Running has always been a solitary activity for me.

Provided I’m not being chased, of course.

It’s also never come very easily to me; distance running, at least. I was a sprinter in high school, but if you ever got me over 200 meters, I was toast. In fact, the summer between my 8th and 9th grade years I went to the informational meeting about running cross country and then I tried to run home to see what it was like.

It did not go well.

I did not join the cross country team.

So, when I took up running in my early thirties, it was kind of a big deal. I documented my training for my first 5k and my first 10k. Every time I went out and every time I ran a race, it was an event. Which is totally great, but the last couple of races I’ve run I’ve had one thought going through my mind:

This is all about me.

I love the sense of accomplishment. I love getting the medal at the end of the race. I love the free beer (I think this might be a Wisconsin thing). I love making the perfect playlist and getting lost in the run. And none of these are inherently bad, don’t get me wrong. But, I felt like something was missing.

The reason I’ve felt like this the last couple races is because before each of them, I ran into an amazing group of people. They’re called myTEAM TRIUMPH.

Love @myteamtriumphwi! Can’t wait to volunteer!

A video posted by Ryan Haack (@livingonehanded) on

You’ll notice that I posted this last May and I’m happy to announce that I’m going to volunteer this year! myTEAM TRIUMPH’s mission is “to enrich the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities by fostering lasting, authentic relationships through the teamwork environment of endurance athletics.” Basically what will happen is that I will be teamed-up with at least two of my good friends (Geoff and Jake) and we will be the “Angels” for our Captain as we run a 10k in beautiful downtown Madison, WI at the end of May. The Captain has a disability that prevents them from completing the race on their own, which is where we come in.

I’m really excited about this for a number of reasons, one of which is that I hope there’s some confusion about whether I’m a Captain or an Angel. “Well…uh…he’s missing part of his arm, but…he seems to be able to run fine, so…” But, jokes aside, I’m incredibly excited to run this race for someone else. And with my friends. Obviously I anticipate that it will be a life-changing experience for me personally, but the purpose of the event is to help someone else. That’s incredibly motivating to me.

And, in an effort to surprise absolutely nobody, I can confirm that I start to…um…get emotional every time I watch a video about myTEAM TRIUMPH. I was showing this one to my wife the other night and suddenly she was like, “Dude, are you crying?! Seriously, you weren’t lying!” Nope. I was not.

And this is where you come in.

The bare minimum we need to fundraise to participate is $100.

I would love to obliterate that number.

For more information and to donate, please go to My Fundraising Page!

I’ll be updating that page as we begin to train and go through the myTEAM TRIUMPH experience together.

As always, thank you all so much for your support.

You’re the best. :)

I love a good bag.

It has to look cool, but even more importantly, it has to be functional and easy to use with one hand.

The Daylight Briefcase by Tom Bihn fits the bill in spades.

I’ll let the video tell the rest of the story.

Like I say in the video, I was initially surprised by how small it is, but as long as you have realistic expectations it’s perfect. In fact, I’ve found that it has helped me to really think about what I’m taking with me when I go out and kept me from just throwing the whole world in my bag. Feels good to travel light!

If you’re looking for a compact, lightweight, durable, beautiful everyday bag, I highly recommend you checkout the Daylight Briefcase.

20151209_200340-1 20151209_200358-1

Thanks to Darcy and the awesome team at TomBihn.com for providing the gear to review. Opinions are my own, of course.

My mother-in-law had shoulder surgery recently.

“Can I borrow one of your KNORKs?” she asked me afterwards.

Of course I said yes.

If you’re unfamiliar, KNORK makes amazing, high-quality silverware. You can read and see more specifics about their utensils here, but this guy is the piece that those of us with one hand (or the use of one hand) gravitate toward:

knork

Basically, the head of the fork is forged in such a way that it works like a knife, allowing you to cut and eat your food using only one utensil and one hand. Here’s a real life example from when we got our first KNORKs years ago:

That video is from 2013 and we’ve literally been using our KNORK flatware every day since. We still absolutely love it!

In fact, it’s on my Holiday Gift Guide, but you know who else loves it this year? Oprah. Oprah loves it and has placed it on her list of Favorite Things for 2015! So cool!

And now we get to the part I love.

This year’s giveaway is, in my opinion, THE BEST YET!

Sarah and the amazing folks at KNORK are graciously providing amazing prize packages for TWO lucky winners! So, what will you get if you win? You will get one 20-piece set (valued at $80) AND a set of their new steak knives (valued at $50)!

knork set knork steak

You have TONS of chances to win, too. Just use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter and share like a maniac for more chances to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You have ONE week to rack up as many entries as you can! Go nuts and good luck!

I went to see my counselor the other day.

I had been struggling with the fact that the one year anniversary of my dad’s death was coming up and I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly…whatever that means. Should I go to the cemetery at sunrise? Or dusk? Should we hold some sort of vigil or remembrance service? Should I cry? How much is too much? Or should I laugh and smile, remembering the good times? What should that balance look like? Should I talk about it with the kids? Should I treat it like any other day? I don’t want to ruin the day by overthinking what I’m going to do or how I’m going to feel!

This is why I went to see my counselor.

He basically reiterated what my friend Cabell told me, which was, “Just do whatever you want, even if it’s nothing.” There’s no “right way,” which is difficult for someone like me who always needs to know exactly how to do something. Like, when the LEGO blocks come out, I’m the one asking for the instruction booklet. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.

This groundwork in place, he asked me, “As it relates to the memory of your father, what would bring you joy?” I just sat there for a bit, trying to wrap my mind around the question. “Can you give me an example?” I asked. I really did. Eventually I said that I’d like to be able to remember times we had together that made me laugh and the times my kids had with him. Then I started saying how it’s hard to divorce the fact that he was such a great dad and grandfather, “but he killed himself” and my counselor stopped me and said, “Not but, and.” I asked him to explain.

“When you say but, you essentially negate everything before it, which I know is not your intention. What you mean to say is, ‘He was a great man and he killed himself.’ Both are true and one doesn’t negate the other,” he said.

Words are incredible. Exchange three letters for three others and suddenly the whole message is different.

Knowing my love for words, he then made this suggestion: “I’d like for you to write a poem for your dad.”

And I broke.

Well, I swore and then I broke.

“Perhaps this is something you could do every year. Maybe it becomes a tradition. Or maybe not. It’s up to you,” he said.

It’s a brilliant idea. I love poetry. In fact, years ago I won a contest to study poetry with Sage Cohen and it was amazing. So, I left my counselor’s office and I began to think about what I’d write. I searched for memories I had with my dad that made me happy. I started writing them down and, well, there were many. “This is going to be a long poem,” I thought. Instead of getting overwhelmed, though, I started with just one memory. I’m sure I’ll write the other ones and maybe they’ll become a collection or something, but for now, I just want to share this one.

It Was Magic

You had me fooled for years

in that old car.

“Just snap your fingers,” you said,

then you snapped and smiled,

and on came the high beams.

You were a magician!

Snap.

On.

Snap.

Off.

You told me to try, so I did

and just like you said they would,

the high beams turned on and off

when I snapped my

little fingers.

I was a magician, too!

Not until years later did you

reveal your secret.

That button on the floor you

pressed with your foot each time

either of us snapped was what

really turned them on and off.

“But, dad,” I argued,

“They even turned on when I

snapped quietly, just to test it!”

And I know you said you

heard me even then,

but part of me

still thinks

it was

magic.

 

So, today, on the one year anniversary of your death, dad, I remember you. I remember the times in that car when you made me feel like magic was real. I remember that you loved making me smile and laugh and I know I inherited the desire to do the same for others from you. Thank you. I miss you every day and I’m continuing to learn how to live my life without you here. Sometimes I get angry and oftentimes I’m sad, but I’ll never stop loving you. Julie misses you and the kids miss their Papa terribly, but we’ll do our best to remember the things that make us smile. I know you’d want us to do that.

Love you, dad

Red Huffy and High Socks.

**Offer extended TODAY ONLY (November 28th) in honor of Small Business Saturday!**

The holidays are approaching quickly, which means one thing: YOU GOTTA START BUYING GIFTS NOW!

That, or you’ve been reading posts that make you feel bad about the commercialization of the holidays and have vowed to celebrate the true meaning of the holidays.

But still…presents.

Seriously, though, one popular guideline for gift-requesting-and-giving that I really like is this poem:

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

Simple, yet robust.

And to help you with the “something to read” portion, I would like to offer you this LIMITED TIME OFFER! I’m told when you capitalize things and use exclamation points it makes it look super important.

From now until November 19th – ONE WEEK ONLY! – you can get an AUTOGRAPHED, PERSONALIZED (“For Jimmy! You’re awesome!”) copy of Different Is Awesome! AND a STICKER and BOOKMARK (which are not currently available anywhere else) for only $25! Shipping included (US only)!

Book, Sticker and Bookmark!

Book, Sticker and Bookmark!

I’ll be taking orders until the 19th, so if you’re interested shoot me an email at ryan@livingonehanded.com with the following information:

Your name and address, how you want your book(s) personalized and whether you’d rather send a check or be invoiced via PayPal.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!

Act now by entering the Rafflecopter thingy below and you also have a chance to win one package for FREE! The more you share it, the better your chances of winning, which is basically all kinds of awesome.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So, on a serious note, I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response to the book over the last several months and really hope this is a special way to keep the message spreading. If you’re not into the holiday package thing, you can totally still get the book through all the regular channels here.

Thanks for being so awesome!

Ryan

Eric Edholm’s recent blurb about Jason Pierre-Paul’s new football glove is just another example of why we need to keep having conversations about how words have power.

If you’re not a sports fan, Pierre-Paul is a defensive player for the New York Giants and over the summer he had an unfortunate accident with some fireworks resulting in the loss of his right index finger and damage to his thumb and the other fingers. Nobody was sure if he would recover well enough to even be able to play again, but the Giants recently cleared him to play and he will be wearing this modified glove on Sunday.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not personally offended by Edholm’s take. I can appreciate his use of the word “handiwork” and imagine he rightly smirked while writing it. He can say whatever he wants (and clearly has), but he’s also subject to critique and in this case, I think it’s warranted.

Edholm tells us how “creepy-looking” the glove is and that he’d buy one “for it’s sheer weirdness.” He says he can’t stop staring at it. “And if he needs this strange-looking glove to thrive, well then so be it,” he says, dismissively. He also refers to another player who was missing digits and wore a glove “on his good hand.”

Edholm clearly has no qualms with what he wrote, basically calling anybody who has a problem with it an idiot.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 7.10.44 PM

And this is exactly the problem, as I see it.

I know countless people, including many friends, who use modified equipment because of how their body is shaped. Many of them were born that way. Others lost parts of their bodies in accidents or war. Do they look different? Than most people, absolutely. And as we all know, Different Is Awesome! So, would I ever describe them or the tools they use in their lives as creepy or strange-looking? Would I make jokes at their expense? Nope and nope.

The fact that Edholm finds this acceptable and is himself annoyed and offended that anyone would take umbrage with the words he used is precisely why we need to continue having conversations about how to treat others that are different than us with respect. It’s not about being “offended by everything.”. It’s about teaching people that the way we talk about others can and should be done respectfully.

And yes, Pierre-Paul did it to himself. But really, do you think he was trying to blow his fingers off? It was an accident. And as stupid as anyone might think it was for a millionaire athlete to be setting off fireworks, that doesn’t mean he deserves ridicule and disrespect. It doesn’t mean he automatically becomes fair game to be the butt of bad jokes. “But Ryan, he’s a strong, grown man. A football player, no less! He can take it,” you might be saying. I don’t think it’s our place to make that judgement. In fact, I have to think he felt more embarrassment and fear of this new life he has now to lead than any of us may ever have to face.

My point here is not to shame Edholm. It’s to try and illuminate the truth that our word choices matter, even if we think they aren’t a big deal. I’ve heard from enough parents of limb-different kids to know that other kids at school or on the playground use these exact words – creepy, weird, strange – to describe their sons and daughters.

As adults, we need to set a better example.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we need to think more carefully about the words we use? Or do you think we need to have thicker skin?

A year ago today I saw my dad alive for the last time.

I knew this day was coming and I’ve done my best to prepare, but I’m honestly still not sure how the day’s going to to go.

As with any loss, but especially suicide, there are things I wish I could have done differently a year ago. Like, I wish I would have visited again before he took his life a couple weeks later. Things I wish I would have noticed. Like how he chose to stay behind and make the pizzas instead of going door-to-door with the kids. But, I fully realize that wishing I could have done things differently doesn’t change how they actually went and it doesn’t help. I also know it’s natural to feel these things, though.

The truth is, everything that happened that Halloween day in 2014 was totally normal. We went over to Papa and Donna’s, the kids went door-to-door with Julie and Donna, Dad and I stayed back to make pizzas and handout candy, we took pictures and then we went home. Pretty much exactly the same as we’d done the past ten years.

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

For a while I was actually kind of mad about the fact that the last time my dad saw my kids, Claire was dressed like a hotdog and Sam was wearing a friggin’ green morph suit. Over time, though, I’ve come to think it’s pretty funny. That’s who they are. And I remember my dad thinking it was so funny. I also remember handing out candy while he was in the dining room and knowing the mom of the very first kid that came to the door. “You knew her??” he asked me. “Yeah, we used to work together,” I answered. “Of course you did,” he said with a chuckle.

It was a running joke with my dad and I, ever since I was little. Wherever we went, I knew somebody or they knew me. He’d give me grief about it and shake his head, but the irony is that he was the same way! My dad knew everybody and everybody knew him. So, really, it was an inherited trait. One I’m grateful for.

So, today we’re going to celebrate Halloween like we always have. The kids will dress up and we’ll go over to Donna’s and trick-or-treat in their neighborhood and eat pumpkin-shaped pizza and handout candy to other kids. It might be hard. We might cry. But we can also talk about the happy memories we have about all the Halloweens we got to spend with Papa, too.

And there will be plenty of candy, I’m sure.

We love you, dad, and we miss you so much.

And I’ll think of you smiling every time I run into somebody I know today.

Happy Halloween.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

First of all, let’s just get this out of the way:

Yes, I got a tattoo on my one wrist.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 8.50.50 AM

 

I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous about it. I mean, you don’t plan on things going wrong, but…what if? It crossed my mind. Thankfully my son lightened the mood before I left the house to get it by asking very innocently, “Which wrist are you gonna get it on, dad? (pause) Oh, wait…nevermind.” His sheepish grin afterward made me laugh and relax.

My friend Alex tattooed me at Steve’s here in Madison and he did an amazing job. It was my first, so it was cool to have a friend do it; someone who understood the significance of it. He told me he’d take it easy on me and for the most part the experience went off without a hitch. I determined beforehand not to look until he was finished, but a little ways in I couldn’t resist a peek. It was my only mistake. I looked over, hopeful it was nearing completion, and it…well…wasn’t.

I didn’t look again until he was finished.

My daughter asked if I cried and I told her, “Not from my eyes.” I did sweat. A lot. But I made it through without any breaks and with only two deep breaths to refocus. If you’ve never gotten a tattoo, the sensation is hard to explain. It’s painful, for sure, but there’s something that feels almost sacred when it’s happening. Well, that and like a cat clawing at a sunburn. With broken, jagged claws. It’s beautiful.

So, why did I get a tattoo and why did I get this tattoo?

This goes back a ways. There were many times in my life that I wanted something that I could have gotten and just didn’t. I always wanted some Chuck Taylors in elementary school and just never did. I wanted to get my ear pierced for a long time and never did. I’ve wanted a tattoo for a long time…so this time, I did.

And this tattoo is for me. Even though I’m sure it will connect with many, many people and it will start amazing and intense conversations, ultimately, I put it in a place on my body where I can hold it up and look at it and read it myself. For me.

In November of 2014 I lost my dad to suicide. It’s still hard to fathom. So, my tattoo incorporates two very meaningful elements for me. If you’ve not heard of Project Semicolon, the idea behind it is that a semicolon represents the opportunity the author had to end the sentence with a period, but they chose to continue on instead. The idea is that we all have that choice with the story of our lives. Will we end it or will we continue on? So, the semicolon is to honor my dad by bringing awareness to the tragedy of suicide and to encourage those also struggling. A kind of we-re-all-in-this-together thing.

The other element is the phrase “Be Not Afraid.” Not a specific Bible verse, but the concept is pervasive throughout scripture, for sure. I struggle with fear and anxiety quite a bit. I’ve gotten better than I used to be, thanks to an amazing therapist and fantastic friends, but it’s still something that gets in my way. It can be paralyzing. And I don’t like it.

So, the theory is, when I’m feeling afraid, hopeless, down…I can look at my wrist and be encouraged.

Be not afraid, Ryan. Keep going.

Here’s what’s kind of funny about this. My dad grew-up the son of a WWII hero turned small town cop. I remember him telling me in no uncertain terms that if I grew my hair out or got an earring…it would be a problem. So, I didn’t. I didn’t resent him for it or anything and we had our moments, like when I dyed my hair purple, but it was never that big of a deal. Flash forward a good number of years and I’m visiting my dad as an adult when I notice something on his shoulder. It was a big ol’ cross! “Dad, when did you get a tattoo??” I asked incredulously. “Had a dream about it,” he told me. “You had a dream about it?” I said. “Yep. Had a dream about it, so I went in and picked it out and had ’em put it on me,” he said.

And that’s really all I remember about how my dad’s tattoo came to be.

I have some more ideas for myself and I’m looking forward to having them done.

One incorporates a cross on my shoulder.

Do you have a tattoo? Or tattoos? What was your experience like? Why did you get yours and what do they mean?

The other day my son and I were getting groceries and as we walked toward the orange juice we saw a guy about my age who had an arm just like mine. Once we passed him, we looked at each other and smiled and Sam said to me, “Dad, I know what you were thinking.” “Oh, yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said and then dramatically pronounced, “I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!!!” while holding his fist in the air.

We laughed super hard because that’s not what I was thinking at all, of course, but it did get me thinking about how I really do react when I see someone else with one hand. This is basically how it goes:

  1. Nice! One hand.
  2. Was that head-nod too obnoxious?
  3. Should I go say hello?
  4. Should I give him a Living One-Handed card?
  5. Would that be weird?
  6. Crap, now he’s past me and I missed my opportunity.
  7. Should I go after him?
  8. Will that scare him?
  9. Am I about to get arrested?
  10. Can I survive in jail?

As you can see, it’s a rather stressful situation!

The truth is, I never used to notice people with one hand. I’m convinced it was because my own one-handedness was never in the forefront of my mind. But, once I started the website, I suddenly noticed all the time! I imagine it’s like when you buy a car, say a Toyota Camry, and then all you see are Toyota Camrys on the road.

Typically I don’t approach people with one hand, just as I don’t approach people just because they have brown hair or blue eyes. I’m naturally an introvert, too, so approaching strangers isn’t my strong suit anyway. That said, if the opportunity presents itself and it doesn’t seem super awkward, I might say hello and tell them about the website. And now with Different Is Awesome! being out, I can bring that up pretty easily if I happen to be around the parents of a child with one hand, or any physical difference, really.

My kids always run up to tell me whenever they see someone with one hand and it’s adorable. I love that they are aware and excited about what I do and that its removed any fear they have about someone with one hand. When we were in Ohio this year for the Helping Hands Midwest picnic, the man at the front desk of our hotel had a limb-difference and do you know how I knew that? Each of my kids went to the lobby to get breakfast at different times and each of them returned to excitedly tell me about him. As we checked out I mentioned it to him and he thought it was hilarious and we had a nice short discussion about the picnic, which he hadn’t heard of.

Ultimately, I notice people with one hand more now than I did before, but for the most part I don’t do anything but that…notice it.

And sometimes yell, “I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!!!”

If you’re an adult with a limb-difference and you see someone else like you, how do you react? If you’re a parent and you see another child who looks like yours, do you seek out the parents? Share your experience in the comments!

Yesterday Twitter blew-up over the death of former football star Tyler Sash.

I wasn’t familiar with him, but saw that he was a Big 10 kid (Iowa), so I read more. He won a Super Bowl with the Giants his rookie year in the NFL, played a few more years and has been out of the league since then. He seemed to be friends with everyone. And nobody could believe he was dead. Then I started seeing things like, “Depression is no joke.”

And that’s when I thought to myself, “Is this what they call a trigger?”

It sounds like it might have been suicide that took Tyler, though it hasn’t yet been confirmed. If it was, though, it’s horrible.

Obviously, it made me think about my dad.

This week has been interesting for me. It’s National Suicide Prevention week. I’ve advocated in years past during this week because of my uncle’s suicide thirty years ago, but this year is different. I’m struggling to know just how to hold this all in my heart and mind this week.

On Monday, for instance, I took my son to the doctor. I was looking at him while we were checking in and was caught off-guard when I heard, “Grandpa Calvin still ok for the emergency contact?” I snapped my head toward the young man, hoping Sam wasn’t paying attention, and politely said, “Actually, if you could please remove him from the account, we’ll be ok with just me and Julie for now.” Those moments are fleeting, but nonetheless difficult to work through.

AFSP_SPW_socialgraphics_150ppi6I also saw a beautiful photo a good friend of mine post of her youngest son’s hand being held by that of her father-in-law, his grandfather. Within the heart-felt caption she quoted Proverbs saying, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” and my heart sank. Was my dad not a good man? Of course he was, but in that moment, my heart was broken. My kids won’t ever hold his hand again. My brothers’ kids will never hold his hand or be held by him. I absolutely hate that. Hate it.

And here’s the thing…I was never upset with my friend for posting that. It’s beautiful! And I’m so happy for them, for real. But, it triggered something in me that I had to work through. Which is hard, but ultimately good. Thankfully I have an amazing wife who let me discuss it with her and make her late for whatever she was getting ready for.

Honestly, this post seems a little self-centered to me, but I’m still sharing it because I’m sure there are tons of people who are going to read it and be like, “Dude, this is exactly how I feel!” And we shouldn’t feel bad about it. The fact is, we lost someone to suicide and it sucks and it’s absolutely normal to struggle with how to feel.

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m all for suicide prevention. Now more than ever before. That said, this year I don’t really want to be a champion for the cause. I need to be okay with the fact that I’m still grieving.

So, if you’ve lost someone to suicide…I feel you. I’m with you. And I’m so sorry. We’ll get through this.

AFSP_SPW_socialgraphics_150ppi8If you’re thinking about suicide, please please ask for help. I know it’s hard and I know you don’t or maybe can’t think about it in the moment, but please, just tell someone. It might seem like the only way out of whatever situation you’re in. It might seem like the only way to make the pain stop. But, please hear me: IT’S NOT. It’s not the only way. You’re valuable and we need you and I’ll shout that from the rooftops until the end of time. Stay with us. We’ll help.

For everyone else, count your blessings. I’m not saying that to make you feel bad, either! Seriously, be grateful if you don’t struggle with these thoughts or haven’t been affected directly by the devastation that is suicide. Keep spreading your light and life and love to those around you.

You never know who needs it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255