Last time you and I met up, I was telling you all about my mission to aid others who suffer from recovery and loss as a result of brain injury. Today, I’ll tell you about the experience I had 7 days ago, that of being keynote speaker at the 21st Annual Brain Injury Association of Delaware’s (BIAD) Conference. Settle down, grab something to munch on, and I’ll be as descriptively-amusing as possible. Smiling. Photos will be scattered throughout. Some taken by me on my camera, ones that have my face in them are courtesy of BIAD.
My involvement with BIAD started many months ago, when I’d just gotten back to school after returning from my cross-country journey. I got an email, then a phone call from Esther Curtis, BIAD’s executive director asking about my interest in possibly coming to some support groups to talk about my experiences with recovery and returning to cycling. After meeting for the first time with the amazing BIAD publication (Brainstorming) editor, BIAD board member and leader of the BIAD Art Club, Tracey Landmann, I think that set the idea in somebody’s head to be the keynote speaker. Since that first meeting with Tracey, a fellow brain injury survivor with plenty of energy and a drive to help others, I’ve enjoyed her company in Philly and in DE countless times, both for BIAD reasons and just goofing. I was told a few months ago that I’d be the keynote speaker, and as you know, I’ve been excited ever since.
But let’s get right down to business here. I signed up to actually speak twice in Delaware. First, to address the conference’s reception attendees last Tuesday, and then the following morning at the official conference.
For the conference reception, I decided that I’d address those excellent men and women differently. I found out that 85% of the attendees that day would be there to see my official keynote address, so I figured I’d make my speech very unique from the following day. I showed the documentary trailer, to pump everyone up. After that, I’d spoke about what my missions were as I rode cross-country, and how my recovery intertwined with it. What next? For the last part of my 20-some minute ‘journey’ that night, I made sure that my audience wasn’t just an audience. What’d this robotics teacher have his audience do? Play with Legos! I had 5 tables all work together to design and build something out of Legos (that I brought with me to the Delaware Downs, along with my touring bicycle, bags, helmets (!) , computer) that would represent something that had to do with Brain Injury recovery or injury. Or, simply, something that is unique having to do with Brain Injury. After 6 minutes wound down on my stopwatch, I was stunned by my participants’ constructions. Really! One group made an entire scene recreating one person’s cause for his/her brain injury, but chose to recreate it with the ATV in question actually missing an obstacle that had in real life caused the brain injury. Very awesome. Another astonishing highlight of the projects: a harness-assisted treadmill, for relearning how to walk after injury. It was complete with a string to hoist the ‘harness’ legos! I’m upset that I didn’t take photos. Seriously. I announced a winner (just like during my K-8th grade classes) and ended my talk. Catching up, here, I can tell you that I was very well received, and I was just flabbergasted by how everyone was so happy to meet me and talk with me. I made some great new friends that night.
After an amazing night’s stay at the hotel at Dover Downs, where the conference took place, I woke up bright and early to prepare. At the 8am hour, I pushed my touring bicycle down the halls, with 6 helmets in tow, to the conference room(s). Boy, was I excited.
As keynote speaker, and by definition, I addressed the entire assembly of attendees directly after the conference was kicked off (9:00am). Just to keep people awake and on their toes, I decided to address all 205 men and women sans-microphone. Just like the previous night’s speech, actually. I hope that this wasn’t a poor choice. I really don’t know!
This speech was the main course, while the other was merely an appetizer. The entire audience was the very first group to see the documentary-length-version of the story of my accident. While I ran back and forth, showing relevant clips of the documentary to describe key challenges with my recovery process, I enjoyed giving insights as to who I am, what I dealt with, and my suggestions on how to avoid the frustrations. During key slides of my presentation, I asked members of the audience to raise a ‘finger’ to respond to questions I gave. “How many of you have had a brain injury yourself?” “Raise a finger if you are a researcher!” or simple, basic questions like, “How many of you like peanut butter?” … Yes, I actually asked that. I loved how everyone laughed. But they laughed here and there the entire time. After talking about my recovery, I spoke about some people and friends I met while traveling cross-continent. I mentioned Bob and Ann Brown, Gina Simonek, Kathy Kirlin, Isaac from IA, the Brain Injury Group in IL, and lastly, Alexis and Madonna Rehab. I made lots of friends cross-continent; I will mention the rest of you in upcoming speeches. :p I left about 15 minutes of my speech for questions. Which, honestly, was a pretty poor idea… Being a teacher, I know that I hardly get as many questions as I really ought to get. However, shockingly, members of the audience kept me on my toes with questions for all 15 of those minutes! Yes, I worried about my self-image while I was returning to school to finish my Bachelor’s, yes, I still am recovering, and yes, all of you are AWESOME!
Everyone had great things to say about my presentation, so I think it was a success. Afterwards, I made myself [and the rolling monster] available to ask questions, sign my commemorative fluorescent orange-painted bike helmet and my mailing list. And I participated in the lunchtime survivor speaking panel, where I answered questions along with my friends Sandra, Tracey, and Sarah. I sold some DougTrails t-shirts, got lots of requests for This Beats a Coma shirts, and I can’t even count all the smiles I received, too.
I’m very sorry to anyone who meant to visit me and my bike later in the afternoon, after I left. I had to hop back to Philadelphia with my amazing parents, who came along with to see me speak and give me much-needed encouragement! To those of you who signed the mailing list, expect an email shortly. I can’t wait to see where things lead! And to figure out a way to get you a copy of the documentary!
I’ll save what I did after returning to Philadelphia for part #3 of this series. And! I still have yet to announce my new initiatives! Come back within the next few days for another enthralling and refreshing update… I dare you.