We Are All Disabled - Part 10


When I Grow Up...


I watched the Juno Awards and in the closeness of my basement suite felt the walls close in. 

To see and to hear that much talent on one stage and to know in someway, I'm competing for a piece of that audience is humbling. And then after a long night of thinking too much, being humbled turns into being challenged. So it is, I pick up my guitar, I practice, I compose and I practice again, knowing there is no other way to survive. 

Looking back at my life, being reflective is the best way I know to move forward. It's not about indulgence or obsession, I can't afford to do that. Instead I think about the people whose talent, support and love have provided me direction. That's where the rest of my life begins - being grateful to and learning from the people who have shared part of themselves with me. 

Today those memories take me to Jim Byrnes. A brilliant performer, an inspired writer, an actor and a man who has spent most o f his life in the services of others. I've played with Jim but never felt I was his equal. Our music and our styles are different but that isn't it, instead I've just never been able to feel as deeply as he does, in words anyway - on the guitar maybe, but never in words. 

The Jim Byrnes most people know has won Juno Awards, performs his music around the world and is a big time movie and television actor. The Jim Byrnes I know is all those things but he is also a man who lost his legs helping someone change a tire on the side of the road when he was hit by another car, speeding down a dark highway. I think that moment changed the course of Jim's life. There is a humility around Jim as he constantly lends his talent to people and ideas that make the world a better place. There is an honesty and an intensity to him that is unmatched and playing close to him only magnifies those feelings. 

One night in China a few years ago while shooting Heart Of A Dragon, I played with Jim in a village built into the base of the Great Wall. Jim sang songs, rich in a tradition that defined his life- honest, powerful and loyal to the bluesmen that have gone before. 

I have thought about that night at the Great Wall many times and about the grace and determination he carries himself with. Our music and talent may be different but our hearts are the same and when I grow up ... I want to be just like Mr. Byrnes. 


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We Are All Disabled - Part 9

Remembering Lee Gibson - An Unlikely Friend


Lee and I back on the Great Wall, 20yrs later for the filming of
Heart Of A Dragon - Sept 2006
Its absurd that anyone is awake at six o'clock in the morning, especially a musician. I'm better playing into the night than I am getting up with the birds but times change and I can do this. Coffee helps, it always has. I will need it soon but first I want to tell you about the most unlikely of friends anyone could ever have. 


I grew up in a small family, Lee Gibson grew up in a large one.  As a child, I imagined a world full of adventure. Lee was born a pirate. I struggled with all things athletic. Lee was a boxer. I was shy around girls. Lee by his own figuring was Casanova. I went around the world with Rick Hansen because we were friends. Lee went around the world with him because they were blood. For a very long time Lee and I looked at each other, wondering why fate put us together but as we pushed thousands and thousands of miles helping Rick realize a dream bigger than all of us, I came to think about Lee as my friend, as my protector and as a man with a deep conviction for following the beat of his own drum.

Lee was not always easy to be around during our time together on the Man in Motion Tour.  He was often in trouble for chasing big ideas, complicating the simplest of tasks and always defying authority. But he would never knowingly hurt anyone. Once in Japan he talked his way into the kitchen at McDonalds and started flipping burgers, convincing the staff he was somehow a legendary chef.  In Holland, he stole and cooked a goose from a Zoo for Thanksgiving dinner and on more than one occasion, he would disappear with a girl he met along the road, who he claimed, needed his help. 

Officially, Lee was the cook for our journey around the world. That part was always true. It was a responsibility he was dedicated to, until something else caught his attention.  Unofficially, Lee's humour and loyalty was often the glue that kept us pushing so hard. I worried about him sometimes...I think he worried about all of us too- but in the show that surrounded Lee, it was not easy to hear him say it. Lee loved fishing. He loved his family. He could have been one of those flamboyant chefs with with his own reality TV show but instead he went on a great adventure with us. I was once but I'm no longer confused about my feelings for Lee. I loved him like a brother. I only wish I had the chance to tell that  him before he died recently. But somehow he knew. He always knew, maybe that's just the way it is with big brothers. 



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We Are All Disabled - Part 8


Ice Cream Is A Vegetable


My Grandmother is 98 and loves her life in Williams Lake.  I lived with her for a time. We became the best of friends and still are. These days, I call Granny just to hear the sound of her voice. Its the most reassuring sound I have ever known. After those calls, I smile and slip back to the best parts of being a kid that always involved Granny.

Granny and I 
She bought my first bike and chocolate ice cream cones whenever I needed them. We watched Gilligan's Island and the Flintstones together.  She was always there, loving me without any conditions because that's what Granny's do.

Staring out into the morning rain and grey skies, thinking about filing my taxes and what's next in a fledging musical career, it's easy to find peace when I remember there are women like Granny in my life who have seen the best in me, even when I couldn't. Linda Fricke is one of those people whose compassion and encouragement was just the right medicine when I returned to earth after going around the world with Rick Hansen.

I met Linda at an event celebrating the Man in Motion Tour. Linda introduced herself to me. When she asked what I was doing, shame rolled over me. I couldn't talk about my music because wheeling around the world for two years had put my guitar on ice. And I couldn't talk about what Rick and I might do together because his new life as a hero didn't require a wheelchair mechanic. 

Paralympics in Atlanta
I didn't know what to say but Linda did. She told me about a wheelchair sports program I should be a part of. She challenged me to take the skills I developed keeping Rick and his chair on the road and invest them in young athletes.

Linda is one of my heroes. She invested so much of herself in wheelchair sports and she brought me along for the ride that led me to become the wheelchair tech for the Paralympics Team for the Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney.

The Sydney games were magical. I worked with the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Team. Our matches were sell outs. Mix Wheelchairs from a Mad Max movie with one part Aussie Rules and you get true grit entertainment.

How lucky am I to have befriended Linda Fricke and to have a Granny who believes chocolate ice cream is a vegetable! ( I wish )

Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Team in Sydney, Australia

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We Are All Disabled - Part 7


The Boy Who Couldn't Jump


I had a great  trip to the Malaysian Festival but after a long flight home, woke up with  paralysis of analysis - a condition that makes me think way too much about love and life and things that have no easy answers.

It all started when I was a kid and kept wondering why the sky was blue and then my father died and I wondered about him so much sometimes that it got in the way of me wondering about why the sky was blue.

William's Lake Jr. Basketball Team
Rick (31) and Don (13)
This morning when thinking too much set in, I went for walk in the park down the street.  The outdoor swimming pool is empty in the winter but it’s easy to imagine it being full of kids playing. The tennis court is quiet and full of puddles from the rain but if you close your eyes, you can hear a ball bounce. My favorite place in the park, winter and summer is the basketball court because there are seats nearby where you can watch pick up games. You learn so much about people from the way the play games.

This morning the basketball court, like the empty swimming pool was full of people you could only imagine because in the real world, in my neighborhood, everybody was at school or work leaving the park to musicians, children and squirrels.  I’ve always loved basketball but just don't have the skills, and can’t jump. I've never been able to jump. I've played wheelchair basketball with friends who somehow lift themselves and their chairs into the air. I've played pick games with kids who fly by me in the air, they too reminding me I can't jump. 

 Basketball was a big deal even in a small town in Northern Canada. All my friends played and I tried just could not get the dribbling part, or the shooting part and definitely not the jumping part. But I met my best friend, Rick Hansen on the basketball court in that small town. He was the star and he knew how badly I wanted to play.  He was patient teaching me the game and regardless how badly I played, he insisted on including me.

Following my short lived basketball career, in the days I was a want to be rock and roll star, I did think about adding an onstage jump to my act but then I remembered what happened on the basketball court and I settled into the idea that not all boys or even rock stars, can jump and land with dignity.




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