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As many of you know, I have been lucky enough over the past decade to study in-depth my grandfather's World War II unit, the 11th Airborne Division. Grandpa was a paratrooper in the famous 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment which formed at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, in the spring of 1942, then went on to train at Fort Benning, Camp Mackall, Camp Polk, Camp Stoneman then sailed to the Pacific Theater for additional training on New Guinea before being committed to combat on Leyte in late 1944 and Luzon for most of 1945.
I have had the great honor to interview and befriend many of the last living troopers from the 11th Airborne and I can tell you that they are (rightly) proud of having served their country in such a distinguished unit. To listen to these incredible men, now advanced in years, tell the stories of war from their youth, is humbling. That is why I have been working so hard to share their history on the regimental website www.511pir.com and it is the main motivation behind my latest book, WHEN ANGELS FALL: FROM TOCCOA TO TOKYO, THE 511TH PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENT IN WORLD WAR II, available on Amazon (in print and Kindle) or wherever military history books are sold.
This past Saturday, October 5, I had the opportunity to attend an anti-bullying event held in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I stood there watching the various attendees come through I spent a portion of the day pondering the bullies I had faced in my own life. From fellow students in school to fellow athletes in sport, I have tasted the bitter results of those who for one reason or another felt the need to force their own pains on another.
This time of meditation led me to think of another bully, one that can inflict true hurt and heartache. I speak of mental illness, a bully that no school Principal or mortal parent can ever put in "time out." No sibling can stand up to this bully on the "playground" of life and no spouse, friend or teammate can fully protect you from. This bully is the first to steal hope, happiness and energy from life.
I have often wondered what my life would be like if I had not been asked to carry this "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Would I be married with a family by now? Would I have a more successful professional career? Would I have done more in my sport of bobsled and gone further? Would I have deeper relationships and friendships? Would I be a better light unto this dark and troubled world? The questions, and possible answers, are infinite and beyond my ability to comprehend.
This past weekend I had the humbling opportunity to attend and speak at an inspirational and touching "Out of Darkness" community walk at Pleasant Grove High School. What a beautiful facility and what a beautiful day, all for a beautiful purpose. A huge congratulations to the many, many volunteers who worked tirelessly to make it happen.
It was a moving experience to see so many who came to honor the memory of those who decided to take their own lives. All across the United States, teams of volunteers give of their time and resources to organize these walks to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention as well as fund-raise for educational and supportive efforts to prevent more lose. As the AFSP's website states:
"In the United States, a person dies by suicide every 13.7 minutes, claiming more than 38,000 lives each year. It is estimated that an attempt is made every minute, with close to one million people attempting suicide annually. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. among adults 18-65, the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults, and individuals ages 65 and older account for 16 percent of all suicide deaths. This is a public health issue that does not discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status."
It was an amazing opportunity for me to participate because of all the wonderful people I met, but also because this is a subject that hits so very close to him since it was only years ago that I almost took my own life. Below is a copy of the speech that I gave to the event's attendees that I hope can inspire and comfort you in your own tough times. Don't give up. There is always hope.
"What does it feel like to crash?"
That seems to be the second most popular question I receive when people find out I'm a bobsled pilot and coach (the first being, 'Have you seen Cool Runnings?' which of course I have). What does a bobsled crash feel like? Sadly, most people are disappointed that not every crash results in concussions, broken bones, or near death experiences. They can be violent, yes, but usually a bobsled crash is just a "hold on and wait for the ride to come to a complete stop" kind of affair. You try to keep your body off the ice so you don't get ice burns (which can be pretty nasty), but a crash is just part of the sport and you learn to roll with the punches.
I guess you could say that that is one of the first things bobsled taught me about adversity, that in order to keep playing the game you have to roll with the punches and keep moving forward. It is natural for newer drivers to be nervous about driving the track again after they just crashed, but you always silently cheer for those who face those fears and do it anyway. In life, we all face a choice whenever adversity or hard times come our way: we can let the fear prevent us from trying again, from dreaming again, from loving again or from believing in goodness again, but that choice is ours alone. As bobsled athletes, no coach can force us to take to the ice if we decide that our fears are more valid than our goals. Similarly, in life no one, not even God, can force us to reach for the stars if we choose to listen to our fears instead of our faith, and I'm not talking religious faith; I mean our beliefs that life can be amazing if we work for it and allow good things come our way.
Often during the month of November we see "30 Days of Thanksgiving" challenges that push us to develop gratitude for the blessings that we so often overlook and take for granted. And while I love such challenges, they often only require us to declare our thankfulness on social media and nothing more. And that's not enough.
So, here's a challenge that is truly an activity challenge. During my "30 Days of Thankful-ness Giving" you'll have to not only do some soul-searching to discover what you're grateful for, you'll have to do things for others and for yourself to express your gratitude. This challenge will open your heart, deepen your soul, strengthen your relationships and most of all bring peace and joy to your life.
Developing a spirit of gratitude has been shown to improve our immune systems, increase our level of happiness, deep our relationships and build optimism for daily life. So good luck and happy holidays! May this season be full of laughter, love, light and football...I mean, wonder.
Day 1: Life's Experiences - Do you realize how amazing you are? A living, breathing human being! Take a moment and write a list of ten life events that you are grateful occurred to help you be you.
Day 2: Parents - As imperfect as they are, your parents did their best to love and raise you right. Pick up the phone and call your mother or father (or a mentor) to tell them how much you appreciate their influence in your life.
Day 3: Best Friend - Friends are the spice of life, so write your best friend a letter outlining all the reasons you are thankful that they are in your life.
Day 4: Neighbor - "It takes a village" as they say and neighbors are an important part of our lives. Make a taste treat and take it to a neighbor who has been a wonderful friend for you and/or your family.
Day 5: Blessings - Spend a quiet 15-minutes today just thinking about all the blessings that you have in your life and nothing else.
Day 6: Body - Do something active today! Get outside and enjoy the fresh air and give thanks for the body that you have, despite what you think may be its faults or "problem areas".
Day 7: Mind - Spend time reviewing a favorite childhood memory, then think about what you did yesterday, and finally think about a problem in your life and come up with a solution. Lastly, be grateful for a healthy mind that can do all three of those things and spend some time in a good book today to exercise your brain!
Someday “Just friends” Will be “Best Friends”
Someday “I think highly of you” Will be “I can’t stop thinking about you”
Someday “I have to go” Will be “I don’t want you to ever leave”
Someday “I’m glad you’re in my life” Will be “I can’t imagine life without you”
Someday “We’re going in different directions" Will be “Where can we go together?”
Someday “I’m here for you” Will be “I’d give my life for you”
Someday “You’re pretty great” Will be “You’re my everything”
Someday “I admire your life” Will be “Let’s build a life together”
-Jeremy C. Holm
A recent encounter with a bump in the road (aka "adversity") in the pursuit of one of my goals, for some reason my mind turned to Peter the apostle in the Bible's New Testament. Now, even if you aren't Christian, keep reading because I realized that one of Peter's experiences in his life can teach us quite a bit about setting, keeping and working for goals.
The story in question is found in St. Mathew chapter 14 (or St. Mark 6 and St. John 6). The story tells us that Jesus Christ's disciples, of which Peter was one, were out on a small fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee on their way to Capernaum. We read that it was late at night, during the "fourth watch" which according to the Roman's method of keeping time was "quarta vigilia noctis", or just before dawn, which tells us that the disciples had been rowing and fighting the storm throughout the night.
Now storms on the Sea of Galilee can be quite violent due to the cold air coming down from the hills around the sea where it meets the warmer air around the Galilee due to the lower elevation. So there the disciples were; it was late, it was violently stormy, the wind was roaring, the waves were crashing over the tiny boat's sides and the rain was coming down in sheets. It was at this point that Jesus appeared, walking across the thrashing water. While the disciples feard it was spirit at first, Jesus said "Be of good acheer; it is I; be not afraid." Peter, upon seeing his master, cries out, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." to which Jesus simply responds, "Come." This is where it gets interesting.
Several years ago while sitting with a trusted friend we began to reminisce about high school. As I talked about the good and bad that comes with that "joyous" time of life, I thought back to my younger self's battles for identity and the additional silent wars fought against anxiety and depression. Imagine trying to define yourself while dealing with those particular ghosts in the closet?
My friend immediately noticed the quiet change that came over my face. "You ok?"
"I feel sorry for him," I said quietly. And I did. When I thought back to all that my 15-18 year old self had to deal with, I silently wanted to applaud the fact that I had survived. Depression sucks at any age, let alone to a barely-able-to-drive kid who thought his world revolved around bobsled, girls, good grades and my faith. I didn't know words like "cope", "share", "vent", "heal" and "support." All I knew was that I was supposed to keep it together, put the big smile on my face and make it through. Like many guys, I would be damned before I admitted I needed a helping hand.
As I sit here looking out my office window at a beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah blue sky I can't help but smile. Life is such a marvelous and wonderful gift, and every day that we are alive is a new chance to create a powerful future. As we say in my non-profit organization, The Athlete Outreach Project, "there is always hope."
Yet even as I smile, I cannot help but sigh at the tragedies and darkness that fills this world. As a former journalist I know only too well the number of wars and conflicts that rage around the globe. I just spoke at a suicide prevention event and often study the statistics surrounding those struggling with mental illness. I have participated in countless cancer research fundraisers and visited cancer patients in the hospital on several occasions. I have seen marriages fall apart due to infidelity, abuse or just plain apathy. I have seen lives destroyed through the use of drugs or other addictive substances. I have visited with youth incarcerated for foolish choices and helped save at least one life from ending through an eating disorder.
Even as I write this I'm mentally reviewing the tough circumstances that so many in my own life face. I have one friend who survived a potentially fatal car accident only to have her ex-husband force her and her daughters out of their old home and onto the streets. I have another friend who just got out of the hospital after some major surgeries. I could go on and on and so could you, and that doesn't even include all the struggles we have in our own lives.
As a dear friend of mine reminded me this week, "We all get tired, we all get discouraged, and we all have days where we want to give up. But we can't. Life is too amazing. And we are not alone in it."