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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.

https://twitter.com/ESPNNFL/status/662357778502172672/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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.

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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.

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 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?

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?

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

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.

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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?

April is Limb Loss Awareness month.

The Amputee Coalition started the party and it was officially recognized by the President in 2012.

I didn’t lose a limb, though.

I also don’t use a prosthetic, so I can’t “show my mettle.”

lsp_sym-logo_171214-100141

So, since it obviously doesn’t apply to me, I’m going to get angry and cry about it.

GOTCHA! HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY!

Seriously, though, it seems like every year this becomes a bit of an issue. Instead of a month to celebrate and unify, it becomes a month of defining even further our differences. I’m not down with that. Jen at Born Just Right wrote a great post about this, too, and I totally agree with one of the folks she quoted who said that despite our differences, “We all understand each other to some degree.” And that’s exactly it. Whether we’re missing fingers or toes or whole arms or legs, and whether we were born that way or lost them somehow…there are so many similarities in our experiences.

Here’s something interesting to consider: All of us who are “missing something,” are amputees by definition. Even those of us born this way. “Congenital amputation is when a person is born without a limb or limbs, or without a part of a limb or limbs.” Want to know how many years it took me to realize I’m an amputee? Over 30. I remember when I broke my short arm and the ER doctor was explaining that I needed to see the orthopedist to discuss my options and I asked, “Are they going to have to…amputate it…more?” My understanding at that time was that the only definition of amputation was that of cutting something off. The truth is, though, I’m an amputee, by definition, because I was born like this.

Now, do I ever call myself an amputee? Not really.

But I also don’t feel excluded when I see Barack Obama officially recognize Limb Loss Awareness Month just because I technically didn’t lose a limb.

And here’s why…I refuse to miss the forest for the trees.

I refuse to get lost in semantics.

Rather, I choose to engage with the heart of the matter. And that is support and encouragement and celebration.

Our community – those affected by congenital amputation, amputation, limb loss, limb difference, disability, however the heck you refer to yourself – while global and not insignificant, is too small to splinter. We need each other.

Which is why I’m going to celebrate and smile and encourage those in our community to embrace the similarities we all share. And take pride in all of the amazing and inspiring people who happen to share some physical characteristics with me that most people don’t.

Now, maybe more than ever before, our uniqueness is being noticed.

And celebrated.

And I am down with that.

Is it ok to admit that we have weaknesses?

And if we do admit that we have weaknesses, is it ok to take it a step further and embrace them?

Last year at the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR, I had a conversation with my friend Chad wherein we explored the inherent strengths that present themselves in our perceived weaknesses. Personally, I think it’s smart to acknowledge the weak areas in your life so that you can at the very least be aware of them, but also, so that you can ask for help or partner with those who are strong in those areas. That said, I’m a huge proponent of focusing the majority of your energy on making your strengths even stronger, while minimizing the “damage” of your weaknesses.

The obvious perceived weakness for me is the fact that I have one hand. I’ve never personally viewed it as a weakness, but I know others do and are inspired by my ability to succeed in life despite my weakness. That should pretty much all be in quotes, but I think you get what I’m saying. In my case, I’ve embraced my “weakness” and have turned it into a strength. Because I’ve embraced it, I’ve been afforded innumerable opportunities to help others in similar situations via speaking and this blog and videos. I’ve been able to travel and interview amazing people, including my childhood hero! It’s opened the door to a lifetime of purpose and opportunity that I would never have had if I relegated myself to viewing my difference only as a weakness and choosing not to embrace it.

So, what’s your weakness? And how can you embrace it? How can you make it a strength? You might be thinking, “Ryan, my weakness is overeating. You want me to embrace that? How is that a strength?” Great question. I have the same weakness. And I think this is where it’s fun to get creative. Making unhealthy choices isn’t a weakness I want to embrace. But, it’s a weakness I can admit and ask for help with and as I develop healthier habits I can then use my experience as a strength, right? I can help other people by sharing my story, which also happens to be fantastic motivation in my quest to develop healthier habits! This is just one example and I know there are a million of them.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying to give in to your addictions or unhealthy habits. I’m not saying to slump into your couch and mope about how weak you are. I’m saying to embrace your weaknesses so that you can become strong; so that you can use them to your advantage. So you can partner with others, honestly and vulnerably, and strengthen each other. So you can exert more control over your life and determine to live a better story than you’re telling now.

That’s what I want to do.

I’m still fleshing out this idea and would love to hear your thoughts about it. Please share them in the comments below!

It’s all about creating healthy habits.

A little over two weeks ago I wrote a post about being determined to get healthy again. The next week and a half was awesome! I ate well and tracked everything. I went to the gym several times and even restarted my Couch-to-5k program. I could feel the results and was even told my face had thinned out!

And then this last week happened. I ate things I shouldn’t have and then got frustrated when the scale showed the results of my lack of discipline. Instead of redoubling my efforts, I decided to just eat out for every lunch last week. I haven’t worked out all week. I haven’t weighed myself all week. I haven’t tracked anything I’ve eaten.

So…and pardon my French, but…what the hell happened?

51Ml+jD9l3LThanks to a confluence of “completely coincidental” circumstances, I started listening to Ben Dempsey’s Defy The Plateau podcast this week, then received an email that my Habit Journal was ready AND started reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit again yesterday. Simply put, my current habits suck. So, when I weighed myself last Monday and Tuesday and saw the numbers go up, I fell back into my already established habits and quit putting in the effort to develop the new, healthier ones. Duhigg says, “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

Those dang inflection points are usually my undoing. I’m sure you can relate.

I’ve seen this pattern in my own life now several times, where I’ll go a week or so and do really well, then “fall off the wagon” because I “screw-up” or see the number on the scale go back up. It’s great that I notice it and now I feel like I even know why it happens, but it’s time to buckle down and do the work of developing the new, healthier habits. And I know I can do it.

The benefits of developing healthier habits are exponential, also. That’s what’s so cool about it! Study after study has shown that “once willpower became strong, it touched everything” (Duhigg). Even in studies where they only focused on one habit – study habits, for instance – participants also “smoked less, drank less, watched less television, exercised more, and ate healthier, even though all those things were never mentioned in the program. Again, as their willpower muscles strengthened, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of their lives” (Duhigg).

Tomorrow morning I’m going to weigh myself to re-establish my starting point and start again. I’m going to begin my 4-week Habit Journal session and focus on my physical health. I will be prepared for the inflection points that will inevitably rise up against me and I will power through and ask friends for help when I need it.

This is a journey and I refuse to quit.

Have you ever developed new habits? How did that go for you? Share your story in the comments below!

UPDATE: For as horribly as I thought I did this last week, I ended-up only gaining .2 pounds. .2. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill!