Be A Champion Of Your Life

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“I know of nobody who is purely autistic, or purely neurotypical. Even God has some autistic moments, which is why the planets spin.” — Jerry Newport

 

A champion is someone who defeats all competition. As a society, we limit ourselves to this definition. We often focus only on the champions in sports. Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback, was the 2012 MVP for the Super Bowl. He’s a champion. LeBron James, starting small forward for the Miami Heat, was the 2012 MVP for the NBA Finals. He’s a champion. They are champions, according to the definition. They are champions by hard work and god-given talent. They come to work, put on their jersey and people remember their name and number.

I know a champion, but he doesn’t wear a jersey. He doesn’t wear his last name or a number on the back of his shirt. He doesn’t play a professional sport, nor has he won an MVP award.

His name is Kyle Weafer and he has Autism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Autism as a “developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others.” Weafer isn’t limited to this definition or disability. He isn’t defined by Autism; he’s a champion of Autism. Unlike sports, Autism doesn’t end after four quarters. There is no halftime, no timeouts and it doesn’t last for a season. It’s a permanent game. Weafer didn’t ask for Autism, he was born with it. But he never quits. He never slows down. He makes every day count. He knows each day is an opportunity for something great and he uses this as motivation. He’s a fighter and fighters never give up.

Six years ago was the first time I met Weafer. Within 30 minutes, he gave me the most valuable piece of advice that I still cherish today, “smile, Bryenn. Life is good.” This might seem minute to some of you, but these five words are what propel me to champion my own life. If Weafer, a man who has faced unfair adversity in human biology, can preach about life being good and face each day with a smile, then I can listen.

I start to understand that my “big problems” aren’t as big in the grand scheme of things. Worrying about getting the latest Apple product or getting upset about people not texting me back quickly aren’t real problems in comparison. I compartmentalize my insecurities and start to focus more on what mattered most to me, my family, friends and my future. Weafer’s five words still resonate with me as much as they did six years ago. He gave me something that I can’t ever repay. I’m eternally in debt to him. He’s my role model. I look up to him and appreciate his love for life and how he conquers each day. To me, that’s a champion. Every day is a championship game for Weafer.

He has taken on the role of a champion, much like LeBron James and Joe Flacco and, like James and Flacco, he is an MVP — at least in my eyes. He wakes up every morning embracing life, not complaining about what day of the week it is. He doesn’t complain about what he doesn’t have or what he was given. He takes what he has and makes the best of it.

Weafer also likes working out, a lot. His unsullied smile every time he approaches the gym is profound. It’s a smile that grabs the attention of bystanders. Why is he smiling? It’s a simple question with a simple answer; he can’t get enough of the gym. To him, this is another challenge. You can’t go to the gym and sit there and expect to get fit. Weafer knows there is much dedication and hard work that is needed to become strong. But he’s a champion. He knows what it takes and he’s ready. Nobody can tell him no. He’s a fighter. He has been his entire life.

Much like Weafer’s satisfaction for the gym, I find satisfaction in blogging. People ask me why I like blogging. It’s a simple answer; I can’t get enough of it. This is where I feel like a champion. I challenge myself everyday to become a better writer. But I do more than just challenge my writing abilities. I challenge myself to become a better person in life. A champion of life by doing what is right and living each day as if it were a championship game. Weafer taught me how to become this champion. I think it’s time we all become a champion in our lives and find out what we can’t get enough of and do it. Don’t let a definition, label, or disability limit you. Be an MVP in your life and make the most of each day. 

 

Learn more about Autism here and help spread awareness and find a cure by donating here

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Make Time for Old Friends

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." -- Albert Schweitzer

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” — Albert Schweitzer

The older I get, the more I reminisce on how things use to be. The memories that I cherish most seem to be connected by one underlying factor: brotherhood.

Back in my day, everything I did was oriented around my community of friends — not unlike the girls who refuse to go to the bathroom alone, but hopefully a little less intrusive. After school it was routine to hang out with friends, because back then, time was on our side.

The burdensome weight of responsibility and adulthood wasn’t upon us; we were young, wild and, most importantly, free. When that first girl was brave enough to kiss me, my friends were there to cheer me on. They were there the first time I went TPing, strategically putting toilet paper around the house and ultimately ending in escaping angry parents, but we stuck together and made sure we didn’t lose anyone. And when I got homesick at my first sleepover, my friends turned panic into an unforgettable night; this is the brotherhood I’m talking about.

But the older I get, the more excuses I have to be selfish with my time. My fond memories with friends are all I’ve got, because I don’t have the time to make new memories. I’m busy building my future and becoming a grown up. Responsibility is a time killer. It’s a lot easier — and severely selfish — to let go of people and just hold onto memories you shared with them instead of finding the time to hang with old friends.

True as it may be, growing up is a poor excuse to evade long-time friends. Everybody is growing up, so why don’t we grow up together like we did as kids? I pledge to work on this, because I’d rather become a man with a mediocre job, surrounded by friends than a man who sacrificed everything to be alone at the top. On the battlefield of life, I’ve been too focused on what lies on the other side — my career, girlfriend, part-time jobs, internships, school, Netflix — and lost focus on everyone who’s supported me through it all. Friends are the key to a happy life, and there’s no age restriction.

I refuse to become another Facebook stranger amongst my friends. I have family members who spend late nights at the office and early mornings taking the kids to school, so they don’t have “time” for friends. But maybe the kids ditch them for their friends, or the wife leaves for a girl’s weekend, or perhaps they’re a single parent, so it would be nice to have someone their age to be with. Instead, they are home alone, struggling to make dinner for themselves and reminiscing about old friends over their Facebook timeline.

I like talking to my parents and grandparents about their “young and wild” days. It sparks life in them. My grandma, who’s a widow, talks all the time about her friends and how much fun they had. When she tells these stories, she always has a smile on her face. I tell her it’s never too late to connect with old friends and make new memories. She tells me that it was a long time ago and she’s too old now.

My grandparents always remind me of two valuable lessons: the memories you’re making now will be with you for the rest of your life, and don’t give up on making new memories because you’re never too old to have friends. This gives me a lot to think about since my friends and I will be graduating college soon and going our separate ways.

Life is one big picture that can’t fit into any frame or canvas, but there’s plenty of room in your mind. When you’re old and telling your grandchildren about your young and wild days, you won’t be talking about the times you spent kissing your boss’s ass for that promotion or filling out invoices.You’ll tell them about the time you and a good friend stole a bar sign while wasted. You’re never too grown up or responsible for the people who made you who you are today: friends.

The “L” Word

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The clock reads 2 a.m. when my cell phone’s ringer violently awakens me. As the sluggishness of my body starts to wear off like a bad hangover, I grab my phone. 10 missed calls from the same number. Horrific thoughts start to fill my head. My phone alerts me there’s a new voicemail. I’m hesitant to listen to it, but curiosity and fear consume my body like an addiction. I hit the voicemail button. After I listen to the message, I can’t get it to stop playing in my head. I’m paralyzed by it. I was told there was an “accident” and now someone I love is dead. My memory is hyperactive, remembering the memories we shared and denying what is. A strong sense of guilt brings me back to the harsh reality. The guilt is waiting until later (in this case, never) to tell this person how much they meant to me and for being too self-absorbed with my life to reach out. I’m sobbing, cold and alone. My life is in a million pieces. And then I wake up.

It’s a nightmare that happens too often, but brings clarity to my life. It reminds me how important each day is; every day is a blessing. Life doesn’t come with a guarantee, neither does tomorrow. Sometimes later never comes. I think it’s important we think about that when we tell ourselves that we’ll do something later – there is nothing you are doing right now that is more valuable than never doing something.

This is ironic, because we live in a digitally advanced society that offers sites, apps and services that interconnect people at the touch of their finger tips or at a click of a button. How is there no time right now when this generation has championed the term “multitasker”? Why are we waiting until later when we can do multiple things at once?

Maybe I’m being too idealistic here. It’s ideal that people get the most out of life. It’s ideal to be reminded that you are loved. It’s ideal to see the beauty in life and to have an optimistic attitude towards life. Maybe people do want these things, but right now they are too busy to focus on what’s really important in their life. Maybe it’s society telling us what’s important and setting cockamamie expectations to fulfill a spurious void that we created. Maybe people need to be more realistic and understand life is happening now, not later.

I’m not concerned with who is to blame for why we procrastinate living our life. I’m more concerned with having you realize this and doing something about it. I don’t write for myself. I write for people who have the power to make a difference and will.

I’m trying to enable people like you to make the world a better pace right now, not later. I do this because there is something we can all offer the world. For me, at least right now, it’s writing motivational columns to tell people to make a difference. It might not sound like much, but at least I’m making an impact. What kind of impact do you want to have? Whatever it is you just thought of, go and do it now, not later. Never let the “L” word affect you, again

The (Divorce) Hangover

"A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there's less of you" -- Margaret Atwood

“A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there’s less of you” — Margaret Atwood

I’ve been in a hangover since I was 9 years old.


Not the kind of hangover that consequently occurs the next morning after finding comfort at the bottom of a glass the night before. No, this hangover is far worse and permanent. It’s the kind of hangover you get when you start to question if your greatest memories were lies, when everything good is a blur, when you can’t remember what went wrong and when the deleterious weight of reality starts to mentally change you. It paralyzes you; mentally and physically. It’s the divorce hangover and the side effects can have negative long-term effects on physical and mental health.

I know I was only 9 years old, but I vividly remember my many awkward social encounters shortly thereafter: my restless nights, the confusion which led to anger, my life had permanently changed. For nine years I was drunk; believing that everything was fine, that my parents were happy and that nothing could come between us. It wasn’t until the summer of 1999, that my drunkenness wore off and I was left to deal with the hangover.

By no means do I blame my parents for my problems that hatched as a result of the divorce. In fact, they’ve helped me with a lot of my problems. Plus, if they weren’t happy, who am I to force them to stay together because of my insecurities? Doesn’t everyone deserve to be happy? I absolutely love my parents, so much so that I wish they were still together. But that’s part of the hangover, wanting to go back to how things were before the pain. If you have experienced a divorce, I understand what you’re going through and it can get better.

My five part remedy that best helps me get through tough days is hanging with friends, keeping up communication with both families, listening to music – preferably cheerful and upbeat songs ­— exercise regularly and find a hobby that keeps you busy. Mine’s writing. I know this remedy sounds cliché, and it is, but it works. According to the Barna Group, a research and resource organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, 33 percent of marriages end in divorce. This statistic is worrisome to me, because, if this rate stays constant, it means 1 out of 3 people will get a divorce. This means that nearly 9,900 of my fellow Jayhawks will get a divorce. I can’t help but to think which of my friends will fall into this statistic. I just hope it isn’t me.

Of course, I want to be optimistic and hope that the divorce rate decreases. Unfortunately, I feel in certain circumstances, it’s inevitable and there are no precautions that can be taken. There is no divorce shot that prevents divorce. There is no pill that makes the relationship better. It’s up to you.

According to a 2009 study by Linda Luecken at Arizona State University showed that a peaceful divorce resolution helped students stay healthy while a divorce that was never finalized and fully resolved caused a negative long-term effect on health. Furthermore, the students who kept in close contact with their father did better post-divorce than those with little or no contact. Luecken says anger and stress management are the biggest problems that divorcee kids face. The key is to find an effective relaxation method (see my five-part-remedy above and take a look at the five-steps that divorce parents make).

Luecken suggests controlled breathing or exercise. Also, students should change their state of mind by focusing on a pleasant aspect of life for 10 minutes. I agree with Luecken. I often wonder how my life would be if that summer day never came back in ’99. But then I stop, because this is where I’m supposed to be. This molded me into the person I am today. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, the good and the bad. Life is what you make it. It’s time to wake up and shake off the hangover, because today is a new day, a new you, a stronger you. Don’t you ever forget that.