“I’m still me, so it was that profound moment for me when I went, ‘oh well.’ I’m not going to be intimidated again. I’m not going to let the situation make me smaller.” – Chris Waddell
Chris Waddell (@ChrisWaddellSpeaking) is a well-known U.S.A Paralympic champion. Recently he biked up Mt. Kilimanjaro! And he was awarded the title of “Unsung Hero of Compassion” by the Dalai Lama in 2005.
Chris talks with Mark about overcoming your challenges as well as learning how to work with the challenges in others.
Listen now to discover:
- Why our ability to manage what happens to us is more important than making plans
- Why you should stop trying to be a Superman and take help when it’s offered instead
- How being an athlete can give you knowledge of how hard work and pain can actually feel good and be helpful
- How teams are the real foundation of power
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Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. My name is mark divine and I am super stoked that you’re here, joining me today. Thanks very much for your time. I don’t take it for granted. We won’t waste it.
In fact, we’re on a tight timeline. We’re here at the Spartan world championships at Lake Tahoe and podcasting up a storm. I mean, it’s been non-stop and it’s been a lot of fun. I have met some incredible people – including Chris Waddell, who we’re gonna be talking to today.
Man, Chris… I can already tell, and this is something I have some experience with… It’s just this massively open heart. He’s got a heart of gold.
Chris is paralyzed from the waist down, from a skiing accident in college. So he has been living with this for a very long time. He’s a world-class athlete – the accolades and things… I won’t go through them. You can read them on the show notes.
Just extraordinary what he’s accomplished and how he’s overcome this obstacle, but also to be an example for everyone, not just people who have had similar obstacles.
And Chris has got a great sense of humor. He’s just an all-around good guy. And I’m really honored to be able to meet you. So thanks for your time, and thanks for being here.
Chris. Happy to be here. Thank you. Likewise.
Mark. So I went to Colgate university right up in that same neck of the woods as Middlebury. Kind of the same genre. Like lower Ivy League school.
Mark. And I’m also a skier. I raced when I was a kid and I wasn’t… Our high school didn’t have a race team. I was in a little public high school – there’s no funding for that.
But then I got into swimming and I ended up swimming at Colgate. You know, we had a ski team at Colgate. Not as quite as big as Middlebury.
Mark. So anyways, I just thought it’d be kind of cool, because we have some similarities there, but that’s about where it ends probably. Our lives went in different directions, right? Chris. Yeah, the swimming part I try to avoid.
Mark. (laughing) I can imagine. Yeah, swimming is interesting. It helps to have your legs working when you swim.
Chris. It does, it does. That was what kind of my thought. My thought on swimming was I swam from where I landed off the diving board back to the ladder…
Mark. To get back up on the deck…
Chris. I swam a little bit as a kid. As a little kid…10, 12 something like that.
Mark. Did you grow up in Vermont?
Chris. I grew up Massachusetts, actually. Western mass. An hour and a half west of Boston. In town called Granby, Mass. A tiny little town.
Mark. Yeah, those are beautiful little towns in Massachusetts, and that whole northeastern New England area.
Chris. It really is, it really is. You know, the classic just green common in the center of town. All the houses are just like white…
Mark. Look like they came right out of like 1790. In fact, the house I lived in upstate New York was built in 1798.
Mark. It was this massive limestone structure built for Colonel Adam Mapa who was basically a mercenary, from the Dutch, from Holland. Who came over to help the revolutionaries beat the redcoats…
Chris. And so was it solid enough that you had actually like flat floors?
Mark. Well the floors were amazing. It was all these intricate little wood pieces laid in, with all these designs. Throughout the whole house. I mean, it took him years to build this house.
And it was pretty solid. I mean, it was a hard house to maintain. My parents – who are now in their eighties – they still live there.
Chris. Oh wow.
Mark. And this is a house that has 12… No 8 fireplaces, 12-foot high ceilings…
Chris. Because that’s how you had to heat back then.
Mark. That’s right. Now it’s got central heating, but it costs a fortune to heat. Just this massive stone structure on 10 acres of land. It was really cool.
My point is, those towns are really historical in significance. And they can really can’t… This house is on the national historic register. They really can’t sell it. They’ve tried.
Who’s gonna buy this monstrosity that costs more to maintain than practically it’s worth. Chris. Right. Someone has to fall in love with it.
Mark. Someone has to fall in love and turn it into a B&B, or something like that.
So Middlebury, you went and you were a skier in high school. So tell us a little bit about your high school.
Chris. Skied in high school… I skied USSA as well, so I skied with the school, but then I skied independently as well. And then going to college – Middlebury division one skiing – and I had not gone to like a ski academy, I went to Deerfield academy. So a traditional prep school. And we skied probably an hour… Hour and a half a day kind of thing. Every day during the winter.
And so we got a fair amount, but it was it was a significantly different amount than the people who were who are out in ski academies. So I was looking at going to college and trying to put my time in and try to figure out how good I actually could be.
Mark. You had aspirations for the Olympics?
Chris. No, no. I was hoping to ski well in college. That was going to be the end of it.
And that’s what’s funny, is that I went in with trying to figure out how good I could be – I had my accident, and then I had another world that opened up to me. Where I would have skied through college probably, but I wouldn’t have gone fifteen years afterwards…
Mark. Isn’t it interesting how life changes so quickly like that? I mean, you would have gone into investment banking, or something like that, right? Which is what everyone from Middlebury and Colgate did…
That’s kind of the path I took too, and my life changed for different reasons. But is there anything noteworthy about the day of the accident? Like how you processed that and the realization of the sudden change?
I mean what was that like? You know, everyone’s got a little bit different take on a major life-changing crisis like that. How it affects them, and what the lessons were.
Chris. The date was December 20th of 1988. And in some ways, it’s like a second birthday right?
Mark. Yeah, cause life was one way, and then all of a sudden, it’s isn’t totally different.
Chris. Then it’s changed. And it’s a day I think my birthday… I think I understand that. Actually, funny enough that you’re asking, today is actually my birthday.
Mark. Oh, happy birthday. My goodness.
Chris. So, thank you. So I don’t know how I got into that, but yeah we were talking about birthdays, so it’s my birthday.
But it’s a date that in some ways is just kind of… It’s almost a time that you don’t completely understand, right? That this thing happens and you think “well, was it fated in some way? Was it was some sort of imbalance within my karma?”
I mean, it’s like, you think on these kinds of level.
Mark. Right, was this a preordained thing? Like were you meant to live this life and not that life.
Chris. Yeah, did it happen for a reason? And I think that when something significant like that happens, you think “okay did it happen for a reason?”
Sometimes we as human beings, I think dig too deeply into this.
Mark. Absolutely. We want to find meaning, and create a story around it.
Chris. Right. And we do need to create a story, because we need to create a story for ourselves.
The funny thing, is it gave me more of an opportunity to do things that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. I would have been…
Mark. Probably wouldn’t have done…
Chris. Well, yeah. Probably. I mean, I wouldn’t have competed on the highest level of sport. Mark. You wouldn’t have cycled up Kilimanjaro…
Chris. I wouldn’t have. No, I might have climbed Kilimanjaro. I might have. But who knows?
I mean, I wouldn’t have spent my life… I wouldn’t have competed through 36-years-old. Really, I would have started a more traditional career.
And there are always compromises on those things. But I was able to follow a passion for a really long time.
I wouldn’t have made my life as a speaker. I wouldn’t have done it, you know?
So it’s funny to see these things, and to meet presidents, to be in behind the velvet ropes with some of the leaders…
Mark. I saw the Dalai Lama bestowed some nice comments on you, or something like that? You met the Dalai Lama?
Chris. I met the Dalai Lama. So it was “The Unsung Hero of Compassion” award.
Chris. And I have good friends – Dick and Ann Grace – who have a vineyard in Napa. And they do a lot of work, they did a lot of philanthropic work in Tibet. A lot with women and were helping women and young girls out, and stuff like that.
And they brought their wine to a fundraising event that we did in park city, with the national ability center. And I skied with Dick and Ann.
And I think this was like second run, and dick was an old marine and it was beginning of beginning of March. And it was it was comfortable as far as the weather was concerned, but he didn’t hidden wear any gloves. He didn’t wear a hat. He had his sort of button-down shirt, with his V-neck sweater… And that was it. No goggles, nothing.
And I said “aren’t you cold?”
And he looked at me and said “I don’t get cold.” you know like “cold is a state of mind.”
And I was like “okay, okay.”
But he said to me, “so we’re gonna give this award.” Because his group… They did so much work in Tibet, he worked with his holiness, and so every five years, they would give out these awards. “The Unsung Hero of Compassion” award. To fifty people throughout the world.
And it was people who had grown up on like dirt floor tents, and one woman was trying to eradicate female circumcision. And doctors who are who are serving a completely underserved population.
Mark. Selfless service, right?
Chris. Yeah and I’m like “whoa, I won a couple of races.” (laughing) You know, you feel like you’re not really necessarily…
Mark. You had the imposter syndrome…
Chris. Most assuredly. And dick helped that, because I met his holiness, and you feel drawn into his aura. Just sort of the happiest person on earth… And you think “I kind of want to stay here.” (laughing)
Mark. (laughing) The warm embrace.
Chris. “There’s somebody else behind me, I know… But I kind of like it here. This is great.” and he’s fun, and happy, and engaging, and funny, and all this stuff.
And so when I received the award he put the kathka around my neck and sort of blessed me. And then I moved on and went to dick. And dick said to me, “well, you realize you’re just you’re just starting on this journey.”
And I said, “oh yeah, acutely aware that I’m just starting on this journey.”
But they had me come back the next time – five years later – and speak to the award winners the night before.
Mark. Oh cool.
Chris. And I shared that feeling of “I’m not worthy of being here.”
Mark. Yeah, I bet you they all felt the same way.
Chris. And it was really funny, cause I had a few people come up to me at the elevator as I’m going back to my room, and they said, “I was ready to leave, beforehand. And you told me that it was okay. That I was here for the right reason. And that it is something that’s going on in the future.”
So amazing award from the Dalai Lama. It really is.
Mark. Oh that’s really special. Very cool.
Mark. So I want to ask you in fact you know back to that moment when your life changed… Have you ever thought…? And I know this is just silly, because you can’t change history… But if you could go back and change it, would you change it?
Chris. No, I really… The thing is, we have we have no idea where our lives are going. So with my foundation our motto is “it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
Life is a fluid thing. It is happening, and it’s going in a direction, and you as the individual think that you are in charge…
Mark. You’re just paddling the river. Trying not to hit the banks or the rocks…
Chris. It really is. And you don’t know. And so I wouldn’t want to change the person that I am, and the experiences that I’ve had for that moment.
And it’s funny, because I was in New York last week, and sometimes I go to New York and I feel like I feel like it’s sort of the “sliding doors” kind of thing. Where I’m like, “I wonder if that would have been me, if this hadn’t happened. Or where I would have ended up. And what I would have done.”
But back to the Dalai Lama – he said that sometimes not getting what you want, can be the greatest gift of all. Sometimes we think we’re way smarter than we actually are. And this is what I want – and I’m super happy with the direction that I’ve gone.
Mark. So in the early… Like, the recovery phase… What gave you strength? And what was the catalyst for you to like shift out of “woe is me. Why did this happen? I’m a victim here.”
To like taking charge and realizing “you know what? I got what I got. And I’m gonna make something of this.”
Chris. So there were a few things. One, my family is incredibly strong. When the doctor told my parents and my brother what had happened they cried. And when they were done my father said “that’s the last time we can cry.” they had to be strong for me. They were supportive.
And so, there was never a question. It was never “why did you do this to me?” you know, it was “hey, we’re here to support you.”
Mark. No shaking your fist at god.
Chris. Exactly. And so another thing was, I was scared to death of what the possibilities might be. That this was not a time for me to stop. If I stopped, what I saw around me in the hospital might be my life moving forward.
Mark. Right. Which was just desperation and people who have given up?
Chris. It really was. And so I needed to bring my best. I needed to bring the most powerful part of me to get out of… Because effectively you’re in a hole, right? You’re digging yourself out of this sort of metaphorical hole, before you can even really start to move forward.
So I realized that I don’t know what’s going on, and I talked a little bit last night about the idea of realizing possible.
And realizing possible to me is about winning the moment. And it’s not winning in a competition with somebody else, it’s winning that sense of conviction within myself – that I feel like the conviction waning, that I feel myself drifting – and thinking “I need my strength. I need to be able to win this moment.” and the more you do that, you create a positive direction.
There’s the athlete part of it too. I mean there’s the denial of “well, this applies to other people. But they don’t know who I am. I’m going to do this.”
And realistic or not… You can say “okay, you were you were completely wrong in that. And it’s like “okay, you probably are right.”
But it also… I knew what hard work was. And I knew what good pain was.
Mark. Right. Yeah.
Chris. This is as a result of what I’m doing… This pain indicates that I’m getting better.
Mark. There’s healing and moving forward. Being an athlete can have a strong effect on the power to heal, for sure. You have your mindset right and, like you said, understanding pain and that through pain we find growth.
Chris. And what do I need to do?
Mark. Right. And a plan. Sticking with the plan.
Chris. What’s the progression? Yeah, boom, boom, boom.
So those were really the three things for me – were the family, that sense of winning the moment, of realizing possible – but then also the athlete part of like “okay, well this is what happened.”
Mark. What’s my new training plan, right?
Mark. You said something last night which really resonated with me, because it’s kind of near and dear to a lot of my teachings around training yourself to be like radically present. And to be able to access more of yourself. More of your intuitive power, your spiritual center, flow… And also your heart. To be able to serve from that perspective.
You said something like while you’re lying in the hospital, your entire life as you knew it is over. But you realize that it was still you. It was still you.
Like the deeper real you. You saw yourself – your true self – as not being the person with or without the use of his legs. It was someone different.
Can you talk about that a little bit more? Because that’s so profound for most people. They never really connect to that deeper sense of self.
Chris. I think that that’s – as we do competitions or whatever it is along the way – we feel like we have the potential to lose ourselves. “If I lose now, then I’ve lost. Then I’m completely done.”
And I think that for me what I realized then was “this is as bad as it can get it.”
Chris. And you didn’t lose that.
Mark. And I’m still here.
Chris. And so that thing that you worry about – because that’s part of our protection as we enter some competition, as we enter some conversation, as we enter whatever it is… I mean, it’s a job, it’s an interview, it’s a… Whatever it is, we feel like oftentimes we want to keep something in reserve. Because if we lose, then we’ve lost who we are.
Mark. That’s amazing, yeah.
Chris. And to me it’s like you know I got to that point and I went “well, I mean, I’ve lost everything right now. This is as close to death as I can possibly imagine being. But I’m still me.”
So it was that profound moment for me when I went “well, I’m not going to be intimidated again. I’m not going to let this situation make me smaller, and make me lose – effectively -by not putting myself into it.”
Mark. Right. And have you been able to or do you have a practice to keep that awareness alive in you every day? Even when it gets hard?
Chris. That’s the question. So when I was in the hospital, the doctor didn’t want to let me leave the hospital, because I hadn’t been depressed.
Mark. What was he thinking? That you just were in denial?
Chris. Yeah. Yeah, really that I was in denial and then eventually I’d figure it out and then I’m gonna kill myself with drugs and alcohol and whatever… I mean, that’s the scenario that he’s looking at. “This guy figures out what happened to him, then he’s gonna be a huge risk.”
I went through the depression after I retired from competitive sport.
Mark. No kidding.
Chris. Yeah, sense of identity…
Mark. Which was what? 15 years later?
Mark. It was 15 years later – more than 15 years later. So that was ’88 that we had the conversation with the doctor, and then it was 2004 that I… So really 22 years later… And you think “well, you’ve proven that you can be the best in the world at what you do.” so that should be a good thing.
But I suddenly became the guy in the wheelchair. That resume that I had, the things that I had won, that wasn’t really who I was. Because it was a matter of where was I going next?
And there’s not necessarily a horizontal step from having been an athlete to whatever you’re going to do next. I didn’t have…
Mark. So even having that awakening, you still tend to be really externally focused on some sort of goal. To drive us, to motivate us… We need that. And oftentimes we can just forget that that’s not us either.
We wrap our identity around in that.
Chris. We do. And we need a sense of purpose. I mean somebody asked me about you talking to people who have recently had an injury and what would you recommend to them? And I’m like “find something you love. Find something that matters, because that is your identity to a certain extent, but you pour yourself into it. You put everything that you are into that.
And in a lot of ways, I felt cheated, because I finished and my sense of importance fell off a cliff. I went from being really important within the community and all this, and the phone’s ringing, and people want to talk to me.
And then I fell off a cliff into complete obscurity. And I’d sacrificed and having been in the military, right, I mean a big part of your success is related to your sacrifices to get there.
And as an athlete it’s a very similar kind of thing. That the sacrifices that I made were career sacrifices – I left Middlebury, all my friends went to create careers – I’m 36 when I retire – they’ve reached a point where they have a career – where they’re getting to be really important within whatever business they’re doing. And suddenly I have left my suspended adolescence as an athlete, because I was able to stay a child as an athlete.
And then figuring out “okay, what do I do? And what are my skills?” and I have some skills that other people might not necessarily have. I have some access to people, that people might not have. You meet some of the leaders of some of the different companies, and things like that just because you’ve been successful as an athlete.
But I didn’t know where I was going. So I sacrificed a career, I sacrificed relationships in a lot of ways – I was moving around the whole time and my job was the most important part of what I was doing. And trying to affect a big change throughout that job.
So I didn’t want to introduce somebody to my lifestyle. It’s not really fair – I had girlfriends along the way – but it’s not fair to introduce somebody to my lifestyle. Why would somebody want to do that?
And in the financial part of it, I made some money as an athlete, but I can’t retire on what I made. I was able to buy a house, and those kinds of things… But making those sacrifices, I thought “I’ve sacrificed so much of what people what people generally consider to be important. And what do I have in some ways.”
And so I actually cut myself off – consciously in some ways – from my greatest power. From this sense of realizing possible, a sense of being in that moment and winning the moment.
And in some ways depression became the companion.
Chris. You go from doing whatever you’re doing during the day, and you come home and go into the office and go “okay…”
Mark. It’s okay, you had to feel that – there’s probably 22 years of feelings that you needed to let flow. That you cut yourself off from.
Chris. Yeah. I think that’s a big part of it.
And it’s funny because Kilimanjaro was the thing that they got me reignited.
Mark. Because you had another purpose.
Chris. I had another purpose and a lot of… I joined a group I had no desire join, right? Nobody asks to become disabled, right? “Oh, I get parking spaces, this is awesome.” (laughing) I never – and I’m not saying that… My life is fulfilling, the quality of my life is great – but I didn’t want to join that group.
But at the same time I essentially became an advocate for that group, because we’re invisible in a lot of ways because from the time we’re little were taught not to stare at someone who looks different.
Mark. Right. That was poignant – sorry to interrupt – what you said last night was really interesting. I mean, one of my best friends is in a wheelchair. And he broke his neck twice. He recovered and walked after the first one, when he was twenty. He was an athlete and that helped.
And then it happened again when he was like fifty-two or something. And he hasn’t been able to get up out of the chair since.
And I see him every day, because he’s running our foundation – which we work with veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress and are suicidal. And they also didn’t ask to join that club. They’re at an inflection point too.
Chris. And it’s not as visible in some ways…
Mark. Twenty-two a day. And they feel invisible too.
Chris. Yeah, they feel invisible, but then it’s also… A wheelchair is visible – where the PTSD is like, you look like a normal person, right?
Mark. Right. So it’s different. In one case they don’t see themselves and they won’t look at themselves. And in your case, most people won’t see you, because they’re taught… They don’t know how to deal with it.
I’ll have to tell this one thing, because it’s really interesting – I run a company called SEALfit so I have SEAL coaches who try to help people wake up and transform and find their… Find a deeper part of themselves. And we did an event with a bunch of disabled both veterans and athletes…
And we paired them up – it was a 12-hour, non-stop kind of navy SEAL style training event – we paired them up with executives from YPO. And they were swim buddies.
Mark. It was the most profound experience for everybody. Even us as coaches.
But one of the things that the disabled athletes and warriors loved, was that we don’t look at them any differently than any other athlete, or any other warrior, right?
“You’re missing a leg? Okay, fine. We’ll work around that.” and we just have to modify things. Or you can’t walk, we’ll work on that – you’ll work around that.
But I’m not gonna treat you any different. This is your challenge. In fact, in a lot of cases, you have to help this CEO.
And that’s what happened. All these warriors and athletes were helping these CEOs get through this event.
Mark. Because they were the strong ones. It was just so profound, and we were just like… It was one of most humbling experiences ever.
Chris. It’s interesting… So I am in the midst… I’ve shot a pilot for a TV show that I want to create and want to host called “I wish I could.” and what we’re doing is we’re flipping perception of disability upside down. When an expert with a disability teaches two people off the street an adventure.
Mark. How to do something new, adventure. Oh that’s cool.
Chris. Yeah, cause I mean the assumption is “I’ve got to help you out.”
And it’s like “no, I’m the expert here.
Mark. Right. I don’t need your help.
Chris. “This is a little scary.”
“You’ll be fine. Here, let me talk you through what’s going on.”
And I think that that’s the part of it that… We as human beings oftentimes we have a bit of a superman fetish in some ways. Of like “okay well the superman, that’s somebody who can teach me something.”
But our eyes aren’t really open to “well, this is somebody who’s passionate about something.” and one, you can teach me to be passionate in some ways. Right? Like I can see the passion and go “oh, that’s something that’s really important.”
But two, most people know something about something. There’s always something to learn from somebody else.
Mark. Yeah, absolutely. That’s very cool.
Mark. So you retired from sports, and how did you… You mentioned Kilimanjaro, so that was something to kind of like snap you out of your reverie, and get you focused on something.
And then how did that lead to your current trajectory as a speaker and helping other people kind of realize what’s possible.
Chris. I think that there’s a big part of… So one, Kilimanjaro the appealing part about Kilimanjaro is that we’re all climbing our mountain, right? No matter who we are we’re all Sisyphus, right? We’re pushing them pushing the boulders up…
Mark. Technically speaking you actually took a bike up that you hand-pedaled?
Chris. Yes. So it’s a hand cycle bike. It kind of looks like a mars rover married to arm pedal power…
Mark. Did it have big bulky wheels to get over the rocks and stuff?
Chris. Yeah. We actually used wheels that are used for riding bikes on the on the snow.
Mark. Oh right.
Chris. So they’re four inches wide, and we’re running two to three pounds of pressure so the tire would really literally just envelop rocks – we didn’t have much of a knobby on it at all.
Mark. Jiminy cricket.
Chris. And just pedaling…
Mark. What a grind. How long did that take?
Chris. It took six and a half days up, and it took a day and a half down. And I was flying at two-and-a-half miles an hour on the way up. That’s when I was maxing.
I think that on the way down I probably hit 20 to 30 miles an hour…
2 and a half miles an hour was actually a good clip, considering most people walk about maybe 4 miles an hour, you know?
Chris. Yes so the first 2,000 feet I did in under an hour. Which is really trekking pace. People do a thousand feet an hour, kind of thing.
And so that was cool, but that was also on effectively like a road. So it made it relatively easy. It was a dirt road.
But then as it got more technical – and technical for me is stuff that you step over…
Mark. Right. You have been ride over… You had a support team I imagine.
Chris. I had eight people on my team. We did a film on it – a documentary film – and so we had two camera people, a sound / everything – I mean the guy who’s responsible for the diesel power generator. I had my director, had my guide. We had a doctor who had ski raced with me in college. And we had the guy who’s the chair of my board. So those were our eighteen.
And then we had 69 porters. Each camera person, I think, had five or six porters carrying gear. We had somebody who just carried my everyday wheelchair. We had the people carrying the food. The chefs – everything.
Chris. Yeah, so it was a circus.
Mark. I have to tell you, it’s popping in my head right now, but one of my friends is a guy named Kyle Maynard. And he was born with no arms and legs. And he climbed Kilimanjaro. He literally bear-crawled up the whole frickin’ mountain. I can think of trying to think of you trying to take this bike over and I’m thinking him bear-crawling up the mountain. I’m like “people have no excuses whatsoever.” you know I mean?
You got all arms and legs, you got nothing. No excuses.
Chris. That was one of the funniest things… Cause there… I think it’s 25 thousand people a year attempt to climb it, right? And it’s about a 50% success rate. And its euphoria when you make it to the top and so as you’re going up, somebody’s invariably coming down. Coming down that same trail.
And you’d hear people “oh, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” and then they’d see me and go suddenly really quiet. So it was pretty funny.
But what Kilimanjaro did for me, is it allowed me to have the platform in a lot of ways I lost when I retired. And a platform to help hundreds of millions of people who are invisible. To hopefully to change the narrative from “that’s too bad,” to “well, what do you do?”
And to see the individual – as opposed to seeing the disability – and so it got me going, it gave me a purpose. It gave me that platform again.
And that’s really what Kilimanjaro did. And moving forward from that – in some ways it’s a matter of embracing what I do next. And developing my voice. And realizing that I’m a storyteller.
That ultimately is what I do. And that did a lot of what I’m trying to do is get people to look beyond the wheelchair, or to look beyond “there but for the grace of god go I”
I’m like, “no, no. I’m you.” and in a lot of ways, I’m the you that you hope to be. You just haven’t been in the situation where you’ve had to prove it to yourself.
And this is the human existence, I mean, I approach it in a little bit different way. But that’s where you have to find different avenues to be able to say it. So with my foundation we do a school program called “nametags,” and it looks at the labels that we put on ourselves and others which are often our limitations.
“I can’t do this because I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fat, I’m too poor, I’m too busy.” whatever it is, I mean, it’s so easy to have those excuses. And so it’s one part resilience with the motto of “it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
But also encourages the kids to steer out of the mainstream to figure out what matters to them. What they’re passionate about.
Mark. How are they unique? And how can they show up? Yeah, that’s cool.
Chris. Yeah. Because otherwise you finish and you can do whatever you want to do. “I don’t know what I want to do. I’ve just been following the crowd. I guess I’ll just do what everybody else does.”
And so doing that, that’s where the television show comes in. I’m working potentially on another one – hosting another one called “inclusion at work.”
Finishing the illustrations I’ve learned how to draw.
Mark. Oh, cool.
Chris. Relatively. For my second children’s book on the climb. Working on my memoir. Doing a lot of speaking – corporate speaking and stuff like that – and trying to essentially create a community.
The kids – their minds are open – they’re like “all right. I get it. I’m moving forward.”
We as adults are a little bit more jaded. But part of the speaking to corporate groups is the opportunity to connect with those corporations that have a much bigger megaphone. And can effect the change.
Mark. Can effect a change. How do you… You mentioned hundreds of millions of disabled individuals, and largely they feel invisible.
And I work with vets who feel invisible. And our biggest challenge is actually finding the vets, because they recluse themselves.
Do you find that with disabled? At least like maybe newly disabled? They’re just disparate and they recluse themselves. How do we reach them to inspire them?
I mean, like I do corporate speaking and training, and it’s great to inspire someone who wants to go from great to greater.
But how do we reach the people who really need…
Chris. The people in desperation. I think that that’s a part of it, and that’s where I think we have to have those venues. And that’s where television is great, because it’s in the comfort of your own home. You’re sitting on your couch, you’re not having somebody say “hey mark, this is what you need to do.”
And you’re like “well, let me go think about that for a little bit. I’m not going to give you an answer right now.”
But this is where you can kind of process. And that’s where I think it could be helpful. And I realized that part of what I do is representing sort of this 1% or whatever it is, of people… And that was what that was my biggest takeaway from Kilimanjaro, is that there was a part where they had to carry me for about a hundred feet of vertical.
But what that did, it was the greatest gift, and I didn’t realize it in the moment. In the moment it was failure.
Mark. Yeah, cause you wanted to go unassisted.
Chris. Unassisted. I wanted to break the record…
Mark. And that was the story you wanted to tell. As if a hundred feet is gonna change that story… People’s perception of your accomplishment. Nobody does, of course.
Chris. Right, but for me it did. And then the thing is, that I became this superhero kind of figure. And as an athlete… Even just leaving college, I left the hospital and went back to college. And all my friends said “I could never do what you’ve done.”
I was like, “this is step number one, right? This is just coming back.”
But then you win some races and things like that. And you’re perpetuating this image and in a lot of ways, that is the most debilitating thing. That you’re not a real human. You are a two-dimensional figure. Superhuman, hero.
And I think that that’s the part of what we… The story that we need to tell is that no matter who you are, you’re fallible.
Mark. And you’re gonna need help. It takes a team. I’m sure it makes a lot of sense, going up and giving the impression that you did this whole thing alone, leaves the team out. You couldn’t possibly have done that alone even not including that hundred yards or a hundred feet. There’s no way.
Chris. No. Couldn’t have done it alone.
Mark. Takes a team to do anything important or valuable in life, doesn’t it.
Chris. Yeah, I was delusional. But that’s the way it works…
Mark. (laughing) We’re all delusional at some level.
Chris. (laughing) I’m sure I’m still delusional. But that’s the way it works, is realizing that that team is really the foundation of my power. And empowering other people, oftentimes. I think that’s something that we don’t learn… That I didn’t learn as I was growing up.
Little league or whatever, you’re trying to win the game. And it’s like, “well, how can you help prop that other person up? How can you do that?” because the team is going to be better.
Mark. Right. I love that.
So if you’re listening and you know someone who’s disabled, let them know that they have a teammate and a coach in Chris Waddell. And if you’re a vet, I’ll be your teammate and your coach. Right?
And don’t try to do it alone. That’s for sure.
Chris. No, no. We can’t. Because our minds are dark places when we get to that point, right? It’s hard.
Mark. Yeah, you just cannibalize yourself. Eat yourself alive.
Wow. I wish we had more time, Chris. This has been really neat. I really hope we get to see each other again in the future.
Mark. Thanks for doing what you do.
Chris. Likewise. Keep it up.
Mark. Yeah, you too. And as we say in the SEALs – hooyah.
Chris. Hooyah. All right.
Mark. You get a big hooyah
Where can people find out more about the documentary? About the work you’re doing and whatnot?
Chris. So a couple of different websites. We have the One Revolution website, one-revolution.org. So that’s my nonprofit. You can check it out. If you want to book a school presentation for your kids, come to that.
My for-profit – because I have the nonprofit world and the for-profit world – for-profit is my speaking, writing and television. That is chriswaddellspeaking.com, that has – I will get back to it – publishing my memoirs serially. A chapter a week.
Mark. I love that idea.
Chris. It’s fun. It’s a little daunting – every other week, actually.
Mark. You gotta discipline yourself to do that writing.
Chris. Yeah. Writing’s a hard one. That blank page is daunting.
Mark. Yeah, I’m getting ready to restart my blog. And my intention is to do a daily post.
300 to 500 words. And that’s gonna take some discipline.
Chris. That’s a lot. I had somebody who at one point who was a writer who said that she gives herself a half an hour block.
Mark. Yeah, whatever she gets done.
Chris. Because you can you can take all day. And 300 to 500 words is a lot…
Mark. (laughing) Yeah, I might end up being a little less sometimes. But so I’m giving myself some Gumby flexibility.
Chris. Exactly. And the other place they can find me is on Instagram.
Mark. We’ll put those on in the shownotes.
Chris. Yeah, that’d be awesome.
Mark. Awesome. Yeah and we’ll give you a shout put, and we’ll let you know when this thing is gonna go live. And yeah, hooyah. Good luck with everything.
Alright folks, thanks for listening. This has been the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Go check out Chris Waddell’s work, and let’s help him help others who are in those moments of desperation. Or just could really use a little motivation to get on their path to healing and finding their greatness in spite of their disability.
Chris. Yeah. In spite of their situation.
Mark. In spite of the situation. Don’t even like the word “disability,” right? It’s kind of a negative thing.
Chris. No, we’re all in a situation.
Mark. (laughing) Yeah, we got our shit. We’ll call them “shituations.”
Alright, everybody see you next time.