
We all have dreams, but how many people actually dare to chase them and refuse to accept “no” for an answer? Anybody can dream. Anybody can wish for things to happen. Unfortunately, that’s where the dream ends for many people… wishing and hoping. I was incredibly fortunate to live my lifelong dream for several years, but eventually the time came where I needed to find a new dream. I am now chasing that dream. It’s not easy. To be honest, trying to find a way to make it happen has been brutally difficult for the past two years. People have told me to give up and find something else to do with my life. I have been told things like that by countless people throughout my life, not just now. I believe there is ALWAYS a way to make your dreams become your reality. You just have to be patient, stay focused, and keep moving forward. I’m not going to go into specific details, but, if I were interested in taking the safe route in life and doing things the easy way, I would have gone running back home last year and would have settled for a life that I have no interest in living. Lots of people do it. It makes me sad to see someone get excited about a new adventure in life, just to give up when things don’t go as planned. I am trying to find a way to not let that happen to me. My current life isn’t perfect, but I’m in a much better situation now than I was a year ago. Over the next year, I hope I get to the point where I’m light-years ahead of where I am now. You don’t get to pick when things finally fall into place in your life. Life happens when it wants to happen, and it’s usually when you least expect it.
My life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would when I was sitting in that classroom 19-20 years ago, and that is perfectly fine. The journey of my life since that time has led me to where I am today, and will take me to where I am supposed to eventually end up. Everybody dreams, but not everybody dares to experience the journey of really, truly living life. You can go through life the safe way and never take any chances, but you will miss out on a journey of living life fully in this wonderful world of ours. Don’t look back at life and ask “What if…?”. Look back at life and say, “I lived.”
I’ve never understood why some people feel the need to drag others down just to make themselves feel better. Why can’t people just be happy for others and wish them well? If somebody accomplishes something that is important to them, congratulate them. If their accomplishment is preventing you from achieving your own success, then use the other person’s success as motivation, and work harder. Don’t talk trash and try to ruin their moment of happiness. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing someone pretend to be happy and supportive to someone’s face, then turn around and talk trash about them behind their back. Be genuine in the things you say. As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Talking behind someone’s back just makes you look like a jerk.
I want everyone around me to be happy and to succeed in whatever it is they choose to do in life. Seeing happiness in other people makes me happy. In everything I do, I want to be the best, but I want others who are doing the same thing as me to do well, too. Golf is a perfect example of that. When I’m on the golf course, I want my fellow competitors to play well, but I just want to play better than them. If somebody hits an approach shot to 10′, I want to hit mine to 5′. If somebody makes a par, I want to make a birdie. I always compliment a good shot when I see one.
Be genuinely happy for people when they achieve success. In my opinion, jealousy and negativity require more effort than positivity and happiness. If you are jealous of someone, you will start to obsess over everything they do and you will try as hard as you can to find flaws in the things they do. That just sounds exhausting.
Life is a lot simpler when you focus on yourself and your own happiness. You are in control of your own happiness. Don’t rely on others to make you happy. Too often, that doesn’t end well. I know this from experience. I’m not perfect and will never claim to be, but I have learned throughout my life that people will disappoint you if you start to rely on them too much and you forget to take charge of your own life and your own happiness. I always used to want approval from my family and friends whenever I made a decision. I really worried about whether or not they would approve of the things I wanted to do in life. I’ve learned not to worry so much. Those people know me well, but they aren’t me. They aren’t living my life. I need to do what I feel is best for me. Hopefully they will approve and support me, but my day won’t be ruined if they disagree with me.
There is a quote (one of many) that I live my life by. These may not have been his exact words, but, in an old interview I saw a long time ago, Jimmy Buffett said something along the lines of, “Be a good person. It takes the same amount of time to be nice to somebody as it does to be a jerk to them. Be nice, and leave them with a positive memory of you. You may not remember meeting them, but they could remember meeting you for the rest of their life.” Every day of my life, I remind myself of this quote whenever I speak to somebody. It is especially important to leave a good impression when you’re meeting someone for the first time. That first impression could be the way that person remembers you for the rest of their life.
Cheering on the people around you and being genuinely happy for them just makes life simpler. A simpler life is a happier life. Wish others well. Be a fan of people. You never know how much your support might mean to somebody.
Well, it finally happened. For a long time now, people who have read my excessively long Facebook posts have told me I should start a blog. After ignoring that advice for years, here it is. I finally have a blog. I figure it only makes sense that my first post should tell the story of how I got to this point.
Growing up, I never had any interest in writing. I very clearly remember writing research papers in high school and thinking it was torture. I hated it. My attitude toward writing changed when I took an Expressive Writing class in my first semester of college. My professor in that class was also my academic advisor. This guy was unlike any other teacher I’d ever had throughout my school career. How many professors have KISS and Smashing Pumpkins CDs blasting in their office every day on a college campus? I only know of one. This professor and I always got along great, mostly thanks to our shared love of music. He constantly complimented my writing and encouraged me to write more. He taught me how to add more details to make an otherwise quite bland story seem more interesting. The things I learned in that class have stuck with me, and have helped me to learn to love writing. By the end of that first semester, my professor told me I should write a book someday. Although I had experienced a lot of things in my life to that point, life was just about to start getting interesting.
While in college, I really had no clue what I wanted to do with my future. I was a Marketing and Business Administration major, but the only career that had ever interested me was music. Unfortunately, I was lacking one key skill, musical talent. It’s hard to get into the music industry when you can’t sing, and are a below average guitarist.
At the same time that I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I became friends with the members of my favorite local band. Every time I went to one of their concerts, I stayed after the show and offered to help them tear down their gear. Long story short, I eventually quit college to travel with the band full-time as their merchandise salesman. I spent six of the greatest years of my life living my lifelong dream of traveling across the country with my favorite band. I was very fortunate to meet a lot of really great people during my time on the road. I met people from all 50 states, as well as several countries around the world.
After six incredible years of non-stop fun, I eventually came to the realization that there was no future in what I was doing. I was having the time of my life, but wasn’t making any money. My 30th birthday was approaching and I knew something had to change. That change came in the middle of a sleepless night when I saw a TV commercial for a golf school that has a campus in the Orlando area. Golf was a hobby of mine from a young age, but I had never considered the possibility of making it my career. When it’s the middle of December in North Dakota and you see a commercial for a golf school in Florida, it’s really not hard to convince yourself that moving to Florida is a fantastic idea. Nine months later, I was living in Orlando and starting school. I now have a college degree and get to teach golf for a living. I never in a million years would have guessed I would be a golf instructor one day, but here I am.
Living in the Orlando area, I am also able to fully enjoy my love of the beach and all things Disney. I am a Parrothead and have always loved the beach. Living a short drive from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico is a dream come true for me, although I wish I could spend more time at the beach than I do. I spend as much time as possible at Walt Disney World. Every time I visit the parks is every bit as exciting and magical as my first ever visit. Since I am in the parks all the time, sometimes as often as 5 days a week, some of the cast members have started to recognize me, which I think is pretty cool. I can’t even begin to describe how much joy I feel when I enter Magic Kingdom, and a cast member greets me by saying, “Welcome home! It’s great to see you again!” It makes my day every time. A few people have asked why I am at Disney so often and why I am almost always there by myself. Magic Kingdom truly is my happy place. If Disney would let me, I would live in that park. The friends I have made in Florida are people I have met through golf. None of them live close to me, so I have learned to have fun by myself. I love spending time with other people, but am also fine with spending time alone. Disney is magical whether you’re with people or alone, so I am perfectly happy enjoying the parks by myself.
Whenever I am in the parks, I try to go out of my way to start up a conversation with a complete stranger. The people I have met at Disney have been, for the most part, really wonderful people. I have met people from all 50 states and probably well over 50 different countries. The people I’ve met at Disney, as well as the people I met in my travels, are the inspiration for this blog. There is a lot of hate in this world, but the people I have met have reminded me just how much good there is in this world, also. There are really wonderful people in every country on this planet. Just because a specific country, religion, etc. has a bad reputation because of what is reported in the media doesn’t mean that all of those people are bad. Everywhere you go, you will find good people and bad people. Race, religion, social/economic status, sexual preference, etc. don’t make you a good person or a bad person. Your character determines the kind of person you are. I try my best to spread a message of happiness, positivity, and love everywhere I go and in everything I do. This world is a pretty wonderful place when we all put our differences aside and look at all of the things we have in common.
Those of you who are reading this and don’t know me may be wondering what “Positively Rolling Through Life” means. I was born with Spina Bifida, and rely on a wheelchair for most of my mobility. I can walk, but not very far, so I use my wheelchair most of the time. My disability has forced me to find my own way of doing most things in life, but it really hasn’t slowed me down much. I was born this way and can’t change it, so there is no point in complaining or feeling bad for myself. You only live once and have to make the best of it while you have the chance. Life isn’t perfect and nobody is happy all of the time, but you can choose to always look at life in a positive way. I can’t imagine living life any way but positively. It’s just the kind of person I am. I’m a dreamer and honestly believe that everything happens for a reason. The hard times that we all go through in life lead us to something positive without fail. You just have to keep your eyes open and be willing to look for the good in the situation. “Positively Rolling Through Life” is what I do. “Rolling” is a reference to my wheelchair. It is how I go through my life every day, and is a big part of who I am. I don’t complain about it, I embrace it. I live my life the only way I know how, and never think about my disability very much. My goal in life is to spread happiness and positivity to everyone around me, and to inspire everyone to find a way to overcome any challenges they may face. There is ALWAYS a way to achieve your goals. You just have to find a way to do things that works best for you, and adapt. Don’t worry about what anyone else says or does. Other people don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with. Only you can decide what is best for you.
I will probably update my blog quite often. I have a lot to say, and hope people enjoy reading the things I have to share. My posts will be focused on life, the things I experience, and the impact that I want to have on the world. You can count on lots of references to Disney, the beach, and golf. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoy this journey of “Positively Rolling Through Life”.