Congrats to the MUSC Grads!

Congrats graphic

Even though it was a rainy Saturday morning this past weekend for the the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) graduation, that didn’t dampen the pomp and circumstance for the 644 graduates, their families and friends!

I was excited to watch several of my friends graduate from the six colleges within the University. I’ve been able to work with the Department of Physical Therapy Students over the years to help them understand how spinal cord injury effects the body, and how we’ve learned to adapt our lifestyle. As much as our disability community has helped them, they’ve also given back to the community.

From sponsoring the Shots With A Spin wheelchair basketball tournament to volunteering at the adaptive water ski clinics, they understand what people with disabilities experience beyond the clinical setting.

Several of the students have also volunteered with Adaptive Expeditions, the Paralympic Sports Club that provides sports including wheelchair tennis, surfing and sailing in Charleston. One of this year’s graduates, Dana Richards, is also our tennis instructor for Adaptive Expeditions.

Dana was featured in MUSC’s Catalyst newspaper for her work  in Spain and Puerto Rico. You can read Dana’s story at http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/newscenter/2018/chp-danarichards/index.html.

Alex with the Imagine Team - McKenzie, Amber and Christy

Alex with Amber, left, and McKenzie; Photo Credit: Christy

Lastly, I’d like to give a special shout out and congratulations to McKenzie Haley, who I’ve worked with at Imagine Physical Therapy. She graduated from the College of Charleston on Mother’s Day weekend (my alma mater). McKenzie would hit tennis balls with me while at therapy.

Congratulations to all of the graduates! I know you will all do well in your next chapter in life.

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Visiting the Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta

I took a few days off from work last week to tag along with my mom to Atlanta while she attended a medical conference. I took the opportunity to do some site seeing and visit with friends and family.

One of the newest attractions in Atlanta is the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Located in Pemberton Place, the museum is next to the World of Coke and Georgia Aquarium.

The main level has exhibits about the fight for equality in the modern American Civil Rights Movement. You can listen to audio messages from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and sit at a lunch counter sit-in. A temporary exhibit also features hand-written documents from Dr. King, which was curated by Morehouse College.

The Global Human Rights Movement Gallery includes activists in women’s, LGBT and disability rights. Bob Kafka is a disability rights advocate and leader of the national disability organization called ADAPT.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights is great place to learn about our nation’s history and learn how we can continue to use our voices to make a difference.

My other excursions

For the rest of my trip, I stopped by the new SunTrust Park for the Atlanta Braves. I didn’t get to go inside the stadium, but was to drive around to see all of the shops and restaurants around the park. I’m looking forward to watching a game there soon!

I visited the folks at MobilityWorks in Marietta. This is where I purchased my first van. It was great seeing Scott Creel and Vanessa Lester.

I also made a quick trip to Chattanooga to go to lunch with my friend Krystal Boyd. Krystal used to work at Mobility Supercenter in Charleston.

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International Day of People with Disabilities

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities! Let’s continue to thrive! #ThriveWorldwide @ablethrive

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Back in the cockpit

I have so much to be thankful for this year! From having kidney stones this Spring and being without my vehicle for nearly the entire summer, I’m still grateful for improved health and being able to have my independence back by driving my new Toyota Sienna!

The van has the latest version of the Electronic Mobility Controls (EMC) joystick system that operates acceleration, braking and steering. In the photo, the touch screen allows me to shift from park, reverse, neutral and drive.

Cockpit of my Toyota Sienna

Cockpit of my Toyota Sienna

The screen also has secondary functions like the turn signals, windshield wipers and horn. I use the wooden spoon to tap on the screen. Not pictured is a blue button on the driver’s door that can operate the touch screen. With all of this technology, it feels like I’m in the cockpit of a C-17!

With this newfound independence, I’ve been able to drive myself to work, go to meetings around town and hang out with friends. I’m also looking forward to driving to see my family for the holidays.

It feels great to be driving again. However, I have one frustration. Please do not park your vehicles or shopping carts on the access aisles (the hash-marked areas) next to a handicapped space. That space is needed for us to get our wheelchairs and other mobility aids in and out of our vehicles. I was blocked out of my van yesterday by a car parked on the access aisle and it made it extremely difficult to get into my van.

Access aisle next to handicapped parking space

Access aisle next to handicapped parking space

Even through the ups and downs, Im still thankful for good health, family and friends and a fun van to drive!

As the saying goes, “You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to live your life with purpose and spend it with those you love!

Wishing you an abundant and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Toyota Sienna SE

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Solar Eclipse 2017

If you were directly or indirectly in the path of yesterday’s solar eclipse, it was definitely a sight to witness. 

Charleston, SC, was in the path of totality, but it depended on which part of town you were in as to how well you could see the total eclipse.

I was only able to see the partial eclipse from my job in North Charleston. Dark rain clouds rolled in which blocked our view. However, it was still neat to see the daylight turn to night, then back again, all in a matter of minutes. It also felt good to feel the temperature dip slightly.

Even though I couldn’t see the total solar eclipse, my high school classmate, Jason Buck, snapped this amazing image.


If you missed seeing the eclipse in person this time, you’ll have to wait around until April 8, 2024 when it goes from Texas to Maine. 

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The Chucktown Redfish Roundup reeled in success for its first year

Two hundred people participated in Adaptive Expeditions’ inaugural Chucktown Redfish Roundup at Colonial Lake in Charleston, S.C. June 24. The event was the first universally-accessible saltwater fishing tournament held in the United States.

The Redfish Roundup was held at the 10-acre manmade lake that’s in downtown Charleston so that it was inclusive for everyone. The perimeter of the lake was lined with anglers with and without disabilities, families and children.

Forty tagged red drums were added to the lake in addition to the fish that are already in the lake that swim in from the Charleston Harbor. Only four tagged fish were caught and cash prizes were given to winners.

Adapted Rods and Reels

I particularly enjoyed looking at the different inventive ways people adapted their fishing rods using grips and attachments for their wheelchairs. Charlie, who has Cerebral Palsy, and his parents (pictured left below) has his fishing rod mounted to his wheelchair. Mark Riffle, from Columbia, S.C., has a device attached to his left arm to hold the fishing rod and he can reel in with his right hand.

Steve and Jessica Avinger traveled down from Conway, S.C. to participate in the tournament. Steve uses the Strong-Arm attachment on his right arm and he can reel with his left hand. The Strong-Arm can be purchased at a variety of retailers online. Take a look at the video below.

We are already planning for next year’s Chucktown Redfish Roundup and I’ll be sure to share the date here on my blog and my social media pages.

In addition to fishing, Adaptive Expeditions hosts several activities including kayaking and sailing trips, tennis clinics and hand cycling excursions in the Charleston area. For more information, visit http://www.adaptiveexpeditions.org

 

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My journey to the Toastmasters District 58 Table Topics Contest

I can’t believe I won third place at the Toastmasters District 58 Table Topics Contest! I wasn’t supposed to compete at this level, but, by a turn of events, I had the opportunity to represent my club and area in the competition in Greenville, South Carolina Friday, April 21.

Before I get to my winning moment, let’s take a look down memory lane on how I joined Toastmasters and began competing.

Toastmasters is an international public speaking organization with groups (or clubs as they are called) all over the world that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Anyone can join these clubs in their community. I’m affiliated with Toastmasters Club 8627 at my job at SPAWAR and have been with the group for about two years.

Our club meets biweekly on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Each meeting consists of giving a prepared speech on any given topic that range in length from five to seven minutes.

The second type of speech is called table topics. These speeches are to prepare someone to speak about an issue off the cuff or at any given moment. This speech only lasts about two minutes. All speeches are judged by your fellow Toastmasters who look for any grammar mistakes and if you stay within your allotted time.

Competing to Win

Members can take their skills to the next level by competing in the Area and Division speech contests.

At the Area level, I competed against two people from different clubs and won first place in table topics. I didn’t expect to win because I went up against some experienced Toastmasters. Here is a link to my speech from that contest.

As the winner at that level, I was able to advance to compete at the Division level. I was nervous when I gave my speech. I stumbled over my words and couldn’t get my thoughts together, so I came in last place. I was disappointed in my performance, but learned how to not give up under pressure.

The divisional level should have been the end of road for me since the first place winner moves on to the District level. However, the winner and runners up were not able to attend the contest held in Greenville Friday night. That left me to represent our Area!

I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity to redeem myself from the speech where I didn’t do so well. My fellow Toastmasters helped me practice techniques to do well and I watched several videos on YouTube to prepare for the big event.

I was one of seven competing at the divisional level and I’m really excited to have won third place! It all happened so quickly that I barely remember the question. I believe we had to describe a time where our perspective changed about a situation. I talked about my perspective of living with a disability and overcoming the obstacles. I encouraged the audience to not let any adversities they encounter hinder them from achieving their dreams.

Table Topics Winners: 1st place -Tyler Gear (right); 2nd place - William Ratliff (left); 3rd place - Alex Jackson (center)

Table Topics Winners: 1st place -Tyler Gear (right); 2nd place – William Ratliff (left); 3rd place – Alex Jackson (center)

My dad joined me on the trip to Greenville and I’m glad he was in the audience to support me. He reminded me to remain calm and do the best I could.

Alex and his dad.

Alex and his dad.

Even though I have spoken to many groups over the years, Toastmasters has given me even more confidence to speak and share my story!

To learn more about Toastmasters, visit http://www.toastmasters.com.

 

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