Remembering 9/11

Do you see God, The Tower, and the Airplane?

I nudged my chin controlled wheelchair down the empty streets of New York. I had an eerie feeling as if I was in a ghost town. Papers were blowing through intersections and people moved like zombies wearing dust masks. This was my first trip to New York, and it was September 11th, 2001.

My documentary was chosen to premiere at Martin Luther King Jr. III series ‘Wisdom of Dreams’. My family and I were all flown First Class to New York. When we woke up on 9/11 we were excited to have my documentary shown in the Big Apple. We were going to spend the first part of the day as tourists and that last part of the day as celebrities from a small town. But, our day was about to change. 

Suddenly out of nowhere, I could hear screams. I watched as people ran out of the hotel at the direction of an intercom’s evacuation notice. When I looked up, I watched as the plane impacted the 2nd tower.  As a person and quadriplegic this tragic event was one of the most devastating things that I have ever witnessed. 

My heart hurt as we watched the tragedy unfold. So many lives lost. I began crying when I heard a gentlemen report that he barely made it out alive. But on his way out people were screaming for help as they sat in there wheelchairs. Many people were trapped in the building because they couldn’t physically use the stairs and leave. 

When a building is in crisis, the first thing to get shut down is the elevators. The sign reads ‘In case of fire use stairs’. I wonder if the individual who hung that sign ever attempted stairs with a wheelchair? 

As people crammed into the stairwell to save themselves, individuals in wheelchairs were left sitting. Later that day I heard an incredible story that lifted my spirits. A gentleman picked up his friend and threw him over his shoulders carrying him to safety. With the amount of Men, Woman, and Children that are physically disabled in America accessibility is important. That day, that tragedy, was yet another reminder of just how important.

The day the towers came down reignited my passion for accessibility. In 2004 the first part of that dream was complete. Camp Attitude, the first fully wheelchair accessible camp for families and children, was completed in Sweet Home, Oregon. Families and children of any age can experience a week of barrier-free life-changing experiences. The camp covers 40 acres of lush timber, is located next to Santiam river, and has accessible treehouses!

My dream did not stop there. I envisioned camps all over the United States. Incredibly, we have secured property on Maui. This beautiful piece of land overlooking the ocean sits next to a protected tropical culture reserve. Imagine watching whales migrate under beautiful sunsets bursting in color over Lanai island. It will be the first fully wheelchair accessible agricultural facility located on Maui.

I am asking you to help me with the next part of that dream. To build that fully accessible camp in Maui, Hawaii. It will be accessible to all, but those in particular with mobility impairment. Just picture a disabled child floating with fish for the first time. Feeling the saltwater and swimming. The camp will have horseback riding, agriculture, job/social skill building, gardening and more. Most fun of all; a fully accessible ramp that leads right into the ocean!

May we never forget the fond memories of loved ones who are no longer with us. May we never forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. In their honor live your life to the fullest! Pursue your dreams! Enjoy your family! Value the life you have!

I realize that there are many reasons to lose heart in life. Too many people have given up. But I know one thing for sure: we are not dead yet. As long as we are alive life is worth living. We can make a difference with God’s help and the support of those around us. Today more than any other day should be a reminder that regardless of our past, individual beliefs, or how difficult our circumstances are that together we are strong. Together we can change the world and make it a better place.

My daughter showing her New York love.

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