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90 in 90: Colleen Perry Keith, Goldey-Beacom College

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My husband and I recently stopped to grab lunch, and sitting at the bar we met a young man, Jason. We struck up a conversation while the three of us were watching the Olympics – a downhill skiing event.

As the coverage continued for the event, commercials ran during the breaks, many of which were celebrating Paralympians playing ice hockey and other winter sports. It was amazing and all three of us were just in awe of the incredible athleticism of the Paralympians.

In my usual way, I was effusive about how amazing the Paralympians were. Jason was too and started telling us about disabled athletes he knows: a man who races on his hands and can outpace able-bodied racers; another guy who has one leg and has a 4-foot vertical jump; a young woman in a wheelchair who races and made it to Olympic time trials. Then he started telling us how he wants to get a pair of blades and how he would love to race.

Up until that point, I hadn’t noticed that Jason didn’t have full legs. He was really energetic about wanting to find a corporate sponsor to get him some blades and to begin practicing. His energy and excitement were palpable.

I assumed that Jason was either former military or was in a horrific accident and that’s how he lost his legs. I decided, though, to ask.

Jason winced, smiled and said, “I was in a bad place and I jumped in front of a subway train.”

I was blown away. I said, “I am so sorry.”

He said, “It’s OK. My wife kept trying to help me – we went to doctors and psychiatrists. I kept refusing help. It got so bad and I was so awful to live with that she left me and I jumped in front of a train. After a long time in the hospital, I got some help. Got on medications. We figured out what my mental health diagnosis was. I’m now able to talk about it and see what I was, what I was like and know that I can have a future.”

I’ve learned so much from Jason in just one conversation.

  1.   You can learn from every interaction you have. Your education is never complete.
  2.   Become more reflective about your day, who you have interacted with and what you may have learned. Reflection will help you toward a kinder approach to others.
  3.   Encourage people you care about – and even those you don’t care about – to seek help if and when they need it.
  4.   Never assume that your load is heavier than anyone else’s. Everyone handles their load differently and some aren’t as strong as others.
  5.   Do your very best to erase the stigma of mental illness among those in your circles. It’s OK to not be OK.
  6.   Just because something isn’t your reality doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s reality.
  7.   Get out of your comfort zone every once in a while and take in a new experience.
  8.   You never lose unless you stop trying. Until you try you have no idea what you can do.
  9.   The more you give, the more you get. Success is the result of how much you give: time, friendship, money. Those who experience the greatest abundance in their lives are givers.
  10.   Remember the Golden Rule: In every situation, act toward others in the same way that you would want others to act toward you.

Colleen Perry Keith is president of Goldey-Beacom College.

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