Making A Huge Difference

imagesAbout four years ago I broke my hip in an accident that never should have happened. They operated within hours and told me it would be impossible for me to run again and very difficult for me to walk. This news at the time they gave it to me, while I was lying half-naked on a hospital bed desperate for more morphine to dull incredible pain, came as a complete shock. My first instinct was to tell them all to “fuck off”, and by ALL I mean the doctor and nurses who were relaying this opinion, albeit prematurely. My next thoughts were the vivid reality of my disabled frame being pushed from door to door in a wheelchair for the next 50 years. That thought sparked an instantaneous inner body and mind-blowing recovery which no one, including the surgeon, could believe. During this period of my life, I’d just become involved with a charity called Far West Wheelchair Athletic Association. A friend of mine had held a tennis event at our local health/tennis club to raise money to buy a wheelchair for an underprivileged child. Not just any wheelchair, but a sports wheelchair. They came up short and I told her I would donate the balance on the understanding that I could come to see that particular chair being presented to its worthy recipient. That chance decision then opened up a whole new world that I didn’t know existed, and after following through with my promise of funds to help this child get his chair, I was invited to the presentation, which marked the beginning of a relationship with what is now one of my most favorite charitable organizations. Far West Wheelchair Athletic Association.

IMG_0322Can you imagine being confined to a wheelchair all your life or for the rest of your life? Well, Alicia is and so is Pedro and Liam, but yet they all find a way to make it work. It’s not easy, no one ever said it would be, but these kids, the three I’ve mentioned, are in particular a testament to the way FWWAA works. They are incredibly happy kids whose whole life changed when I gave them the ability to participate and enjoy sports. Before that day, they, like many other disabled children and adults, were confined to a chair that gave them mobility but without the freedom to enjoy life outside of the mundane. I showed up to present Liam with his chair and was completely blown away by how instantly gratifying it was to witness a child go from relative happiness to complete ecstasy in a matter of moments. This chair, the sports chair,  had been a dream that Liam’s family had not been able to provide, but now, with my help, he was suddenly thrust into a life that smelled a lot like normal (if normal is the right word). He could move, spin, turn, bump and glide, though not all at once, until his heart was content. He could play, basketball, football, bowling and do so much more. And, Liam wasn’t alone. There were many just like him, all encamped in the Camden Community Center, (about two miles from where I live), some who’d already been given a new lease on life because of the generosity of other donors or just because they too could afford the ‘extravagance’ of a special chair. My heart was filled with joy. For once I could see where my donation was going. I could feel it, taste it and watch it grow, every penny of it, right there, right in front of my very eyes. It was a spectacular feeling and one that I have repeated nine times in the past three years, and still to this day, every time I donate a chair, that feeling remains right up there as one of the best I can ever remember. Making a difference, yes, that’s about the best way to describe the adrenaline as it passes from my giving to their receiving.

There are only two reputable manufacturers of these sport chairs here in the USA. It takes a lot of effort just to build one chair. Measurements, body weight, projected growth, are all factors that count in this laborious process. The chairs are hand crafted and designed for each potential athlete, and every child or adult ends up driving their own custom-built machine. To set the process in motion, my friend Lee Williamson, pictured above on the right in his chair, took me through a typical day for one of these kids, explaining what I, as a potential donor could do to change their lives. When he was finished, I was a believer, and since that day, between myself, Lee and some of my friends, we have increased ownership in the sport chair population at the center by 9, with 6 more chairs promised by the middle of 2014. FWWAA also holds a camp that most of these kids attend. You can find out more about them at the link below. In the meantime, I would love you all to sit back and imagine how much good you could do and how much joy you could bring to a life that most people just ignore or feel sorry for when they pass by in the street. These kids have so much energy, so much love and so much potential. They are all athletes in their own right, and none of them, not one, takes anything in life for granted. Each time I have given a chair, that child has remembered me and thought about me every day since they received their prize possession. Alicia in particular met me only once, and when we were reunited some 12 months later, the words just popped out of her mouth, “ITS SCOTTISH ALAN!!!” she yelled, as she pushed herself over to give me a huge hug. Now, that’s what I call gratitude. They never forget, not one of them, ever!

I have become even more involved with FWWAA, and introduced a plan which they will implement shortly. One chair costs $2700 aprox. In the past, that very large amount has often been a turn off for potential donors, and so, with that in mind, I suggested a payment plan, and one that would guarantee after a year donors who subscribed would be able to go and present their very own chair to an athlete of their choice.  The reception I’ve received from this idea has been incredible. Many of my friends are now taking seriously the idea that no longer should they donate thousands of dollars to charities where their donation just ‘vanishes’ into a vast undisclosed money pit. Now, they can donate and see exactly, to the penny, where and who they are helping. It makes such good sense to help children, it makes great sense to assist those who are not only underprivileged, but also disabled. Have a think, look at the web site, come to Union Community center and look, but whatever you do, make sure you appreciate every day, just how lucky you are that you are healthy and mobile enough not to need the financial and physical assistance from someone like me to help you enjoy the very simplest of lives.

PS. Since writing this article, I decided to put out an email to all of my friends who live close enough to come and visit the center and witness first hand the good work that Lee, Jessica, Adam and the rest of the team at FWWA are doing. One of my friends in turn put out an email to all her contacts and in one week she raised enough money to build another 3 chairs. An amazing feat, and I thank her very much for all her efforts. In two weeks time, the softball team my daughter plays on, Bay Blizzard, are going to take on a wheelchair team from FWWAA in order to raise funds and awareness to this program. We hope to have TV crews and Press at this event on Sept 28th at the community center 3369 Union Ave  San Jose, CA 95124 starting at 1.30 PM. If you would like to come along and support us, we would greatly appreciate that. Again, if you can and if you are willing, please help. This is such a marvelous cause. You can also help out by posting the FWWAA link on your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin accounts or indeed, just pass on the link to this blog. Any assistance will be welcomed with an open heart.

One thought on “Making A Huge Difference

  1. FWAA is a fantastic organization doing really meaningful work with an often over-looked group. I had the honor of presenting my first sports wheelchair a couple of months ago and as someone who has run marathons, lifted weights, cycled and been very active all of my life, I was really humbled by how these kids redefine active. It doesn’t take a lot of money to really make a difference. Alan thanks for your inspiring advocacy and giving a voice (albeit a Scottish one!) to this very worthy organization.

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