Monday, June 11, 2012

Doug The Great and Participation House

A few years ago I really wanted to be a professional speaker. I had been listening to people like Les Brown, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Steven Covey and of course Zig Ziglar to name a few. Sandy and I went to courses and live lectures and I even had the idea of speaking more in my mind when I joined the Rotary club. It is something I would still like to do more of but it is on hold for a little while longer.

When we were learning about the art of speaking we found miles of information. How to prepare material, how to look and dress, the importance of humour and eye contact etc. etc. so when we went to the Jaycees event back in 2002 (boy that is back a bit) we were prepared to critique the 2 speakers of the evening.

So as a side note, I have told this story a few times but the problem is that memory is a very slippery and unreliable thing. I have probably changed some elements and details over the years of telling it. But the important point of this story is I don't remember anything about the first speaker. Not his name, not the topic, nothing.

However, I will never forget Doug Hunt or the "Doug The Great" as he is billed.

It wasn't because Mr. 1st Speaker (we'll call him that) was poorly prepared. No, he was polished, he made excellent eye contact, opened with humour, and by all accounts was very good technically but
a) his message didn't move us,
b) I am not too sure if it moved him, and
c) it was missing that life's purpose.
Doug on the other hand, didn't make eye contact for more than a few seconds. He kept looking at the ceiling for some reason. He bounced around in the beginning, lost his place, and didn't seem to have any plan for how to begin. But boy did he have a purpose. And it wasn't to be a great speaker.

Sledge Hockey is not for sissies
 Doug didn't spend much time talking about how he earned his 2 Guinness World Records for stilt walking but of course I still remember that. What he did spend a lot of time talking about was his experiences at Participation House in Brantford, Ontario. Participation House is a community living arrangement for Physically Disabled Adults. The goal is to help the residents live an active and integrated life. To Participate if you will. And the founders had this foresight in 1978 which is truly astounding. One story in particular that Doug told was about Sledge Hockey. If you haven't watched Sledge Hockey, don't let the fact that these players are sitting down mislead you. They are out for blood just like any other Canadian on ice.

The residents at Participation House (P.H) learned about some disabled people who were playing sledge hockey somehow and thought "Hey, if they can do it, we can do it". Doug and the others at P.H were always looking for activities and this seemed perfect so the group set to work. They first acquired the equipment, got some ice time, arranged for training, skills development, all the things you need if you want to become a first rate Sledge Hockey team. They set up matches to play each other and learned all the rules getting quite good at their new sport. So of course now is the time to up the ante. An annual tournament was held in Toronto, and teams from all over would come to compete. It was a perfect place for them to show off their skill, bring home the title, and reign as champions. The dreams were starting and I am sure fame and fortune were among the minds of some.

So after all the weeks of grueling training and preparation, their turn to compete came. They took to the ice against their opponents in the first qualifying match and it was a slaughter. It wasn't even close. The score ran up so high that there probably should have been a mercy rule called. They lost that badly. Yes, they lost!!!!!

After the game Doug was afraid to go into the dressing room. He knew that all the hopes and dreams of the players were now shattered and that he would have to spend time helping them pick up the pieces. He knew how hard it would be to face the fact that they really weren't that good at sledge hockey at all and should probably retire to avoid further embarrassment.

As he prepared to enter the dressing room he heard something unusual. Shouting, yelling, and......laughing? Yes laughing. The players were cheering and celebrating as Doug walked in. Dumfounded he listened to them regale each other with stories of the trouncing they just received. After all the hard work and preparation Doug was at a loss to understand or explain what he was hearing. Why were they so happy?

So this is the big take home lesson. I mean, when we heard the answer the room was completely quiet. That sound when something truly profound has been told and everyone in the room has been transported by hearing it.

The dreams of fame and fortune were in the minds of Doug, the helpers, and the trainers, not the players. For the residents of P.H one of the things that they didn't get a chance to do very much was participate. Even when they did get that chance it was usually choreographed and controlled so that no one would get their feelings hurt and every one would get to be a winner. What they had never, ever had a chance to do in their life was lose. To give it their best shot, to prepare and compete and fall completely flat on their face. And to the players this was a revelation. This was glorious. They finally had something real and they were ecstatic.

If there is ever a single lesson I would like to remember it is this. Being able to participate in life, being able to fail, and to lose is something not to take for granted. It is not something to whine about. As hard as it is, remembering that being here and present and having this experience of life is precious and fleeting. And I hope to relish it and savour it before it is gone.