the "Don't Say I Can't Project"

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Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

Black bears, rattlesnakes and coyote…Oh My (Part 2)

The toughest part for Neva, perhaps, was the lack of consistent companionship. While many who hike the trail meet up with other, like-minded souls, Neva had a physical challenge that prevented that consistent comradery.

“I was, maybe, at most five feet tall at the time, so I only went about a mile and a half per hour,” Neva explained. “Which is too slow for most hikers. I met a lot of hikers, and the Trail does bring out the best people. But I wasn’t able to keep a companion for more than a day or two because they got tired of going slow for me.”

The other challenge for Neva wasn’t physical.

“I decided to quit the trail and to leave to trail around 2:00 every day,” Neva said. “But continuing on is more a signal of strength. I’ve been kicked down, I’m in the mud, I’ve rolled both ankles, but I’m going to get up and keep going because that’s what I have to do. I saw a lot of people drop off the trail. The thing that kept me going…I cried every day, and I sobbed all of the time. I kept thinking that I’m not going to make it to Maine…all of these people are telling me that I’m not going to summit in time.

“I didn’t pretend,” Neva continued. “Being able to cry, and being able to say, this is really hard, and to keep going while I was crying… I can’t count the number of big, burly men with beards who dropped off. You can’t maintain that attitude. You can’t pretend that you’re stronger than the trail.”

Neva was 14 years old when she began her journey, and she turned 15 during her hike. After six months and 22 days, she completed her goal. But she not only was able to fulfill her personal quest, she also was able to help others because of her trek.

“Most of the time, what took me off of the trail to rest was struggles with depression,” Neva explained. “We have a long family history of depression and being out in the woods with nothing to distract you is like being put in a sensory deprivation chamber. That triggered more depression for me. I was trying to raise awareness for mental health.”

To that end, Neva partnered with Hike for Mental Health in order to raise money for her cause.

Now a sophomore English major at the University of South Florida, Neva is preparing to go to Ireland in the fall to study abroad, and she’s planning her next adventure. Her Appalachian Trail conquest has served her well.

“I think it gave me an unshakeable strength,” Neva concluded. “When I came to college, right away I took 17 credits, and took a part-time job and I’m writing for the school newspaper. For many people, this is their first time away from their parents. I knew I had the strength, I knew I didn’t have to worry. I know I can work through it and keep working on. That’s the greatest gift the Trail gave me.”

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

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Black bears, rattlesnakes and coyote…Oh My!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail doesn’t sound like something anyone would consider fun. It’s the longest hiking trail in the world at 2,200 miles long and it extends through 14 states from Springer Mountain, GA. to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It can take between five to seven months to complete a thru hike (those individuals who complete the hike in one attempt, from start to finish), which means you’re beginning your jaunt in extreme heat in Georgia and finishing in the cold of Maine.

Along the way you might encounter the American black bear, poisonous snakes like the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead, as well as wild boar, foxes, bobcats and coyote. If you’re not bothered by any of those critters, you have to deal with a multitude of deer ticks, mosquitoes and black flies (whose bite might be worse than a mosquito). Just in case none of that bothers you, there’s a plentiful supply of poison ivy that follows the trail for thousands of miles.

You have to do all of this with enough gear in your backpack so that you can survive a few days at a time, which might include a sleeping bag, some sort of rain gear, clothing, food, water, and some people carry a tent. Which amounts to carrying two school backpacks on your back – both full of textbooks.

According to most sources, only 10-15% of people who attempt to complete the Georgia-to-Maine excursion actually finish. Only 10-15%.

Neva Warren wanted to do it anyway.

“My parents had been interested in it, and I read a few books about it,” Neva said. “We went on a family vacation to Shenandoah National Park, and we did a three-mile hike on the Trail together. I really enjoyed it. It was cold and rainy…and I loved it.

“Once we got back to the lodge, I said, I think I’m going to do the whole thing,” Neva continued. “But not with you guys…I want to do it alone. When I found out that I would be the youngest, male or female, to complete the hike alone, part of my motivation became proving people wrong.”

Neva was 14 years old at the time, and barely five feet tall.

Training was difficult because her family lives in Florida, so no matter how many miles she was able to hike during training, there was no way to simulate the conditions on the Trail. Once on the Trail, she carried a full pack, which included a sleeping bag, food, clothes, sleeping pad, water pouch, snacks…and a keychain of Niall Horan from the British boy band, One Direction.

“The first day, maybe like two miles into the hike, I rolled my ankle and fell down,” Neva said. “At the time, I said to myself, well, this is my life now, and I broke off little sticks and tried to make a brace and laced my boot tight. I told myself that I had to keep going. The second day I rolled my other ankle. The third day I got new boots…

“I can’t say that I ever stopped rolling my ankles, I just eventually got used to it,” Neva went on. “It was never bad enough to take me off of the trail. I was lucky not to have any major injuries.”

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Monthly Minute (#3)

Reflecting upon my interview with Shane Burcaw (“Laughing At His Nightmare), the thought that continues to make me smile is the way in which Shane processes and deals with everyday life.

When I was a kid, my mother subscribed to a uniquely shaped monthly magazine called, Reader’s Digest. One monthly feature was called, “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” In that feature there always was a story of a difficult situation that turned comical and made you laugh. I always read that feature.

Shane uses humor like a photographer uses a lens.
“My family makes jokes when we are annoyed or angry or upset,” Shane said. “That mindset has totally influenced my worldview, teaching me that negative events only have as much power as we give them.”

As I said in the first post, most medical statistics indicate that Shane has outlived his prognosis. He’s 26 years old and he’s been experiencing life from the seat of his wheelchair since he was about two years old. He weighs less than my German shepherd mix. Yet he chooses to find humor in his daily life, and a weekly feature at his blog ( is “Weekly Smiles” in which Shane goes through his week and shares what made him smile every single day of the week.

Please understand, and this might be challenging, but when Shane talks about utilizing humor as his way to view life’s challenges and routines, it’s not like a Bugs Bunny cartoon (I know, I’m dating myself). There is substantial research to support the fact that Shane’s worldview has tremendous health benefits.

“Laughter addresses the same issues as fear,” said Gina Barreca, Ph.D in an article about the value of humor. “Not to dismiss them, but to strengthen our ability to confront them. Laughter is essential in terms of being able to cope with the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Being able to find and use your own humor…indicates a useful ability to envision a situation from a number of perspectives. We enrich our lives when we are able to create and deal with humor.”

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

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Bulletin Board Material

{When I interview someone for a project, there’s usually pages of notes, and not all of the important information can fit into an article or a blog post. So, on the third Wednesday of every month, I’ll present to you Bulletin Board Material, which will be a short thought from that month’s interview that you can print out, tape on your mirror or refrigerator or your school locker to remind you of the important stuff.}

“When you are faced with a challenge, try to ask yourself if negative emotions, like anger/annoyance/sadness, are going to help you effectively cope with or resolve your struggle? What can you do to reframe your mind to more positive things? It might be as easy as going for a run or calling a friend, or it might take some time and energy, but we all have a cognitive arsenal that we can use to help ourselves out of a low. You just have to make the commitment to do so.”

–Shane Burcaw

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Laughing At His Nightmare, Part 2

Shane began taking a new drug treatment about 18 months ago. Spinraza was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016, and the drug may stop or significantly slow the progression of his disease. On those infrequent occasions when his brain might tell him about his mortality, he changes his focus to the myriad of projects he has ongoing.

“Early on in life, it was harder than it is now,” Shane said. “I basically just do my best to embrace it and live every day as hard as I can. No one knows when their time will be up, so it’s a lesson that all people could benefit from.”

Shane isn’t just blowing smoke, he’s put his thoughts into action in a number of ways. Seven years ago, he started a blog, called Laughing at My Nightmare ( His writing is part comedy and part reality, with a dose of youthful wisdom.

“I was just bored one day, and I wanted to tell some funny stories,” Shane explained how the blog came about. “I never expected it to take on such a life of its own, but as I continued writing it, I began to realize people connected with my mindset of using humor to cope with adversity.”

He now has hundreds of thousands of followers, and along the way, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Moravian College. Then publishers realized that he had such a large following on his blog, he was asked to write a book based on his blog.

Laughing at My Nightmare was Shane’s first book, and his second was a children’s picture book called Not So Different, in which he wanted to show kids, early on in life, that having a disability is not a bad thing. His first two books have been such large successes that his third book, Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse will be coming out soon. It’s all about the misconceptions that people have about disability.

While his writing career was taking off, he and his cousin, Sarah, started a non-profit (Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc.) with the sole mission to provide vital equipment to people living with muscular dystrophy diseases. This has turned into a full-time job for both of them. To date, Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc. has made 45 equipment grants totaling more than $85,000. Shane said that in a few months they will be providing a $50,000 grant to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle for someone in need.

Shane has performed more than 150 speaking engagements across the country, from a Mennonite festival to Harvard and from biotech companies in San Francisco to children battling life-threatening diseases in New York City. They continue to raise money for the non-profit, and June 16 will mark the annual running of the Laughing At My Nightmare 5K.

Shane prepares for that event the same way he does everything else in his life…with a smile and a laugh.

Don’t Say, “I Can’t”

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Laughing at His Nightmare

When another human being encounters Shane Burcaw for the first time, the natural reaction might be to look past Shane and focus on the high-powered wheelchair that he uses to navigate life. Or, one might be caught looking at Shane’s fragile body, which, at 26 years old, weighs just 73 pounds. Or, one might be guilty of checking out Shane’s sweetheart of a girlfriend and wondering how Shane was so lucky to get a nurse that is so attractive (she’s not his nurse).

It is human nature to be guilty of any of those thoughts or visions, and yet if you are too shortsighted to see past all of that, you miss the best part of Shane Burcaw. The dude has an electric smile and a humorous personality that beams at anyone who will take the time to look at HIM. He’s also more generous and has more wisdom than many people who’ve lived twice as long.

Shane has a rare neuromuscular disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It’s caused by a loss of specialized nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brainstem. It affects control of muscle movement, which also causes progressive muscle wasting. There is no cure, only treatment. According to doctors and research, death before the age of 20 is frequent.

“Childhood felt natural to me,” Shane said. “I grew up learning about the world and myself from the seat of my chair, rather than walking around like most kids. I’m sure my parents told me about my diagnosis, but the emphasis was always on living a regular life, and on not letting the wheelchair stop me from doing everything kids do…like sports and school…and getting into trouble.”

Shane requires assistance for just about every physical activity, from getting out of bed in the morning to showering and dressing, using the bathroom, eating, and accessing his laptop. Yet he wakes up with a smile every day.

“I’ve never felt like I’m ‘confined’ to my wheelchair,” Shane explained. “I guess in high school I started to examine how my family and I have always used humor to deal with the adversities we face. I’ve always been a pretty happy person, but in high school I also realized that’s because my parents taught me how to effectively cope with any challenges I faced, whether related to my SMA or not. That mindset has totally influenced my worldview, teaching me that negative events only have as much power as we give to them.

“Living with a disability is not a horrible existence that requires me to put on a smile,” Shane continued. “That’s really important for the public to understand. When I do have challenges, like when my wheelchair breaks down, that’s when I have to utilize the cognitive approaches I’ve developed, but in no way is it a challenge for me to wake up happily each day.”

It would be easy to forgive Shane if he did have a chip on his shoulder, or if he was a grumpy Gus and just didn’t engage with people and the world around him. Even though his attitude and his worldview have continued to evolve (in a positive way) as he’s matured and become accomplished in a number of areas, it’s something all can take a lesson from.

“I think it’s really easy to get bogged down by inconsequential problems of everyday life,” Shane said. “It’s natural to get frustrated by the circumstances and the events of life, but it takes some practice to consciously let go of these annoyances and to refocus our minds to more positive places. When something upsets me, I allow myself to experience the negative emotion, but I don’t let it overtake me and create future negatives by brooding on it for longer than necessary.”

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The Power of Positive Words

I’ve known this for a long time…words have tremendous power. The words that you speak to yourself. The words that someone else speaks to you. Words that you read on social media. Words you read in books.

Most experts agree that the words that you speak to yourself, and the words that others speak to you can, and will, make a significant impact on your daily routine, on how you feel about yourself, on your plans for the future, on your dreams and ambitions. That impact can be positive or negative. Too often, it’s negative.

The way that you talk to yourself (admit it, we all do it) can determine whether you have a good day or a bad day, conquer your goal or fall short, have a positive relationship with a friend or not.

Research supports my theory here, but nobody wants to read about research. But I received a real-world confirmation of my belief over the weekend.

I received a message on LinkedIn from the mother of a former player. I had not seen nor heard from them in four years. The daughter played two seasons of AAU basketball for me, and then they had to suddenly pick up and move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. I think I heard from the mom once after the family moved.

Her message to me this weekend was to inform me that her daughter, the young lady that I and my middle daughter had coached for two seasons, had made it! She will be playing Division I basketball at Ole Miss starting next year.

For anyone who follows women’s college basketball, that’s the big time, the Southeastern Conference with Tennessee and South Carolina and Georgia. That made me smile a big smile because I knew the young lady had it in her, and it’s always a tremendous blessing for a family when a child can get a college degree paid for.

But the best part of the message for me was the second part of what the Mom said to me.

She said, “I want to thank you for believing in my daughter…we appreciate all you did to help her growth.”

That meant more to me than the first part of the message because that’s all about consistently speaking positive messages to a person. Her daughter was in junior high when I coached her, a very influential time in a person’s life. I recognized her potential, but she did not have a lot of self-confidence. Understandable for her age. Consistent positive messages for two seasons made a measurable difference in this young lady’s life.

But here’s the other part of that. You also have to speak the truth, and you have to build a foundation for what the person is attempting to accomplish. Positive words can only take you so far if you don’t eventually accomplish what it is you’re after.

The final thought on this is, there are experts with many more letters after their names than I have who will tell you that your behavior will closely resemble the five people that you spend the most time with.

Are those people you’re spending the most time with negative, drama-inducing, Debbie Downer? Or do they lift you up, make you feel better about yourself, and provide positive reinforcement? Maybe it’s time to replace someone in that five-person circle.

Don’t Say, “I Can’t.”

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Monthly Minute

Reflecting on my interview with Kayla Brown in this month’s blog post (“Six of Anything Can’t Be Good”), the quality that stands out to me is Kayla’s perseverance. It’s a characteristic that I greatly admire. It’s also a trait that’s difficult to develop, and not one that you can easily rely upon if you haven’t gone through some challenges along the way.

Some people might ask, “what do you mean by Perseverance?” Good question.

One definition of Perseverance is “a steady persistence in a course of action or purpose, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement.”

Another says, “A continued effort to do or to achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.”

Another one says Perseverance “Is not giving up. It is persistence and tenacity, the effort required to do something and to keep doing it until the end, even if it’s hard.”

That’s Kayla Brown. Despite tearing her ACL when she was in middle school, despite being diagnosed with a cancer, typically one found in older men, when she was 15 years old, despite having her teachers give up on her during her sophomore year, despite having six concussions…Kayla just completed her first year at Susquehanna University.

Kayla acknowledges that she has some extra effort in order to graduate on time, but she knows what she has to do, and she’s determined to do it. I’m not betting against her.

Perseverance is a message that I attempt to impart on my players every season. Everyone is going to face some sort of obstacle in achieving their goals. Sometimes that challenge is large, sometimes not so much. But how are you going to react when you’re working toward your goal and all of a sudden, things don’t go the way you planned. There’s a bump in the road. An obstacle?

Are you going to give up? Are you going to try to find the easy way out? Or are you going to have Perseverance?

Don’t Say I Can’t

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Bulletin Board Material

{When I interview someone for a project, there’s usually pages of notes, and not all of the important information can fit into an article or a blog post. So, on the third Wednesday of every month, I’ll present to you Bulletin Board Material, which will be a short thought from that month’s interview that you can print out, tape on your mirror or refrigerator or your school locker to remind you of the important stuff.}

“Even if you don’t see it now, things will get better. There are some good days and some bad days, and the good days cancel out the bad days. I guess as long as you keep getting up and doing what you do, eventually it will pay off. That’s basically what I’ve done. Whatever you’re doing, keep getting up and doing that, you’ll see some success.

I read this one thing…even if you fall face first on the ground, you’re still moving forward.”

–Kayla Brown

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Six of Anything Can’t Be Good, Part 2

“I like to look at my symptoms online, and I had an unexplained cough, so I went to the doctor,” Brown explained. “The chest X-ray looked clear, but they thought they saw an enlarged vein behind my heart. They did an MRI and saw inflamed lymph nodes.

“I said, hey Mom, I could have cancer,” Brown continued. “My Mom said, you don’t have cancer, and the doctor said the same thing.”

The doctors did a biopsy of her lymph nodes, and she was notified that she had a follow-up appointment with her pediatrician.

“They didn’t take my height, or weight or my temperature (when arriving for the appointment) so I thought something was fishy,” Brown said. “The doctor said, Kayla, we got the results of the biopsy and you have what’s called Hodgkins Lymphoma. I said, you mean I have cancer? I sat there, for like five minutes, just saying ‘Wow.’ They told me it’s common in 30-40 year-old men, which I thought was funny.”

Over the next six months, Kayla had 20 chemotherapy treatments, accompanied by a drug specifically for her kind of cancer. There were some significant side effects, including severe pain, fatigue, nausea and she lost all of her hair.

“People kept telling me I was so brave, but in my opinion, I felt like I didn’t do that much,” Brown said. “I feel like I just showed up and didn’t die. Everyday that I got up, I’d say I was going to fight it, no matter how bad I felt. Every single day I got up and took it one day at a time. It was kind of scary. But I tried my best not to complain, even as much pain as I was in, I was just going to suck it up and do it.”

Compounding her recovery is that she also was recovering from a concussion as well. A tutor came to the house as many days a week as Kayla could tolerate it. The two of them continued to work on her school assignments to try to stay on track. This might’ve been the most painful part of her recovery.

“Even though I was homebound, I kept turning in work,” Brown said. “But the teachers stopped sending work because they thought I was going to repeat. This was the worst year of my life, and I said, I’m not repeating it! I finished my classes by July, which was the deadline. The teachers basically gave up on me. It hurt. It’s never really been like that for me before, never had anyone give up on me before. I told myself, I’m stronger than this, I’m not going to give up because my teachers don’t think I can do it.”

Kayla is a journalism major, because she loves to write. Her goal is to write for ESPN when she graduates. She’s already started writing outside of the classroom, being a regular contributor to, an online e-zine. She also uses her writing to display her emotions. Kayla doesn’t like to talk about how she feels, so she types it out on her laptop, sort of like a journal. She keeps all of these posts in a file, and if her Mom, for example, asks how she’s feeling, Kayla shows her Mom her writing.

“I put on this face…I like to show that I’m strong, but even though I’ve been through all this stuff, I’m still tough and it doesn’t bother me,” Kayla concluded. “But in reality, when I’m alone, I cry a lot about it. It works better for me if I put up a mask in public. My whole life I’ve hated being seen as weak. I take it one day at a time, and some days are really bad. But I have some good days, when it’s not a fake mask, it’s actually that I’m happy, and I’m pushing through. I just keep pushing on, and not giving up when it gets hard. Because if I gave up when it got hard, I would’ve been gone a long time ago.”

Don’t Say “I Can’t”

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