Yesterday I had several people connect me with this story:

Essentially, the Wisconsin DMV refused to give Mr. Speckman a Wisconsin driver’s license without first having to take a driving test (because he doesn’t have hands), even though he’s had a valid license from the state of California for over 40 years. I’ve seen many reactions, ranging in intensity. The most common has been, “What in the world?? How could they?? That’s discriminatory!”

That was my first thought, too.

I’m conflicted, though.

On one hand, I totally get Mr. Speckman’s frustration. He’s been driving for over 40 years (accident free!) and has a valid California license. What right do they have to make him take a driving test to prove to them that he can do it safely?

Mr. Speckman driving (credit: wbay.com)

Mr. Speckman driving (credit: wbay.com)

On the other hand (if you have one), that’s pretty much their job, right? To make sure that the people they’re licensing are capable drivers.

While there’s a lot of room for improvement here (which I’ll get into), I think there needs to be some understanding, too. I don’t envy the position of the person/people at the DMV. Driving is a rather hands-on activity and if you’ve never seen a person with one hand or no hands drive before, I can understand why you’d be extra careful. Your job is to make sure (to the extent that it’s within your control) that you’re licensing drivers who can traverse the roads of your state safely. Now, we all know that having two hands doesn’t guarantee a safe driver, but the point is, if you don’t have any hands and I don’t know you personally and have never seen you drive, I can understand the hesitancy.

In fact, ever since I turned sixteen, the back of my driver’s license has looked like this:

20150827_105217-1I’m not allowed to drive a car with a manual transmission. I’m not sure we ever even spoke about it; I think they just put the limitation on there. And I’ve honestly never cared. Could I drive a stick? Absolutely. Could I challenge the restriction? I’m sure I could. Will I? Nope.

This situation actually makes me wonder what the process is for administering a driving test as people get older? If someone’s in their 80s or 90s, do they automatically have them take the test? It seems like we don’t get as upset about that or call into question discrimination in these cases, and I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t, I’m just making an observation.

At its core, the problem here is the assumption, right? I get that that’s upsetting and, in Mr. Speckman’s case, surprising. I believe we also have to remember the practical aspect of licensing and ensuring the safety of other drivers, though.

That said…

The inconsistency and subjectivity of the process must be improved. My guess is that, while it was surprising and somewhat offensive, if the DMV folks had addressed the situation consistently and respectfully, Mr. Speckman would have understood. We (people with physical differences) aren’t entitled to special treatment, nor should we expect it. We do, however, deserve and expect respect and to be treated with dignity, just like anybody else.

If Mr. Speckman had two hands (or even one) and a valid California license, would they have administered a driving test? That assumption is perhaps where the greatest challenge lies.

Ultimately, it makes me sad that my home state looks terrible in this situation. It’s embarrassing. This could be really good, though. Without even intending to, Mr. Speckman may have sparked statewide process improvement when it comes to licensing drivers with physical differences in the state of Wisconsin. The challenge, then, is to turn this ugliness into something beautiful.

And to move, as our state motto says…Forward.

What are your thoughts about the situation? Have you ever experienced something similar? How did you react?

“I was waiting for YOU to ask me!” she told me.

I had just asked Lisa if anybody had invited her to prom yet. I was not the most savvy of young men at the time.

So, I officially asked her to be my date and she said yes and we had a wonderful time at prom together.

We ended-up dating for a short time after that, but like many high school romances it eventually ended and we both moved on.

We remained friends, but lost touch after high school for the most part.

Then, ten years ago to the day, I saw Lisa’s smiling face in the obituaries. I gasped audibly. Not because it was totally unexpected, but because it was still hard to believe. And it made me really sad.

Lisa had Cystic Fibrosis, although I never understood the complexities and seriousness of the disease when we were together. The disease took her at age 26, which is close to average for expected lifespan. Again, something I didn’t know when we were together.

I remember people said I was brave for being with her because of her condition. To be honest, I was mostly just ignorant. Maybe naive is a better word. I was with her because she was cute and fun and funny. We did normal stuff. We went to the movies, we hungout at each others’ houses, we went to the park. It never crossed my mind that she would die young.

I’ve never thought about it until now, but I wonder if people thought the same thing about her being with me? How sweet of her to be with that boy with one hand! As far as I remember, neither of us ever talked about our “conditions.” It would have been like having late night conversations about the color of our hair or our height. Which she would have hated because she was so short.

The facts that she had CF and I had one hand were far down the list of things we were concerned about.

And I love that.

We miss you, Lisa! We’re all grateful for the time we had with you and are thankful for the smiles and laughter you brought. Your strength and determination inspired everyone you knew.

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A few weeks ago I was on the news to talk about my new kids’ book, Different Is Awesome!

I had a great time with the hosts and felt like it went really well. Later in the day they put the segment up online and the title of it gave me pause:

Author Talks About Living With Disability

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a disability.

Now, if you know me at all, you know this isn’t something I get angry or belligerent about, but this time it did cause me to go, “What?” Mostly because I thought it could have been presented in a number of different, more positive ways. “Author Talks About New Kids Book” or “Author Discusses New Kids Book Encouraging Children To Embrace Differences” or “Man With One Hand Won’t Stop Making Animated Gestures To Emphasize Points”

Since I was a bit surprised by my reaction this time, I looked-up the word “disability” in the dictionary:

1. lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability; incapacity. Nope.

2. a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job. Nope.

3. anything that disables or puts one at a disadvantage. Ok, by that definition we’re all disabled.

I love words and I respect the power they hold. I also know that this community and the greater community of people affected by physical and/or mental differences thinks a lot about how we are labeled. And that’s totally appropriate. The conversation is as important as ever and we should all be involved to some degree.

In fact, someone asked me how I prefer to be referred to the other day and after thinking for a beat, I told him I wasn’t sure.

It’s something I’m still wrestling with myself.

I know that disabled isn’t it, though. Or handicapped.

Differently-abled? Diff-abled? Adequately-abled? Mostly-able-bodied? Able-bodied-ish?

The fact is, I’d rather my difference be placed somewhere far down the list of words used to describe me.

I’d guess that the vast majority of you feel the same way.

That said…

What terminology do you prefer to use when describing your (or your child’s) difference?

left handers day

Different Is Awesome! officially released one week ago today.

And what a week it’s been!

I was on the news. I was in the paper. I was on the radio.

I even got to meet Brad and Robby from Kid President!

We hate fun.

We hate fun.

And while all of these experiences were awesome, they pale in comparison to the stories I’ve already been hearing about how the book has affected the lives of children all over the world! I’ve been getting emails and texts from people on a daily basis and I wanted to share a few with you.

One of my favorites is from my friend Sarah who share this story about her son Judah: “Came SO close to crying just now. We are at Teddy’s therapy session and there are always other kiddos here with varying physical disabilities. A young girl with leg braces, about 13 years old, came over by us and was playing with Teddy. I could see Judah looking at her braces. He looked at her and said, ‘Hey, your legs are a little different than mine, that’s awesome! Different is awesome! I’m getting freckles and that’s different too!’ The girl came over and gave him a hug.”

Ryder, Judah, Will and Teddy!

Ryder, Judah, Will and Teddy!

Nate wrote, “I just wanted to send you a note to say that Seth (my son) is really enjoying your book.  He asks us to read it all the time. He re-titles it sometimes which comes out as,  ‘I want to read the missing hand book.’ We just got done reading it for nap time and he pretty much read 50% of it himself. He likes to complete the phrase, ‘Different is…. Awesome!’ He also ‘reads’ what makes each person different. I’m thinking about recording us reading it so you can see how engaged he is!”

Ben said, “Read your book last night to my kiddo. She loved it and had me read it three more times!”

I’ve actually heard that a lot, which makes me so happy. I’ve always worried a bit about how it would actually resonate with kids, and so far it sounds like it really hit the mark. Parent after parent has told me their kid requests it to be read to them multiple times in one sitting! Heck, I read it to my new friends PJ and Elliott at Starbucks and they asked me to read it again right away, too!

Elliott and PJ reading the book with me at Starbucks in Portland

Elliott and PJ reading the book with me at Starbucks in Portland

It’s been a whirlwind week. A good whirlwind, though! And I’m excited for the future of Different Is Awesome!

Please continue to share your stories with me and I’ll do my best to share them with everyone else! Feel free to post them on the Living One-Handed and Different Is Awesome! Facebook pages, too!

You all are the reason I do this and I couldn’t be more grateful to share the experience with such incredible people.

You’re awesome!

Ryan

This Sunday is Father’s Day.

It’ll be the first one without my dad.

I’m not sure how it’s going to go, to be honest. It won’t be the same without him here.

I’ve actually been thinking about him quite a bit lately. I keep seeing people who remind me of him. See, we moved into a new building where I work and they’ve been doing a lot of external renovation and now they’re onto the landscaping, so there are guys all over the place who look like my dad. You know the look.

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My dad worked outside as far back as I can remember. He worked for the city and took care of the parks and public lands. He usually wore a baseball cap and a sleeveless shirt, filthy by the end of the work day. He’d wear shorts and boots or his New Balance cross trainers. And he was always tan. You probably see guys like my dad on your way to work or on your drive home. Not afraid to get dirty. Maybe sucking on a cigarette.

He was a hard worker, my dad. He took pride in what he did, as he should have. He was good at it. “If you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right the first time,” he’d say. He abhorred the bureaucracy that came with being a city worker, but he always fought for what was right. Whether it was getting financing for the parks, or taking care of his employees, he did all he could to make sure the people he served got what they deserved. Whether it was work or family, everybody else came first. I’ve always admired that about him.

He knew his limitations, too, I think. He wasn’t highly educated, but he always knew what he was talking about. He didn’t read much and writing wasn’t his forte, but he could get the job done. I remember him showing me letters he’d written for something at work a few times, not asking for my approval, but I could tell he was looking for it. Just to make sure it was as good as he thought it was, ya know? Even though writing those letters wasn’t his strong suit, he did it anyway and he did to the best of his ability.

He did everything that way.

Whether as an employee or a boss, a son or a brother or an uncle, a mentor or a coach, a friend or a teammate, a husband or a grandfather or…

A dad.

There is no doubt in my mind that my dad gave it everything he had. He gave his best in every capacity. He wasn’t perfect. He was no saint, that’s for damn sure. But, like a good coach, he got the best out of what he had.

That’s what I’m missing about my dad today.

And one day, I hope my kids will be able to say the same about me.

You left a good legacy, dad.

Love you.

Happy Father’s Day.

dad christmas

Coach.

Coach.

Red Huffy and High Socks.

Red Huffy and High Socks.

Dad looks cool. I look like...I'm wearing sweatpants. #cubscouts

Dad looks cool. I look like…I’m wearing sweatpants. #cubscouts

Remember a few weeks ago when I ran my first 5k in like four years?

That was awesome.

And I need to do it again.

The past week has been a struggle for me, to be honest. We went on vacation last Friday through Sunday and I still haven’t really gotten back on track. I’d say my eating habits have been about 60-70% of where they should be and my exercising has been pitiful. That said, I need to remember one of my favorite mottos:

PROGRESS, not PERFECTION.

That’s the hard thing about this, right? Well, it is for me. Every “slip up” takes its toll on my psyche. I mean, I went to frickin’ McDonald’s the other day for lunch. WHAT WAS I THINKING?? I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking, “I want a frickin’ cheeseburger and some french fries.” So, that’s what I got.

After the deed was done, I had a few choices. I could hate myself and drown my sorrows in…well, ice cream or cheese curds or something. Or, I could own the bad choice, regret it, and then move forward and make a better decision. That’s what I need to do the rest of this week. Each of those little decisions add up. Eat a piece of fruit instead of a cookie. Eat some almonds instead of a bag of chips. Go for a run instead of…not going for a run. Even doing an intense 15-minute workout at home will take me closer to where I want to be.

It’s hard to remember that, though, when you’re tired and annoyed.

Which is why I’m signing up for the Evansville 4th of July Run/Walk 5k tonight.

race17243-logo.bu7Gwl

That gives me two and a half weeks to train hard and to have fun and feel good doing it. I’d love to beat the time of my last race, but I’m mostly looking forward to being there with my friends Andrew and Sarah and Carolyn. My last race was something I needed to do for myself so it was nice to do it on my own (though, now that I think about it, I got to see Carolyn and her husband Mitchell after the finish of that one, too!), but I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with my friends.

So, while things haven’t been horrible in the last week, I know I could have done better. And I will do better the rest of the week.

And now I have a race to look forward to.

Can’t wait!

What’s helps you get back on track after you slip up?

Yesterday my friend Ryan sent me this text:

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He was on the verge of unfriending me in real life because I hadn’t yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road.

Well, last night I saw it and…holy crap.

First of all, it’s a gorgeous piece of art. It’s not for everyone, for sure, but I spent most of the time in the theater thinking, “How did they do that??” A solid story, interesting characters, amazing scenery and…freaking car chases. Except that doesn’t do justice to what actually happened for two hours. I texted my brother-in-law afterwards and said, “I wish I lived near a desert so I could drive recklessly through it!”

The reason Ryan wanted me to see it so badly, though, was because of Imperator Furiosa.

Oh, Furiosa.

furiosa

We don’t know much about Furiosa, but we do know that she is strong, smart and compassionate. Her mission, unbeknownst to the evil Immortan Joe, is to transport his captive wives to freedom, which she believes will find them at The Green, the place she was born. The story follows this perilous journey, filled with carnage and careful character development.

What struck me, though, as I’m sure it did nearly every amputee who’s seen it, is exactly what my friend Ryan was hoping I’d notice:

Screenshot_2015-05-30-12-10-41-1

Furiosa’s difference was not a plot point.

In fact, they never addressed her arm throughout the entirety of the movie.

Not once.

Not once while she was driving. Or fighting. Or jumping between vehicles. Or loading weapons. Or shooting said weapons.

And they could have.

We don’t know why she has one hand. We don’t know if she was born that way or if she lost it somehow. We don’t know how her steam punk prosthetic works or where she got it, though we know she doesn’t need it to kick someone’s ass.

mad-max-fury-road-2015-002-furiosa-atop-man-ORIGINAL

All we know is that she has one hand and…it doesn’t matter.

I’ve actually read that she and George Miller actually do know the back story and, according to them, it’s amazing. So, maybe one day we’ll find out and that’ll be awesome.

But for now, I’m happy to watch a movie that incorporates characters with many differences and doesn’t use them as a device, but rather, allows the people with them to be just that…people.

More broadly, in Mad Max: Fury Road we see that difference doesn’t make a person good or bad. We see characters with differences who are evil and others who are heroes. And even others who just are. I could be off here, but I feel like that’s a rarity in the movies these days. I appreciate the efforts the filmmakers put forth to incorporate actors with differences and not make a big deal about it.

Some have complained that they cast Charlize Theron in the Furiosa role rather than an actual amputee. I understand the sentiment, but it doesn’t bother me. For one, they spent $150 million dollars on the movie, so it makes sense they’d want a well-known actress in the lead role. Second, she’s an amazing actress. My opinion is, whatever the arena, no amputee should expect or want to get the role/job/roster spot/etc. simply because they’re an amputee. While we should never be discounted because of our difference, I also think the best person for the job should get it. In this case, Theron got it and she deserves any award she gets for her performance.

Ultimately, if you can handle intense, violent action movies that feature limb-different heroines, Mad Max: Fury Road is for you.

Did you see the movie? What did you think?

Last night I ran my first 5k in over four years.

The lady in front of me was the focal point, thus the blurriness. Still like this shot.

The lady in front of me was the focal point, thus the blurriness. Still like this shot.

It felt amazing and I surpassed my own expectations! My modest goal was simply to finish (I’m actually still in the midst of my Couch-to-5k training), but I was confident I could do so in under 45 minutes. I felt good pretty much the whole race and toward the end I thought to myself, “I think I can finish this thing under 40 if I push!” So…I pushed.

As I hit the home-stretch and heard the cheering and the announcer say, “Here comes Ryan…Hock!” Then I saw the big digital clock, which showed 39:56. I yelled “CRAP!” as I sprinted to the finish line, passing it at 40:01. Spent and doubled-over, I went to stop my RunKeeper app and noticed that it said 39:52! Oh, yeah! I had forgotten that we started in waves, so I actually finished earlier than that! 39:09 officially, nearly 6 minutes better than my goal!

Running to the finish line!

Running to the finish line!

Back in February I wrote a post about trying to get healthy again and was doing ok, but got consistently disciplined at the beginning of April. In fact, since April 8th, I’m down 17 pounds.

How?

Well, the simple answer is that I’ve been eating much better, tracking what I eat every day, and working out regularly. I also received consistent encouragement from a group of online friends (shoutout to my #fitbyfirst peeps!) and IRL friends. Groundbreaking, right??

So, what made the difference this time?

I believe signing-up for this 5k played a huge role.

While I realize that ultimately I could choose to not run it and just be out $30, that’s not how it worked for me. I knew that if I wanted to run it and finish it, I’d have to eat well and train consistently.

And I did. Because running a 5k is really good for you.

First, running a 5k is doable for anybody. It’s 3.1 miles, so even if you just walked it, you could probably finish it in an hour. With a couple months of consistent training, you could run/walk it, no problem. In fact, I ran my first 5k back in 2009 and documented the whole journey here. It’s pretty hilarious.

Second, it gives you a goal to work toward. This was huge for me. It forced me to put my training sessions on the calendar and to go out and run, even when I didn’t feel like it. Each session got me closer to my goal – and continues to! And now that I have this one in the books, I’m excited to improve my time at the next race! I’m self-aware enough to know I’m not going to win the dang thing, but that’s not the point. My only competition at this point is with myself. I’m pushing myself to get a little better, a little faster every time out. I think the 5k is a perfect distance for this, especially for anybody who is working themselves back into shape.

To give some perspective, the bottom left was from December. The top left, from EASTER.

To give some perspective, the bottom left was from December. The top left, from EASTER.

Third, running a race and super fun! Seriously, you guys. Race day is a blast. Actually, for me it starts the day before with packet pick-up. Getting that new race shirt and the other goodies! Then, just like my friend Anthony, I like to have “the perfect setup.” I love setting my gear out the night before, fresh and clean. Pinning my bib to my new race shirt and setting my music playlist for the run. Getting to the race grounds is always a little adventurous and it’s a blast to be with hundreds, even thousands of people all with the same goal…get to the finish line! And have as much fun as you can while doing it! Getting to the homestretch and running down the chute toward the finish line while people cheer for you…such a rush!

Crossing that finish line, the sense of accomplishment is such a rush.

But, it’s not the end. Like I told my brother-in-law, Steven, this 5k was a solid building block.

I can’t wait for the next one.

I’d love to hear why you love running 5k races or any races for that matter! What’s your favorite story?

My wife changes the world every single day.

And she does it just by being her.

She doesn’t spend hours researching how to build a platform online or how to drive traffic to a blog. She doesn’t stand in front of crowds or record a podcast or write ebooks.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things (Um, they’re exactly what I do) and she could do any of them (really well, might I add), but my point is that you can change the world without them.

Almost every day she’s meeting with some young woman over coffee who ends-up spilling her guts, then leaves feeling like she can conquer anything because of the love and wisdom Julie has shared. She puts in countless hours of thankless, behind-the-scenes work for our church, championing our community to anyone and everyone she meets. She’s helping to shape the lives of two little munchkins three days a week as the world’s best nanny. She’s raising our kids to be compassionate, loving young people who care about others more than themselves.

None of these activities are particularly glamorous and I know the daily grind can be frustrating. “Am I really making a difference?” we ask ourselves. I know Julie has felt that way, as I’m sure most of us have.

That’s why it’s nice to hear that you’ve actually made a difference every once in a while.

A couple months ago we volunteered at the Wisconsin State cheerleading meet. It was held at Wilmot Union High School where, over a decade ago, Julie took over as head coach for the fledgling varsity cheerleading team. Julie had never cheered for even one minute in her entire life. She was a drama geek in high school. But, they needed someone and it meant a few more dollars in her paycheck and, most importantly, an opportunity to impact a group of young people she’d otherwise never have the chance to.

The first year meant a lot of long hours basically making sure the girls stayed alive. Julie did a lot of research and relied heavily on the upperclassmen to help her out with the actual cheerleading stuff. And even though she wasn’t technically skilled on how to develop those girls as cheerleaders, she loved them with her whole heart and taught them how to be incredible young women.

Over time, Julie learned more and the team got better. Julie surrounded herself with other coaches who were able to help with the technical aspects of cheer/dance and they even placed at State before we moved away in 2004. But, through it all, Julie was always just herself, loving those girls and developing relationships. Fast forward a decade and Julie and I are standing next to Mandi, one of the coaches Julie brought on to help all those years ago. Mandi coordinated the State meet at Wilmot High School. Over 50 schools competing. I just stood there and watched them as they reminisced and then Mandi turned to Julie and said, “This is because of you, you know. Look around. This was our dream! This wouldn’t be happening…I wouldn’t be here doing this…if it weren’t for you.”

Of course I started crying. Gimme a break.

We saw former cheerleaders of Julie’s at that meet who were volunteering, some providing security, and a few of them even head coaches of their own teams now! In fact, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year is now the head coach of that team. Insane.

The point is, Julie didn’t have some master plan to change the world. The world changed because she loved people. Period.

And that’s just who she is.

Just a regular wife, mom and friend…changing the world every single day.

And I’m so proud of and in love with her.

Do you ever have that feeling, that you’d be able to change the world if only…? Do you believe you can change the world just by loving those around you? Just by being you? Are there people that have changed your life just by being them? How does that inspire you to do the same?

The WHS squad, way back in the day!

The WHS squad, way back in the day!

Julie and Mandi

Julie and Mandi

Julie and Jenni, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year and is now the varsity coach!

Julie and Jenni, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year and is now the varsity coach!