I was asked to speak on Capitol Hill last Wednesday for a panel discussing the importance of early childhood education programs. The idea was to shed light on the need for high quality learning at an early age through resources like Head Start, a program which I participated in as a kid, and how Congress should continue supporting these opportunities to help our kids develop the skills that will give them the best chance to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.
I have vivid memories of this time in my life because I still had sight. I remember reading and writing, I remember learning the colors, and to this day, if someone mentions blue or green or red, an image of those colors pops into my mind. As I mentioned on the panel, one of the biggest things that I gained from Head Start was finding my imagination. I gained the ability to see past reality. I learned to think differently, and think creatively. I think we can all agree that as a blind athlete competing for Team USA in the long jump, I have to think a little differently, right? Right. Those experiences helped shape my entire life, and I’m now flourishing in a world that tells me repeatedly, “You can see”.
I posted a clip yesterday of the quote that states, vision reveals where you can go, what you can do, and who you can be. The mind is a powerful thing. High quality learning is extremely critical for the personal development of our youth, and as we continue to grow and develop, we must make it a daily routine to learn, to try new things, to step outside of the box. Through these experiences comes power, a power that is available to us all. You gain vision. You begin to see past your current reality. You start to forget about, what is, and begin focusing on, what can be. You begin to see where you can go, what you can do, and who you can be. Tap into that power. Now tell me, what do you see?
I’ve been writing blog entries on a weekly basis surrounding my #TeachingPeopleToSee initiative. Now, instead of writing my thoughts on each quote, I thought it would be great to take a stab at recording audio clips of me speaking on the inspiration behind each quote. Check out this one entitled, I Am Not Vision Impaired.
I remember competing in the long jump in an indoor meet eight or nine years after I had lost my sight. We were at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at this time, Coach Brian Whitmer was my long jump caller. In other words, he was responsible for clapping and yelling so I would know where to run and jump from. It started off terribly. Coach Whitmer’s claps were muffled by cheering fans. We were indoors. His voice was echoing through the stadium. The long jump runway and track were separated by stanchions. I ran into those. I just couldn’t get it together. Not too far away was a gentleman who said something along the lines of “what is going on?”. “This kid shouldn’t be doing this. He’s going to hurt himself.” This is what prompted me to post yesterday’s quote “I’ve had a lot of people say, you can’t, but my actions always seem to say, I can”.
One thing that will never change is that everyone will have an opinion. People talk. They’re going to have their thoughts on what you can and cannot do. Sometimes they’ll imply that you may not be able to conquer a certain task. There’s a saying that I’ve heard over and over again growing up and it goes a little something like this, “I can show you better than I can tell you”. I was 17 years old, competing for Athens Drive High School, at the great UNC, and I believed in something so much that I wasn’t going to allow someone else’s words to impede my progress. For the record, Coach Whitmer and I were able to make the adjustments and we finished the competition successfully with no bumps or bruises.
Who cares what the outsiders say. Actions speak louder than words, right? “How are you going to graduate from college? no one in your family has achieved that to this point.” Bury your head in the books, assert yourself, and soon you’ll show them that celebratory strut across the stage. “You haven’t made a putt from this distance ever. What makes you think it’ll be different this stroke?” Wait a minute, watch this *as ball rolls across the green into the hole*. “Why are you competing in long jump? You’re blind. It’s dangerous.” It may look dangerous to you, but I don’t see any issues with it, ha! You’re going to have others who say “you can’t” but your actions should always say “I can”.
So yesterday I posted a clip on FB containing the quote “You have to tap into your own strengths in order to tackle the obstacle at hand. That’s success.” In October of 2016, I presented at TEDxSan Diego and I talked about a basketball goal that I had as a kid. I’m referring to the type of basketball goal that is made for the top of closet doors. I would shoot and shoot and shoot, not knowing whether or not the ball would go in, so I took a safety pin and tied the bottom loops of the net together. Now if the ball went through the rim, it would stay inside of the net and not fall through to the ground. I could shoot buzzer beaters and know if my shot attempts were successful. As small as it may seem, that was a huge win for me. That was success.
Success can be obtaining your masters, getting a promotion at work, driving off the lot in that new car, or completing your first marathon. I’d say that’s success for sure. However, peal back that view and really get down to the bare minimum. I’m talking about the days when you would throw a ball at the rim that couldn’t be seen, never knowing when it would go inside the rim and through the net, but you figured out a way to overcome. I mean the days of you writing page after page after page, getting that thesis to read just right. You remember the time and effort it took to receive that promotion, or the sacrifices you had to make in order to get your new car, or the discipline and determination that you needed in training for the marathon? Yeah, it was difficult, but within you lies strength, the thing or things that you do well, and you tapped into that power. That’s when success really begins to happen. The masters degree, the promotion, the new car, and the marathon, they’re all successful moments, but you just don’t fall into that glory. Remember that there’s a starting point, and it’s within you. The strengths that lie within you.