Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Bully at Blue Creek Elementary School

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After hearing those three words THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!, life as I knew it was never the same. It put me directly in the path of discovering courage I never knew I had. Sometimes we are put in that position in order to move up to the next level. The opportunity to overcome adversity with this kind of courage sometimes strikes when we least expect it.

A week after Mrs. Jordan belted out those three words; I was out on the playground during lunch recess. It was a beautiful spring day. Skies were clear and the warm, gentle breeze was blowing across the landscape. I always loved the spring. It always put me in a good mood. I felt as if the warm spring breeze caressed my face, giving me the feeling that I was being taken care of.

Ten minutes into lunch recess I saw David, the class bully sauntering towards me. He walked with a cocky swagger, his lips pursed like Elvis Presley. It was typical of an undefeated bully in those days. Up to that point he had literally beaten up everyone else in the whole school, except for me. Not that I was tough or anything but he left me alone for some reason.

Today must be my turn, I thought. My body went rigid with tension. I didn't dare move. With steady eyes, I watched him approach me.

My eyes did a quick dart around – the other kids were fast forming a circle around me like a bunch of spectators at Madison Square Garden. There was just enough room for David to enter the circle.

As soon as he made his grand entrance, the circle closed up immediately. It was almost as if the other kids didn't want to let either of us to get away without first shedding some blood.

My heart quickened with each step he made towards me. I licked my lips and didn’t dare move. I had no idea what I was going to do or say.

I slowly turned my head to face the bully. He was still on his way with a sneer on his face.

Almost as if some unseen force took over, I suddenly shoved my right palm upward, like a traffic policeman.

Thrown off guard, the bully slowed to a crawl.

I licked my lips some more.

Back in those days, I wore a hearing aid box that was harnessed by a strap that wrapped around my chest. It was an albatross that shouldered the hearing box in place. There were two hearing aid cords that ran from the hearing aid box up to both ears. Although the box was underneath my shirt, its rectangular shape stuck out like a sore thumb. It looked as if I had just stepped off a spaceship.

Back to the bully. In the next instant my life was forever changed.

Dripping with sarcasm, I pointed to my chest and said, “Kid, do you see this hearing aid box? “

The bully snickered some more and cackled like the cruel witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” As he was doing that, his eyes briefly flickered. No one else noticed it but I did. It gave me a little more courage.

I raised my voice another notch and told him, “IF YOU PUNCH THIS BOX, IT'LL BLOW UP THE WHOLE SCHOOL!” My hands clapped like thunder, startling the bully.

His face turned paper white with widening eyes. He slowly took one step back and then another and then another. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the circle was once again opening up behind him.

Then he did something that forever ruined his rough and tumble image.

He ran home as fast as his legs would carry him!

I folded my arms across my chest and triumphantly watched the figure of David grow smaller and smaller. Then I looked around at the other kids – they were laughing, clapping and whooping. Others were vigorously rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

Wow! Did I really defeat the bully? I had just whipped his ass without having to lay a hand on him. Man, how was that possible?

Well, would you believe I became the most popular kid in the whole school after that? My confidence soared like never before. All of a sudden everyone wanted to be my friend.

Sometimes we find out that we have courage when we’re tested. We never want to be tested like this because when we think about it, it’s very scary but it does happen and we’re all stronger because of the adversial experience.

The story illustrates the power of how someone else can make a difference in our lives. My fifth grade teacher told me years later that she had no idea how much of an impact she made on my life in her classroom the week before the bully incident. If she hadn’t called on me and thundered THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN! The bully might have beaten me to a bloody pulp.

Who knows?

FYI, I now have a keynote speech called "That's Right Stephen!" for speaking engagements. You can read the description by going here.

Let me ask you this: Have you taken a moment to REMEMBER who made a difference in your life today? Write that person a thank you note. Drop in unexpectantly and say hello!
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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Three Words - REMEMBER who helped you along the way...

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A large woman with salt and pepper hair, and twinkling brown eyes, Mrs. Jordan, my fifth grade teacher, had a voice that boomeranged off the walls of her tiny classroom. The school was Blue Creek Elementary in Latham, New York (just outside Albany).

On one sunny afternoon, she asked the class a question. I read her lips from my front-row seat and immediately raised my hand.

I couldn’t believe it – despite my fears, I felt uncharacteristically confident because -- for once -- I was sure I had the right answer.

But, when she called on me, I was suddenly afraid. Here was an opportunity to impress the powerful teacher and show her I was worthy of her love. Maybe even impress my classmates a little.

I didn’t want to blow it. I took a deep breath and nervously answered her question.

Her explosive response startled all of us.

She enthusiastically slammed her right foot on the floor and whirled her finger a full circle until it pointed directly at me. With sparkling eyes and a wide smile she cried, “THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!”

For the first time in my young life, I felt like an instant star. My heart burst with pride as an ear-to-ear grin filled my face. I sat a little taller in my chair and puffed out my chest. My confidence soared.

It was amazing how a simple three-word phrase delivered with incredible enthusiasm had totally transformed my young life.


All it took was three words to get me to think that I would make a place for myself in this world no matter how many obstacles I had to overcome. From that day forward, my grades and speech improved dramatically. My peers suddenly looked at me with new respect and my outlook on life did a complete turnabout.

The next story "The Bully....." demonstrates the power of Mrs. Jordan's three words.

FYI, I now have a keynote speech called "That's Right Stephen!" for speaking engagements. You can see the speech description here.

Let me ask you this: Have you taken a moment to REMEMBER who helped you in your life?
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REMEMBER Who Helped You..the Flight School

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Part of overcoming adversity is REMEMBERING who helped you along the way. About two years ago I was at a speaking engagement in upper Michigan where I met another speaker named Donna Moore. The meeting planner placed the two of us at the same table close to the podium. We hit off immediately and became fast friends. I told her that we met for a reason but I didn't know why. She agreed.

Several months went by and we exchanged a ton of emails to stay in touch. I was working part-time at an airport in Michigan as a flight line specialist to fill the gaps between major speaking engagements. The company I worked for began to experience adversity of their own due to escalating fuel prices and stiff competition from the county government, also co-located at the airport. They were significantly undercutting fuel prices, causing traffic to flow to them.

One day my boss came to me and announced that he was going to have to lay off some people and I was one of them. This caused me to send out a flurry of resumes to people like Donna Moore for distribution to potential part-time employers.

You never know, I said to myself.

Little did I know what was about to transpire.

Donna decided to send a copy of my resume to friends of hers who owned and operated American Winds Flight Academy based at Akron Fulton Intl Airport in Akron, OH. Her friend, Denise Hobart is the Chief Pilot and owner of the school. Denise's husband, Mike Kolomichuk, is its president. They are the ones in the picture on the upper left corner. Don't they make a cute, irresistible couple?

When they first looked at my resume, they told Donna they were not in a position to hire me BUT somehow my dream of becoming the first deaf instrument rated pilot came up. At first Denise balked and said, "NO WAY!" She actually laughed at the idea as totally absurd. She's a veteran pilot herself and knows how difficult the instrument rating is for hearing pilots. How could a deaf pilot learn how to fly on instruments without hearing the radio?

Despite this, they invited me to come down to the flight academy and meet them in person anyway. In February 2005 I decided I would rent an airplane and fly there. I visited with them for several hours and then flew back home.

What I didn't know is that this visit got the wheels of my dream moving. Mike and Denise came away from the meeting changed people. No longer were they laughing at the prospect of creating America's first deaf instrument rated pilot. They were impressed with my enthusiasm, sense of humor, passion and sheer determination. They were convinced that it was indeed possible because I Have a passion for aviation. It made them want to be a part of a dream come true. Do you see what passion can do for you?

At first we tried to get sponsors to foot the flight training but when that failed, Mike and Denise invited me back down to tell me in person that they would foot the bill themselves. I'll never forget their parting words before I went back up to Michigan (where I lived at the time).

Mike said, "Don't worry about the money, we'll make it happen."

Denise piped up later that night and was a little more blunt: "If you want to live your dreams, get your ass down here!"

I was floored. Never before had anyone reached out to me like that. I took it as a sign that it was time to get moving so I hurriedly packed all my belongings in a 14-foot UHaul truck and moved to Akron, OH before they could change their mind.

That was October 2005. They were true to their word. Five months later on February 24, 2006 I became the World's First Deaf Instrument Rated pilot. As a result of all the hard work we put into the training, we received worldwide publicity and appeared in the print media in places like France, Ireland, Korea, Australia, Germany and London.

On the immediate left is a picture of my primary flight instructor, Jason Edwards, with his son right next to him. He also deserves credit and recognition for training me on how to be an instrument rated pilot. Jason has extraordinary communication skills coupled with patience the likes I've never seen before. He knew exactly when to praise me as well as when to give me constructive suggestions. Like I've mentioned in earlier posts, he had his hands full as my flight instructor. Not only did he have to train me how to fly by reference to the instruments (with me using the view-limiting device - see earlier post for link to a picture of one), but he also had to monitor outside traffic, communicate with air traffic controllers and write it all down on a dry erase board in a timely manner for me to read and act upon. Kudos to Jason for taking on the challenging role of a deaf pilot's instrument flight instructor! My achievement is only only a feather in American Wind's cap but also in HIS cap as well.

Today's blog entry is dedicated to Mike Kolomichuk, Denise Hobart and Jason Edwards of American Winds Flight Academy based at Akron Fulton International Airport in Akron, OH.
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Imagine you're in the clouds and then you break out....

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Imagine you're flying along in the clouds from Point A to Point B. You're in the air for a few hours, never once seeing the ground. You've been flying on instruments and now it's time to get ready for a landing. You set up the plane for final approach. If everything goes just right, the photo on your left is what it looks like when you break out of the clouds!

Neat, ain't it?

Until next time, have a great one!
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Friday, April 21, 2006

On the road for speaking engagements

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I've been on the road traveling for speaking engagements the last few days.

A couple of days ago I spoke at the Hudson Country Club where a group of businessmen and women gathered on a regular basis for purposes of networking, friendship and comradeship. They brought me in to talk about the value of overcoming adversity and were in for a real treat because they had fun. I started off the talk by asking one of the members, a retired businessman, who once did a lot of speaking as a corporate spokesperson, to follow a simple script and carry out the dual role of an air traffic controller and co-pilot/flight instructor. His job was to read off the script while I pretended to fly with the use of a view-limiting device that looked like this.

This device is worn by student pilots while training for the instrument rating. The instrument rating is a license to fly an airplane by reference to the instruments which means learning how to fly in bad weather where forward visibility is restricted. My flight instructor had his hands full because not only did he have to monitor outside air traffic but he also had to communicate with me using a dry erase board with commonly used aviation symbols and abbreviations. On top of that, he had to teach me how to properly scan and interpret the instruments in order to keep the plane right side up. No easy task!

The playacting exercise was a hoot. Everybody in the audience got to see what it was like to learn how to fly by reference to the instruments. The purpose of the exercise was to not only get the audience involved but also demonstrate the degree of difficulty in teaching someone (whether deaf or not), how to fly by reference to the instruments.

After the exercise, I went on to describe how the HEAR principle helps people face adversity and overcome obstacles. I explained that by Having a passion, Entertaining the possibilities, Acting on your intuition and Remembering those who helped us along the way is how we can face adversity in the face and laugh all the way to the bank.

I was given 30 minutes to give the presentation and a good time was had by all.

A few days later I did the same thing for students at Northern Ohio University, a 3 hour drive from here. What was interesting was that I used the same playacting exercise along with similiar humorous and serious stories to get the HEAR principle across. Both types of audiences (businessmen/women verus students) "got it" once they were "in fun" and having a good time. If the audience is involved and enjoying themselves, they are in a better position to receive the HEAR message.

That's what makes professional speaking so much fun because on many levels people relate to adversity -- it does not discriminate. We've all had our share of obstacles in the way. If we have a passion, entertain the possibilities, act on our intuition and remember those who come into our lives to help us at just the right time, obstacles will seem like illusions!

Until next time, enjoy!
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Adversity in Elementary School

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For the next few days I'm going to share some of my adversity experiences and I thought I would start with my early days at Blue Creek Elementary School, Latham, New York (just outside Albany). Everyone experiences adversity regardless of who they are because no one is immune from it. It's how you deal with it that determines the final outcome.

From the very beginning, it was a struggle academically. Since it never occurred to anybody at the school to retain the services of an interpreter, I had to sit in the front row so that I could read the teacher’s lips. Classroom discussions were virtually impossible to follow because I couldn’t hear what was being said around the room. In a vain effort to keep up with the flow of conversation swirling around me, I was always asking whoever happened to be sitting next to me what was being said. Eventually, I got tired of watching everyone shrug their shoulders indifferently and rolling their eyes. I began to pretend that I knew what was going on. Fitting in was so important to me that every time the kids laughed, I laughed along even though I was clueless most of the time.

I spent every spare moment trying to keep up with my peers. While most of them finished their homework well before dinner, I was often holed up in my room right up until dinnertime, only to go back and work well into the night.

One evening, I was working on a math word problem. For the life of me, I couldn’t solve it so I asked my father to help me out. We had been going over it for more than a half-hour and making no progress at all. The smell of pizza drifted in from the kitchen. It was almost suppertime.

My father decided to try one last time.

“Stephen, read through the word problem again,” he said.

After I read it aloud, he added, “Now, do you add or subtract?”
Hesitantly, I replied, “Add?”

“NO, STEPHEN YOU HAVE TO SUBTRACT, SUBTRACT, SUBTRACT!" His eyes were bulging, ready to pop out while slamming his fist on my tiny desk, almost knocking over the little green lamp. I shivered in fear. I wanted to dash beneath my bed and stay there forever.

Going to school wasn’t much better either. Kids taunted me and called me names mainly because of my hearing aid and the way I talked. I remembered thinking, “What have I done wrong?”

Not only did I have trouble fitting in, but I also had difficulty reading the clock, counting money and reading. Although I was gregarious and acted as a happy-go-lucky kid, I actually thought of myself as an ugly bucktooth kid with wires that ran from the hearing aid box to my ears. Other parents didn’t want me to hang around their kids fearing that my deafness would rub off on them. How absurd was that!?!?

Because of my academic struggles, I was fast on my way to being held back in fourth grade. Teachers didn’t know what to do with me.

But then fate intervened.

I was allowed to pass, making the way for my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Jordan, to make a grand entrance into my life.

She uttered a simple three-word phrase that was delivered at the right time in just the right way, forever changing my life.

To be continued......
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Monday, April 17, 2006

My Very First Blog

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Well, this is my very first blog. I've seen the tremendous power of having a blogger. It gives me a chance to share my thoughts with the rest of the world and to encourage them while I'm at it. I'm an inspirational speaker who provides a service for meeting planners with fun and passionate presentations so that the audience can come to the conclusion that overcoming the impossible is really possible if they have the heart to perservere. Adversity University will one day become a series of 1 or 2 day seminars where top speakers and experts will be flown in to share their experiences with adversity. They all know one thing I know and that is adversity does not discriminate. It affects everyone.

You see, I'm profoundly deaf but that didn't stop me from becoming a Wall Street stockbroker, writer and pilot. I'll be posting blogs every so often that I hope will inspire others to overcome the impossible.
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