20 years. I can't believe it's been two decades.
On September 12, 1997, my life, as the Fresh Prince would say, "got flipped turned upside down."
A simple cold turned into a life-threatening pneumonia that left me paralyzed from the neck down.
Since that day, I've experienced and grown a lot. I've lived through some incredible and trying times over the last 20 years, and even learned an important lesson or two.
Here are 20 things I've learned in the last 7,300 days as a quadriplegic.
The power of patience
One of the defining qualities I've mastered over the last few years is patience. When you are dependent on others for nearly every aspect of your life, you quickly learn the importance of not being quick to judge and knowing when to relax and not get too stressed out. It is true what they say, patience is indeed a virtue.
It's okay to have a bad day
Bad days are bound to happen and it's perfectly fine to have them. We all have those moments when things just aren't going to go the way we planned, but it's important to know that it won't last forever. Always remember that you always have the power to overcome life's darkest moments.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
I am still trying to master this one to this day. If you need a helping hand, don't be afraid to ask. As we've seen recently with the events in Houston from Hurricane Harvey, there will always be those who are willing to assist those in need. And whether it's being rescued from rising flood waters or just something as simple as opening a door, a helping hand is just an ask away.
Lap dances are a logistical nightmare
A few years ago, for my best friend's bachelor party, I had the chance to have my first strip club experience. Because that's what you do for a bachelor party. It was an eye-opening experience that is a longer story for another time, but let's just say that someone trying to dance on a wheelchair isn't as sexy as it sounds.
I apparently want to race with everyone I meet
Over the last 20 years, I can't even count the number of people who ask me if I want to race while I'm out and about. For future reference, no, I don't want to race, and no, you're not funny.
Enjoy the little things
Life can get pretty hectic at times, even if you're not a quadriplegic. So make sure you take time to just sit back and enjoy the little things. Like when you're van lift works without breaking or when you fly on an airplane and your wheelchair comes back in one piece.
I cannot hold my liquor
During my aforementioned best friend's wedding, I took a shot of Tequila with the wedding party. It didn't take long for my hands to get puffy and the room to start spinning. I am the definition of light weight.
Don't play the blame game
I always am commended for my positive outlook and never being down and looking for someone to blame about my situation. It would be easy to sit here and feel bad about being in a wheelchair, but the truth is, I don't believe there's anyone to blame. Yes, it's unfortunate that this happened, but being mad about it and angry towards someone or something won't improve my situation.
You can always make the best out of any bad situation
Unexpected and unfortunate situations are bound to happen. But lemons always have the possibility of being lemonade.
Being in a hospital for eight months qualifies you for a health credit in high school
When I was released from the hospital, I went back to school. But while I was in the hospital, I made sure to keep up with my school work. On top of the classes I took, I was able to get health class credit for my eight-month hospital stay. I guess life-threatening illness qualifies as an acceptable lesson plan.
Athletes come in many forms
I was an avid soccer player before I got sick. When I became a quadriplegic, I thought my life as an athlete were over. But I found the incredible sport of power soccer and it has reinvigorated my competitive spirit and introduced me to an amazing world.
Strength isn't measured by a person's physical capacity
My muscles may have failed me, but they will not limit my drive to succeed. As long as there's a breath still in me, I will fight to live the life I want.
Portable ramps will always be your best friend
If you ever find yourself using a wheelchair to get around, keep a portable ramp handy. Whether it's a broke-down van or an inaccessible restaurant, you'll be sure to encounter situations that will require one.
Don't freak out when you get locked in a van
When I was in college, one of my aides locked me in my van on her first day working for me. Luckily it was winter and the ASU security guard was an expert lock picker.
If you need someone to look up to, sit down
It's always healthy to keep an open mind and always see things from different perspectives. You'd be surprised how much your view will change when you're sitting 24/7.
Ironside was cancelled after three episodes because they cast Blair Underwood instead of me
In the media, people with disabilities are often perceived as one-dimensional characters, often left in the background. But with new shows like Speechless and Atypical, people with disabilities are getting the proper attention and portrayals we deserve.
The airline industry is the arch-nemesis of people with disabilities
Flying anywhere is always a gamble. The airlines are well known for the mishandling and damaging of wheelchairs. It seems like almost every time I flew a piece of my chair would end up broken.
If you have to spend eight months in the hospital, make sure there is a Whataburger across the street
Take it from me, never trust the hospital food. Whenever I could, I made sure to eat out. The nurses could argue with me all they wanted, they weren't going to convince me that the yellow blob on my tray was mashed potatoes.
Experience everything you can
Regardless of your situation, if you have the chance to experience something new, fun, or exciting, do it. In the end, you will be more upset if didn't do it than if you did.
Make time to thank those who’ve helped you along your journey
I would be nowhere without my incredible family and friends. I am often congratulated for being as successful and positive as I am, given my situation, but I can say my support system is a big reason why. Many of us have those who stand in our corners cheering us on, and I'm here to remind you to thank those who've helped you in your journey.
September 12, 1997 will forever be a defining moment in my life. Since then, I experienced ups and downs, the good and bad, laughs and tears, and I wouldn't change it for anything.
No one knows what the future holds. In the next 20 years, a lot could change. I may be still sitting in this chair or walking on my own two feet. Either way I am going to life my life the best I can.
I may be a quadriplegic, but I'm going to roll wherever life take me. Except stairs.