A few days ago I took a picture of the sign below. It was taped on the glass of an exercise facility.
For success, attitude is as important as ability.
Everything comes back to attitude, and when it comes to positive attitude Jim Swihart has one of the best I have ever seen. Jim was among the travelers on a recent group trip I hosted. Since 2006 I have hosted a few group trips each year where I share inspiration and humor. Along the way, I meet so many inspirational people that are in the group.
As the picture below shows, it is hard for Jim to get around. He is constantly hunched over from spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, arthritis, degenerative discs, and rheumatoid arthritis. He has congestive heart failure, a pacemaker, rods in his back, and a plate in his toe. He has had both knees and hips operated on.
“My brain’s still semi functional!” he told me with a smile. Turning more serious, he looked at me and said “there are people worse off than I am, Charlie. It’s not easy. I do what I can.”
As the trip went on, I watched as the other 45 people couldn’t help but notice and be impacted by Jim’s positive attitude. One traveler took me aside and said Jim was the most positive person he had ever seen and that nothing could hold him down. Jim kept up with everyone. Grunting and snorting, he would get off the motorcoach. The driver, Bernard, would have his walker ready, and Jim was ready to roar – with a constant smile on his face.
“I see little kids in hospitals that can’t get around and some are dying,” Jim said. “People have it worse than me. I’m hunched over but I can still get up and move around. I like to keep a smile on my face. When I was in school our health teacher used to tell us it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I have always remembered that.”
Jim’s spinal condition is hereditary and wasn’t helped by his job of working at the feed mills as a young man. He lifted 100 and 50 pound bags for years to provide for his family. Just 61 now, his conditions really started kicking in 15 to 20 years ago. The pain got so bad that a few years ago he had a pain pump implanted with a constant infusion to his spine. Every few weeks a nurse comes to their house to empty and refill the pump.
Besides his physical challenges, when Jim was 16 he and his buddies were in a car when something ran across the road causing an accident. One of his friends was killed.
“I have always thought about that,” he said. “God must have had a plan for me. When my brother got to the hospital they had me lying in the hall. My brother asked why. They said I was going to die anyway. I didn’t and it was because God wasn’t through with me.”
Jim admits he was a hand full as a young man. When his Dad died at 49, his brother stepped up as a leader and helped him so much. “To me my brother has the most positive attitude I have known,” Jim said.
Jim told me we all have a purpose. He said he still wasn’t sure what his was. I told him I thought it was to inspire others with his positive attitude despite such physical challenges.
“Yeah,” he said. “That could be it. I had an ex military guy with a oxygen tank once tell me I was the most inspirational person he had been around. We are all here for a reason, Charlie. Maybe me being positive all the time is mine. I have always said you can go a couple ways with your attitude. Why be negative and always blaming things?”
Jim and his wife Terry tackle his challenges with a sense of humor. Extremely supportive, Terry can also be counted on to deliver zingers at Jim. When he took part in the men’s “Best Legs” contest on the group trip, she shouted out “don’t fall!!” as he tried to raise up from his walker to pull up his shorts to showcase his legs. when he strutted out fast on his walker. She gives him grief regularly, and even turns his physical challenges into a positive.
“He would wear shorts all year if he could get away with it,” she told me. “Even in the dead of winter. So what I do is take them all down in the basement during the cold months. He can’t get down there!”
“My wife has been such a support,” Jim said. I couldn’t do it without her. She does make jokes and maybe some people take that the wrong way but she is with me 24/7. She knows me inside and out. Using humor may be one way she deals with it.”
I asked Sandy Shoff, who has been the group tour manager on two trips that Jim and Terry have gone on, to share her observations on his approach to life:
“I have traveled with Jim to Alaska and most recently the California Coast and Wine Country Tour. It’s not just watching Jim tackle his mobility issues, it’s watching his speed, the way he picks up that walker and slams over the curb instead of using the sidewalk ramps, it’s his ongoing, sincere, positive comments about life and all he has to be thankful for as others have it so much worse that have impressed me since I first met him. This wonderful man and his lovely wife, Terry, are mentors to me and I truly know they are two of God’s chosen people who are living their lives as He would have them do.” – Sandy Shoff, group tour manager
Jim says it is about taking it one day at a time and doing what you can do. For Jim, it is inspiring others with his determination and constant positive attitude!
—Charlie Adams is a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss and is a native of Oxford. He is also 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.