Author of The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.
Skip Wilkins looked at the audience with a warm smile while he was being introduced. Most people smiled back. A few people just stared in amazement at the lean, tan, physically fit, self-confident athlete sitting in a wheel chair while they listened to his accomplishments.
He had just flown in from Atlanta where he was a television co-host with Bob Costas for the Para-Olympics. Skip had been an outstanding high school athlete. By the time he graduated from his high school in Virginia in June, 1967, he had received letters from over 20 college football coaches trying to recruit him. A natural athlete, he had been a track and field star as well.
Skip told how at age 17, three days after he graduated, he broke his neck in a water skiing accident. The lower part of his body was permanently paralyzed. He had some ability to move his arms, but little control over his hands.
His rehabilitation was a long slow process, but he handled it with good humor. He resumed bass fishing, his favorite outdoor activity, as soon as possible. With the help and support of his family he went to college and eventually earned a degree in psychology. In 1970 he started dating Daphne, a lovely, slender student nurse. They dated for two years and were married in 1972. He decided that being in a wheel chair would not hold him back from athletic activities. Between 1975 and 1980 he set 12 national records for wheel chair athletes in the shot put, discus, precision club, and javelin. He won gold medals in international events. He learned to play table tennis and has been national champion ten times. He was the national Athlete of the Year in Wheel Chair Sports.
Skip travels all over the world speaking to audiences and consulting. His injury, he says, made him "stop competing with others and start competing with life." He emphasizes that "doing your best is a lifetime job."
For me his most powerful "survivor" statement came toward the end of his talk. After describing the many ways his life has been wonderful, successful, rewarding, and satisfying, he seemed to realize that perhaps he had oversold the benefits he gained from being paralyzed.
"I would have preferred to not have my injury," he said, "but if anyone said they could take away my condition I wouldn’t let them if they took away my experiences. My experiences are too rich and too wonderful to be willing to give up."
Please note: Skip passed away in 2005. He was remembered by many as an open, supportive and encouraging person. To read more about his amazing story see The Real Race, by Skip Wilkins and Joseph Dunn, paperback version: Paternoster Press ©1988, ISBN-10: 0850091608.