Greg Smith Keynote Speaker

Leadership Expert on Resiliency and Inner Strength – Greg helps leaders and teams “Go Full-Strength!” for maximum productivity.

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Inner Strength insights from the world of sports, disability, entertainment, business, politics and everything else I’d like to share with you.

Monthly Archives: October 2014

Podcast Debut – “Timeout with the Strength Coach”

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Photo credit: Amanda McCoy, Biloxi Sun Herald

By Greg Smith

I think the stars have finally aligned for me to maximize and fully utilize my best skill set. I am good at speaking, and pretty good at writing, but I am best at broadcasting, and we are now well into the era of the podcast!

My new podcast, Timeout with the Strength Coach will be ready for your download on Monday, November 3! Every week, I will be uploading an hour stuffed full of motivational knowledge, expert guests, my personal insights and lessons from some of the top personal development and personal growth thought leaders in in the world.

Back in the old days

When I first started broadcasting my radio show on disability issues in 1992, the Internet barely existed. We settled for weekend junk time on conservative news talk radio stations. “On a Roll” aired live on Sunday evenings and I was looking for a way to expand it beyond the limitations of our time-slots in terrestrial radio.

In ’94, I had a phone conversation with a fella named Mark about adding it to his new network, Broadcast.com. I enjoyed the talk. He was very persuasive and went on to enjoy some success in his venture! You know, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. The Shark Tank dude. Yeah that guy!

My success with the radio show wasn’t as marked as Mark’s with Broadcast.com, but I’m proud of what we did from 1992 to 2006. We grew the show from one single station in Phoenix to more than 70 across the country in that time span.

But it was hard to be a listener. You had to remember that the show came on a certain day and a certain time. You had to either tune into the station on your AM radio or find it on the Internet at that certain time. As a result, despite how polished and professionally produced it was, it never quite found the audience it deserved.

The new days of the podcast

Today, everyone has a radio in the palm of their hand!  Now you can listen to me anytime you want, wherever you want, on whatever device you want: your phone, your iPad, your Mac, your PC, or in your car!

You don’t have to worry about the signal fading in and out. You don’t have to worry about forgetting and missing the broadcast. All you have to do is subscribe, download and listen at your leisure.

Pew Research Center polling shows that the podcast user base continues to expand. A May 2013 survey found 27% of internet users ages 18 and older download or listen to podcasts, up from 21% three years ago in May 2010 and 7% of internet users in 2006. Those numbers are expected to rise.

My life’s mission is to take the lessons that I have learned overcoming the challenges of life with muscular dystrophy, and teach people how to apply those lessons to improve the quality of their lives and build their inner strength.  If you download my show weekly and take it with you while you’re out and about, I guarantee you will notice a difference in how you feel about yourself and what you are able to accomplish.

Here’s how you listen:

Go to webtalkradio. From there you can listen online or download the Podcast to the device of your choice. I am looking forward to interacting with you! In the kick-off broadcast, you’ll get to know me more personally and get a feel for my energy and my mission to empower you to build your inner strength.

You’ll also meet a few of my teammates… people who share my passion about living an inspired life. You’ll meet comedian Murv Seymour, my best friend and accountability partner, who will reveal the strength of humor and friendship.

You’ll meet Chad Hymas, a motivational speaking colleague for whom I has a lot of respect and admiration. (The Wall Street Journal called him the most inspirational person in the world!)

And you’ll meet Olympic athlete, author and legend John Carlos, famous for his silent protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. John just happens to be my uncle. Download this show and you’ll find yourself inspired, and enjoying a super-productive day.

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Guest Blog: The Power of Lifelong Friendships

By Julie Marie Jones

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I was a scrawny, insecure 14-year-old freshman who wanted to be anywhere but on a stage. A lifetime of being gawked at by strangers due to my disability had turned me inward and untrusting, so the idea of intentionally putting myself on display – for a high school letter grade, no less – made me want to puke. It came down to a choice between sucking it up in front of strangers or going to the special ed teachers and admitting that I couldn’t cut it as a fully integrated/mainstreamed student.

Sometimes choosing that which scares us the most strengthens us the most.

I’m sure my tiny voice squeaked as I sat there on stage and introduced myself, eyes downcast and thinking of nothing but exiting stage left and continuing until I was off campus. Until that point in my educational career, I was accustomed to having my words and ideas ridiculed once they left my mouth. Kids are cruel, as the saying goes, and I’d learned that silence was a good weapon against their taunting.

Much to my surprise, my self-introduction that day was met by thirty teenagers leaning forward in their seats, smiling with rapt attention. It didn’t take me long to smile back, and before I knew it my “trial by fire” introduction was over. I’d not only survived the experience, but I found myself accepted as one of the gang.  I didn’t realize until much later that this particular bunch of teenagers knew exactly what it felt like to be ridiculed and bullied. These were the oddball misfits of the school – the kids who weren’t good at sports but still needed an outlet for their abundant energies and frustrations. I fit right in.

The life of a teenager is riddled with feelings of isolation, but finding your “tribe” can make all the difference in how you handle other peer situations. I was still ridiculed in a few of my other classes, but I drew heavily on the strength given to me by the group in which I was accepted and embraced for who I am, quirks and all. For the first time in my life, my disability became an asset, not a hindrance – a strength, not a weakness. The only thing I really miss about high school is getting to hang out with that wacky bunch every day.

Old friends come to the rescue

Fast-forward through a couple of decades… Many of us managed to stay in touch, which is a small miracle considering the fact that we went to high school in the dark ages before cell phones, email, and social media were available. When Facebook finally became a thing the format made it a lot easier to keep everyone together and informed about the ups and downs in our respective lives. I’m not the only one who has needed a boost of strength over the years, but I am the latest member of the group to need help.

On October 3rd, while coming home from a routine doctor’s appointment, the transmission on my 25-year-old van blew while we were on a congested Southern California street. I saw the smoke billowing from the engine while my mom – who was driving – struggled to pull the car to safety. It was about 100 degrees that day, and it was a complete nightmare trying to find appropriate transportation to get me and my 450 pound wheelchair home. You would think that somewhere in my sizable hometown you would be able to hire a wheelchair accessible taxicab, right? Wrong! We were hours on the phone with the Triple A dispatcher while she desperately tried to find us a ride. My mom and I were within seconds of starting the long walk home when the dispatcher called back with a “medical transport” that came and rescued us – finally!

My van is toast. It will cost more to repair the transmission and breaks and sundry other problems than the 25-year-old van is worth. In the meantime, I can’t get to my medical appointments, much less anywhere else within my community.

Once again, that same wacky bunch of oddball misfits leaned forward and said, “Julie needs help. Let’s get this done!” We’re scattered all over the country – and even all over the world – nowadays, and yet every one of them paused their busy lives to lift me up and say, “we’ve got you; don’t worry.”

We all like to believe we don’t need to rely on others, but I think one of the greatest gifts of my disability is the recognition that I can’t do it all alone. I often fear asking for help because it might make me appear weak or incapable. The thoughts that keep me awake at night are visions of society treating me like a “charity case,” which gives everyone the excuse to treat me as less than equal – to ignore or even ridicule my words and ideas. Friends who know me, though, never treat me as less than anything, and they make it normal to lean on them in times of trouble.

Sometimes our greatest strength lies in the gift of our friends.

My beautiful, wacky “tribe” has set up an IndieGoGo fundraising page to raise the much-needed funds to replace my wheelchair accessible van. They’re doing this NOT out of some misguided sense of pity for me because of my disability, but rather out of the bonds of life-long friendship. Every donation – large or small – to www.WheelsForJulie.com honors the strength of friendships that began so many years ago.

Julie is a novelist living in sunny Southern California with her parents and her beloved but spoiled rescue dog, Roxy, who likes to bark and mess up the speech recognition technology that Julie uses to type. Julie has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), type I/II.

Guest blog: Life lessons from 24-year-old Cory Jacobson

Cory Jacobson has spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy. She is mom to 15-month-old Kinley, and wife to Ian Jacobson.

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By Cory Jacobson

The question “What has SMA taught me?” was recently asked in a support group I am a member of. It really got me thinking so I thought I’d write out my answer. SMA has taught me a lot throughout my 24 years of life.

Doctors are “practicing”

I’ve learned that doctors are most certainly NOT always right. They have said things to me that have downright made me cry. For example, an OB doctor told my husband and I that he would need to be prepared to be a single father to our then unborn child because I was going to die during her birth. Clearly THAT didn’t happen.)

They will give out life expectancies to the already-traumatized parents when their babies are diagnosed. They are typically very wrong. They will act (and sometimes even directly state) that they are smarter than you and therefore know everything about you.

But, then you get some doctors who dedicate their lives to saving the lives of their patients. Ones who give out their personal cell phone numbers just in case you need them. Ones who learn things about you. Ones who take time to care for you in the very best way. Ones who admit they aren’t sure about something but will do research to learn more. THOSE are the good ones. Always be grateful for them.

Pushy parents are fantastic

My parents ALWAYS pushed me to try everything I possibly could. I wasn’t allowed to quit. I learned that I am capable of anything. If I have to do it differently, so what? Having SMA has taught me to appreciate the attitude my parents have instilled in me my entire life.

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Attitude is EVERYTHING

If you think you can’t do something, you aren’t gonna be able to. But, if you set your mind to something, you can do it. I’ve had so many people tell me that things were impossible for me to do, but I did them anyways. Call it stubbornness but I don’t take no for an answer. I have accomplished a lot in my life that I’m very proud of (graduating college, skiing, traveling, getting married, having a child, working, giving speeches) and having SMA has given me a “no quit” attitude.

Confidence is King

At first, confidence was not something that came naturally to me. But, eventually, I came to the realization that if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else? I had to learn to believe that, even though I’m different, I’m still smart, beautiful, funny, and worthy of the same things that everyone else is. This newfound sense of confidence afforded me the opportunity to experience so many wonderful things: an education, a loving and supportive (and sexy!) husband, a beautiful daughter, and so much more. I had to find confidence in myself before I could be independent.

Having SMA means that sometimes, things will really suck. It means that everyday things will be challenging. It means that I will have to be creative in nearly every aspect of my life. It means that many people will treat me differently. And when I say differently, I mean they will stare, ask stupid questions, discriminate, and the like. But, it means that I will be STRONGER for having overcome those daily challenges, and for trying to educate those people who treat me differently. It means I will be smarter and more creative for having to figure out innovative ways to overcome obstacles and adversity.

I’ve learned many things from having SMA, but this is just a little glimpse. SMA is not who I am, but it’s very much a part of me. I’ve learned to EMBRACE it and THAT is what SMA has really taught me; you’re given this life because you are strong enough to live it.

Southwest Flight Attendants Make Flight Fly!

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By Greg Smith

I’m not much of a vacation taker. I do travel quite a bit, but usually for business. I get invited by conferences, corporations, schools, and universities to teach people how to discover, develop, and deploy their inner strength.

Usually when I travel, my clients pay for the airfare, hotel and ground transportation for two. This allows me to bring a personal assistant to help me with all of the physical things that are difficult or impossible for me to do.

As I write this, I am on a short vacation, a trip to Phoenix, Arizona to visit my three kids. On this trip, I’m traveling solo.

My daughter is a freshman at Arizona State. My two sons are also living in Phoenix. They moved away from Mississippi two months ago. That’s a long time for me and I needed to see my kids.

Traveling alone requires a lot of planning and a lot of luck. In anticipation of the trip, I carefully designed a system that would allow me to hang my bags on the back of my chair and avoid the need for any assistance at the airport leaving my van and approaching the ticket counter.

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The drive from Ocean Springs to New Orleans was routine until all of a sudden, the sky opened up and the rains fell. Traffic slowed to a standstill and I looked at the clock on my cell phone. 3:05!

My flight was a 3:55 departure. I had planned on being at the airport by 2:30 and now at 3:05 I was still 20 minutes away!

And then the miracles began. It stopped raining. My style of driving changed from passive to aggressive as I maneuvered my way to the final exit at the airport.

In anticipation, I had made arrangements to call the airport parking office when I arrived at the terminal so they could send someone out to open the gate to allow me to get in. I can’t reach out my window and press the button that raises the gate. It was 3:30.

After what seemed like forever, a lady named Linda from parking services arrived in a truck and pressed the button to let me in. My tires squeaked as I maneuvered the circular ramp to the top level of the airport and sped into the first wheelchair accessible spot I could find. It was 3:35.

I drive my van from my wheelchair and when I reversed my chair to exit the vehicle, the van’s seatbelt pulled my wallet out of my lap down onto the floor! I cannot pick things up off the floor!!

“You’re screwed!” I yelled the words out loud. But without hesitation I exited the van immediately and looked to my left and to my right for a kind stranger to assist. Not a soul was to be found anywhere on the top level of the parking garage. It was like I was in a science-fiction movie!

I took the elevator down one level in search of help and met a security guard to whom I immediately and quickly told my plight. He briskly escorted me back to my van to retrieve the wallet. It was 3:42.

He actually discovered that I had knocked one of the bags of the back off my chair! I had no idea of this.

I quickly and very profusely thanked him before speeding to the elevator to the second level and the Southwest Airlines ticket counter. I went to the VIP line and I talked to the people that were in front of me in line. They invited me to cut the line.

I told the ticket agent my name, showed my ID and told her my destination. She started shaking her head. And then she looked up from the monitor and said with a smile, “you are so lucky!”

The flight had been delayed due to weather and had to circle the New Orleans area for 25 minutes before landing! I sped to the gate and actually had enough time to buy hotdog before boarding!

The process of getting from my power chair to the airline seat is complicated and worthy of its own article so I will save the details for now.
Once comfortably seated, and after the plane had completely been boarded, the pilot made the announcement that a bird had flown into one of the engines and that the engineering people needed to inspect the plane before departure.

“I would rather not know that,” I joked, which led to an initial small talk conversation with my flight attendants. Jaymi and Gwen were based in Orlando, Florida

As is often the case with me, the conversation quickly turned to football and Jaymi informed me that I could watch the Mississippi State versus Auburn game on my cell phone!

She took my phone and after a few strokes of her thumb and index finger, there was the third-quarter action and Mississippi State was ahead!

I could hear the announcers loud and clear through my Bluetooth headset, but from the position of sitting upright, it is impossible for me to hold the phone up to a level from which I can comfortably watch the screen. Gwynn noticed my struggles and took the initiative to invent a solution. About 10 minutes into the flight, she approached me with a cardboard box filled with latex gloves. She had cut one of the ends off the box. That was for my elbow to rest. The height of the box was perfect because it allowed me to hold the phone up to a level from which I could relax and enjoy the game!

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Throughout the three hour flight, she and Jaymi took great care of me. Jaymi made sure I was comfortable and took the time to talk to me about my disability and how I could be made more comfortable. Twice, she helped me lean my body forward with my knees against my chest for five minutes which relieved the aches and pains in my back.

When she served drinks, she put a lid and a straw on mine and allowed me to take a few sips and then returned later for a few more. She didn’t just hand me the drink and walk away, leaving me to fend for myself like so many have done in the past. It impressed me that she managed all this kindness to me while obviously being extremely busy doing her job for the whole plane. No matter how busy she was, she would always make contact and find out if everything was okay with me.

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I’ve flown hundreds of times and I can honestly say that this was the best crew I’ve ever been served by. Flight 1845 from New Orleans to Phoenix takes about three hours. Three hours can seem like nine hours if your back is hurting and you are bored. Thanks to the caring and comfort from Jamie and Gwen, this flight flew!

Goodbye, Mr. “M”

Greg Smith and "Mr. M"  Bill Meulhauser

“Mr. M” came to hear me speak in Phoenix, November 2, 2013.

by Greg Smith

Last week, I learned of the passing of a man who was instrumental in my development as a youth.  For 34 years as a special education teacher at Downers Grove South High School in suburban Chicago, this man played the same role in hundreds of lives.

Remembering “Mr. M,” Bill Muelhauser, brings back fond appreciative thoughts about my introduction to the disability community.  I had just become a wheelchair user after back surgery and beginning high school.    I thought you might enjoy these memories about  “Mr. M” and the impact he had on me:

Reflections on the environment Mr. M created for special ed students at Downers Grove South

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When my “short bus” arrived at South High School, it pulled right up to the front of the building. Sometimes we arrived at the exact same time as two or three other “short buses” so we jockeyed for position to unload under the covered shelter of the awning in front of the school.

After getting off the bus, I propelled the manual chair by putting my right foot over my left foot. After about 20 repetitions of this motion on the slick tile floor inside Downers South’s main lobby, I moved down the hall to the right and entered the starting point of my day for the next four years, the “crip room.”  That’s what we called the special education classroom.

Actually, there were two “crip rooms.” The main room was about the size of three standard classrooms, but still nowhere near big enough for the 30 or so disabled kids. Many of us were in wheelchairs and many lacked speed or agility, or the ability to perceive depth and space enough to know that they were always causing traffic jams. I learned quickly that if I wanted to be on time for a class, I had to plan my route so I that wouldn’t get stuck in the middle.

The “crip room” featured a complete kitchen with oven, dishwasher sink and refrigerator to teach the kids independent living skills. Bill Muelhauser ran it, but I didn’t learn his real last name until weeks after the start of school because he introduced himself to us at orientation as “Mr. M.” Tall, with a big mustache and a friendly laugh, he was a comforting part of my accepting that I would be attending South instead of the school my neighborhood kids attended, Downers Grove North.

Mr. M was the captain of “the crip ship.” Looking back, I’d say it was quite impressive to consider that Mr. M and his staff took on the responsibility of receiving kids with disabilities from all over the western suburbs and giving them the most integrated a school setting possible.

In addition to managing the special education department, he taught classes to special needs kids and supervised his staff. Mrs. Bretl, AKA “Mrs. B,” and Miss Brown were the other two teachers in the special ed class. There were four paid staff assistants as well as several students who worked as volunteers.

The “crip room” was a place where those of us who were integrated in mainstream classrooms could get the physical help we needed, like removing jackets, gathering books for our next class, or getting some assistance with using the bathroom. We all had lockers for our coats, but unlike the non-disabled students, we kept our books in little plastic shelves with our names on them, for easy access.

The “crip room” was like a headquarters for the disabled students. We could eat lunch there if we wanted to, but as a freshman, I would shudder to think of doing such a thing! I ate my lunches in the main cafeteria, determined to fit in and be as “normal” as possible.

Soon, the daily routine developed. “Mr. M,” Miss Brown, or “Mrs. B” – simple names for the kids with cognitive disabilities to learn and remember – or one of the staff or student assistants helped me remove my coat. I then wheeled myself over to my chest level, orange plastic shelf to get the books for my first class and place them next to me in my chair. Then I was out of there.

As the year progressed, I started to enjoy beginning my days in the “crip room.” As I removed my coat and assembled my materials for class, I engaged in Monday-morning quarterbacking with kids who had severe cognitive disabilities but who knew sports statistics like computers. We would more often than not be discussing a bonehead decision by Bears quarterback, Bob Avelini the day before, or a beautiful Walter Payton dash from scrimmage. This was a very opinionated group of sports fans!

I remember a class vacation we took to Clearwater, Florida and Disney World.  In Clearwater, Mr. M did an awesome thing for me.  I was flirting with a high-school-aged waitress at our diner.  She gave me her number and we agreed to meet later that evening, but the class had other activities planned.  Mr. M was cool enough to allow me to skip the plans and have dinner with her.  Without her knowledge, he chaperoned from a table across the room!

Through “Mr. M’s” leadership, high school was an incredible introduction to some of what would become defining elements of my life. The “crip room” was a new introduction to disability; a familiarity with the diversity and goodness of people, and an understanding that my cognitive abilities made me no better a human being than those who were both mentally and physically disabled.

That year was also one of reward for initiative. I expressed a desire to become involved in marching band and radio, and both of those doors opened to me. Those three experiences, profound foundations of who I would become in life, share the same roots, 1978-1982, my time at Downers Grove South High School.

These are just one student’s reflections.  Hundreds of similar stories could be told about the incredible work Bill Muelhauser did in his career.  Goodbye, “Mr. M.”  You were a great man, appreciated and loved by many.

A memorial visitation will be Saturday October 11, 2014 from 10am until time of services 11:30am at Toon Funeral Home 4920 Main Street Downers Grove IL.

Chad Hymas Video Inspires “Operation Rise & Shine”

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Gaining Strength from a “Roll Model,” Chad Hymas

by Greg Smith

Getting in and out of bed is something most people take for granted. Due to muscular dystrophy, I have slowly been losing the ability to do this independently. I’m not prepared to live with the lifestyle restrictions caused by the rigid scheduling of assistants to get me in bed. So I’ve established “Operation Rise and Shine: One Man’s Quest to Go to Bed and Get Up Whenever!”

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Inspirational Speaker Chad Hymas

“Operation Rise and Shine” is constantly fueled by the inner strength, determination, and relentlessness that is built into my psyche. But finding even more motivation to persevere is something I always strive to do. I was extremely inspired by a video posted by my National Speakers Association colleague Chad Hymas. As C-4 quadriplegic, Chad travels the world alone as an inspirational speaker and gets undressed and dressed daily by himself. It took him 2 1/2 years to learn the entire process. In this video, he shares his process and reveals the potential of focused, relentless determination.

If you watch the whole video, please go ahead and admit it in the “comments” section below.  Were you inspired?

My “Operation Rise & Shine” has taken major strides forward over the past few days. Saturday, a new mattress was delivered to the house. This mattress is firm enough to support my body without my weight pushing me down into a hole. This allows me to much more easily turn from side to side. Adding silk sheets makes the process a lot easier too. In addition, the new mattress is about 3 inches lower to the ground than the previous one which makes transferring easier.

The next phase of the Operation is to make the process easier. Now, I am able to make the transfer from bed to wheelchair and vice versa, but is it is extremely difficult. I will be working with my occupational therapist, Danielle Johnson, to come up with little tricks that eliminate the grueling maneuvers. I look forward to sharing our progress as we try to shave the time for transfers down from 20 minutes to under one minute.

Stay tuned for more updates and video proof of the success of “Operation Rise & Shine.”  And a special ‘thank you’ to my speaker colleague, Chad Hymas.