Today’s article is a special, guest post written by a very dear friend of mine, Yamil Colon. Yamil was in my first college class at the University of Notre Dame, and eventually he became one of the best friends I have ever had, as well as being my roommate for two years. We could not have come from more different backgrounds, him being a salsa dancing, Spanish speaking Puerto Rican and me being a physically disabled, small town Midwestern guy, but despite all of our differences we were drawn to each other due to a mindset we both shared. This common mentality that drew us together was our fearless determination to succeed no matter what obstacles life put in our way. Both of us were facing a lot of challenges that had to be overcome in order for us to survive at Notre Dame. He had to learn to live in an entirely new culture using his second language, and I had to learn to live independently as a disabled person in an able-bodied world. Thanks to our courage, perseverance, and refusal to give up, not only were we able to make it through the uphill battle we both faced and enjoy college life, but we also forged a friendship that lasts to this day.
Having been one of my closest friends my entire adult life, Yamil has gotten to know me better than almost anyone. On top of that, by living with me for two years he also got to see how my disability impacts, and often complicates, my daily life. This combination of our close relationship along with his understanding of the obstacles presented by my physical limitations gives Yamil a unique perspective on my world, which he shares with you in his article. He talks about how we met, some of the great times and adventures we had, and most importantly how our friendship helped us both survive our college days and grow into the men we are today. (Guest blogger’s words in italics)
The first time I saw Scott was during Freshman Orientation at Notre Dame, as he was entering the dorm building along with his nurse. I recall thinking “Well, that’s different… I wonder if we’ll become friends.” I also wondered whether or not we would have a chance to interact, seeing as Notre Dame is a pretty big place. To my surprise, Scott would be present at my History Seminar class that first semester. That gave us the opportunity to chat and to get to know each other. We quickly became very good friends and decided to room together the next year. Those years we lived together are responsible for some of the fondest memories I have of my college experience.
I am very thankful for those years. It gave me a broader perspective on what it means to face and overcome adversity at levels I did not think existed. To give you some perspective, the most difficulty I had ever faced was coming to Notre Dame. I am originally from Puerto Rico, where we speak Spanish and our culture is markedly different. So, I was dealing with culture shock, adapting to a new language, and a completely different way of doing things. I had to deal with all of this on top of the normal college-related difficulties (courses, social activities, etc.), but all of the difficulties I faced were nothing compared to what Scott has to deal with on a daily basis.
I slowly started understanding (but I never truly will) what his daily routine and his ‘normal’ life entailed. I started asking “stupid” questions like: “What is that thing on your neck?” ,“How do you go to the bathroom?”, and “What happened to you?” To his credit he answered all of my questions without any hint of judgment, a lot of patience, and a sense of wanting to educate me. That is something that I am eternally grateful for.
Something I learned from Scott is that when faced with adversity you have two options: wilt down and give up, or stare at it defiantly and dare it to bring you down. With Scott it was always the latter and never the former. This turned into a crazy competitiveness that just oozed out of him. Whether it was through coaching our intramural dorm football team, through video games where he routinely kicked my ass at Halo, NCAA Football, and FIFA, or through normal course work, he always found a way to come out on top. I remember that when we struggled in our courses or we expressed feelings of defeat we would tell each other “You need to do better.” And that’s how we pushed each other to do better in our classes, and I attribute part of our academic and social success to that competitive attitude.
Not everything we did was that intense though. We certainly had our moments of great fun. I think anyone that gets to know Scott will recognize his great sense of humor. One of my favorite memories was during a Notre Dame home football game. I recall it was against the University of Michigan because I kept hearing the dreaded ‘Go Blue!’ chant everywhere we went. I believe it was early September. It was really nice outside and we had decided to tailgate before we went to the game. However, Scott had to go to the restroom before we could go into the stadium. This meant we had to go back to our dorm room, walking through the waves of fans that were headed in the opposite direction. I looked at Scott and asked “How are we going to do this?” He looked at me with a smirk: “I’ll be like Moses and part the seas.” At this point he proceeded to accelerate his chair right through the middle of all the fans and sure enough, the seas parted. As he rolled through the masses, people politely opened up the way to let him through. I struggled to not laugh. But then, a huge contingency of Michigan fans was headed our way. Scott did not blink and kept moving forward. Once we were near the end of Michigan fans Scott yelled “Go Blue…” The Michigan fans yelled in approval only to be dismayed when they heard Scott then yell “and GOLD!” At that point even the Michigan fans could not help but laugh.
We certainly had a lot of fun those days and Scott never ceased to surprise me. I remember one time I returned to the room early from class and Scott was watching TV. It took a good 10 minutes before I realized that Scott was watching Univision. Not only was he watching the Spanish channel on TV, but he was watching a soap opera. To make matters even worse, he was watching ‘Rebelde’ (rebel), the top soap opera of choice for 10-16 year old boys and girls in Latin America. I asked Scott whether or not he even understood the plot. He said he did not but that it did not matter because he made up his own plot in his head. The music and the actors’ expressions helped the plot along. Surprisingly, his plot wasn’t that far from the actual plot in the soap opera. Shortly after that day, Rebelde posters appeared in our room and his desktop now had a picture of Dulce María, his favorite character from the soap opera. Rebelde was also a pop-rock group. So, Rebelde songs started playing in our room and became Scott’s ringtone. That was an interesting phase for Scott that lasted quite a while and provided quite the humor and entertainment in our room.
I hope that these recollections give you a small glimpse at what our life was like back at our alma mater. I admire Scott’s strength and perseverance through everything he has been through. When he approached me with the idea to provide a guest post for his blog I jumped at the opportunity. After all he has done for me this is the least I could do to help in his mission to help others. The lessons I learned with him and because of him I still carry with me and when things start to get hectic and difficult I simply think “You need to do better”, re-focus, and get back to work. It’s that no-quit, no-excuses, borderline defiant attitude towards life Scott possesses that makes him such an extraordinary human being. Imagine if you had that same kind of resolve, all the things you could accomplish in your own life.
When I first read Yamil’s memories of our time together, I was very touched. I often feel like all of the relationships in my life, especially the close ones, are lopsided in my favor. Since I need assistance doing pretty much everything, my friends, who are happy to help, end up doing quite a bit for me, and since I cannot do the same for them, I feel like they are putting a lot into our relationship but not getting much out. When I read something like this post however, I am reminded that, even though you cannot see it, I do bring a lot to the relationships in my life. By living my life the “right” way and letting others see me fight to achieve my dreams despite the obstacles I face, I can inspire and motivate them to accomplish the great things they are capable of. Reading Yamil’s account of the good times we had helped me remember that our relationship was not him helping me, but us helping each other. By developing and contributing to our friendship each in our own way, we not only got to bring happiness to our own lives, but also each other’s.