It is not a memory that I recall fondly. As I sat in front of that room, I could hardly get my words out. And when I did, I stuttered and stammered all the way through the remarks I had prepared. I had not done much public speaking at that point and I hated having the spotlight on me, at least in that way. The stutter that I had as a kid was pretty pronounced at the time, and it got worse if I was nervous. So, when I went to a Men’s Club meeting at the church I grew up in to tell them about a fundraiser I was participating in, my words simply got stuck in my throat. My saving grace was that the guy leading the meeting was a friend of our family and he knew why I was there. He asked me questions that I could give short answers to. He got me through it.
The fundraiser that I told the group about was called a Roll-A-Thon. When I was in high school, I did a whole lot of fundraising. The sports team that I was on for people with cerebral palsy, called the Houston Challengers, traveled all over to our competitions, and it was up to us to cover the cost of uniforms, entry fees, and other travel expenses.
Every year, with the help of my parents, I completed a Roll-A-Thon to raise money. The distance circling our block at the time was four-tenths of a mile. That meant 50 laps was equivalent to 20 miles. I asked friends and neighbors to sponsor me per lap or per mile and that is how I raised money to travel to our various events. We held a Roll-Thon every year that I was in high school. I was always aware that I had more opportunities to raise money than some of my teammates did. Therefore, I always raised as much money as I could in the hope of covering the expenses of some other athletes as well as my own.
Several months before each Roll-A-Thon, I would go to various groups and talk about what I was doing in an effort to get some potential sponsors. That is what put me in the front of the room talking to that group of men. When I was getting into our car after the presentation was over, I remember thinking to myself that maybe public speaking just wasn’t my thing.
I watched an interview a few weeks back. Robin Roberts is one of the anchors of Good Morning America. In a rare “turn the tables” event, she was the one who was being interviewed. I have always liked her. She seems incredibly genuine to me and that is what I think makes her so relatable and so good at what she does. Over the years as a journalist, she has won all kinds of awards, but there is something else that makes me have mad respect for her as well. Personally, Robin Roberts has beaten breast cancer and survived another life-threatening condition.
During the interview, she said something that really resonated with me. When the interviewer asked her what she was most proud of, Ms. Roberts looked directly into the camera and said: “I am more proud of what I have overcome than what I have accomplished.” Whoa! I have never looked at my life in those terms, but the more I think about it, that statement just makes sense. Usually, there are issues that need to be overcome in order to accomplish our goals and dreams. Otherwise, they would be easy.
I have a busy week coming up. I have to get ready for two presentations to college classes. One is at Rockhurst University in Kansas City to a class of pre-occupational therapy students. The other is a Leadership in Diverse Groups class at Cal Poly University in California. According to the professor of the latter, she has been using the book I wrote as one of the textbooks for that class for about a year. She reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in giving a guest lecture to her students. You bet I am interested. In fact, these days, speaking to various groups about ways to empower those of us with disabilities is one of my favorite things to do. The way I see it, the more I speak to groups, there is more possibility that something I say will resonate with someone in the audience and that might translate into people with disabilities getting treated with more dignity and respect. Therefore, I am all over it. As I have thought through the things I want to say to these students, I had to cut some things out of my presentation because I don’t want it to be too long.
That shy, awkward kid got over her fear of public speaking and now I enthusiastically say: “Bring It On!” I guess I just needed to find a subject I was completely passionate about.
Thank you, Robin Roberts.
I am more proud of what I have overcome than what I have accomplished.