“The best things in life are free”

In last week’s column, I was fired up after a parent filed an official bullying complaint against a Texas high school football team for beating his son’s team 91-0. I vowed to come back for part two this week on how the anti-bullying campaign has gotten out of hand; however, I’ve had a change of heart and see no need in another rant. Life is too full of blessings for me to focus on things that have the tendency to spike my blood pressure.

In addition to the ranting and raving in my column, last Friday was significant for more pertinent reasons.

Early last week, I was asked to speak briefly to the Campus Life students at Opelika High School. I was all in, even after learning they met at 7:07 a.m. Yes, that’s 7:07 a.m. in the morning.

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I am not a morning person. In fact, one of the reasons I left Active Duty Army is because I had to wake up early every single day. I often say that I left the Army for three reasons: I hate waking up early. I hate shaving, and I hate running. Well, those were the first three things I did every single day, so change was in order. Rest assured, I didn’t shave last Friday morning and since I wasn’t being chased by a pack of wolves, I sure as heck didn’t run.

The students were raising money for a worthy cause, so it was the least I could do. They had the option of supporting any cause they so desired and they chose to support the Wounded Warrior Foundation. By God’s Grace, in spite multiple tours to Iraq, I am not a wounded warrior but have many close friends who are.

Most of the students in attendance had loved ones who’d served in the military. One of the girls wasn’t sure which branch in which her granddad served, but, according to her, he was “one of the water people.” I assume he was in the Navy.

These kids touched my heart.

They also touched my wallet.

They were selling handmade bracelets, so I walked out of there with three of them…and I don’t even wear bracelets. I’m such a sucker for kids supporting a great cause.

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After leaving these impressive young people, I proceeded toward the Birmingham VA Medical Center by way of US Highway 280 passing the sign for the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alex City en route, which got me to thinking.

I entertained a group of female Veterans at the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Luncheon at the Birmingham VA. To my credit, I made them laugh but I was overwhelmed by the love and kindness they showed me.

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Because of the audience, I waived my fee, but as I told them, nothing in life is free. I expected to be paid in hugs before they left and boy was I ever. I’d never been hugged and kissed so many times in my life.

Notice the scarf, my new favorite accessory.

Notice the scarf, my new favorite accessory.

They stated that they were blessed to have me there but it was I who was truly blessed on this particular day.

It’s an old cliché, but the best things in life really are free: love, hugs, and extra gravy. I used to include air on that list, but it now costs 50 cents at some places.

As I was driving home, it dawned upon me to contact my cousin who works at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home to see if there was anything I could do for them. She stated that many of the residents were in need of shoes.

The Campus Life kids and the breast cancer survivors inspired me to take action; therefore, I did, but I couldn’t and didn’t do it alone.

It was just an idea, but with the incredible and overwhelming support of my friends, new and old, local and afar, we raised enough money in just three days to send 115 pairs of men’s Reebok Velcro-strapped walking shoes to the residents of the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home.

As you can imagine, it takes a while to gather 115 pairs of Velcro shoes but our hope is that they get there by Veterans Day.

There are also two females residing at the home, but only one can wear shoes. We didn’t forget about them. A friend from North Carolina ordered a pair of New Balance Velcro-strapped sneakers for one, while a friend from Florida bought a pair of slippers for the other.

My friend from NC sent these my way to give to the lone shoe wearing female at the Veterans Home.

My friend from NC sent these my way to give to the lone shoe wearing female at the Veterans Home.

I received donations ranging from $5 to $337.50. Every dollar was just as important as the next and every cent will go to the home.

I was asked to speak to those kids for a reason and now we know why.

Oh, I gave my three bracelets to members of the Midfield High School JROTC who were also in attendance at the survivor’s luncheon. I didn’t need the bracelets, because I now have a pink one, along with a scarf, given to me by Evelyn, one of the survivors. She, of course, gave them to me for free.

Every one of these kids said they planned on going into the military after high school. I'm proud of each of them.

Every one of these kids said they planned on going into the military after high school. I’m proud of each of them.

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I will always cherish my gifts and memories of this wonderful day, which is proof that the best things in life really are free.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. Jody can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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“Don’t ever give up”

Sunday, I was at one of my favorite lunch spots and had a brief conversation with one of the restaurant’s employees.

“What’s going on, brother?” I asked.

“Working! Working…working…working. Seven days a week. That’s all I ever do is work. I never get ahead,” he replied, while bussing a table and shaking his head in doing so.

“But you’re making it; you’re not giving up,” I said. “Don’t ever give up.”

One of my most popular stories about my stuttering is that of being the starting quarterback of my junior high school football team, but, in reality, I was not the starting quarterback. In fact, I was not a quarterback at all. Furthermore, my football career lasted all of eight days. To be honest, I saw the writing on the wall when I was beaten in wind sprints by a guy named “Beefy.” I called it a career shortly thereafter.

I gave up. I quit.

Speaking of football, last Saturday, as I was preparing for a speaking gig at Saugahatchee Country Club, I sent a text message to a friend asking for an update on the Auburn – LSU game.

Just before I started my set, he replied, “21-0 in the second quarter.”

Because they were playing in Death Valley, I didn’t have to ask who was winning. I just shook my head and hoped they wouldn’t give up, and, much to my delight, they didn’t. Auburn didn’t win the game but they fought valiantly until the end. By all accounts, they outplayed LSU in the second half but the 21 points were simply too much to overcome.

The Auburn family was very proud of our coaches and players, and rightfully so, because they never gave up.

I tried swiping this from the Auburn Arena but it proved to be too big. I finally gave up.

I tried swiping this from the Auburn Arena but it was too big. I finally gave up.

In 2006, the New Orleans Saints signed non-stuttering quarterback Drew Brees to a contract. Due to a contract dispute and shoulder injury, Brees was not resigned by his former team, the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers instead went with Philip Rivers who was selected in the first round of the previous year’s NFL draft.

Brees almost landed in Miami but the Dolphins, fearing his shoulder had not yet healed, opted for Daunte Culpepper instead. Brees eventually found a home in New Orleans and did the unthinkable; he won a Super Bowl with the Saints.

Culpepper’s career fizzled and Rivers’ career has been one of disappointment, whereas Drew Brees has gone on to be a surefire, first ballot hall of famer.

He never gave up.

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In 1995, professional wrestler, Stunning Steve Austin, was fired from his job at World Championship Wrestling while injured. To, add insult to injury, literally, he was fired over the phone. After a couple of more speed bumps in his career, he developed his signature character.

Today, Stone Cold Steve Austin is arguably the most popular superstar in the history of the World Wrestling Federation and continues to be a prominent figure in the entertainment industry.

Why? He didn’t quit.

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My Aunt Carol, Uncle Glenn’s wife, was a sweet lady and cooked a mean pot of chili. Sadly, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1991, followed by breast cancer in 1997. Carol eventually succumbed to the disease in 2011, but she fought courageously for 20 years.

She never gave up.

On June 21, 2012, four year old Emma Grace Mitchell of Oxford was diagnosed with a Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET), which is a rare tumor that usually occurs in children and young adults. The next day, she underwent surgery to remove it. However, the tumor quickly returned, and, over the next several months, Emma underwent chemo, radiation and a stem cell transplant at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

In August of this year, after just a couple of months at home, Emma underwent a second brain surgery for a third tumor and is currently going through chemo. According to her mom and her almost 10,000 followers on her Team Emma Facebook page, the fabulous Emma is always positive and is always spreading happiness with her infectious smile.

Emma is an inspiration to all and is not giving up.

Emma Mitchell

 

We sent Emma a shirt a few months back. She continues to be an inspiration.

We sent Emma a shirt a few months back. She continues to be an inspiration.

I could ramble on and on about the trials and tribulations I’ve experienced throughout my life but will spare you the drama for now. I will say, however, that there have been some very dark days along the journey but not finishing that season with my junior high school football team is the only time I ever quit anything worthwhile.

I can’t change that, which is okay with me, because a valuable lesson was learned from that experience nearly three decades ago, and, today, I can unequivocally say that I am not a quitter.

I never give up.

There is, however, one thing I can change. I want a rematch with “Beefy.” I think I can take him.

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,” said an emotional and cancer stricken Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPY Awards on ESPN.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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