Though it took him until age 5 to learn to walk and until age 16 to tie his shoes, Roger Crawford said he wouldn't trade the underdeveloped arms and legs with which he was born.
A brief experience with prosthetic hands taught him that, he recalled Tuesday at a lunch to benefit Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation.
"I gotta tell you this, I don't know what people do with 10 fingers," he said to laughter from the crowd. "Frankly, it seems like a waste. I was poking myself in the eyes."
But more importantly, his disability has taught him that one's life is ultimately defined by what one chooses to dwell on -- hope and gratitude or anxiety and negativity, he said.
"My hands have been much more of a blessing than a burden. Because when I look at my hands, you know what they remind me? Never, ever quit," he said.
Mr. Crawford, an NCAA Division I Tennis Champion and a member of the National Hall of Fame for People with Disabilities, gave the keynote address at Siskin Hospital's seventh annual "Possibilities" luncheon. The event celebrates the achievements of those with disabilities and seeks to raise money to support the facility, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first patient admission this month.
Donations to Siskin help fund therapy for patients who are otherwise unable to afford it, but the needs are rising, said Bob Main, president and CEO.
More people are losing their health insurance in the economic recession, he said, and possible TennCare cuts to outpatient rehabilitation services loom on the horizon.
Rehabilitation services can bring independence and dignity to the lives of people who otherwise would be facing severe disability and the potential for costly medical complications down the road, he said.
"We believe strongly that we can keep people out of the health care system," he said. "That's the part that's so frustrating. We know we can help people. But the demands are so great, we can't take them all in."
WORDS OF WISDOM
Tidbits from inspirational speaker Roger Crawford, who spoke at a benefit for Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation on Tuesday:
* "I am absolutely convinced that the essence of my life is really not far different than your life because part of the human experience is that all of us are going to face adversity. Challenges, if you will, are inevitable, but I am convinced that defeat is optional."
* "I finally learned to tie my shoes, and the next day, someone invented Velcro."
* "I got involved in track and field. I learned how to throw the javelin. Well, I have to admit to all of you, when I threw the javelin, I didn't set many records, but I'll tell you this: I kept the crowd alert."
Physical therapy at Siskin has helped 20-year-old Sam Dowlen, of Signal Mountain, come back from a devastating injury. He broke his neck on a backyard water slide in August and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. He underwent inpatient physical therapy at an Atlanta hospital for two months before he began regular outpatient sessions at Siskin.
For his mother, Katie Dowlen, her son's recovery of nearly all his functions, aside from some lingering coordination problems, has been a "miracle."
"I'm just so grateful that there are people who give their lives to helping people learn to live to their full potential," she said.