Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Adversity?

I am inspired.

I was watching New Year's Rockin' Eve, and thought for a minute they were showing flashbacks to years past.  I'm not talking about when they showed New Kids on the Block or Back Street Boys performing (though that was a bit trippy in and of itself - and I'm not sure if I mean that in a good way).  Seriously, though, I was floored when I saw Dick Clark on screen again.  

Ok, I just did a quick wiki search, and apparently Dick Clark has made appearances and shared cohosting duties for the past few years.  I guess I've been going out most NYEs, so I didn't really pay attention to what was happening on tv. I can vaguely remember seeing him years ago (pretty soon after his stroke), and feeling so sad for him.  He was an icon, but he would never be the same.   He told the crowd:

“Last year I had a stroke. It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk all over again. It was a long hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I'm getting there.”

But when I saw him on the screen this time around, he looked incredible.  Sure, you could tell his speech was still affected, but he was clear, well-spoken, and energetic.  He was alive.  He was Dick Clark.  He was inspiring.  He reminded me why I once wanted to become a speech therapist (and still may, someday).

He then got me thinking about other people who inspire me.  I could probably write a dozen posts about people who inspire me for a variety of different reasons: friends, family, teachers, colleagues, volunteers, chiropractors ... and in time, I'm sure I will write more about them.  But today I'm thinking about the ones who have overcome adversity, and have turned their private struggle into a public triumph.

Visit The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
I always had a crush on Michael J. Fox.  From Family Ties to Back to the Future to Spin City, he was always just ... well ... a fox!  When he went public about his struggles with Parkinson's, the world was on his side.  He was always likable, so it was easy to support his cause. But when he started writing about his experiences, he reached a new level.  While others could easily mourn the loss of their careers, their motor skills, and life as they knew it, he saw things differently.  His titles, Lucky ManAlways Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future show that he was not going to let this degenerative disease bring him down.  Quite the opposite: he brings his readers up, inspiring them to not only take up the fight with him, but to live their lives as fully as he does.  His focus is always on the positive.

"I can get sad, I can get frustrated, I can get scared, but I never get depressed - because there's joy in my life."

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Randy Pauch giving his Last Lecture 
Randy Pauch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was asked to give a hypothetical "last lecture," a common type of speech answering the question "if this was your last chance to speak to the public, what would you say?"  What the CMU people didn't know at the time was that Randy had pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver and spleen.  He was given only a few months to live, so this really would be his last lecture.  Rather than shy away from the idea, he embraced it fully, giving a speech called Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.  He used his newfound fame and remaining time to bring attention to the cause, even joking on his blog that he was "trying to sort of become the 'Michael J. Fox of pancreatic cancer.'"  Before the cancer, he spent his life working to motivate students to think outside the box, explore new ideas, and never let anyone keep them down.  His advice for all of us: 

"Follow your passions, believe in karma, and you won't have to chase your dreams, they will come to you." 

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[Note: after his 2013 confession, I considered removing this entire section, but reconsidered.  For one thing, it is based on what I believed at the time.  For another, it's because there is much more to it than the cycling championships.  His words below can still inspire.  His charity still supports strength through struggle.]

One of the most famous faces we know today that shows that a diagnosis is not a death sentence is Lance Armstrong.  No one would believe that someone could survive testicular, brain, and lung cancer, let alone triumph the way he has.  We have come to know him as an amazing athlete who has won the Tour de France a record number of times.  He has repeatedly been accused of illegal substances, but always stays strong and tests clean.  Both his body and his competitors have tried to bring him down, but he stays up and encourages others to do so.  As he explains in It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life:
Don't just live.  LIVESTRONG.
"I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe - what other choice was there? We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long-lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery. To continue believing in yourself...believing in whatever I chose to believe in, that was the most important thing." 

It's one thing to hold your head high at the peak of your career, your marriage, your life.  It's easy to smile when everything's going your way.  It's something else to hold it high when adversity strikes, and to rebuild the world around you as it threatens to crumble.  These men are truly something else.  They are inspiring.

**If you like what you read, tell a friend.  In fact, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If not, well, I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!