Lessons Learned

This month, Chris Waddell is doing a west-coast tour of Nametags, his education program.  He will travel from Seattle to San Diego by handcycle, collecting hero stories along the way.  Chris, a good friend from Middlebury College, started doing Nametags three years ago when he launched his foundation, One-Revolution.

Twenty-three years ago, Chris had a ski accident that left him paralyzed.  He went on to become the most decorated male paralympic skier, one of the few athletes to medal in both summer and winter games.  In 2009, he also became the first paraplegic to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was documented in the award-winning film 1-Revolution.  Through his Nametags program, Chris shares life lessons that he has learned along the journey.

The Gift of Adversity

In the program, Chris shares a quotation by Lou Holtz: “Show me a successful person and I will show you a person that has faced adversity.”  So often we our lives to be easy–free from challenge, from pain, from hard work.  The problem?  That hard work is what let’s us experience the feeling of accomplishment.  It is through challenge that we learn what we are made of–that we learn to be the best that we can be.

Throughout Nametags, Chris leads students in a chant of the mantra: “It’s not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” Everyone faces challenges, big and small, throughout their lives.  However, we can all make choices about what we do with those challenges: do we see the tragedy or do we see the opportunity?  Chris tells the story of a little girl who, when she realizes that he will never walk again, rides off on her bike as she comments, “that’s too bad.” That little girl saw the tragedy, but she didn’t see the potential gift.

The Benefit of Risk

One of Chris’ greatest challenges was climbing Mt. Killimanjaro, not just because of the technical difficulty, but because he knew that he was putting himself in a vulnerable position–risking public failure.  Why did he do it?  According to Chris, “the greatest risk that we run in life is never having risked anything at all,” because if we spend all of our time trying to fit in, trying not to be the one that stands out, we may never learn about that thing that makes us great. I love Chris’ definition of risk: being willing to feel uncomfortable.

Humans can be so fragile.  We are so worried all of the time about being accepted, that sometimes we can miss who we are.  The “safe” road is not always (or even usually) that one that leads us to happiness.  Just like facing adversity, willingness to take a risk pushes us to go beyond our comfort zone

Nobody Climbs a Mountain Alone

So often in life, we think individually.  We look to individual achievement to measure success.  When Chris climbed Mt. Killimanjaro, aiming to be the first paraplegic to summit on his own power, he learned a difficult, but critical lesson–nobody climbs a mountain alone.

We need to understand that we have multiple support structures.  We also need to learn how to access those support structures because asking for help does not come naturally.

Small Choices Count

Chris’s foundation, One Revolution, was named for one revolution of the crank on his hand cycle.  They estimated that it took 258,000 revolutions to make it to the top of Killimnajaro.  Each of those revolutions was a choice–a choice to keep on going.

Everyday, we all make numerous choices, usually starting with whether or not to get out of bed.  Each choice that we make determines who we will become.  Great athletes become great through all of their small decisions to practice each day.  It is through the small decisions that we make each day that we are able to choose the way that others see us–our “Nametags.”

The Lessons are Universal

The power of the Nametags program lies in the universal quality of the messages that Chris sends.  The presentation was designed as a template that could theoretically be given by almost anyone because the themes are so universal.

Chris is a powerful presenter.  He has great charisma and a wonderful rapport with his audience, whether is is a group of kindergardeners of a group of executives.  He has given the Nametags presentation to over 100,000 students–and I would bet that there are very few who were not impacted.

To follow Chris on his west-coast journey, visit his website at www.one-revolution.org.

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