Category Archives: Relationships

Eternal Youth

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Scott Drotar Fountain Of Youth
My grandfather turned 90 years old this Summer.

This Summer my grandfather celebrated his 90th birthday. Not only has he lived more than nine decades, something that we all hope we can do, but he has accomplished this feat in incredible fashion. While he does reside in a nursing home now, he still walks unassisted, gets himself together in the morning, and takes care of himself for the most part. In fact, other than the Alzheimer’s disease that is slowly ravaging his memory, my grandpa is in better shape at 90 years old than most people are in their 70s. I am a firm believer that one of the best ways to better yourself is to find someone with positive qualities that you want to develop, and then try to model some of your own behaviors and habits after this person. Since living a long, full, healthy life is something that we all want, I have been thinking a lot about my grandfather’s life and trying to figure out how he has achieved such a long, fulfilling existence.

On paper, my grandfather’s life probably would not jump out and impress the casual observer. Anyone who knows him though, would tell you that he has experienced and achieved more in his lifetime than most men could in five (not that I am a biased grandson or anything). He did not graduate from high school, because he enlisted in the Navy to serve his country before finishing, yet he is an extremely intelligent man. While he could not tell you much about trigonometry or calculus, he could still do all of the necessary calculations to design and build a safe, solid, wheelchair accessible deck on my parent’s home (a structure that still stands to this day). He was married to my grandmother for more than half a century, and they loved each other just as much after 50 years of marriage as they did the day they said “I do.” He has fathered three children that all graduated from college and grew into successful, happy adults. My grandpa has never smoked, chewed tobacco, or used any drugs a day in his life, and even though he does like his beer (who doesn’t?), I have only seen him intoxicated at most a dozen times in my entire life. He has always taken care of his body and been in great shape physically, but he has never set foot in a gym. His workout regimen has always been a good, full, honest day’s work using the body that god gave him. Even though he has been “retired” for my whole life, until he reached his mid-70s I cannot think of a day that my grandfather was not out in his rusty, blue truck driving around town doing odd jobs for anyone who needed him.

Scott Drotar Deck
He may not know trigonometry from calculus, but he was able to design and build a wheelchair friendly deck on my parent’s house.

After reading about just the handful of achievements that I have discussed here, most anyone would agree that my grandfather’s life has been a huge success. I agree that he has lived an amazing life, and done so in the “right” way, but in thinking about all of these things I realized something. As impressive as his lifetime of accomplishments are, these feats are not what has allowed my grandpa to lead such a long, full life. These achievements are not the cause of his ability to defy “Father Time,” but yet more effects of whatever quality has made his life so great and allowed him to live the way he has for so long. The secret to his lifetime of success is something much more abstract and ingrained deep within him. It is something much bigger than education or exercise, and it is something so integrated into who my grandfather is, that it is difficult to separate it from all of his other wonderful qualities. Being the curious grandson that I am though, I was determined to figure out his secret to seemingly eternal youth.

Since I had realized that my grandfather’s secret to a living a long, fulfilling life was going to be something deep within his heart and soul, I started thinking about what quality best describes him. It did not take me long to zero in on one particular personality trait, because it so nicely defines who he is. My grandpa is one of the happiest, warm, positive people you will ever meet. Whether he is meeting you for the first time or has known you for 50 years, he is going to greet you with a big smile, a lively handshake, and a sincere “How’s life?” He is always the first person to offer help to anyone, whether that be some kindness and a few laughs over a beer or 12 hours of labor fixing your heater in the dead of winter. No matter what you need, my grandpa is going to be first in line to offer a helping hand (or a cold beer…or two). After really thinking about this integral part of who my grandfather is, what I discovered is that this kind, selfless nature that defines who he is almost perfectly is his secret to eternal youth. His endless supply of smiles, never-ending positivity, and kind, generous heart are the things that have kept him young beyond his years and filled his long, awesome existence with so many amazing experiences.

Scott Drotar Grandfather's Truck
Everyone in town knows the rusty, blue appearance of my grandfather’s truck, thanks to 30 plus years of him driving it to help others.

This may not seem like a great revelation, as we all have heard countless times about how more positive and more giving people tend to live longer, but there is more to this discovery than that. It is not your actions that make the difference, but your state of mind. Even more than that, it is something that you have to fully accept and invest yourself in if you want to experience its full effects. You can volunteer every weekend, donate millions of dollars to charities, and smile at everyone you meet, but if you do not completely believe in what you are doing, you will never enjoy the same age-defying effects as my grandfather. You have to do these selfless, charitable acts, because you truly want to make others’ lives better, not because you feel you have to or “should.” You have to believe in this type of living with your whole being and let it become a part of your very core, in order to experience its life-improving gifts. It is only when you learn to live this way without even thinking because it is who you are, like my grandfather has, that you can tap into this “Fountain of Youth.”

Of the numerous lessons that my grandfather has taught me, this is definitely one of the most important. By modeling this incredible quality his entire life, he has taught me how to be a “good man” and live a full, happy, lengthy life. Without even trying, he has not only bettered the lives of all who know him, but he has also shown the rest of us how to experience the same wonderful life that he has. While I have not yet mastered this quality, I am definitely working on it, and I hope that you will too. Just imagine how great the world would be if we all lived the way my grandfather has. Plus, I want you to be around to read my Roll Models posts in the year 2076, when I am still blogging away at 90 years old.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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“Waterscapes” Announcement

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Scott Drotar Waterscapes
Joan taught me to paint, plus so much more, during our time together.

Today I have an exciting announcement. Many years ago when I was a teenager, thanks to a local newspaper article about my experiences as a disabled person, I got the incredible privilege of having an amazing individual enter my life. This generous, patient, and extremely talented woman, Joan Darflinger, after reading about me in the paper, got in touch with me and offered to give me private, art lessons in my home for free. While I did not at all consider myself “artistic” at that point in my life and was not sure I would enjoy painting, I decided that it could not hurt to give it a try, so I accepted her offer. Over the next year or so, not only did Joan teach me to paint and discover my creative potential, but she also showed me a lot about how to live life the “right” way too. I will always be grateful for the kindness she showed (a complete stranger) and the lessons she taught me, and I am so happy now to be able to return some of her goodwill through Roll Models.

Scott Drotar Joan's Blog
I have been given the honor of contributing to Joan’s blog.

Joan has been asked to write a Walter Foster art book, which is a really big deal for those of you unfamiliar with the “art world.” The book is going to be called “Waterscapes,” and it will be by Joan Darflinger. It is going to be released this Fall, so be sure to be on the lookout for it, as you will be amazed at Joan’s talent. To help build up anticipation for the release of “Waterscapes,” the publisher of the book has asked that Joan start a blog. In order to get her blog going, she gave me the honor of contributing a Roll Models article that I had written about our time together to her website. I am extremely flattered that she would want my words on her blog, where all of her fans will see. Please take the time to visit her site, and perhaps order her book, so that I can begin to repay some of the kindness she showed me.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Be A Kid

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Scott Drotar 'Merica
Why are we blowing stuff up? ‘Merica. That is why.

The Fourth of July is a pretty big deal across the rural Midwest. While I know that places, like New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C., may put on some impressive shows and get all of the press, but if you really want to celebrate the Fourth, you need to come to the Midwest. The Fourth of July is sort of a perfect storm of holiday festivities in this area. You get to have a cookout during the day, relax with family all evening (typically over several adult beverages), and then watch fireworks in your backyard that night. While these are activities that most everyone likes no matter where they live, in small towns across the Midwest it is on another level. This immense enjoyment stems from the fact that this holiday is right in our regional wheelhouse. Because if there are three things we do well in “Small Town, USA,” they are backyard barbecues, family gatherings, and blowing stuff up. Combining these three components into one holiday, and then adding in the fervor and zeal that comes with celebrating your patriotism, creates a trident of unstoppable holiday spirit that develops into an insanely good time. As you can imagine, many of my favorite Summertime memories occurred during these epic celebrations of American spirit, especially the years when my parents would host a Fourth get together. One of these patriotic parties in particular holds a special place in my heart, not only because of the fun and fireworks and such, but also because of an important lesson that it taught me.

When I was growing up, almost every year my family would host a Fourth of July get together at our home. Other than the fact that the Drotars know how to party, my family would host the gathering because our backyard had a perfect view of the town fireworks display. This was critical for a great Fourth barbecue, as it meant that you could continue to enjoy your adult beverage (the fireworks area is alcohol free) and the explosive show without battling through a crowd of people searching for the “perfect seat.” I do not remember exactly what year it was, but when I was around 10 or 11 years old my folks hosted one of these Fourth of July barbecues. Relatives, family friends, and neighbors came over (comfy, lawn chair in hand), and we ate burgers, played horseshoes, and lit fireworks all day. When it finally got dark enough that night, everyone picked out a spot in the yard, leaned back, and watched the colorful explosions lighting up the sky. I spent the day enjoying the festivities with my childhood best friend (his whole family was there), downing Mountain Dew, lighting firecrackers, and having a great time. As he and I were taking in the fireworks that night, and being every bit the tenacious, pre-adolescent boys that we were, I experienced a fairly trivial event that, has not only stuck with me my entire life, but has ended up having a huge impact on me.

Scott Drotar Fireworks
Every time I see fireworks, I am reminded of the important life lesson they taught me. 

As the town’s fireworks display was about to get going that night, my friend and I picked out a great spot in my yard to watch the show. My younger brother and one of his friends had set up a few feet away from us to get a good view of the colorful combustions to come, and a few adults were nearby too. As the light show in the sky started, my cohort in crime and I overheard my brother and his friend talking about each round of blasts and rating each one on a 10-point scale (1 being a lame, kiddo sparkler and a 10 being air raids over Baghdad explosive power). Being the jerky, adolescents we were, my friend and I decided to poke fun at my younger sibling for getting so much enjoyment out of some town fireworks (because obviously we were way too cool and grown up to like something like that at all of 11 years old). After a few minutes of doing our best to humiliate my little brother, one of the nearby adults stepped in and told us crossly to “leave him alone.” Not being one who misbehaved often (or at least I did not get caught often), getting this gentle scolding made quite the impression on me. In addition to making me straighten up and stop my juvenile behavior, it also impacted me in a much more profound way.

This moment has stuck with me for years. For me, it is one of those memories that you remember in vivid detail, no matter how much time goes by. I think the reason that this fairly uneventful moment from my life has remained such a clear memory is that it reminds me of an important lesson. That night, my friend and I wanted to assert our status as “big, bad teenagers” by making fun of my younger brother for getting so engaged and having so much “childish fun” watching the fireworks display. We wanted so badly to be grown up and treated like adults, that we were not only trying to act like we were not excited about the explosive show in the sky (which we both knew was a lie), but we were also teasing others for enjoying it. As I have thought about this night over the years, I have realized how truly backwards my thinking was at that age. I should not have been trying to solidify myself as an adult, but instead doing everything I could to remain a child for as long as possible. Because while we all have to grow up in terms of our lives and place in society, we do not have to completely let go of the childlike wonder and exuberance that we have when we are young. This moment always helps me remember how important it is to “be a kid” sometimes.

Scott Drotar Leaf Pile
A leaf pile is all a child needs to be entertained for hours.

When you are young, you have the ability to get enjoyment out of almost anything. Give a kid a pile of fallen leaves, a big, cardboard box, or even just a pit filled with sand, and they will be entertained for hours in complete bliss. As you grow up though, and this is happening sooner and sooner in our society it seems, you start to lose this youthful creativity and happiness. As we mature, and become jaded by life’s obstacles and burdened with the responsibilities of being a grown up, our capacity to enjoy the simplest parts of life slowly slips away. This would not be so bad, but unfortunately once you lose this childhood gift, it is very difficult to get it back. In most cases, by the time you realize how precious this ability is, it is gone forever. That is why it is so important to recognize how priceless these feelings are, cling to them as much as you can, and appreciate their impact on your life, as you carry them with you into adulthood. I am so thankful that I had this moment to show me the importance of “being a kid,” as well as the maturity to recognize its value at a young age. This has allowed me to maintain some of my youthful exuberance, even though I have had to grow up faster than most, and I am certain that this has made an enormous impact on my overall happiness as an adult.

While I needed a specific moment from my life show me the importance of maintaining some of your childhood innocence and excitement, you can see the powerful effects of these emotions all around you. Think about the happiest people you know, or better yet the people who make you the happiest when you are with them, and then try to describe their personality. More often than not, the happiest people in your life are the ones who exhibit the most childlike wonder and fun. This does not mean that they are any less mature or successful as adults, but more so that they had the vision and mental perspective to recognize the importance of these feelings and maintain them into adulthood. No matter how busy your life is or how much stress and anxiety you have as a grown up, you have to remember that it is ok to “be a kid” sometimes. In fact, it is not only alright, it is recommended. Take the time, at least every few days, to let yourself enjoy the simplest things that make you happy, the way you did as a child. Splash in a mud puddle, go play with puppies at a pet store, or go to the park and sit on a swing. You will be amazed at how great this will make you feel, and if you let your “inner child” out to play often enough, you will find that your adult world is a much happier place.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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SMA Conference 2015: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

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Recently, I got to attend the annual Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Conference. This was my first time being able to go (because it was held at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City about 20 minutes from my apartment), and while I feared that I was overly excited and had created far too lofty expectations, it turns out that I had no reason to worry. The conference, which was the second most attended conference ever for “Cure SMA,” not only met my high expectations, but surpassed them in every way. I had a phenomenal time, met some amazing people, and learned a lot about how to live with this horrible disease. In addition, I got the opportunity to share some of my own experiences about creating a successful life with SMA, as a member of a panel discussion that was held on the final day of the conference. After spending the first few days of the conference getting to meet and talk with some of the inspiring individuals trying to figure out how to give their disabled children and families a fulfilling life (much like my parents did many years ago), I felt extremely honored to get to pass on what I have learned from battling this disease for almost 30 years. This event touched me and impacted my life in so many ways that there is no way that I could fit everything I want to share with you in one post. So, in order to make sure that I adequately discuss all of the important things I learned, I will be writing several articles about the conference over the next week or two. Today you get the second of these posts (here is the first), which focuses on a very important life lesson that was brought to my attention after the conference, as I was looking back at the amazing experience I had.

Scott Drotar Panel Members
Here are some of the amazing people who participated as panel members with me the last day of the conference.

As I mentioned above, on the final day of the conference I was given the honor of participating as a member of a panel discussion. The panel consisted of about a dozen adults with SMA, all of whom had managed to overcome their physical limitations to lead successful lives. During the session, which was entitled “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the audience was given the opportunity to ask anything they liked about how we were able to rise above the obstacles presented by our disability. They could inquire about anything from moving away from home, to how to arrange around the clock home nursing care, to how to travel internationally with a power wheelchair (yes, there are individuals much braver than me who do this). Not only could the audience ask anything they wanted, but they could receive honest answers straight from people who have actually experienced these parts of life with SMA. In addition to being a way to pass on some of the experiences we have had and the things we have learned to the next generation of individuals with SMA, this question and answer session was also designed to show the parents of young, disabled children that you can still lead a happy, successful, fulfilling life despite the obstacles presented by this disease. This was the first year that they had concluded the conference this way, and not only was it a huge success, but it was also the most attended session of the entire weekend. It was a great source of valuable information for others facing this disease, and by sharing all of our success stories and giving young families effected by SMA some hope for the future, this panel discussion ended the conference on an uplifting, positive note.

Scott Drotar SMA It Forward
Sharing my experiences at the conference gave me an opportunity to “SMA It Forward” all of the kindness others have shown me.

Participating in this panel made me really reflect upon my life. Listening to others with SMA tell their success stories, as well as sharing a few of my own adventures with overcoming this disease, caused me to look back over the last 28 years and think about everything I have experienced. More importantly though, it helped me remember some of the most influential people in my life, who helped me create this wonderful life I lead. As I thought about all of the young parents in the audience that were doing everything they could to help give their disabled child a full, happy life, I was reminded of my own mom and dad. I realized how fortunate I am to have two amazing parents, who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to give me every opportunity at a “normal” life, the life I have always dreamed of having. As I watched all of the able-bodied siblings of people with SMA work as volunteers throughout the conference, I was reminded of my brother and sister. Despite the fact that they missed out on certain activities growing up due to my physical limitations and had to mature at a young age to help take care of me, they never made me feel “different,” and I know that they would give anything for me to be healthy. As I saw all of the relatives, friends, and caregivers, who gave up almost a week to allow their disabled loved ones to attend the conference, I was reminded of all of the people close to me that have shaped my life. These incredible individuals have willingly and openly given their time, their energy, and their love, just so that I can chase my dreams and be happy. Each and every one of these people, my parents, siblings, friends, played a major role in my life, and their selfless, generous acts of kindness have allowed me to be as successful as I am.

In thinking about all of the influential individuals who have given me the ability to achieve so many of my goals, I gained a new perspective on some things. Seeing all of the other families at the conference and thinking about how my family was in that exact same situation 25 years ago helped me to see my life in a different way. It helped me to realize just how lucky I am. My parents were told that I would not make it to my third birthday, and for many of the young families at the conference, this is the unfortunate reality that they will face. For whatever reason though, I have beaten the odds and overcome my physical limitations to lead a long, fulfilling life (as did everyone else on the panel). I am almost 29 years old, living on my own, paying my own bills, and enjoying a successful, happy life. And while I certainly worked hard to get where I am, and I also know that there was some luck involved, the most important factor in my success was the people around me. My phenomenal family, my amazing friends, and everyone else who has touched my life over the years are the ones who deserve credit for my success. Without these incredible individuals and everything they did for me, I would not have been on that stage the last day of the conference, and in all likelihood I would not be around at all. These are the people who should be looked up to and applauded for their achievements, as they are the real inspiration.

The title of the panel discussion, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” was chosen to illustrate how you can still lead a happy life with SMA, and every member of the panel definitely embodied that in numerous ways, but it goes even deeper than that. Even for those of us that have managed to beat this disease and be successful, it is important to remember how “wonderful” life is and just how fortunate you are. While we may be disabled and have to deal with more than most, when you consider the fact that most of the children born with SMA never make it to adulthood, let alone lead independent, fulfilling lives, you see how lucky you have been. Gaining this perspective makes you truly appreciate your life, and it makes you think about all of the people who gave you the ability to beat this horrible disease, because without even one of these individuals, you may not have accomplished everything you have. In some cases, you may not have made it at all. It is so crucial to keep this idea in focus and appreciate the influential people in your life, not only because they are the ones who paved the way for your success, but also because they are the people who can show you how to live the “right” way and make the world a better place. These are the people who know how to make life “wonderful.”

Scott Drotar It's A Wonderful Life
I may be no George Bailey, but I do have a wonderful life.

While the real goal of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” panel discussion was to inspire young families with SMA and pass on real-world experiences of what life is like with this disease, it accomplished so much more than that. It helped me (and I am guessing everyone on that panel) to realize how fortunate we are, and how fortunate we have been to have so many awesome individuals in our lives. This is something that we all need to reflect upon, because we all have had people touch our lives in incredible ways. These amazing people are the ones who gave you the ability to find success and happiness, and while they may not have wings or a halo (just like Clarence when he helped George Bailey in the movie), that does not make them any less miraculous. Be sure to remember the “angels” in your life and take the time to really appreciate the incredible impact that they have had on you. Keep in mind that while you are the one who built your life and achieved your goals, these are the people that gave you the tools and skills to do so. And most of all, if you want to be happy never forget that even when you are down on your luck and everything seems to be going wrong, that “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Together

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Scott Drotar Rain Man
In addition to being a savant, I am also like the “Rain Man” in that I also enjoy Judge Wapner on “The People’s Court.”

As you have learned by reading my blog over the last year and a half, I have been blessed with many impressive, yet mostly useless, talents. You already know about my ability to hum and whistle simultaneously and how I can “predict the weather” by the Wal-Mart parking lot, but something you probably do not know about me is that I am a genius when it comes to movie trivia. Now, I do not toss around words like “genius” lightly, and I do not want to brag, but when it comes to absorbing information about movies my mind is like a steel trap. I may not remember to run an errand, go to a dental appointment, or send an email, but I can tell you what actor was in “Air Force One,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” without even thinking (Gary Oldman). In a way, I am kind of like a movie trivia “Rain Man” (another piece of film knowledge). As much as I cherish my cinematic savantism though (I drank free many times thanks to bars having “movie trivia night”), it is not the most precious thing that the silver screen has given me. All of the films that I have watched throughout my life have given me something that I value more than almost anything, and it is a gift that I will hold dear for my entire life.

Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of family and doing things together. As you are well aware if you have children or siblings, it is not all that easy to find activities that five people of different ages and interests will all enjoy (or at least tolerate indifferently). When you throw the fact that one of these five people is disabled, and cannot do certain things due to their physical limitations, this list of potential activities gets even shorter. Nonetheless, my mom and dad always came up with fun, enjoyable, and memorable ways for us to spend time together. One of the family activities that we did most often while I was growing up, and something we still enjoy doing to this day, was watching movies. Many nights when I was a kid, we would rent a movie, make some popcorn, and gather together in our living room to escape from reality for a couple hours. It was something we all liked doing, it was fairly inexpensive, and, most importantly, it was something that we could do as a family. We would laugh, cry, or ponder together, and then we would discuss things like how bad the ending was, whether there would be a sequel, or what actor would have been better for a certain role. It was through this family activity that I gained my extensive knowledge of movie trivia, but it is also one of the things that helped forge the powerful bond that my family shares.

Scott Drotar Together
Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of family and doing things together.

By watching all of these films together and discussing what we thought about them, my parents, siblings, and I were able to learn so much about each other. It is amazing what you can find out about people just from how they feel about movies. Everything from the types of films they choose to watch, what actors they like the most, and the way they think about movies after they see them, can tell you a lot about who a person is. For example, my mom likes “thrillers” and trying to figure out the mystery before the ending is revealed, which shows you her affinity for puzzles and games. Not only do people’s movie preferences and opinions reveal information about their personalities, but the discussions you have with them about a certain movie or scene after you see it can give you an even greater insight into their mind. Whether it is discussing the sickening beauty of “Schindler’s List” or trying to figure out what the hell the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey” means, you can learn a lot about how a person thinks and feels about the world by talking about movies. It was through these cinematic conversations with my family that I was able to gain an understanding of who my siblings were and how they saw the world, even at a young age. These dialogues about the films we watched, which often ended up as arguments or at least heated debates, were one of the most influential factors that led to the incredible connection we share today.

Scott Drotar Together
Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of family and doing things together.

Especially in today’s society, where family is all too often given a low priority in people’s lives, I am incredibly thankful for the strong connections that I have with my siblings and parents. Even though we are now five grown adults, each with their own life and career, spread across four different cities, we all still maintain a healthy relationship with one another and make an effort to be together for at least a few days every year. The bonds I share with my family are some of the most important things in my life, and without all of the time we spent enjoying and discussing movies together over the years, I doubt that we would have the strong connections we do. Thanks to the magic, entertainment, and escape that motion pictures gave us, and the insights we gained from them, my family was able to form ironclad relationships that will last forever. I am so grateful that my parents were able to show me the importance of family, and that they had the vision to see how movies can bring you together. I am certain that if you think about your own life, that you will be able to find numerous moments where the magic of the silver screen taught you something about someone special in your life. The next time you gather with your family or friends and go to the movies, turn on Netflix, or make a run to Redbox, as the opening credits roll take a few moments to think about how influential movies have been on your life and relationships. You will be surprised at the positive impact they have been, as well as how much happiness they can bring to your life.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Honorary Roll Model Danielle Sheypuk’s TEDx talk: “Every Body: Glamour, Dateability, Sexuality & Disability”

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Mother’s Day 2015

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Scott Drotar Mother's Day 2015
My mom has always been my biggest supporter and advocate, and she gave me the skills to live with my disability.

Over the weekend we celebrated one of the most under appreciated holidays of the year, Mother’s Day. Like most people, I went out of my way yesterday to make sure that I told my mom how much I love her and that I appreciate everything she has done for me. As a proud “momma’s boy,” I think it is great that all of the hardworking mothers out there get recognized for all of the things they do for their children, and I always try to do my best to make my mom’s day extra special. This is the woman who has sacrificed so much to give me the best opportunity to create and enjoy an independent, fulfilling life, and I could never repay everything she has done for me. She took care of me, taught me how to live a happy life in spite of my disability, and is still the person I want nearby when I am sick, injured, or scared. She has done so much for me and my siblings, and like all good mothers, she did this without expecting anything in return besides our happiness. It was in thinking about all of this and preparing for this year’s Mother’s Day that I realized something fairly unsettling about how we view the moms in our lives and decided that I was going to do something to change it.

As I was thinking about what to do for my mom this year to show her how much she means to me, I had a small, and slightly upsetting, revelation. I was online looking at various options for flowers, fruit baskets, and other typical Mother’s Day gifts, when I realized that in celebrating this holiday, and picking this one day as the day to recognize the most important women in our lives, we are doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. These ladies give up their lives and sacrifice everything and anything they can to make their children’s lives better, and we say “thank you” by sending them some flowers the second Sunday in May, and then go back about our lives. Should not the women that are responsible for turning us into the happy, successful sons and daughters that we are get at least a long weekend (if not the whole year)? In thinking about this travesty we are committing against these wonderful women, I decided that, while I was still going to call my mother and wish her a happy Mother’s Day, I was not going to send my mom any flowers or other festive gifts this year. Instead of choosing an arbitrary day to give her some commercialized token of gratitude that will end up thrown away or collecting dust in a few weeks, I was going to do something a little different and much more meaningful.

Scott Drotar Motherly Love
I am going to do my absolute best to make sure that my mom knows how much she means to me the whole year, not just the second Sunday in May.

This year, and for every year in the foreseeable future, I am going to try to make sure my mom knows how much she means to me more than just once a year. I am not going to pick an arbitrary day in May that amounts to less than 0.3% of the year to honor the woman that is the most responsible for turning me into the man I have become. I am going to make it a point to at least once a week do something to show my mom that I love her and appreciate everything she does for me (I have even put a weekly reminder on my calendar). This showing of my gratitude does not have to be anything big or extravagant or even tangible. All it has to be is a little way of letting the most important woman in my world know that all of her hard work and sacrifices over the years have not gone unnoticed. A short email saying “thank you” for something she always does without me even asking, calling her to ask about her day, or a quick text telling her that I cooked something that she always made for me because I was missing home, all will mean far more to her over the long run than any cleverly designed fruit bouquet ever could. By taking the time to stop and devote a few minutes to my magnificent mom, not only will she better understand how incredibly important she is to me, but I will better understand it too. In a day and society where so many of the important people in our lives get overlooked all too often, having this constant reminder will ensure that I never forget the most influential woman in my world, and how amazing my mother really is.

To kick off this new campaign of gratitude and appreciation, I would like to end this post with a little note to my mom. And even though Mother’s Day is officially over, I would like to thank all mothers out there for everything they do, and I hope that they realize how much their acts of love and devotion to their children really are.

“Mom,

I hope you had a great weekend and enjoyed your special day. Even though I was unable to be with you in person, I assure you that I was with you in spirit and thought of you often. I know how lucky I am to have such a selfless, strong, and caring woman in my life, and without your help and guidance there is no way that I would be where I am today. You gave me the tools to lead a happy, successful life on my own, and even though it scared you to death, you had the courage to let me leave the nest and chase my dream of living independently. I work hard every day hoping that I can make you proud to call me your son, because I am definitely proud to have you as my mom. You gave me all of the best parts of yourself and so much more, and you will always be the most important woman in my life. I love you.”

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Validation (Part 1)

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It feels like forever since my last blog post, and I am really excited to be getting back to my normal routine and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. I have had a fun-filled few days, and a lot has been going on in my life. The same can be said for Roll Models and www.scottdrotar.com, as there has been quite a bit of action on that front as well. With so much happening during my little hiatus from blogging, I thought that I would use the next couple of posts to fill you in on what has transpired since my last article. You need to get up to speed on my parents’ visit, seeing my uncle, and my exciting Roll Models news, so that you can continue to accompany me on my journey through life. I hope that you will enjoy reading about my recent adventures as much as I enjoyed having them, although I am not sure that is possible. At the very least you will be entertained by my most recent escapades, and you may even get some life lessons along the way.

Scott Drotar Validation
I had a great time visiting with my parents last week.

The main reason I took so much time off was so that I could enjoy my time with my parents, who came to visit me last week. Since it was my dad’s Spring Break, they were able to spend more time catching up with me and not have to hurry back so he could get to work, which helped create a more relaxed atmosphere the entire time they were here. This made for a great visit, and we had a wonderful time discussing everything going on in each other’s lives. Making this time even more momentous was the fact that my uncle, who happened to be in town on business, was also able to come spend time with us. Since I had not seen him in over four years, it was really fulfilling to get to show him the successful, happy life that I have created out here on my own. Living over 500 miles from any of my relatives, I typically only get to share my world with them through pictures and emails, so it is quite special for me when I get to show them my success first hand. In addition to sharing my world with him, I also got to hear about how he has been doing, his work, and my cousins. The four of us had a terrific time talking about our lives, and I am so happy we were able to all be here together.

Scott Drotar Uncle Fred
It was really special to get to visit with my uncle after not seeing him for so long.

The climax of our visit was, hands down, the multiple course meal that I prepared for them. As you are well aware, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen now, and I frequently chronicle my culinary adventures on Facebook. My mom, who has been reading about all of my delicious dishes and seeing pictures of my mouthwatering creations since Christmas, told me that I had better prepare a feast for them when they visit, now that I am such a good cook. Since I am a dutiful son that would never disobey my dear mother (even I could not help but laugh at that one), I did as I was told and planned a three course, gourmet meal. Anyone who has ever thrown a dinner party knows that planning a three course meal is much more difficult than merely preparing an appetizer, entree, and dessert. You have to come up with three dishes that are not only flavorful and delicious on their own, but also work well as a group. For example, you would never serve a hearty, spicy Indian chutney with big flavors as an appetizer for baked white fish in a light white wine sauce, because your palette would not be able to enjoy the subtle, complex flavors of the fish after such a bold start. You want your courses to work together to tell a story to create a more enjoyable dining experience. While I did not fully understand how difficult this can be until recently, I now have a whole new appreciation for people who prepare entire menus for people on a weekly basis.

Despite my inexperience and lack of appreciation for how hard it would be, I did manage to put together a delicious, three course meal for my family. It took me several weeks of strategizing and preparation, but eventually I was able to find three complimentary dishes that I thought my parents and uncle would like. After browsing through hundreds of recipes, testing dozens of different of flavor combinations, and changing my mind constantly about what would be best, this is the menu I settled on. We began our gastronomic journey with an appetizer of seared sausage medallions topped with a Venezuelan salsa criolla over a bed of rice. For the entree, I served a pear and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a soy-citrus marinade and a side of garlic-lemon new potatoes. This delightful dining experience ended with spiced wine poached pears topped with caramel sauce for dessert. Everything turned out better than I had hoped, and it must have been good because it was nearly all gone by the time the meal was over. It felt really good watching them enjoy the meal I had worked so hard to create, and I am so happy that I was able to share my new passion for cooking with the people I care about most.

Scott Drotar Pork Tenderloin
My entree of pear and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a homemade marinade.

Both getting the opportunity to share my independent, successful life with my uncle and watching my family get so much enjoyment from the meal I prepared gave me a feeling of validation. Even though I know my family and relatives are extremely proud of me, it still feels good to get to show them first-hand everything I have been able to accomplish. Although your own happiness is all that truly matters, it still feels good when you can show your loved ones all of your success. Getting some positive feedback and appreciation of your achievements in life reminds you of why you put in so much time and energy to build the world around you, and it is part of what drives you to continue to work hard to reach your goals. Knowing that your family and friends recognize how much effort you put in to achieve everything in your life, and hearing that they are proud of you, can be an extremely powerful feeling that will fuel you on your journey for future success. This is exactly the feeling I got during this visit, and I am definitely fully recharged and ready to get back to work enjoying my happy, fun-filled life and giving my all chasing my dreams.

This feeling of validation was not something I was looking for, or even thought I needed, but that did not in any way reduce how much of an impact it had on me. Visiting with my uncle and watching my folks slowly savor each bite of the meal I prepared filled me with a feeling of accomplishment that has given me a renewed focus and drive to achieve my goals. I never would have guessed that their approval and appreciation of my efforts would have such a great influence on me, but you do not always know what you need in life. No matter how much success you have or what you accomplish, we all want to feel like our loved ones are proud of us. By sharing your achievements and passion for things with your family and friends, you will often get to enjoy this feeling of validation, whether you are looking for it or not. Take the time to share your life with those who are most important to you, and help them experience some of the things you are passionate about. This will fuel you as you continue to work to accomplish your goals, and it will also help you forge even stronger relationships with your loved ones.

My feelings of validation were just starting to build after these two events though, as after my family returned home I got another dose of this powerful sensation. This second round of recognition and approval came not from my personal life, but from my professional world. Thanks to some unexpected consulting requests and Roll Models, my feelings of validation were able to grow even further. You will get to hear all about these events and how they effected me in the next part of this article.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Roadtrippin’ Through My Mind

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Throughout my entire life, since flying is extremely difficult for people who require the use of a power wheelchair, if I wanted to take a trip or go vacation somewhere, I had to drive. Thankfully, my family has always been able to afford a wheelchair accessible vehicle that allowed us to travel like any other family of five despite my mobility limitations. To take full advantage of this mobility and freedom, during my childhood my siblings, parents, and I went on numerous family road trips all over the United States, and I have continued this custom now that I am an adult living on my own. Having a conversion van that gave me the ability to travel about the country, not only created the opportunity for me to see some amazing things, but it also helped me make some priceless memories with my family on the open road. In appreciation of this privilege I have had to see the world as a physically disabled person, I have decided to share with you five of my most memorable road trip moments, the number of miles driven on these excursions, and what these miles have meant to me.

Dallas — This was my first road trip without my parents. When I was 23 and in my first year of graduate school at the University of Kansas, my brother, sister, and I decided to take a “siblings vacation.” After deliberating for several weeks over where we should go, we decided on Dallas. My brother, who lived with me at the time, and I drove down while my sister flew in from New York, and we stayed right in the middle of downtown “Big D.” We ate great Tex-Mex and Texas style barbecue, went to the aquarium (manatees!), and visited the JFK Museum. It was a wonderful, fun experience with my siblings, but the most vivid memory from this excursion is making the drive home in a blizzard with my brother, and laughing nervously with him as we just hoped to get home. (Roundtrip: 1,038 Miles)

Scott Drotar Niagara Falls
That is a lot of water.

Niagara Falls — This was the first stop on our family vacation when I was 12 (Toronto was the second stop), and it was the first time that I was in awe of something in nature. The only way to truly appreciate the incredible beauty and raw power of “Mother Nature” is to see something like Niagara Falls in person. That is a ton of water coming over that cliff. What made this trip so special for me was that it was extremely wheelchair friendly, especially for a national park. I could get everywhere and see everything without any trouble, and even the famous “Maiden of the Mist” boat tour was totally handicap accessible (although I did need my rain gear). (Roundtrip: 1,032 Miles)

Galveston — This was my first solo vacation, which I made when I was 25. One of the things on my “Bucket List” was to take a trip on my own with just my nurse. After several months of research and planning, I came to realize that a cruise was the best way for me to go about this. It was a controlled environment with its own medical team (just in case), did not require any travel once you got on the boat (simplifying the logistics), and would give me the vacation experience I was looking for. So, I saved some money, talked one of my nurses into a free vacation (not exactly difficult), and we road tripped down to the port of Galveston to go on a week long Caribbean cruise. It was an amazing seven days, and I got to see and do some incredible things, but the most memorable moment was on the drive home when the fuel pump in my van went out in the middle of nowhere. We ended up being stuck in a small hotel room in Texas for two days, but my wheelchair accessible wagon held up after being fixed, and got us safely back to Kansas with a great story to tell. (Roundtrip: 1,614 Miles)

Disneyworld — This is the earliest family vacation that I can really remember. I was about 6 years old, and my family drove the entire 19 hours from Northern Indiana to Florida. I can still remember getting to meet Mickey Mouse for the first time and getting his autograph. As great as the theme park was though, my favorite memory from this trip is waking up as my dad was driving in the middle of the night and staying up with him while the rest of my family slept. That alone time with my dad on the open road was a big deal as a young boy, and remembering that time always makes me smile. (Roundtrip: 2,228 Miles)

Cincinnati — The Summer before I turned 14, my brother and sister both got to attend week long, sleep away camps, which is something that I could not do due to my disability. My parents decided that since my siblings each got a little vacation somewhere, that I should too, so they took me on a trip with just the two of them to Cincinnati for a few days. We window shopped, saw Ken Griffey Jr. play at Cinergy Field, and I got my parents all to myself. As much as I love my brother and sister and the trips we have taken as a family, this road trip will always be special since it was just my parents and me. (Roundtrip: 478 Miles)

Scott Drotar Ocean
Here I am experiencing the beauty of the ocean for the first time.

Every one of these road trips is special in its own way, and they all impacted my life and who I am today. We do not often think about how much our ability to travel impacts our life, but your experiences with the world around you plays a large part in shaping who you are. If not for the freedom to get out into the world (like my conversion van gave me), chances are you would be a very different person. Think about all of the cherished memories you have from your own family vacations and road trips. The moments fighting with siblings in the cramped back seat, and the first time you saw the ocean, breathed in that crisp, sea air, and just gazed out at that endless blue water. These memories are not only sentimental and emotionally special, but they also helped you grow and develop into the incredible person you are. All of the miles you travelled and places you saw had an influence on your life. They helped you bond with your family, learn about the world around you, and taught you many valuable life lessons that you have carried with you ever since. Be sure to acknowledge the effects these moments with your loved ones on the open road made, and also try to continue these fun-filled adventures with your own family. Most of all, remember that your mobility and ability to travel freely is a great privilege, and that there are people who do not have the opportunity to explore the amazing world we live in. Do not take this freedom for granted, and appreciate all of the incredible gifts these trips have given you.

Total Miles Driven: 6,390

Flat Tires Fixed: 3

Gallons of Gas Used: 391

Impact on My Life: Priceless

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My Other Family

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Scott Drotar Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29th, 2005, and in doing so changed my life forever.

I will always remember August 2005 as the time when I moved away from home, started my collegiate career, and began living as an adult on my own. While these were all monumental moments that were major milestones in my life, there was another event that occurred at this time that was much more important and influential. The impact of this occurrence was felt for years by millions of people all over the country, and its effects are still being felt in some areas, but it also had an unexpectedly large effect on my life as well. This awful moment that took place the last few days of August was Hurricane Katrina. This terrible event killed hundreds of people, ruined the lives of thousands more, and damaged the entire nation, but even with all of this carnage and mayhem, thanks to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit some good did come out of this horrible destruction. I will never forget that night Katrina hit, sitting in the chapel with my new dorm brothers, hoping that everyone’s family and friends were alright. As I sat there with my dorm brothers from the New Orleans area, as they were watching and waiting helplessly to hear from their loved ones, I learned an important lesson about life. This tense, stressful time filled with prayer and brotherhood showed me the power of community.

I was only 18 years old when I moved away from home and began living in the dorms at Notre Dame. Like every teenager on the cusp of adulthood, I thought I had everything in life figured out, and I was certain that my transition from living in a tiny, Midwestern town to being on a college campus with a graduating class larger than the population of where I grew up, would be a piece of cake. Also like most young adults, I could not have been more wrong. Almost as soon as I got to campus and began freshman orientation, I was in culture shock. I had spent my entire life in a one stoplight town of barely 2,000 people, nearly all of whom were white, Middle-class families, and now I was in an environment with over 10,000 students from all over the world and from every background you can imagine. I will admit, I was a little overwhelmed and taken aback by this huge shift in my surroundings. I do not want to give the impression that I was not enjoying my new life away from home or that I was not making friends, but for my first couple weeks on campus, even though I was trying to be very active socially, I never felt like I was really connected to my dorm brothers and other fellow “Domers.” This all changed though on the night of August 29th, when one of the worst hurricanes in our nation’s history struck New Orleans.

While I had been aware that a large hurricane had been heading for the United State’s gulf coast area, I really had not been paying too much attention to the specifics of this storm. Since I had no family or friends in that region, to me it was just another hurricane that the weather forecasters were trying to dramatize for higher ratings (“storm of the century” and “snowpocalypse” come to mind). The evening Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, I was going to check my mailbox that was down by the dorm’s chapel, and I noticed that there was a pretty big group of guys in the pews. This seemed a little strange to me, since there was no priest in the room and was not time for mass yet anyway, so I decided to see what was happening. As soon as I entered, before I even spoke to anyone, I could feel from the atmosphere of the room that something terrible had happened. I sat in the back next to an upper classman I had gotten to know during orientation, and once I was certain he was done praying, I quietly asked him what was going on. He explained to me how bad Katrina was, that currently there was little to no communication with people in that area, and that they were all praying for their loved ones and hoping they were safe. Looking at all of the red eyes, tears, and silently moving lips of prayer that surrounded me, I immediately felt bad for my new “siblings,” and the terrifying unknown they were currently in. Even though I am not Catholic, or even what you would call “religious,” I stayed there with my new brothers of Keough Hall and silently supported them with my presence. When one of them stood up and said that some of them were going to light candles at the Grotto, I decided to go along to offer any solace I could.

Scott Drotar Grotto
The Grotto on the University of Notre Dame campus, made famous by the movie, “Rudy,” is a very sacred place.

For those of you who are not familiar with the University of Notre Dame campus, have not seen the movie “Rudy,” and are not Catholic, I will give you some background. First, the “Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes,” or just the Grotto, is a miniature replica of the French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette multiple times in the mid-19th century. Father Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, was so awed by the beauty and divinity of the original site, that he vowed to recreate it in some form on campus. It contains a stone from the original site in France, and it is one of the most sacred places on campus. Every evening, no matter how cold or wet it may be, the Rosary is prayed, and there is rarely a moment when there is not someone kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary, lighting a votive candle, and saying a prayer. Which brings us to the second topic to cover, the act of lighting candles in worship. I believe some other faiths do use candles as symbolic offerings during worship and prayer, but it is most widely known as a Roman Catholic tradition. While I am not Catholic, as best I can understand it, the lighting of a candle during prayer is a symbolic offering of devotion when you pray for someone or something. Generally, you light a candle for someone specific, and that flame is representative of your prayer. This is a very special and holy act that is quite sacred, and it is typically only used during difficult or trying times, like the night Katrina made landfall.

It was a dark, balmy August night as my dorm brothers and I made the quarter mile trek over to the Grotto. I do not think anyone said a word during the entire walk. There was nothing to be said anyway, as we all knew how each other was feeling, and there were no words that could make things better. When we arrived at our destination, some guys lit candles, others were kneeling with their rosary beads gripped tightly in their devoted hands, and a few, like myself, simply took a seat before the Virgin Mary, but we were all doing the same thing in our own way. We were all praying, not just for our own family’s safety, but for the safety our new brothers‘ families as well. This moment of destruction and terror had forged between us a bond that we would carry with us the rest of our lives. We now belonged to two families, our biological family and our Notre Dame family. Sharing in each other’s pain and suffering that night brought us together, and it did not matter what our backgrounds were, because we were all in the same family. Our group slowly dissipated as guys slowly trickled back to the dorm, but I will never forget how I felt walking back to my room that night. In just the couple hours I was out that evening, I had gone from a home sick, culture shocked fish out of water to a confident man with over 200 new brothers that I could count on. After that night I never felt like I did not belong or wonder if I was fitting in around the dorm, because I knew that we were all family.

Scott Drotar My Other Family
My second family is so precious to me that I have the Notre Dame logo and my graduation year tattooed on my chest.

I am not trying to compare my relationships with my parents and siblings to my relationships with my dorm brothers, as that is comparing apples and oranges, but this connection I formed that night in the Grotto is something special. It showed me the strength of banding together in a common goal, and how by coming together in your shared pain you can alleviate your suffering. Most of all though, this story teaches you the power of community and brotherhood. In that one evening, we created a union between us that to this day is extremely strong and has a major impact on our lives. If you have the courage to open up and let yourself feel with others, empathize with them, and support them without judgment, you can harness the true power within your hearts and minds. Whether you call it resilience, the might of the human spirit, or something else entirely, you will know it when you feel it, and its impact will last a lifetime. The force of this banding together will pleasantly envelope you and help you overcome whatever you are going through together. Sharing this powerful, emotionally charged experience will create a connection between you that will never weaken. It is a bond forged in the fires of suffering and despair, and like iron hammered on a hot anvil, it is unbreakable. It is a relationship you can only describe as family, and just like your original family, you will be much happier having these amazing connections in your life.

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