April 25, 2020

Pivot and Prosper - How Mindset Matters in Crisis with U.S. Paralympian Joe Delagrave [Ep. 17]

Pivot and Prosper - How Mindset Matters in Crisis with U.S. Paralympian Joe Delagrave [Ep. 17]

Life is full of uncertainties.  Lost lives, lost incomes, and a lost sense of security have caused us all to grieve as we struggle to adapt to a global pandemic.  Even Olympians are affected as the 2020 Summer Olympic Games have been postponed to 2021.  How do we guard our prosperity in such tumultuous times? How do we cope when life ushers in unexpected heartbreak and change?

In this episode, Linda interviews USA Paralympic Athlete Joe Delagrave, a Wheelchair Rugby Bronze Medalist who was chosen as captain for the 2020 games. His very personal story of struggle, adaptation, resiliency, and tenacity will inspire you as you face your own uncertainties and circumstances beyond your control.  Mindset matters and the ability to adapt in crisis is key to personal, corporate, and national prosperity.  Listen as Joe shares the mindset tips that helped him in his “wheelchair moment” and learn how those tips may help you. 

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Linda: Welcome again to this episode, I'm recording in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis in April of 2020. As we have all had our lives affected by the enormous changes, we have been forced to adapt, pivot, and to try to remain positive so we can all move forward successfully. Every segment of our society has been affected by this pandemic. People are concerned for their physical health and economic well-being.

In this episode, I'll be talking with someone who has had to adjust to many unexpected events in his life, yet he has chosen to be a victor, not a victim. We'll be able to see how this pandemic and the corresponding economic policies has affected his livelihood as an Olympic athlete and will give his recommendations for personal success as we emerge from this crisis. Today, I welcome my friend and special guest, Joe Delagrave.

Joe: Linda, thank you for having me on. I'm excited to be able to have this conversation. And hopefully, we can help one or two people out about just navigating this time.

Linda: That’d be great, thank you so much. And Joe is a husband, father, elite athlete, and keynote speaker. Whether he's on the court, speaking to audiences, raising his kids, or spending time with his wife, Joe aims to live life with faith, authenticity, and passionate purpose. And I can attest to that because I've known Joe since he was a very young man. I think middle school is when we met, right?

Joe: Yeah. Middle school, seventh grade. Yeah.

Linda: Right. I was actually Joe's teacher on Wednesday nights, correct? [chuckles]

Joe: Yeah.

Linda: At our church for probably more years than Joe would like to admit, but Wednesday night class where we studied the Bible, but we had a lot of fun together as well.

Joe: We had a ton of fun and it was fantastic. I always remember going through like the Book of Proverbs, and you'd be teaching us proverbs and I'd be flirting with your daughter and then I'd be getting in trouble there. And then I had my little sidekick with me as well. It was a lot of fun. It was great memories and a lot of really good fun.

Linda: Right. When we were talking before recording, Joe had shared some fun memories of just going to swim meets, quiz meets, and baseball games and stuff with all my kids. I'm really thankful for the time that we were able to share while you were growing up and with your great family. You were raised in a fantastic family. I know your parents, your sisters and brothers. We've talked before how a small town is like a large family. I think we really appreciated being able to live in that small town in Wisconsin where we all got to know each other quite well.

As you were part of our family, there was something that actually happened to you that was very pivotal in your life. Can you tell us a little bit about your high school years and what your hopes for the future were at that time?

Joe: Yeah, let's dive right into it. Growing up in the small town, Prairie du Chien, Southwest Wisconsin, and sports were kind of my identity. I loved playing sports, God has always given me a heart for playing them and so whatever ball it was, baseball, football, basketball, whatever it was, I love to do it. I love being a part of a team. My biggest goal in high school was to be able to get an athletic scholarship to go play football or basketball at school, at a postgraduate or post-undergrad. And that ended up happening, so in high school, everything's going my way and the goals that I set are slowly getting check-marked off and then I ended up getting a scholarship to go play college football for the Winona State Warriors in Winona, Minnesota. [crosstalk]

Linda: [crosstalk] --for you.

Joe: Yeah, small D-II school. Gosh, everything was just going the way I had planned it.

Linda: Mm-hmm. You talked before about where you were seeking your identity at that point in life. You'd been raised in a Christian home. You had a real great environment to grow up in, but where were you at that point in your life spiritually, personally?

Joe: Yeah. I think anyone in that transitional period from leaving their parents’ house to going off to school, your faith really becomes your own, it's either yours or it's not. For me, when I went to school and went to college and everything's going really well, and I get up and start playing [unintelligible [00:05:48] football and getting through there. All my affirmation, all my focus was on being the best football player I could be. I made it, this is my goal. I'm getting a college education and I’m playing football. I don't want anything-- all the affirmation--

Linda: [crosstalk] [chuckles]

Joe: Right. All the affirmation, the desire, that's what I was focusing on. For me, as my football career was taking off, my relationship with Jesus was going downhill or at least being a lot more absent than it was maybe in high school, having a structure around me. As an 18-year-old kid, 19-year-old kid through that first year, for me, everything was going great. I didn't necessarily need my faith. The goals that I'd set were being met. The end of freshman year of school, I was slated to be the starting tight end coming back into school my sophomore year. Everything for me was really going well.

Linda: It was really going well, right. And I know, as I mentioned, a small town is like a large family. That large family was very proud of Joe Delagrave as you went on to college and your athletic career looked so promising, and we were all just really proud of you. But what happened in that summer after your first year of college?

Joe: Yeah. My summer of 2004 started out like a normal freshman and college kid. I came back to my hometown, got a part-time job at the local Pizza Hut, and had a part-time job at the city of Prairie du Chien Recreation Department and so helping them out. Staying busy with that and then do my workouts. The summer is going along, just [unintelligible [00:07:45] did. My two best friends from high school came back as well to work. Every weekend, we were out on the river, pretty much every weekend or maybe sometimes during the weekend night as well. And we go on the river-- growing up in a river town, you go out and you fish, you kneeboard, and you waterski. It's just a very active little river town and so that's what we were doing on a Saturday, July 10, 2004.

Kyle's driving the boat and Adam’s kneeboarding and I'm just watching on the boat on a pole chair, basically. And in the split second, I'm 6’5, 260 pounds and 19 and feel invincible, and I'm laying back and just watching Adam kneeboard, and Kyle's driving and hits the bottom of the river accidentally in a back slew. You never know how deep or shallow the water is. We always knew that, but it’s just one of those freak accidents, the pole breaks on the chair and I fly backwards. I hit my head and break my neck. And so, in a split second, life changes.

I woke up from a blackout of about 30 to 40 seconds and I see Kyle and Adam standing over me with a look of worry. There's tears rolling down their cheeks. I'm freaking out, just from my head being split open. Gosh, that was more painful than anything else. I had no idea that I broke my neck but they were asking me the questions that you're supposed to ask and we were all lifeguards growing up, did lifeguard training with your daughter as well. They knew not to move my neck. The only person that we had to save was a person that we were training with for lifeguarding. We never had to save someone or stabilize someone, thank God that we didn't. But this day, that came into play, and they're like, “Don’t move and--”

Linda: They knew what to do.

Joe: They knew what to do. They asked me two questions that are very haunting in a way where they asked me, “Hey, Joe, can you move your legs?” And I couldn't move them. I'm like, “Oh God.” They're like, “Don't move your neck. Stay here. We're going to call someone.” They asked me to feel my legs as well. So, I reached down and felt my leg and it felt like I was touching someone else's leg. It didn't feel like mine. I had no feeling in the lower part of my body. When I touched it, it felt someone else's leg and it was the most out-of-body experience I ever had. And that was this-- [crosstalk] and that was the start of a long road to recovery.

Linda: Right. And then what happened? I know the paramedics came. They had to get you off the river. I know you talked about what happened-- or you told me about what happened in the hospital and when you really realized what had actually occurred. You're like--

Joe: Yeah. That first week’s all a blur. You go from the rescue boat to the ambulance to the local hospital in a small town. You know everyone, and Adam’s mom's a nurse there and has been a nurse there for 40 years. You see everyone and they start to tell you what's happening. They do the test on you or they poke you to see where you can feel and that didn't go well. So, they med-fly me up to Lacrosse because they need to do surgery on my neck. So, I'm in the helicopter ride and up to the Lacrosse and my parents are following me, I guess, behind me. I get through surgery and get through that first couple days.

It's during that first week when the doctor comes in, and for me, I didn't understand the gravity of situation at all because at 19, you can't wrap your head around something like that. I don't think at any age, you really can wrap your head around what's going on, especially so acute to the injury. That first week, the doctor comes in and he's like, “Hey, this is the prognosis and your spinal cord injury, C6 and C7, we think it's incomplete. But you're not going to walk again.” And when you hear that-- for me, I was thinking, well, it's just like any other injury. I’ll rehab and work hard, and I'll be back on the football field. For them to say, “You're not going to walk again.” I'm going-- [crosstalk]

Linda: I didn't mean to interrupt, but I remember you told me that you were asking them, “Well, will I be able to go to practice? Will I be able to start?” It hadn't sunk in at all. Joe: No, not at all. Right away, when you're thinking about that and going, like, “Gosh--” you're just trying to think about the gravity of it, and people are telling you this, but then I'm like, “There's no way.” There's no way because this is my favorite thing to do. And as a man of faith, I'm like, “How can God pull that away from me?”

Crazy part about it is a week before my accident, Lord gave me a verse on a random cutoff T-shirt that a kicker had given me which I always joke that, if the kicker is giving you a shirt to make fun of you, that's not good because a kicker is not even like a football player.

Linda: [laughs]

Joe: Kickers are more like soccer players. But it was a verse, Proverbs 3, 5, and 6 that was on the shirt, a House of Speed Shirt that Don Beebe used to have for Speed Camps. He's an old Packers receiver, won a Super Bowl for the packers and played in the Buffalo Bill Super Bowl teams as well. It's Proverbs 3, 5 and 6, which probably, you taught me that back in middle school and I didn't listen to you, but I didn't even remember the verse.

Linda: With my daughters, yeah.

Joe: Yeah, right. I didn't even remember the verse. It's one of the most famous verses out there, “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways. Acknowledge Him and He'll direct your paths.” And, Linda, I think, looking back, I got that a week before and then that's the first verse that comes to mind when I'm in the hospital, I'm coming to. Just being real, and I always like to be real with what I'm thinking. Right away, I'm thinking like, “That verse sucks. I don't want to hear about it. I don't want to trust the Lord. I want to understand this as a 19-year-old kid that just got his identity ripped away.” As a 19-year-old kid, the Lord--

Linda: [crosstalk] you could look out over a room. You had athletic ability. You were looking at a bright future. Beautiful girlfriend. So much ahead of you, it just ripped, like you said, your identity away, which I know some of our listeners may feel like that. Maybe there's wounded warriors listening or somebody who has been totally affected by this pandemic, where life has really, really changed for them. Then, what happened for you? I mean you probably were in shock and grief and denial and pain, I'm sure. All these things going through. And your family too, your poor-- [crosstalk]

Joe: Yeah. Everyone's trying to cope with what happened. It affects everyone differently. Obviously, for me, I'm going through it, but then, Kyle and Adam, and then my parents. And now being a parent, I can't imagine one of my kids having to happen, it's just such a different feeling.

Linda: Right. I wasn't your parent, but I can tell you that our whole family, I don't think we could breathe until we knew you were okay. That's kind of how the whole town felt. To hear such a tragic accident for someone that we all loved, it's so heartbreaking. Right now, people are going through so much heartbreak and upset. They, I'm sure, can relate to some of these things even though they may never ever experience what you've experienced, but they need to learn also how to be a victor, not a victim, even at this time.

Joe: Well, yeah. Here's the thing. You bring up a good point and a lot of people go, “I'm not in a wheelchair. I don't have this disability,” or “I don't have like this crazy story.” But I think if we're honest with ourselves, we have that moment when we look in the mirror, there's something that balances us on whether or not we're going to be a victor mindset or victim mindset. There's always something in your life where you can point to something-- and for a lot of us, it's a lot of things. There's a lot of seasons in life if we're going to be honest. There's a lot of them. My first one just happens to be a really big event in my life.

But I think if we're honest with ourselves, there's always that wheelchair in our life. There's always that circumstance in our life that can be controlling of us, that like demands a lot of us. Or maybe it's something that we just can't-- that obstacle that we can't climb over or can't get through or can't go over or can't go around and we're overcome by it. That's where I think people can make it personal for them and make it inspiring for them if they look at the mirror and go, “What's holding me back? What am I allowing to lead me down that road of having a victim mindset instead of a victor mindset?” So, I think it's very pliable to everyone's situation because we all have circumstances.

Linda: Yeah, we do. And you mentioned Proverbs 3, 5, and 6, the verse that was so pivotal for you, that came to mind after your injury, and you were arguing with it at a point. I know your sister brought you something. Can you tell us about that?

Linda: Yeah. I started reading this verse, Proverbs 3, 5, and 6. My sister writes it on a poster and brings it up and slaps it on the wall. In the room, there's all kinds of things. I was so blessed to have such a great support system, such a great community support outpouring. They're building additions onto our house so I can live with my parents when I come back home. And in the hospital room, there's just cards everywhere. And that poster was something that was just the centerpiece of everything.

Right away, like I said, I hated that verse. No, I don't want to just trust on you. I don't want to-- I want to lean on my own understanding. That's what I want to lean on because I want to know, I want to understand. It's like the movie--

Linda: [crosstalk] --you wanted to play football again.

Joe: Yeah, it's like the scary movie. If you know the ending, the rest of it is not that scary because you know how it ends. Or maybe it is scarier because you know how it ends, it depends. But for me, it's like, “Man, I want to know why? I want to know what is going to happen?” So, you have all these questions that swirl around your head. “Is April going to leave?” “Are we able to have kids?” “Is there going to be a new-- Maybe I have to try and go back to college? Can I have that job or that career that I find passion and more importantly, purpose?”

At the moment, some of the questions were like, “Can I push a wheelchair? Am I strong enough to put socks on? Get on some sweatpants? Can I actually do life this way? Can I hold a fork?” There are simple questions and there are really tough questions. My mom's asking the doctor about if I can have sex again. I'm like, “Mom, would you get out of my room? I don't want to even think about that.” And then I'm like, “Doctor, I need you to come back in.” That's the real thought process when you're going through something so traumatic. It's just all over the place.

Linda: A lot of people are feeling like that now. [crosstalk] this, I'm sure there's a lot of people across the country, they've lost loved ones. Or they’re the health care workers who are dealing with stress. There's people who've lost their livelihoods. There's just so much. Like you said, every life we all have that wheelchair moment you call it. I know in this podcast we talk a lot about economic policies and things but in our life, economic policy or economic well-being is just a part of our well-being. It is just a part of our life and how we approach life all the way around really affects our prosperity too. So being able to have a healthy mindset is part of Prosperity 101™ in a sense, in that we know how to approach life successfully and be able to make a better life for ourselves. What was the pivotal point for you?

Joe: Yeah. I think for me and going through this accident, it wasn't just the one day but it's choices each and every day. And then also, it was like rededicating my life to the Lord. , o having that faith element and going, man-- It took a little while in the hospital, but then I'm going like, “Okay, this is real I'm already starting to plateau.” I'm not-- trying to have like honest conversations with myself and there's a lot of denial. [unintelligible [00:21:26] it'll be fine and, but then it doesn't happen. I just remember that point where I'm like, “If there's something good in this, if there's something that brings glory to you, if there's some reason why I need to be in this chair, then I can't do it just with my own Joe strength. I can't,” because that's gone. I can't even lift a fork, let alone lift weights anymore, be strong. It's that moment. It's not like this Disney movie--

Linda: Moment, yeah.

Joe: 10 seconds, right? It's a process. When you make that decision to go and say, “I will trust in you,” because I can't understand this.

Linda: And as you were adjusting basically to this, you had no way of knowing where your life was going to go. Like now, people listening probably have no way of knowing exactly what life is going to look like in the “new normal” that will come after we emerge from this global pandemic. But you had to enter into a new normal. What did that look like for you? You went to college. You eventually got married, had kids, and now you are an elite Paralympic athlete. You've represented the United States of America as an athlete. We salute you. We just thank you so much for your bravery, your resilience, your persistence, and the way that you have represented this country. But we were just talking about you being in a hospital bed, struggling with denial over your paralysis, and that pivotal time where you began to change and start to get your life moving forward. Tell us about that journey, please.

Joe: Yeah, so it starts with just a simple choice. I remember in my room back home, and I didn’t know how to dress myself. And so, the choice was, “I'm going to figure out how to dress myself.” “I'm going to figure out how to shower.” “I'm going to figure out how to drive.” It starts with just these choices and then they start to snowball a little bit. But it's the mindset of, “I want to live life. I want to do the best I can do using this chair.”

There's plenty of bad choices I've made throughout the years obviously. One of them was my eating habits were horrendous when I came back home and did a lot of emotional eating, and ate like a football player still and then ballooned up to 285 pounds. So, that's how I first started getting into adaptive sports because at first, I thought, “All these are terrible. They’re awful. There's no way I can quench my competitive spirit with adaptive sports.” I looked those up online and wanted to play them and ended up going to a practice in Minnesota at a place called Courage Center. And about 30 minutes into practice, I ended up-- right away, I was like, “I'm not going to get in a rugby chair.” But then, they're like, “No, just try to get in one,” and it took me like 45 minutes to get in one. April transferred me and helped me and got me all strapped in. We use on a rugby chairs like 10 different straps, so then we're not flying all over the place and it looks really, really bad when you fall over. No one wants to see like a human yard sale.

We're 30 minutes into practice and I'm pushing up and down the court. My lungs are filling up and I'm feeling like an athlete. It hit me 30 minutes into practice, maybe an hour into practice like, this feels so good. It feels so nice to be able to compete against people who already been going through the same things as I am. It feels so great to be able to talk to someone else that's gone through something like I have. You get that sense of community and that locker room feel back that a team usually provides. That's where I started my Paralympic journey. Obviously, the story goes, I get better at it and I try out and get on the national team and make the 2012 Paralympics. But it all starts with just a choice. It all starts with a choice and then another choice, and then another choice.

People get so mind-blown or frustrated or discouraged when they set a goal and then three days later, they're like, “Well, I'm never going to get there.” Well, it's not going to happen instantaneously, and we live in that world that we want it now. It's the worst. It's [unintelligible [00:26:30] it's just instant, instant, instant, which is super nice sometimes, but horrendous for goal setting. I was listening to a Jon Acuff thing recently and he’s like people usually stop pursuing-- the quit rate happens on day two. Day two is where people quit. I was like, “Wow, really?” But then you think about it, and that's where people get discouraged. When they need to lose weight or they're like, “I really want to run a marathon,” but they just get discouraged. The first day, they're going to run it, and they run around the block, and they're tired. It's not going to happen overnight.

Linda: We've all come back from different things in life where we've had to overcome and you had to overcome so much. And the fact that you're on the 2012 team and then the 2016 Olympics, tell us about what happened there.

Joe: I had a quick little tidbit. It might be off trail, but I think you're onto something. I think it's really important, and I had been writing about it and talking about it a little bit during this time, that we give ourselves grace. It just reminded me, when you're going through goal setting, you're going through a crisis like this or going through something that seems like the biggest obstacle of your life, going through it, you're going to make a choice every day to do something really good, but it's not always going to go well. We have our bad days. During those bad days, it's great to just be able to stop, realize you have those emotions, realize you have those feelings, realize it's a bad day, and give yourself grace, so then the next day, you can start to just kick butt again.

I think that's where people start falling down because they beat themselves up. I had to go from 285 pounds down to about 195, 200 pounds, and it doesn't happen overnight. And I failed miserably a lot. I think just that aspect of grace in mimicking what Jesus gives us every single day and be able to do that for ourselves.

Linda: Being able to give ourselves when we don't achieve things. One of the things I've learned too, as I've gone through life is, is that time to realize that feelings are not always fact, but we have to acknowledge the feelings. And sometimes, we can be exhausted. I'm sure as you were trying to rehabilitate, as you were training later on, as you were more adjusted to your physical capabilities and lack of capabilities, you got tired. It's exhausting. Sometimes, adjusting to new things is exhausting. So, there will be a rollercoaster of emotions. I think that that's really true.

We've been talking so much in this episode about people who may be listening and they may be going through a rollercoaster of emotions. They may be listening thinking, “I shouldn't feel sorry for myself because I'm not in a wheelchair.” But like you said earlier, they may be going through something very, very difficult in their lives. We all have our “wheelchair experiences” that force us to pull more out of ourselves. [crosstalk] to me is the faith. You turn to your faith [crosstalk] guidance.

Joe: Absolutely. You're getting to-- 2016 rolls around. Throughout that career, I became a captain in 2013 and leadership is something that's very important to me and I've learned a lot through my career with the team and being a captain for seven of the years.

Linda: In 2012, you were gold medalist, was that correct?

Joe: In 2012, we were bronze medalists. I used to call it the Brown Poopy Medal because it was the wrong color.

Linda: [laughs] I think many of us would love to earn a bronze medal.

Joe: Exactly. Well, eight years later, it means the world to me and it means a lot more than that time. But, yeah, we won bronze and we were the number-- Gosh, the number one ranked team from 2005 to 2012. We went into the one that Paralympics ranked extremely high-- we were the overwhelming favorites to win. And when that didn't happen, it set off this tunnel vision in me that I need to win gold to validate who I am as an athlete, to validate who I am as a Paralympian, to validate all those guys that retired after London, or validate-- It got to the point that like, I thought, “Man, I can be a better husband if I have a gold medal. I can be a better father if I have a gold medal.” It got that deep in me and then 2016 rolls around and some circumstances happen that works out of my control with some of the stuff, but at the same time-- it didn't happen for me where I don't go to Rio and--

Linda: [crosstalk] devastating.

Joe: Devasting, completely devastating. I was on the training team the entire year and when you hear that you're not going, it was just-- it was almost worse for me to go through that than it was when I broke my neck. That's how much pain emotionally I was in because I felt like the biggest failure. The biggest failure. I completely checked out from social media for a long time because I didn't want to face-- even if it's a false reality, I didn't want to face like, “Hey, I didn't get to go.” I had no idea how to handle it. The guys went and ended up getting silver and it was just-- and that was devastating too. During that game I remember, I'm like, “Gosh, do I want them to win gold? Yes. I've just trained seven years with these guys. They’re my brothers. Of course, I want--”

You go through it and gosh, you come on the other side and I'm going to do-- I want to come back. I'm talking to April, “Do I want to come back?” And I realized I did, and I realized I can be a better leader than I was then. But I didn't need to be focused on gold, I needed to be focused on the foundation that can build up a really good program, the foundation that can build up a really good family and in those relationships because it's all about relationship. No matter what we do-- and that's the crazy part during this time is like we're still yearning for these relationships. We're on Zoom or we're on FaceTime, we're on Skype or we're in relation with one another because that's why God made us.

So, I go back in 2017 to the team and that's my whole goal. This entire quad is what we call them for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the quad in between the games. That's what we've done with USA rugby, and I'm happy to have been a small part of it, that we've just built an amazing team. The foundation is amazing. There's so much love in it, there's so much servant leadership in it, and to be a small part of that has been an amazing gift that I've been given because my perspective goes from, it's not necessarily the outcome. It's the journey along and how we're treating people along the way, and how we're going to just spread the love and the grace that I've received from God and be able to just spread that out among the team and do that in a really intentional way.

Linda: Yeah, that's really beautiful. Servant leadership is really what makes the best leadership. I say it all the time in these episodes. I quote Dawson Trotman, and he said, “They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And so, we show love and servanthood and real concern for people, they're more likely to follow our leadership. It truly is that humble leadership. I know that that is something that I'm sure encouraged your team to choose you as their captain. And so, for 2020, as we think about economic policy, the economic policies of this pandemic that have shut down so many businesses, shut down so many events. I think the Olympics is the biggest worldwide event that has been changed as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. And for you, that totally affects your livelihood. So for you, all the other Paralympic athletes, for the regular Olympic athletes, I don't know what the term is regular or able-bodied or--

Joe: Yeah, just Olympics and Paralympics, yeah.

Linda: Yeah, Olympics and Paralympics, I don't mean to misspeak at all in any way. All of the athletes that we look-- and I know that the Paralympics just getting that broader exposure too is fantastic. It helps people see the athletic ability of these Paralympic athletes and I know that their finances and their livelihoods are so affected by this, down from not only what you earn as athletes, but then all of their supporting companies from say Vesco wheelchairs who is your sponsor and provide your wheelchairs to all these companies that are affected by the Olympics. How is that affecting you? How is it affecting your teammates that the Olympics have been changed from 2020 to 2021?

Joe: Yeah. It's such a huge topic. For each sport, each athlete, it can be a lot different just based on how an athlete goes about getting their sponsorships, getting their finances in order to be able to train. For the listeners, a short rundown would be that the USOPC provides-- NGBs which are national governing bodies. USA Gymnastics is the NGB of gymnastics, or used to be until [unintelligible [00:36:57] or USA basketballs, NGB of basketball. Then, there's high-performance managing organizations which is what we have, which is through Lakeshore Foundation.

Lakeshore Foundation, which is our HPMO, the high-performance managing organization, a certain amount of money per quad to be able to finance the team. And in that is direct athlete support that we get as well. That for us and for a lot of athletes is below poverty line, what you actually get as a check for support each quarter is what we get paid on. Then, there's health insurance which has been a huge blessing in our family's life. But a lot of us, you're working part time or you're working full time to support your athletic career and a lot of people go, “Well, if you don't like to do that, then don't be an athlete.” I get that it's a choice, but I think what people need to understand is that with them being postponed-- meaning the games being postponed from 2020 to 2021 is some of these higher-level sponsorship athletes or even mid-level sponsorship athletes that are getting resources from these companies that are now struggling because their second quarter is completely blown out the window and the third quarter might be the time to recover. And now in the fourth quarter, they're deciding if they want to take on these sponsorships anymore and they're going, “Well, that's an easy no for the bottom line.” That's just how it works and that's totally fine.

Having the games postponed just means a huge financial loss for a lot of these athletes because a lot of athletes make their money with medals or with post- Paralympic media. Or like, “Hey, let's get the brand-new Paralympic gold medalist,” or Paralympic silver medalist or bronze, “Let's get him in to talk,” or, “Let's get her in to talk,” or, “Let's get her into our company.” A lot of that trickles down. And now, when you add from what used to be “Five months and we're going to be there,” to, “Hey, you have to train for 12 more months.” How are you going to do that? How are you going to support your family? How are you going to make ends meet? Changing that timeline, that's really been--

Linda: There's a window of time for training as well. What you’ve told me before about some of the jobs you've had, just so the listeners know, you went on to have your undergrad degree and then you got your master’s. And you have worked as a professional counselor, and then what other jobs --?

Joe: Yeah, so I've done odd jobs. When I first started, I worked at a hotel. I worked at Dick's Sporting Goods. There are athlete career programs that basically give you part-time jobs that would realize that you'd be gone a lot or you'd be like, “Hey, I can't work today because I'm going to be in England,” or whatever. I've always pursued my next career after my athletic career, so getting the master’s and then working in private practice for a little while. Then the last two years, just really found my purpose and my passion off the court in speaking. I love to be on the stage. I love to be able to share and be vulnerable. Not preach at people or point fingers at people, but really just help people inspire themselves. It's not like a cheap inspiration where they're like, “Oh, look at Joe. Poor Joe.”

My life's pretty good. Now, it's like, “Hey, let's look in the mirror. Let's look at each other's lives and hold each other accountable.” If they leave it going, I really want-- I feel inspired to take personal responsibility for my choices. Boom. That's amazing. That's where I've really fell in love with keynote speaking. For me, I look at it and go, “Wow, I can get so much better at it.” It's like the athlete mindset of getting better at it. You need to put in the work to get better at it. Looking at some of these people that are just dynamic in that industry, is super fun to look up to them and take some lessons from them. That's what I've been doing.

Linda: Well, you have obviously shown again how you can pivot and make the best out of situations. But I know when athletes are training, it is a full-time job. So, it's awful hard to be able to have another job, whether it's keynote speaking, whether it's being a counselor, whether it's working at Dick's Sporting Goods in their training or in their athlete employment program. It's awfully hard to have another job like that. And as we think about the Olympics being postponed again, I mean-- I was listening to something the other day about the gymnasts. For you, obviously, there's peak times in life, wheelchair rugby. You're still young, you're still strong.

Joe: Oh, thank you.

Linda: [chuckles] Yeah, you're still very young. You're the same age as some of my kids, so I view you as young. Anyway, but you're strong, you're fit, but anything can happen in a year and a half. You were ready to go to the Olympics and for so many people now, it isn't just the Olympics that they're ready for in life, it's these businesses that were ready to launch or people who were moving or, whatever is in their life that was right up ahead, but now is no longer that way, we have to learn to pivot.

We were talking before in a different conversation about why you believe it's really important what I'm doing with Prosperity 101™ and what we try to do educationally to help people understand how to create a path for their own future. We've talked a lot about this episode, helping people be healthy spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, so that they can really help to advance their own prosperity, their own future. You and I have talked off this episode about how the freedom that you've had in America to make those choices have been really essential. Can you just touch on that a little bit? The ability you've had to make these choices to choose your occupation, to choose your sport, to choose where you want to live. All of that is really remarkable, and not all Olympic athletes have that freedom, correct?

Joe: Yeah. I can't speak for every Olympic or Paralympic athlete out there throughout the world, but in America, it's something that I've-- First of all, I was nominated to be on the national team and then the honor of wearing USA across your chest for the amount of time that I have is truly like the most-- I think back, wrapping up my story of laying in a hospital bed-- I think back of the 19-year-old kid who's just asking all these questions and then if you'd have told me, “Well, you're going to travel the world playing a sport at the highest level possible in this sport and be a captain and have a ton of success,” I'd have been like, “No, you’re crazy. That's not even possible.”

On the professional standpoint for that, it's just been truly an honor. And you're absolutely right. We have that choice in America. We have great policies in place as far as accessibility goes and being accessible to go to college and accessible to pursue dreams and accessibility to be able to have some of those resources needed when you have a disability that honestly just cost a lot of money.

Linda: If I have $150 pair of running shoes to make sure I can run well in my next marathon, you told me you have to pay a $5,000 equipment fee, right?

Joe: Yeah. To get a handcycle to cross train on, you're not buying a $400 handcycle from Dick's Sporting Goods, you’re going online and buying a cheap one for four grand or a nice expensive one for 10 grand or the pros that race in handcycles, they're $22,000. Some of that is just supply and demand stuff. But I think honestly 50, 60, 70 years ago, that wasn't the case and people that were in place, in my shoes, 50, 60, 70 years ago, stood up for what they believed in, helped push policy forward. I think that's honestly one of the things that as a leader, in our community and disabled community, there's a need-- there's a responsibility I have. To not just rest on their laurels, but to push forward to keep going, to keep pursuing accessibility throughout the US. There's a great quote that I've heard recently that's, “Accessibility for disabled people is accessibility for all,” that it's the mom pushing her stroller up the ramp or the curb cutout and she needs it just as much, or maybe the elderly person that needs that accessibility as well. Accessibility isn't a bad thing or isn't a niche type of a thing. It's accessibility for all and I think that's really important for people to understand.

Linda: Right. I appreciate that so much because accessibility for all, it equals freedom for all in a sense. If we have accessibility for you, we have accessibility for everyone. If we have freedom for you, then we need to make sure we have freedom for everyone.

Joe, I just want to thank you so much for spending time with me, with our listeners today. This has been a little bit different than a lot of our episodes, but I hope it's been inspirational to our listeners because I just think that we can all learn from each other. We can especially learn from those who have faced challenges in their life and have learned, like you say, how to make that obstacle become an opportunity, how to become a victor, not a victim. We're just really thankful for your example, for April, for your family because you have shown us by your example, what it means to lead with integrity, to lead with bravery for exhibiting resilience and persistence. These are all qualities we need all of our life, but especially in times of crisis. So, before we close this interview, is there anything you'd like to just share with our listeners, just some final thoughts?

Joe: Yeah, number one, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about my wife quick and give her a shoutout because we're truly a team and she's the MVP of that team. To be able to go through life and go through all these seasons with her, in our struggles and our successes and our times of wondering what's going to happen, to do that has been, it's been truly an honor and an amazing part of my story.

Then also, whoever's listening to this, no matter what you're going through, no matter what circumstance you have, or what problem there is, whether it's financial or spiritual or physical or emotional, number one, allow yourself grace because I think we need to all stop and be able to understand what emotion’s coming in, understand what feeling’s coming in. But then also, I just encourage you and challenge you, the control that you have is in the choice. You have the power to choose to be a victor, choose to be a victim.

Don't place the blame on the economy or don't place the blame on a job furloughing you or letting you go or don't place the blame on a bad relationship. It's your choice to be able to control how you respond and press forward. And then, you do it again the next day and the next day. And then, you get really good people around you. You find your April, you find your team of people that will absolutely support you through thick and thin, and you're going to do just fine.

Linda: And would you like to share that verse that was so pivotal to you?

Joe: Yeah. Proverbs 3, 5, and 6. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He'll direct your paths.

Linda: Very good. I know for you and April both, your faith, your commitment to live that faith authentically has really helped you be a servant leader and a real blessing to those who know you. With that, I just want to say thank you. If people want to contact you, how should they contact you, Joe?

Joe: Yeah. Easiest way is www.joedelagrave.com, J-O-E D-E-L-A-G-R-A-V-E dotcom. And then I have all my socials linked up on that website as well. I'm on Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff.

Linda: All around. I know that you do a lot of speaking. You speak to schools, businesses everywhere, you're a great keynote speaker. For those of you who are looking for someone-- and you do virtual presentations as well?

Joe: I have my first couple of virtuals booked, so we'll see how they go. But yeah, I think it's such a relevant message for people to hear right now, I'd be glad to do it virtually.

Linda: Right. That's great. Well, again, please contact Joe and whether you have to hire him as a virtual speaker during this time or whether we're through this pandemic and he's able to come and visit you in person, I know you'll be blessed if you have him coming to speak to your group. To all the listeners, we say thank you and please go to our website, prosperity101.org, or to joedelagrave.com, and you'll be able to learn more. Thank you.

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