“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” – Paulo Coelho [Tweet this] | [Share on Facebook]
Growing up, my dream was clear. With absolute confidence, I not only knew that I’d play professional baseball, but that I’d play for my hometown St. Louis Cardinals. It was a certainty.
That dream and the inevitability of obtaining it was extinguished upon my waking up from one of more than a dozen surgeries after being burned at age nine. With great sadness, my dad shared that during the surgery the doctors were forced to amputate my fingers in order to save my life.
A new certainty crept into my mind: My life was over.
I was furious with my dad and began to cry. I wept knowing that no girl would ever want to hold my hand. I was angry because I’d never be able to write, which meant never graduating from school, which meant never getting a job. And I wept knowing that I’d never achieve my dream of playing baseball.
The journey from that burn center into recovery was filled with incredible adversity; yet overflowing with unexpected grace.
With the support of countless friends and a little personal grit, I learned to write, went back to school, graduated, and even found meaningful work. I also met and fell deeply in love with an amazing girl named Beth. A few years later she fell in love with me (that’s a different story!). We’ve been blessed with 14 years of marriage and four healthy kids.
We enjoy a wonderful life and have accomplished some remarkable achievements. Along the way, I even surrendered the childhood dream of playing baseball with the Cardinals.
A couple weeks ago, our office received a call from the St. Louis Cardinals organization. They shared that they were aware that I’d been dramatically impacted by their team back in 1987 when recovering from my burns. They were also aware that I had the opportunity to speak to the team during Spring Training this year…
And they were curious if I had any desire to join them for a home game to throw out the first pitch.
My friends, I have no fingers on my hands. I have no movement in my wrists, limited mobility in my elbows, and difficulty using my shoulders. Unfortunately, there’s no possible way for me to throw out the first pitch.
So, it was with some anxiety that I responded: Absolutely!
It required a little creativity on how to balance the ball on my hand, a couple weeks of ‘training’ in the backyard with my sons and an extremely generous strike zone from the umpire, but yesterday a childhood dream became a reality. A kid, donning a St. Louis Cardinals jersey, made his way to the mound, waved at his parents, blew a kiss to his wife and kids and threw a first pitch bullet!
(I’m feeling reflective, not only looking back at the 30-year recovery that led to throwing that first pitch, but also celebrating the conclusion of our 4th Live Inspired Podcast season. A season that introduced us to 10 powerful individuals with remarkable stories and insights on how to Live Inspired. Our community is growing and our episodes have been downloaded 575,000 times! Check out the Season 4 highlights episode here.)
My friends, 30 years ago a little boy was expected to die.
Yesterday, a packed Busch Stadium with over 46,000 Cardinals’ fans saw a 40-year-old guy prove unequivocally that he had no chance at ever becoming a major league ball player. But more importantly: They saw a guy in awe of the life he gets to live reminding them that anything is possible in their lives, too.
As we journey professionally and personally we will never understand the miracle of life fully. Until we allow the unexpected to happen. Perhaps it’s time to grab the old glove, run back on the field, embrace wholly the life you have and believe again that the best is yet to come.
This is your day. Play ball and Live Inspired.
My goal as a kid was to play baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals. What was your wild dream as a kid? Share it with the #LiveInspired community by writing it in the comments below. Looking forward to hearing from you!
5 replies on “Believe Again”
My dream was being an astronaut.
Awesome dream, buddy. Keep dreaming BIG… the best is yet to come. J
Like John O’Leary I was burned at 9 years old in 1960 from paint remover at home while lightning a BBQ – 2nd/3rd deg burns to upper 50% of body with the rarest blood type AB-. It took me 3 weeks to come out of a coma and decide that I wanted to live.
Throughout the recovery I was told by several Dr’s that they wanted to remove my left arm it would not heal & would be useless to me in the future. It was always my wish to reuse my left dominant arm to it fullest was my dream. Back then my left wrist could not move at all, elbow was locked and under shoulder would only lift up 3-4″ plus I had numerous open areas that would not heal. After getting out of hospital after 90 days & 3 operations per week ( maximum stay per insurance in 1960 was 90 days ) I kept going back to emergency where they would take me up & operate & send me home ( day surgery before it was thought of ). After the insurance ran out my uncle was a Shriner & the Shriners Crippled Children’s Hospital was in Shreveport, LA where I lived so we proceeded with all the paperwork to get me admitted. After getting admitted & going to the Shriners Hospital the Dr’s there looked at me & said sorry they could not help me. Very big disappointment for me at 10 years old.
Also in Shreveport was the Confederate Memorial Hospital ( pre runner of the LSU Hospital that is there now in Shreveport, LA ) I went there where the interns looked in the medical books at that time & attempted to perform plastic surgery techniques that were way over their ability. After 9 months of continuous surgery failures at the Confederate Memorial Hospital our family dentist Dr Malcolm Kaffie had a local Plastic Surgeon ( Dr. Lewell C Butler ) come to examine me. I remember that day explicitly when he lifted me up on the bed & after examining me said “ They have absolutely ruined this little boy” he left after that shaking his head in disgust.
Some time later I was admitted to the Louisiana Crippled Children’s Program – where I would go to the private hospital & be operated on by Dr. Butler. By this time I had missed a year of school so we decided that I would enroll in the 5th grade & be operated on at the normal school breaks. Thanksgiving was wrist, Christmas was elbow & Easter the left shoulder and summer face and right arm in order to give me time to rehab all of the joints after the new skin was in place. Remember OT & PT was not really around in 1962-68 to assist me. So it was Dr Butler instructing me on what Isometric exercises were & how to use them at home to relieve the burned skin constrictions.
Side note: in the 5th & 6th grade I wanted to play baseball & the coach at the grade school I was attending encouraged me to play. Remember I was left hand dominant & it would not move so we came up with me catching with my right hand then switching the glove to the left hand & then throwing with the right hand – yes it was clumsy but I could play in the outfield without too many difficulties.
This surgery sequence went on for 5 years to give me full movement in my left/right wrist & left/right elbow.
Over the years I adapted to not being able to breathe fully ( max 78% ) and switch from left hand to right hand when the left could not operate in a particular position I needed it to.
In February 2016 I was attending the normally boring company mandatory safety meeting when they showed a short clip from Mitch Dryer where he talked about his burns & how the Phoenix Society of Burn Survivors had really help him to recover. So being an inquisitive engineer I followed the trail right to John’s book “On Fire” and his parents book “Overwhelming Odds” . As you can imagine after reading numerous stories of burn victims for the past 45 years this really hit home. Plus John’s weekly Vlogs along with the new monthly In Studio event keep me inspired.
So on Jan. 1, 2017 I retired & Jan. 4, 2017 had my first reconstructive plastic surgery to relieve the breathing restriction that I have live with the past 57 years. Then in March 24, 2017 had a 2nd reconstructive plastic surgery to relieve the left shoulder restriction to raise my elbow up only 35 deg. Presently I am working with a fantastic Occupational Therapists that is an expert in Wound Care and the application of Kinesio sport tape to reduce the normal scarring from the skin graphs. With Full movement of my left shoulder that I have not had the luxury to move since I was 9 years old.
Reading John’s account from this last weekend where he met the challenge to throw out the 1st pitch to the baseball team he most aspired to play with and be joined by his family and mother & father was very heartwarming to me.
So to met John’s challenge for today “What was your wild dream as a kid? Share it with the #LiveInspired community by writing it in the comments below. Looking forward to hearing from you!” I wanted to share my story.
I just tagged 3rd base & headed to home plate where the umpire will declare a Home Run!
Brother William, mic drop! I am so blow away. Thanks for sharing so boldly and for being an active member of the Live Inspired community… YOU, my friend, are a gift. J
Wow, I wanted to be a singer, but after reading William’s story it really seems so unimportant. You both are incredible men!