“What’s going on around here?”
I heard a guy say that to his lady friend as a group of one-handed kids ran by them in the hotel last weekend.
What was going on was the annual Helping Hands winter event and it was fantastic, as usual!
This was the third year in a row that I had the opportunity to join over 400 people at the Helping Hands Foundation‘s winter outing in Massachusetts. The HHF is an organization that connects families of children with upper limb-loss and this event brings everyone together for fun, education and inspiration.
My travel to the event was as smooth as could be this year, even getting an entire row to myself on the leg from Chicago to Boston!
Once I hit Logan, I met-up with (eventually – I’m the WORST at trying to tell someone where to pick me up at an airport) the Farnhams who took me with them to the hotel. I was SO grateful for their generosity. And the conversation I had in the back seat with their daughter Tessa was delightful.
The first night was spent reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones, like Josh Kennison. Josh is a paralympic sprinter and has an incredible story to tell. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how much little kids love Josh and now that I’ve met him in person, I know why! Josh is awesome.
Saturday is when the bulk of the event happens and it’s always really good. This year Josh got to share his story (watch it here) and Nick Newell got to speak as well. Both of these young men are confident, driven and super funny. It was great to hear them and to watch the crowd in such rapt attention.
After the morning talks, I had the honor of helping give a presentation about being an advocate for limb-difference awareness/acceptance. My partners in crime, Annie and Keegan, amaze me. Two young, brilliant, well-spoken, beautiful young women who purposely put themselves in front of groups of people to share their experiences and answer questions. When I was their age, I was…well, I was definitely not doing that. It was really cool to hear our different experiences and perspectives about presenting to different groups of people.
When we were done with our presentation, we headed over to the kids’ lunch and hung out with the kiddos while eating chicken nuggets and french fries. I always enjoy being with the kids, especially watching the interact. And honestly, it still amazes me to see how they do simple things, like eat. There’s always a wide variety of limb-difference at Helping Hands, so it’s interesting to see how everyone has adapted to their situation so far.
From there we moved into the youth time, which is when kids get into groups by grade and talk about things that affect them and how they deal with them. Several of us adult amputees go with them to help facilitate and this year I was with a cool group of junior highers. It’s always a bit of a struggle, just because at that age many of them don’t necessarily want to talk anyway! We got them going by asking them to share some successes from the last year and then we talked about how we handle meeting new people. Conversation usually drifts to sports and playing instruments and driving…stuff like that. It’s a good time just to be together, sharing similar experiences.
After dinner, all the parents got together for the parents meeting. In years past, many of us adult amputees have attended to give our perspective, but this year I think I might have been the only one. The reason for that is that I’m the only one there (I think) with kids of my own. I only attended for a short time this year because I wanted them to have time “on their own” so they could share whatever they wanted and not feel like I was hovering or anything. Its an interesting experience, for sure, because – and I’m just being honest here – many, if not most, of the concerns the parents have are not at all what we as adults ever remember being concerned about. And since we grew-up as the kid with the limb-difference, we all have our own philosophies of what works; or at least what worked for us. The parent meeting, though, is not for us and we realize that. It’s for the parents to share their experiences, ask questions of each other and be there to support one another.
One of my more emotional moments came during the parents meeting, actually. Someone was talking about how they hate it when people stare at their child, like at the store, and I started telling about how my dad told me he struggled with the same thing. “Yeah, I’d see people staring at you and I’d look at them like, ‘You wanna go?!’ You didn’t care at all – you didn’t even know it was happening – but it really bothered me,” he told me once. And as I remembered him telling me that and the fact that he can’t share those experiences with me anymore, I just started to cry. I hate that he’s gone and I miss him a lot, especially when I remember conversations like that. But, I’m glad we had that one and that I could share it.
After some flight snafus and a long, sleepless night, I said my goodbyes on Sunday morning and made my way to the airport thanks to my good friend Dean. What’s funny is that, late Saturday night I still wasn’t sure how I was getting to the airport in the morning, but I had at least five people tell me they’d get me there if I needed. There’s nothing more humbling or encouraging than knowing so many good people are willing to help! After a flight and a bus ride from Chicago, I finally made it home around 5:15pm, got picked up by my friend Chris and then had an impromptu dinner date with my wife. Talk about a perfect ending to a weekend!
It was a powerful weekend for me, personally. I wasn’t going to go because I just wasn’t sure I was ready to so soon after losing my dad, and it was my son’s birthday the Wednesday before, but ultimately I’m so glad I did. I made a concerted effort this year to be with people I hadn’t met yet and to reconnect with those families who I love and care about and only see when I come to Boston. Patti, Dayna and Vennessa’s leadership also made the experience exceptional; they are shining stars every year.
I know this was kind of long and I still don’t feel like it adequately expresses how impactful this time was for me. I hope it does, though. Each of you who are reading this who attended, please know that you inspire me. Each of you. Thank you for making my time with you incredible.
Thank you for helping me to move forward.