I woke up today with a rash of emotions, from both the high and low end of the spectrum... Recounting the events from the past five years and namely the past week... my week started with some very unfortunate news much of which has gotten me where I am today and has shaped who I become over the past five years. On Saturday, July 21, 2012 before 8:30 in the morning, my trainer at the Claremont club for the past five years , Lee Russo was found collapsed on the side of a walking trail in North LaVerne by two pedestrians. Unfortunately, my trainer Lee was pronounced dead at the scene. I’ve had five days to recall this and take it all in and it still hasn’t quite hit home yet of truly how important, how special, how meaningful and how vital Lee is to my life and my recovery. However, I did have a chance to reminisce over the past five years and how he has gotten me where I am today. If I were to tell all of you that Lee was 69 years old none of you would probably believe me. He was the most in shape and fit 69-year-old I’ve ever seen. Lee taught me a lot about self-discipline, hard work, self-control and willpower. And how harnessing all that, and focusing your energy towards a goal with the help of a trainer like Lee, anything is possible with a strong mental outlook. He was a model citizen, with a positive attitude a great outlook and a smile that reflected upon everybody around. He brought an energy to the Claremont club not just to the trainers but to the members as well, as he lighted up the atmosphere and always made you feel right at home. His warm personality created for a very gentle and caring man, as he cared so much to be the liaison for the Claremont club with the community of Claremont. He was very active in the community as well as his church in which he called home. If there were more people like Lee in this world there’s no question this world would be a better place with much less tension and more caring individuals everywhere. Lee is somebody that I look up to and I will always have a certain drive and motivation to get back up on my feet now more than ever on account of that being a goal for both Lee and I in my recovery. I will never forget him, as he was simply perfect in his own right and he will definitely have a legacy that lives on not just that the club but throughout the city and neighborhood to. As that weighed on my mind this morning as I woke up I realized I had to find a reason to wake up and have the motivation to go out and work hard for Lee. And motivation came quite easily as I woke up this morning to immense amount of text messages, and voicemails and comments on twitter that I simply realize I had nothing to be down about, nothing to be upset for and simply a feeling of all the hope and the world given back to me through the support structure that I have within me. You see today is my birthday. July 26. And for those of you that know me know that that truly isn’t my birthday you would all say “no Hal it’s August 14”. I would certainly agree with you in the sense that that is my literal birthday. However, now there is a new day in my life that is far more important to me. July 26, 2007 was the day I was officially born, again. Yes, I am five years old and counting. This was the day thatlife stood still and a new perception and attitude towards it was formed. In some sense, I was remade as a baby all over again. I had my legs taken from me, I’ve had to relearn how to walk, and had to relearn how to take care of myself, I’ve had to relearn how to feed myself, I’ve had to relearn how to be independent, and yes I’ve had to relearn how to poop and pee to be quite honest. And as gross and disgusting as this sounds, all of this is now a reality to me. And never once has it become a reason or source of something to get me down or make me sad, is simply used as a driving force and motivation to get back to where I was prior to July 26, 2007. But I’ve come to realize since those five years ago that most of those physical things in life don’t necessarily matter to me as much, believe it or not. Do I still have the urge and the drive to go out and be a kid again and go out and do physical activities, and wakeboard again, and play baseball again? Absolutely! But I’ve also come to realize that the mental and emotional aspects of life are far more important than anything else. And I found a whole new love a new passion for life that I never had before. I’ve found that are starting my foundation and helping other heal. Through starting the foundation and seeing others heal and helping them heal is more therapeutic than anything else to me in life. I’m not just talking about the SCI patients either, I’m talking about devoting my life to helping others around me. This is far more important than anything that has to do with me personally as far as I’m concerned. I myself as I’m sure many other people can accuse themselves of being too selfish at certain points in time, whether or not they’re willing to admit it to other people but mark me down as one of those people that is willing to admit. I’m not afraid to say it but yes, prior to my accident I probably live my life much too selfishly in light of doing what was in my best interest and not in the interest of other people and that was completely wrong. My purpose, is to be there for other people not want other people to be there for me, that should just come without any questions asked what the people I’ve surrounded myself with, not in any cocky or stuck up way am I saying that either. I am saying that because you have all lived up to expectations of who I truly thought you were. You all have been there by my side for the past five years and have never left and I truly love every one of you for that from the bottom of my heart. Each and every one of you that I call my friends, have never failed me and have completely gone above and beyond the call of duty to express your true light of who you all are and that’s great people. I could sit here time and time again and say that I myself, is the one to think all this because I chose all of you to be my friends, yet that again would simply be wrong. You, all chose me to be a part of your life so I should be thanking each and every one of you for answering the same question I have for all of you in a positive way, “ are you a good person” and I can tell you for each and every one of you, I would say yes. You that all know me have heard me say the motto at some point or another, “worry more about your character than your reputation, your character is to you are and your reputation is merely what others think of you”. This would in fact indicate that each and every one of you should care less if I or anyone else has the perception of you that you are a good or a bad person, that judgment and decision should be made in the nature of just who you are as a person. My point is is that many of you are just who you are, and that my eyes is a great person and is somebody that I’m proud to call a friend and a supporter of mine and the foundation. So some of you might ask what have you learned in the past five years. I wouldn’t know where to begin to be quite honest... I could start by saying patience, or that walking isn’t everything in life, that the most important thing in life is your friends and family, that I’ve learned how to be an optimist and always be positive, that the road I’ve traveled down with something that I never expected that I would but is a blessing in disguise, but I would probably say more than anything else that this all happened for a reason.. That this was meant to be and for one simple reason that I can assure you that this is a true statement.. And that is because I have all of the people that I have surrounding me in supporting me. Each and every one of you reiterate me every morning why I get up and do what I do and that this is all worth it to me, walking or not if this is what life has in store for me but I’m perfectly okay with it simply because the people I’ve met, the stories that I’ve heard, the friendships that I’ve gained, the friendships that I’ve maintained and the future that I have ahead of me. Did I expecting to be walking now my five year anniversary? Early on in my recovery yes I would’ve told you no doubt, do I have any doubt now? No absolutely not, it just may take a little longer than unexpected. Was this because I wasn’t applying myself for trying hard enough? Most definitely not, I can name 1000 reasons right now why I would never give up on each and every one of you. I guess my body is just at the point where it’s just not ready to get up and do its thing yet. And that’s perfectly okay with me because I’ve realized something new about life. That it’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about how slow methodical you can get there while choosing the best route, the best path to go down, the bumpy as road that tests your adversity, a wild adventure, unexpected run-ins, eventfulmoments that take your breath away, all with the understanding that everything is going to be okay and that I will reach my goal someday with the help of all of you. Time is of the essence.. My no rush to walk tomorrow as long as I continue to understand and learn new things along the way but most importantly never take a single moment for granted ever again for the people I have around me, my physical state, my mental and emotional outlook, and that I have the greatest gift of all.. The gift of life itself. But I want to take the time to thank you all for something that you didn’t know you help me learn and that is to pay attention to the little details in life because those are what mean the most... To cherish little victories and little accomplishments along my road to recovery. Because people automatically assume as an outsider looking in that it’s either walking or nothing... Which isn’t true.. I continued to defy odds every day of what people and doctors told me I would never do again. It’s the little things now that are more important than ever. My second round of “1st time doing something” all over again. If the little victories such as learning to feed myself again, learning to push my wheelchair and become independent again, learning to have a great mental outlook on life again, learning to be positive, learning to cope with this injury, and yes trying to put 1 foot in front of the other every day and trying to take the biggest step of my life while I try to get back to walking again someday. You may notice that I in fact didn’t say everything had to be physical to be a 1st for doing something all over again.. Because that is not what is important to me anymore.. Changing somebody’s life in a positive way is all that I am worried about now.. And I’ve come to find out that I can still be Hal without walking.. And that was the greatest discovery in the entire world.. I have learned one last thing, and that is the difference between having a good and bad memory, because having a good memory is carried with the people who pay attention to the little details of life. And I certainly pride myself on that more than ever right. Where will I be five years from now? I’m not even going to try and tell you that I have an idea.. But I can tell you two things that I know for sure will still be here five years from now.. All of you and the foundation! Thank you all so much for the support! I love you all and never forget to BE PERFECT!
R.I.P. LEE RUSSO
LEE AT THE 1ST ANNUAL EVENT