Wrong First Impression

Last week as a few friends and I were on our way to a workshop in Arkansas, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant near my alma mater. Since it has only been a few months, I expected to see some friends of mine inside and I did. What I did not expect was to meet a man who had a life story that could be a New York Times bestseller. His name was LeRoy. At roughly 65 years old, age had begun to take its toll on him. His hearing and sight were beginning to fade, but his memory was as sharp as ever. He was smart. Even though he never completed a college degree, he could spit off facts and hurl you into deep discussions of physics, economics, languages, and other areas before you knew what was happening.

I had underestimated him. Because of his appearance, age, and other visual problems, subconsciously I put him into a class of people who must not be productive members of society. I could not have been more wrong.

Instead of walking in the door, he flung it open and rolled inside while seated in his wheelchair. LeRoy served our country in Vietnam as a medic, but while serving in combat, he was shot twice. He said, "I must have been the unluckiest person in the world that day. Within five minutes, I was shot by the enemy and friendly fire."

One of the bullets passed through his spinal column resulting in paralysis from the waist down, but that has not slowed him down one bit. He proudly told us about how he had planted 3,000 trees all by hand on a piece of property just a few miles outside Searcy, AR. He used his wheelchair as an all-terrain vehicle and got the job done at an impressive pace.

He never felt sorry for himself for what happened, but instead saw an opportunity to affect lives of disabled people by fighting for equal access opportunities in businesses, schools, and sporting venues to name a few. His fight encountered resistance along the way, but he was determined to succeed. He did.

As it neared time for us to leave, I told LeRoy that he had inspired me to press on no matter what happened in life. His story should serve as a prime example of how to make the best out of any situation and not to stereotype people before you get a chance to know them.

Bryan Clifton