#SoldOut Raising Funds and Awareness

I recall many years ago standing on the terraces at Hampden Park, Glasgow with 145,000 other rabid fans, waiting for the teams to come out of the tunnel to begin the annual Scotland v England ‘Home International’ football,(soccer), game. There would always be 140,000 Scots and about 5,000 English fans in attendance. As a Scot, born and bred, I was brought up, just like the majority of others who were standing around me, to ‘hate’ the English with a vengeance. It was just part of our parochial culture at that time, and probably still is today, although I have not lived in Scotland for 40 years and with the demise of Scottish football and an awareness that political correctness is now the order of the day, perhaps the ferocity of that hatred has mellowed. The two teams, now standing in the center of the field, would face the main stand, where all the dignitaries were seated, and the British national anthem would begin, God Save the Queen. This was before the Scots were allowed to sing their own anthem, a change in protocol that occurred some years later. The band, yes, a real brass or bagpipe band, would strike up the first chord and immediately there would be a wall of noise emanating from the Scottish support just booing as loud as possible at the UK anthem. It completely drowned out the band and any semblance they had in mind of being heard as a unit. We hated that anthem, supposedly, and we all gave it little or indeed no respect. Within seconds, our vocal distaste of everything that the British Monarchy stood for was demonstrated by this blasphemous howling and booing which seemed to last an eternity, but which in fact lasted only about 120 seconds, the length of the British national anthem being quite short. Once over, the game began and the fact that 140,000 Scottish football fanatics had remonstrated vocally against our forced inclusion under the monarchy we all loved, or at least some of us loved, was soon forgotten as the football took over and blood and guts was then spilled on the field of play rather than on the streets of Glasgow. It should also be noted that while the anthem was sung by the players on the field from the England team, all the Scottish team just stood in silence, some smiling, some not, but to a tee, not one of the Scottish team would sing along. It was an unwritten rule, followed religiously. Silent protests against supposed oppression, acceptable and respected throughout the world. No harm done, no one to cry foul. Until now!

When Colin Kaepernick knelt down for the Star Spangled Banner whilst playing for the San Francisco 49rs some two years ago, the whole world, at least the world that surrounded American Football and Donald Trump, went berserk, and for what reason? Well as far as I can tell, the National Anthem was never played at any sporting event before the end of the second world war. And even after that, there were sports events in the USA where the anthem remained just a figment of everyone’s imagination, laying silent as battle commenced on the field of play. So why, all of a sudden, after Kaepernick and some of his fellow Pro’s decided to protest, quite justifiably in silence to make what has turned out to be a very relevant point on an issue that has haunted this country for generations, has the President of the United States and the owners of some of the football teams where protests have been continual and well publicized, lost the plot by telling players they will be fired if they continue to ‘abuse their privilege’? There is not one reason on earth why anyone should be forced to alter their beliefs, especially those who feel threatened or abused and more especially inside a country that not only preaches pure democracy and a right to free speech to the whole planet, but a country that encourages its populous to be vocal in the form of protest when under threat of unjustifiable racism. Racism is rife in America. You can smell it in the streets, it’s a pollution that has become silent in its poisoning of its population. Racism cannot be tolerated, hatred of anyone, any race, any creed and any color has to be kicked out, but, unfortunately, and in the opinion of this author, it’s just being swept under an already filthy carpet, where, when the dust is uncovered, it becomes a mountain of trash that is becoming ever worse and unstoppable, fueled by a President and government that just turns a blind eye and looks the other way whilst telling us all, quite disingenuously that there is absolutely nothing wrong! Well, not much!

My guitar teacher Tony, remember him from the first article I wrote last week, inspired me to make the lapel pins you see in the image above. The players protesting and following in the footsteps of Kaepernick, have a right to do so. It’s not disrespectful, it’s poignant, it’s their human right, it’s peaceful and most importantly, it’s something they believe in. However, it seems if these protests carry on players will be fired or, and I say this with the utmost respect, the President will have to intervene personally, something not one of us would like to see happen.

With all of this in mind, I have this idea, not only to raise the awareness to a very great cause, but to raise money for charities associated with racism and the profound effect that racism still holds on our society. The #SOLDOUT will soon display the pins pictured above for sale, to make people aware that there is genuine suffering out there, whether it be in the murdering of Jews in Pittsburgh, or the simplicity of daily senseless traffic stops on innocent African Americans, it matters not. We have a right to protest, so by wearing this pin, our protests shall be seen, and by the money we raise, out protests shall be heard.

Keep reading this blog for more updates and check out our Instagram #soldout to get your pin.

If there are any athletes, well known or otherwise and or charities, who would like to be considered as spokes people for this idea, please get in touch. Colin Kaepernick, if you read this please know that I have tried in many different ways to contact you because I believe you should lead this movement, but to date, no response.

Thank you everyone.

Strange People I Meet.

William is Asian, Hong Kong being his place of birth, although upon the completion of our first piece of conversation, it seems he’s a bit of a Heinz 57. Born in China, moved to South America then to Europe then to Hong Kong and eventually ending up in Washington State, here in the good old US of A. William is by trade a geologist, someone who knows the lay of the land, how it’s constructed, how it was formed and really in all honesty he should know how to navigate this land he so loves. Well, he does know his stuff. After conversing for some 30 mins, even though he was over an hour late for our meeting, he proved conclusively to me that the glaciers came and created the North West of the United States, 15,000 years ago, then melted, even though they were over 3000 feet thick at that time, taking 2000 years to dissipate and retreat to the Arctic, where they now lie in wait for the guaranteed melt that is coming. He also insisted that once all our ice pack melts, our oceans will rise 267 feet, killing or making homeless, 2 to 3 billion humans. As I sat listening to this gibberish, all that concerned me was the manner in which he took his glasses off, then without notice brought all his documentation within 2 inches of his eyes and began to read silently as if praying. He was then suddenly awoken from this study only to begin spouting more useless statistics about our planet.

The reason William had shown up in the first place was to inspect a piece of land that a friend of mine was having issues with. It had willingly subsided 4 feet in the past three weeks, and William had been summoned to make sure that this unwanted hole was nothing more than an eyesore and not something that warranted more concern than a few buckets of sand, some top soil and seed to make it all better. However, the realtor who’d ordered William to appear, became concerned just about an hour earlier when William had called to say he was stuck in a field. “Stuck in a field?” she’s shouted as she’d released her grip on a cell phone that I believed was about to be thrown across my friends lawn, while rolling her eyes as if to say, “what an idiot!” Yes, he’d confirmed that he’d taken the wrong road and was now firmly entrenched in a field, some 5 miles from the correct address, unable to move his car, getting wetter and wetter by the minute in the pouring rain and pleading, yes pleading for someone to come and get him. Lisa obliged, traipsing over hills and dales to collect William and bring him to the meeting. After an hour with us, William, now suitably refreshed, decided to start calling local towing companies to see if anyone on this Island, yes Island (I forgot to mention I was on a remote Island) would come and assist. 20 calls later, without losing his sense of humor, at last, someone kindly obliged. I asked him as he was leaving, “William, you’re a geologist, how can a geologist not know that you can get stuck in mud when it’s pouring rain and there’s no gravel or road surface for the car tires to grip?” He took his glasses off slowly and looked at me. He said, with a grand smile cut across his aging features, “Alan, you should never let a geologist drive your car” “Why’s that?” I asked, “because they always get hammered and stoned!”

Lisa drove him back and three hours later he got out the field and made it back to town. William was knowledgable, though very strange. Lisa was pissed, she’d lost a whole day, and my buddy, the guy with the land subsidence issue? Well, he’s still got his hole in the garden but he now knows that glaciers were there 15,000 years ago, that the ice wall was 3000ft thick and that eventually his place on this island will be 40 feet underwater, though he’ll be long gone by then as will William!

Samantha Gets A New Chair

Samantha is 8. She has Spina Bifida. She’s had numerous surgeries, had plates inserted in her spine and yet, as you can see, she’s ready and able to participate in sports. Thanks to her new sport wheelchair, which was presented to her today, Samantha now has access to a whole new world, made possible by the generosity of those who donate to this wonderful program. It costs over $3000 for a sport wheelchair, an absolute fortune for those who have limited funds and a continual battle just to keep up with the medical bills that afflict families like Samantha’s. It’s a blessing when ever an athlete like Samantha can get into a chair custom-made for her height and weight and participate alongside those athletes to whom she aspires. Her courage is can be seen in the generosity of those more fortunate, and with this in mind I urge you to please take even the simplest of steps to assist in making the lives of others who have to spend their lives in wheelchairs, more bearable.

Just by going to http://www.smile.amazon.com, and yes, we all use Amazon at some point, nominating Far West Wheelchair Sports as your charity, every time you make a purchase, not matter how small, some of your money will go towards helping athletes like Samantha. Every penny is put to great use and no amount is too small.

You can also donate a chair, or part of a chair to a worthy candidate by contacting me through this blog or by going to http://www.fwwaa.org and donating there.

Samantha had a great day today. Please help her and her friends have an even better day tomorrow.
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A Simple Way To Help

download (1)Last night at the monthly board meeting for FWWAA, the association for Wheel Chair Athletes here in San Jose, we began discussing our ideas for events to raise money and awareness for our athletes over the next few months when suddenly out of left field, Jessica, one of the board, says “Amazon Smile sent us a check”

Curious, I asked, what’s Amazon Smile? Having already heard about it in an off the cuff remark made to me by an old friend some months ago, but not having paid much notice to it at that time.

Jessica began to explain. She told me that if you purchase items from Amazon, the regular site, all you do it go to smile.amazon.com and search for FWWAA. After you do this, each time you visit smile.amazon.com, they donate a percentage of your purchase to the FWWAA. What a deal! A simple, effective and unobtrusive way to help change lives.

I came home and signed up immediately. It was easy to do and didn’t take more than 1 minute. I then put out a request on my Facebook page for my friends to follow suit. So far over 50 people have signed up since 6 pm last night.

As I said, it’s very easy, go to smile.amazon.com, sign in with your account and then under the search bar, join up with FWWAA to help raise funds at no cost to you! And of course if you feel you would like to donate directly, please visit fwwaa.org any time. All donations, no matter how small, are always appreciated.

Thanks so much for considering this. You will be helping many athletes achieve their dreams and goals!

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Changing A Life

IMG_7310Have you have had the opportunity to change someone’s life, someone you don’t know? Perhaps we change lives every day just by giving our time, a small donation, or maybe even just a simple smile and passing glance to someone who attracts our attention. Whatever way we believe we achieve this feat, it’s always a welcome interlude in the complicated extravagant lives most of us choose to live. I watched a movie on Netflix this week called Happy. I’ve always believed that we don’t need too much to bring contentment into our own little world and that movie confirmed that we, probably all of us in the western hemisphere, live such extravagant existence’s truly for no good reason at all. We were all raised in a materialistic mode, even if it’s not that extravagant. We were all told that success is often measured by the items we collect, and in some cases those items are more than just man-made objects. The trophies collected during our time on this planet seem meaningless and insignificant in comparison to those who have collected nothing other than the affection and trust of their families and friends, measuring happiness and wealth as pure love. Our whole ideal of rat eat rat, of total accumulation, is really quite pathetic when put into the context of not being able to take anything with you when you die. It always makes me shudder when I look at those who have so much, indeed far more than they can ever need, and then at those who have nothing, or very little, and I wonder, often out loud, ‘why don’t you just stop, slow down and help?” And unfortunately this evolution of wealth v poverty has been static since time began. Survival of the fittest. You are born lucky or you’re just born. It all boils down to where your mother had sex with your father. You come out smiling and comfortable or smiling and poor. There is seemingly no in between, or perhaps there is and I am just being black and white.

Tomorrow night however, two lives will be changed, and changed for the better. Two special ladies, who, through no fault their own have been wheelchair bound since they were born, will be given a new lease on a life that I can only describe as being difficult. To spend all day, every day in a chair, unable to use your legs or any of your lower body, might seem so foreign to most of us that we just shrug it off with a ‘well it’s not me. so I don’t care” kind of attitude. It’s not something we really think about. After all we are for the most part, healthy, often ignoring the things in life that could make us feel uncomfortable. We have strict tendencies to block out thoughts that are irrelevant to the way we live, hoping that with the will of God, we won’t ever face some of the challenges those who are less fortunate have to endure on a daily basis. Perfection is something that is found only inside imagination, and none of us have been blessed with anything other than overly active imaginations. Karah and Annie, pictured above, also have imagination, only their idea of perfection is to be found in their strong will and determination. Both dream of being as normal as you and I. Both dream of lives that can never be. Both want to have success and both want to be seen as nothing but the two pretty women they are, trying hard to lead lives that are meaningful and filled with purpose. Tomorrow night another part of their dreams will be fulfilled.

Both ladies above will be presented with brand new sport wheelchairs, bought from donations made by the fundraising efforts of a softball team here in San Jose called the Bay Blizzard. 12 young 16-year-old ladies took part in a challenge softball game against wheelchair athletes from Wheels on Fire last Fall. The ladies and their coaches were so impressed by the attitude of their wheelchair adversaries, that they decided, on their own cognizance, to make the effort and raise over $4000 to buy Karah and Annie the sport chairs they thought they deserved. Karah and Annia didn’t know anything about this until yesterday and tomorrow night that the FWWAA Spaghetti feed, the largest fund-raiser of the year for that particular organization, the two ladies will receive their chairs and this my friends, will completely change their lives for the better. It’s hard enough being wheelchair bound for life, but it’s even harder for those who are to be able to play sports without the assistance of this incredible sports chair. Receiving this chair completely changes their approach to ball games such as basketball, softball, and hockey. It gives them the ability to compete, just like you or I would, on an even playing field with those who have been fortunate enough in being able to afford such a chair already. This is a HUGE deal and one that I as a spectator and excited to see happen when the presentation is complete tomorrow evening.

If you would like more information on how you too can help change a life, please go to FWWAA.org or come tomorrow to the Camden Community Center in San Jose and join us for the chance to see in person what changing a life can do for your own inner self!

Kenny

downloadI met a young man called Kenny this weekend. He’s wheelchair bound because he was born with Muscular Dystrophy. His brother has the same disease. They don’t live together, nor do they see one another very often. Kenny’s mother has her own life, and his father is nowhere to be found. Kenny though has aim in his life. He insists on being independent.

When I was asked to go and meet Kenny, he had been singled out as having a huge talent in the sport of power soccer. Power soccer is played in electric-powered chairs that are piloted or driven by some very determined and capable athletes. It’s a hugely popular and up and coming sport for those who are wheelchair bound, and not only is it played at inter league level all across the USA, it’s an Olympic sport too. Kenny, just like most of the athletes around the bay area, is living his life around his soccer dreams. He takes three busses to get to practice, which is held twice a week about 10 miles away from where he lives. He does this in his electric wheelchair, receiving assistance to get on and off each time he changes busses, a process which takes him 2 hours to complete from door to door. Once he’s finished with practice, normally late into the evening, he repeats this process, going in the opposite direction to get home. Kenny was doing the same thing to get to his job at Safeway, again, 3 bus journeys too and from work. Unfortunately for Kenny, the busses often ran late and after a year of excuses, Safeway fired him a few weeks ago because they failed to understand why public transportation should be held responsible for Kenny’s tardiness. Understandable really if you’re Mr. Safeway, incomprehensible though if you’re Kenny in a wheelchair.

Kenny lives in low-income housing, near a large outdoor shopping mall in San Jose, but to date, has failed to regain employment because the companies hiring around his home are not as open as Safeway were to employing men and women who have the range of disability that Kenny endures. Very unfortunate, when you think we live in a society that treats employment opportunity as an equal right in most cases. And so, Kenny lives on $10,000 per year, (yes, you read that correctly,10 grand a year!), which he receives in benefits from the State of CA. I have no idea how he survives, but he finds a way to make it happen, eating perhaps only once a day, or not eating at all on other days. He has no TV, no luxuries whatsoever and, as I mentioned earlier, his only passion is his power soccer. He lives it, breathes it and dreams it.

After talking with Kenny and another gentleman called John, I was informed that the game of power soccer has evolved into something of a Grand Prix race. It used to be that Kenny, along with everyone else playing this sport, could do so in the chair they used in their everyday lives. That chair costs about $25,000, (yes, again, you read that correctly!), the main expense being the motors that power the wheels and the electronics that drive the intelligence required to steer the chair. I had a hard time believing all of this when I saw how basic this chair seemed to be, but these are facts, not fiction. With the advancement of technology in both alloys and electronics, a company in Minnesota has now developed a power soccer chair that can not only out think, out maneuver and out power regular chairs, it is also safer and more efficient and an absolute MUST if you want to progress to Olympic level in this sport. The catch?? It costs $8700! A fortune for anyone, let alone a disabled athlete who has already spent 25 grand just to live a normal kind of life and would like the luxury of this soccer chair just to play a game!

Kenny and John are trying to raise funds for their organization to buy the new power chairs, which would enable players on their team to compete with teams from rest of the country who are already using these machines. With some effort, I believe they will be successful in their plight to compete and eventually John hopes that he will manage to raise enough to purchase a total of 4 chairs, which would ‘arm’ his team with the weapons they require to take a run at the national championships. I have placed a link below to the only manufacturer of these chairs in the USA. If you go to that link you’ll see just how expensive a hobby playing power soccer can be, but if you also take a moment to realize that this game is all these athletes have to try to help them live some kind of normal life, then perhaps you’ll understand just how important it is to them to make this happen. Kenny, after all, will continue to take his three busses there and back, with or without this incredible chair, because he loves the sport. But just how long will John be able to keep his team running if he’s unable to put out a team that can compete? If the team crumbles, what kind of existence will Kenny have? I dread to think. It’s already a lifestyle that sends shivers from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and I really can’t understand how he survives the way he does.

The meeting gave me a brand new appreciation of ‘living to make ends meet’, and I for one am going to try to support Kenny and his teammates as best I can in the coming months. If you think you might also be interested in helping out, please go to fwwaa.org, and donate. Every cent will help propel an athlete towards their dreams.

http://www.powersoccershop.com/strikeforcepowerwheelchairandsoccerguard.aspx

Trounced By The Pro’s

IMG_5030Well it happened. We arrived, all ready and willing to play. This was supposed to be easy, or so they thought. Wheelchairs were laid out in a single line, and our opponents from Wheels on Fire were already warming up in their gym. A crowd of about 250 gathered as a round of applause greeted a staged entry by Bay Blizzard. Smiling broadly, each and every one of them, all willing to participate in a match that could never be won. Bay Blizzard, pros and experienced softball veterans, Wheels On Fire, all softball virgins, all hyped up for an occasion that would prove epic. This match, arranged in the hope of raising awareness to a great cause, had a new set of rules, rules that had been designed for wheelchair participation, but no matter what the rules, Bay Blizzard were determined to walk into this gym with an attitude that sang, ‘we take no prisoners’. It proved to be otherwise as the story will tell.

After being given their own wheelchairs, (yes, this game was to be played on wheels) Tayne, Tot, Marie, Em, Bri, Katrine, Kayla, Lindsey, Megan, Maddie, Charlotte and Coaches, Debbie, Kristin and Dan, took to the floor like they’d never done anything else but play on three wheels. Their sport chairs glistening with sweat after just a few moments of pushing themselves up and down the gym while they warmed up for the battle which was about to commence. With each side ready and willing to begin, the opening ceremony, followed by the presentation of a new sport chair to Diana, (one of the WOF players), made way for the first of what would eventually be, 2, four inning softball matches.

IMG_5136From the get go WOF dominated, seeing BB reduced to three quick outs and an early exit onto the field. WOF proceeded to score 12 runs in their first at bat, led by Lee, Pedro and Alicia, with Diana, Liam and Sam following on shortly after. BB were indeed shell-shocked, not only by the speed of their opposing wheelchair athletes, but also by their coordination and of course ability to maneuver the bases at speed. Within minutes of WOF scoring their first run, BB knew they were in for a complete trouncing and indeed the first game ended 19 to 4 in favor of the WOF team. It was certainly time for reflection for BB and a chance to refresh their bodies, which by now were becoming accustomed to being wheelchair bound, only being able to catch the ball with one hand and having to adjust quickly any ideas they had of getting out of their chairs to catch fly balls. This was fun, though not just for the victors, but for all participants, who now had a new-found respect for the difficulties those WOF athletes encounter on a daily basis. I had warned them all many weeks ago that this would’t be easy and I had asked them to consider how it would feel if they or any of their friends were confined to a chair for the rest of their lives. Now they knew, and now they realized this was no picnic.

With refreshments over, the second game began, and BB raced into a 4 to 0 lead. I decided to try myself as second batter in the second inning, (by now BB were losing once again), and after hitting the ball on the 5th attempt I was eventually run out at 3rd base. At the top of the fourth inning BB were winning 18 to 16, a remarkable effort and one that had been enhanced by their ability to adjust to the confinement of the chairs they’s been in for the past three hours. In the end, the game was tied by the very last hit from WOF, making it a day to remember for all who participated. We had begun at 2PM and ended at 4 30PM and I believe that everyone who took part came away with the feeling that this had been a very special day.

IMG_5252From the phone calls, emails and texts I have received since Saturday, and from the smiles that were spread across everyone’s faces, athletes and parents alike, I know that this match up of two great teams raised a massive new awareness for the WOF program and just how hard it is for all these athletes to lead any kind of normal life. BB committed to work hard and to fund raise to buy a new chair for one of the future WOF athletes to use. Don Rocha, a local council member from this particular district of San Jose, attended the game and asked to be involved in any new fundraising initiatives. The parents of some of the kids who’d already received chairs through generous donations from certain benefactors, all came to give thanks in unison. All in all, WOF achieved their goal of reaching out to the local community to show just what an incredible program this is and hopefully with more donations and increased participation from some of those who came to watch, the program itself will flourish well into future years. http://www.fwwaa.org/how-you-can-help/donation-opportunities/

I have attached some links to YouTube to enable you to watch some of the games and also enclosed some pictures. If you are able to contribute towards this cause, a link is provided below. WOF participate in various sporting events all held at the Camden Community Center each Saturday, from 1 to 4 PM. Anyone is welcome to attend.

My thanks go out to Jessica, Adam and Lee for making this happen and to the Bay Blizzard softball team and it’s coaches for being willing to take part for such a great cause.

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA33B82K45YgDjUOs9TJQfg