I was 5 years old, running, swinging, laughing and living a youthful and active life. Suddenly, I started writing with my left hand, but I am right-handed. The doctor said it was not out of the norm for kids to switch hands at that age. Then I started dragging my right leg. I was just a little boy who didn’t know anything other than to keep playing, but my parents knew better, and took me back to the doctor.
This visit to the doctor was taken much more seriously and my parents were told that I had a large brain tumor in the left side of my brain. The first surgeon wanted to do exploratory surgery, but luckily with the help of a dear friend, my parents were able to get me in to see the leading neurosurgeon at UCSF. With no CT scans at the time, a dye was used to pinpoint the tumor. It was horrible and made me sick. At the time, it seemed like the worst thing ever, until the following week when my parents took me back to the hospital and told me I’d be living there for the next few weeks.
The day of the surgery my head was shaved bald and I knew then, this was serious. I was also vain, even at the age of 5, so this was doubly devastating! I was about to go into a seven-hour brain surgery to remove the tumor, with my teddy, Smokey the Bear, to protect me! A young doctor told my parents that I probably would not survive the surgery, that there was a 95% chance I would die, and if I made it, I would be confined to a wheelchair and not be able to speak. I can’t begin to imagine the pain my mom and dad were going through during this time. When I finally woke up in the ICU, my first words were, “I’m thirsty”. My parents went bananas!
Well, I survived, but my brain would not connect. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t learn. From kindergarten through high school I saw white. I looked at a book and saw nothing. The headaches were constant and the frustration was immense. I figured out at a young age, that I better find a group of friends that would help me through school or I would not make it. I was not the average of the 5 people I spent the most time with, I was the dumbest of the 8 people I hung out with. Thank God I could run, catch and move athletically. However, I was told I could never play contact sports. The experts were wrong once again. Football was my sport and the antithesis of what everybody thought was possible. I was able to get through high school on my athleticism and the ability to bullshit with them best of of them, and got a full scholarship to play football at the University of Utah.
Against all odds, I survived brain surgery, made it through school and got a scholarship. I thought I had finally made it, until life threw another curveball and I suffered a knee injury my freshman year. That was the end of my football career, but the beginning of what would become AXIS. Not long after my knee injury, I was finally able to read a book! From there, nothing could stop me from reading and learning everything I possibly could. That drive continues to this day. I never take it for granted that I can pick up a book and learn and better myself.
Through the pain and frustration of my youth, I learned to adapt and hide my weakness, never showing the truth of my suffering. I would not change any of it because that has given me the strength and passion to survive anything, and thrive. Every hardship shapes us. The brain tumor and the career-ending knee injury were two of the most difficult, yet most important, to create the person I am today.