I met a young man this past week who will inspire you and refresh your attitude on life!
While speaking on building and keeping a positive attitude at the Mississippi R.A.M. Conference at the Natchez Convention Center Thursday, I met Justin Freeman. Justin, pictured below, was honored with an award for significant accomplishment in overcoming disability. This young man is at the University of South Alabama studying engineering several years after a trip to the river changed everything in his life.
His mother Pamela took me back to June 14, 2007 when Justin talked his brother into going to swim with him and a buddy in the Escatawpa River near their Lucedale, Mississippi home. “That was very unusual for his brother to go,” said Pamela, his mother, “because he had a girlfriend and a job. But that day he went…”
Scared of the sticks on the bottom of the river, earlier that week they had dug a hole in the river where they could jump in and swim. When Justin ran off the sand bar and jumped in, he didn’t know the river had dropped. In an instant his C1 was cracked and his C5 was crushed.
“His brother and friend let him float in the water until the helicopter came,” said Pamela. “I really think God was telling them to let him float. The helicopter landed on the sand bar. They floated the boards under him and took them away. Medical experts to this day don’t understand why he has not been on a ventilator or trachea. We think letting him float was key.”
As a speaker, I find the biggest challenge people today face is staying positive because of all of the challenges at work and in life. While we may think we have it tough and all that, Justin has gone through 31 surgeries. “We call him the Six Million Dollar Man,” said Pamela, referring to the Lee Majors old television series in the 70’s. Through all that, he finished high school in strong fashion with a 26 on the ACT and earned a full academic scholarship to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he carried a 3.75 GPA. It would have been 4.0 except for all the travels to Philadelphia for surgeries. He is now at the University of South Alabama, not far from their southern Mississippi home.
Attitude has been the foundation of Justin’s recovery and forward growth. “I don’t let anything get me down,” he told me. “I have a very stubborn attitude because I am Irish and I’ve always had a comical attitude. I try to find a funny side to everything, and I think every cloud has a silver lining.”
For example, he says because of what happened he was able to be fed birthday cake on his 18th birthday by Miss America (photo below)!
One one of his many trips north to the Philadelphia (PA) Shriner’s Hospital, he was also fed birthday cake by one of the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders!
And then there is his Justin’s ability to find humor in just about anything. His Dad took him to Mardi Gras one time with some of his Dad’s friends. It was crowded with no place to sit except curb sides. These men were struggling with what to say to Justin after the accident because they felt a little uncomfortable. Finally, one of the men asked what would he be doing now if he hadn’t had the accident. “I’d probably be looking for a place to sit right now,” said Justin.
He has used his dry sense of humor in the darkest times. Right after the accident in the operating room an ER person told him he would never walk again. “That’s alright,” said Justin. “I didn’t much like that anyway….”
In the hospital one time a kid asked him how he ended up in a wheelchair. Without missing a beat, Justin answered dead serious, “because I didn’t eat my vegetables as a kid.”
The kid walked off with the strangest expression.
“After that we told Justin he had to watch it with his sense of humor,” said Pamela. “That young boy is probably at home right now eating nothing but veggies!”
Justin has built and kept a positive attitude from day one of the accident and the many hospital rehabilitation visits.
“I’ve seen people at rehab that were adamant the hospital fix them,” said Justin. “It’s rehabilitation. Some of it can’t be fixed. You have to learn it yourself. Attitude is pretty much everything.”
“Justin has never once complained about anything,” said Pamela. “He has been about finding a way. They transferred his biceps muscles to his triceps so he can now lift his hands above his head. He can write now. A high school teacher saw him a year after he did have to have special help and couldn’t get over how much progress he had made!”
Even though you would think Justin would need the encouragement, he is often the one lifting up others.
“There was a time after one of the surgeries where he had both arms in casts all the way up to his shoulders,” said Pamela. “He finally learned to where he could text with his teeth which made him look like a chicken pecking. Well, his brother called all down because his girlfriend had broken up. Justin was on the phone thirty minutes encouraging his brother.”
“In rehab he sings to the elderly,” she added. “The kids and everyone move towards him because of his attitude. He had this one little girl attach her chair to his and they went all over the hospital getting into trouble!”
Turning serious, Justin said this is what he wanted to emphasize:
“Just because your life may have changed, it doesn’t mean what you do are where you are going has to change.”
Justin was honored after I delivered the closing keynote at the Rehabilitation Association of Mississippi annual conference last week. These fine folks work hard to equip people with disabilities the skills to be employed. They brought me in to speak on the power of the positive attitude and how it impacts everything. With such an attitude, Justin Freeman is an inspiration to us all!
— Charlie Adams is the author of 4 books on positive attitude and peak performance, including 2013′s “How to Build a Positive Attitude and KEEP the Darn Thing!!” and “Stoke the Fire Within.” His books and motivational keynotes and seminars are designed to make sure events reach their objectives and to help create winning cultures. Email him at:Charlie@stokethefirewithin.com.