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


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Action-packed fun at Cooper River Bridge Run and Volvo Car Open Tennis Tournament

What an action-packed start to April for locals and tourists in the Charleston area! The 40th Cooper River Bridge Run was held Saturday, April 1 and the Volvo Car Tennis Tournament also began that weekend on Daniel Island.

The race had about 40,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair rollers. For the past twelve years, competitive wheelchair racers from around the country have competed in the Bridge Run. These athletes push themselves across the 10K route in sleek, light-weight sports racing chairs.

James Senbeta (right) and Krige Schabort nearing the finish line at the Cooper River Bridge Run. (Photo: Brad Nettles/Post and Courier)

James Senbeta (right) and Krige Schabort nearing the finish line at the Cooper River Bridge Run. (Photo: Brad Nettles/Post and Courier)

James Senbeta , of Savoy, Illinois, came in first place for the second year in a row with a time of 25:16 just ahead of Rome, Georgia resident Krige Schabort with a time of 25:17.


For the first time in several years, there was a particpant in the junior division. Fifteen-year-old Donovan McBride, of Walterloo, Illinois, finished the race with a time of 36:03. Since the Bridge Run, Donovan also competed in the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon.

Donovan McBride with Wheelchair Division Director Kim Aquino.

Donovan McBride with Wheelchair Division Director Kim Aquino.

Volvo Car Open

The Volvo Car Open is the largest women’s only tennis tournament in North America. Some notable players this year were Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniak. However, these ladies were outplayed by 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina who won the tournament.

A wheelchair tennis exhibition game also took place where players from around the state demonstrated the game for the crowd. I didn’t get to attend the match since it was rescheduled due to bad weather, but my friend, Sarah Casteel, was one of the athletes. Sarah teaches wheelchair tennis to a group of people in wheelchairs in Charleston and Greenville.

Volvo Car Open

Volvo Car Open

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Difficulties with traveling with a 200+ pound power chair

The website AbleThrive curates and delivers solutions for life with a disability. Each week, they connect people through social media to share how people participate in daily activities. This week’s theme is #ThisIsHowI travel.

People can post photos and short videos of themselves traveling by any mode of transportation. As many of you know, my mode of transportation is my Toyota Sienna rampvan that I drive with a joystick system.

My most recent trip was this past weekend as a I traveled by charter bus to Ghent, West Virginia.

Traveling by bus with a wheelchair

I joined the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and youth group of St. Matthew Baptist Church as we traveled to Winterplace Ski Resort. It’s a trip we take almost every year.


The wheelchair lift is at the back of the bus allowing a person to stay in their chair while traveling.

A few bus companies have busses equipped with wheelchair lifts allowing people with disabilities to stay in their wheelchairs while on the trip. The chair is tied down the same way as in personal vehicles.

The bus we used had a wheelchair lift; however the company knew the lift’s circuit board wasn’t working. A couple mechanics came to diagnose the problem, but the lift couldn’t be repaired. It was quite an exhausting process to crank the lift to get me and my 200+ pound chair on the bus.

Unfortunately, once we arrived in West Virginia and stopped for dinner, the hand crank broke as I was getting back on the bus. At least the lift could be lowered so that I wasn’t stranded on the platform. Since the electronic system was already broken, the hand crank is the only mechanism to stow the ramp inside the bus.

While a group of people worked on the lift, another set of folks, including myself, called around for a wheelchair accessible taxi or vehicle to get me to the hotel. We were eventually able to get the Princeton, WV Rescue Squad to come to my rescue! I was surprised they have a wheelchair-accessible rampvan! The officer was able to take me and my mom to the hotel.

In the meantime, a mechanic who happened to be at the restaurant when the lift was out of commission, was able to get the broken piece fixed. The lift was then able to be stowed and the rest of the group finally made it to the hotel.

I’m not a superstitious person, but that was definitely an eventful Friday, the 13th!!

To ensure the lift didn’t break down again, I had a few guys carry me on the bus and we stored my wheelchair in the cargo section as we went to and from the ski resort. Once we arrived, everything went smoothly. Everyone enjoyed shredding on the slopes and had a good time! I didn’t try adaptive skiing this time, but may give it a try the next time.

On our trip back Sunday, we tested the hand crank and I was able to stay in my wheelchair all the way back home.


Winterplace Ski Resort – Ghent, West Virginia

Tips for accessible travel

I’ve traveled by bus, plane and train over the years. I have to always be prepared for anything to go wrong, whether it’s my wheelchair or mode of transportation.

It’s important to make sure the bus is in working order beforehand. Make sure you let the bus company know the type of power chair. In my case, the chair cannot be folded and I need it to sit comfortably.

Be sure to locate mobility van rental companies. They may be closed after hours and on weekends, but some places have an after-hours phone line where you can talk to someone.

Check to see if there are wheelchair taxis or a Paratransit system nearby. If all else fails, call the local fire squad to see what they have available. It worked in my case!

I want to hear from you. How have you turned a travel situation around for the better? Also, post your videos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #ThisIsHowI travel.


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‘Tis the season for health and happiness

Left: Aunt Kathy with Camille; Top: with Jeremiah; Bottom: with Kamden

Left: Aunt Kathy with Camille; Top: with Jeremiah; Bottom: with Kamden

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! Christmas was fun visiting my grandmother and a host of cousins, aunts and uncles in Augusta, Georgia. Spending the holidays with family is what I value the most.

Watching my younger cousins opening their gifts is a fun experience. Their eyes light up as they rip off the wrapping paper and discover what’s inside! Seconds later, they’re ready to explore the next gift in their stack. It’s important not to take these moments for granted because it is these moments that keep us focused when times are tough and the road ahead may seem difficult.

Just a couple weeks ago, I had a minor surgery on the top of my right foot for a pressure sore  at the ankle. The tendon was exposed and caused a lot of spasms in my foot. Even before the pressure sore formed, my foot would spasm often and cause me to sweat, which is my body’s way of reacting to pain.

Before going to the doctor, I was wondering if there was a procedure that could be done to help my foot relax. Spasticity medicines, like Baclofen, weren’t helping, so I went to the same vascular surgeon who did the surgery on my left foot three years ago. Dr. Jacob Robison agreed that I may need to have the tendon removed, but he wanted to make sure there wasn’t any infection in the pressure sore. Fortunately, there was no infection and he was able to remove the tendon and close the pressure sore at the same time!

The surgery was a success and I haven’t had any spasms or severe sweating since the surgery!

Patient Advocacy

I share my medical experiences to let people know that you know your body better than anyone else. If you are having signs or symptoms that something isn’t right, be sure to let your doctors and medical professionals know. Dr. Robison is a great physician and emphasizes patient-centered care.

I have been to some medical facilities where the doctor didn’t say hello or acknowledge me before beginning to talk about my care. I’ve been around the medical community enough to know when I have or haven’t received good care. Plus, it doesn’t hurt having Dr. Mom in the house.

"Ethics Under the Knife" by Dr. Matt Koepke

“Ethics Under the Knife” by Dr. Matt Koepke

My friend, Dr. Matt Koepke, has recently written a book titled Ethics Under the Knife: Patient “Care” and Disservice in the Medical Industry. Matt is a 2016 Oral Maxillofacial Surgery graduate from MUSC and shares his experiences as a dental student. He emphasizes the importance great bedside manor for surgeons and other medical professionals.

Matt says, “I want medical professionals to understand how to act in front of patients, how to maintain professionalism in line with the Hippocratic Oath, and more importantly, how to have the courage to speak up for the defenseless patient without being intimidated by hospital hierarchy.”

Matt’s book is not only for medical professionals. I believe all patients should be aware of the type of care they’re receiving and become an integral part of the process.

Here’s to a Prosperous New Year!

Since my surgery, I’m feeling a lot better and I’m looking forward to a happy and healthy new year!

No matter what has happened this past year, you can overcome the adversities and make 2017 your best year yet!


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Accessibility at polling places on Election Day

We all know that we have the right to vote and to let our voices be heard on issues that are important. People with disabilities have the same rights as anyone else. Polling places must be accessible to everyone. Whether a person is visually impaired, deaf, or uses a wheelchair, accommodations are available to make the voting process easier.

Protection and Advocacy South Carolina and the DisAbility Voting Coalition produced videos for the 2012 election. The videos describe the many ways people with disabilities can vote. Each state has different guidelines, but the major voting options are absentee ballot by mail, absentee voting in person, curbside voting and lowered voting booths at your precinct.

Take a look at one of the videos featuring my friend Alicia Reagan. If you haven’t voted before today, make sure you cast your ballot!

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Weekend Recap: James Island Connector Run and Wheelchair Tennis

This past weekend was filled with several activities. The 18th Annual James Island Connector Run was a great success. The weather was nice and we had a great turnout of runners, walkers, cyclists and wheelchair riders.

Sarah Casteel was the only hand cyclist in the event and there were a few people with are blind who rode tandem bicycles with a sighted rider.


Sarah Casteel riding a hand cycle.

Marka Danielle walked the bridge using her Purple Legs and Adam Gorlitsky walked the course in his exoskeleton.


Marka Danielle (left) and Adam Gorlitsky (third from left) stand with City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and his wife, Sandy.

All proceeds from the race benefit students with physical disabilities through the Gavalas-Kolanko Foundation at six local colleges: College of Charleston, The Citadel, Charleston Southern University, Trident Technical College the Medical University of South Carolina and the Art Institute of Charleston.

Adaptive Expeditions Wheelchair Tennis Clinic

After the race, a group of us attended Adaptive Expeditions‘ inaugural wheelchair tennis clinic. The nonprofit organization provides recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. The session was led by avid tennis players Sarah Casteel and Jeff Kegler.

There was a mix of experience levels of the participants. A couple people didn’t need the instructional lessons, so they played a game on their own. The rest of us were newer to the sport.

Take a look at the video clips and watch us in action!

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Are you ready for the James Island Connector Run this Saturday?

jicr-poster-2016We’re counting down the days for the 18th annual Charleston James Island Connector Run! It is this Saturday, October 22 in Charleston, SC.

Proceeds from the race benefit the Gavalas Kolanko Foundation, which provides scholarships to students with disabilities. I was a recipient of the scholarship while I attended the College of Charleston. Now, I’m on the committee to award scholarships to students in the Charleston area.

To register for the James Island Connector Run, go to Online registration ends Thursday at noon. You can register in person at Canon Park in downtown Charleston Friday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. or on race day beginning at 6:00 a.m.

Look forward to seeing you at the race!

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