Newly Quadriplegic. Can you imagine at age 19, after a boating accident, waking up from surgery to the doctors telling you that you will never walk again? Despair settled in. This is the beginning of Joe Delagrave’s deep transformation. His journey to forgiveness and faith is one you will never forget. He brings us into his happy but imperfect childhood, his WSU football days, his boating accident, a life-changing prison visit, and ultimately his inner heart working, that gave him the drive of an Olympian. He is a keynote speaker, Team USA Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Medal Winner and well-loved child of God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
Soaking up affirmation from coaches
His goal in high school was being a college athlete
Birth father in prison, missed Joe’s entire childhood
It wasn’t 15 years for some crazy offense, it was choices over and over
Drugs, check fraud, not paying his rent
At 13 God spoke to him about being a speaker
His battle between pleasing people or pleasing God
Football Scholarship to Winona State in Mn.
Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin and the back sloughs of Mississippi
Spinal cord injury levels
Joe’s neck snaps at the C6 and C7, and he blacks out
Rescue boat, ambulance, then med flighted to the local hospital
The Asia Test proves his spinal injury
Airlifted to LaCrosse Hospital for surgery to fuse his C6 and 7
Complete quadriplegic or incomplete quadriplegic?
Don Beebee House of Speed shirt cut off
Opening his eyes to Prov. 3:5-6, and a newly-abled world
Surrounded by loving family
The God of 2nd chances
Functioning as an incomplete C6 and C7 quadriplegic
God softens his heart toward his dad
Visiting his birth father in prison
Reconciliation and forgiveness in one life-changing encounter
Marriage, babies and adaptive sports
Discovering wheelchair rugby
An athlete again
Preparing, making and medaling in the Paralympics
FB & Twitter- Joe Delegrave
“Are we on fire for God, or on fire for what people think? A lot of times those two don’t coexist very well.”
“As my athletic career was taking off, my relationship with Jesus was completely going the opposite way.”
“We never know what kind of impact we make by simply being kind.”
For more everyday extraordinary faith stories: https://lettersfromhomepodcast.com/
Purposely. Your life. God’s purpose. Listen at onpurposely.com.
[00:00:09] Wonderful news. Letters from Home has recently joined the Crista family in Seattle, Washington, and we are now part of the Purposely Podcast Network and Channel. Thank you for celebrating with me all of you current listeners and a special welcome to all of you new listeners. To give you a great sample of the stories you can expect or may not have had a chance to hear yet, we are doing a From the Vault series of some everyday extraordinary faith stories from the past. And the last of our From the Vault series is Joe Delagrave’s story titled, “Newly Quadriplegic: Road from Despair to the Paralympics.”
Joe [00:00:51] I remember the doctors came in for the first time in the room and they’re like, “This is what happened. You had five/six hour surgery. We fuzed you at C6 and 7. And we think you’re an incomplete quad.” Which I was like, “What?” I have no idea what that means. And then they say, Joe, you’re not going to walk again. And I was like, “What?”
Speaker 3 [00:01:11] And now for the next episode of Letters from Home, sending encouragement to your doorstep by capturing the heartbeat of God’s people. One story at a time.
Meg [00:01:23] Hi, it’s Meg Glesener, your host. A boating accident. Can you imagine, at age 19, waking up from surgery to the doctors telling you that you will never walk again? Such a solemn moment now, a paraplegic. Today’s guest brings us on his journey of transformation from college athlete. to paraplegic. From angry to surrendered. From bitter to forgiveness and blessing. From the hospital bed to the Paralympics. His drive and faith are palpable and will leave you so inspired. Here is the everyday extraordinary Paralympian for Team Jesus, Joe Delagrave.
Meg [00:02:18] Joe, it’s such an honor to have you on the podcast today. We got to meet over on clubhouse. How cool is that? Maybe in 50 years someone is going or five years. What is clubhouse? Well, you’ll have to Google that one. It’s really amazing. But just being in that room with you where we were both sharing parts of our story, I just instantly thought, I need to have Joe on the podcast if he’s willing. And you’re like, “Amen, let’s do it.” So here we are, Joe. Welcome!
Joe [00:02:45] Here we are. Yeah, let’s rock and roll with this thing.
Meg [00:02:50] Amen. You know, you’ve been through a lot. Life isn’t easy for most of us and probably a little harder for you in some ways. But, you know, we all have a story and that has made us who we are today. And I love your attitude and can you bring us right into your home and what it was like growing up, Joe?
Joe [00:03:10] Bringing me into the home. Well, I was raised my mom was in my life. My stepdad, who I call dad, was there as well. He was my dad since I was about four years old. And then I had two older sisters. So I always joke I knew I how to French braid before I knew how to dribble a basketball or anything like that with older sisters and my mom. But we were born and raised in a Christian home. My mom was raised in a Christian home as well. But when she was pregnant with my oldest sister, she just kind of quit everything cold turkey, quit smoking, drinking everything, just like turned her life to Jesus. And she’s the type of mom like growing up in the home. I always joke she’s she’s the type of mom that, like, if you’d bring home really hard math homework, she’d be like, “Jesus has the answer.” And I’m like, “That’s not going to get me in A on this, that’s not going to work mom, I understand where you’re going, where your heart is, but that’s not going to work.” But no she just really instilled in us values of of Christianity and in a relationship with Jesus. And one of the most amazing things that I always remember is my mom reading scripture to us at night when we go to bed all throughout my childhood, reading at night. Some of it was really boring at the time I was going like, “this King James version is putting me to sleep.” I think that was probably the point, like get to bed in there bucko. But no that’s kind of the childhood.
Meg [00:04:36] Well, Joe, I know you are an athlete and you have been an athlete since childhood, and I know that is a huge part of your journey. So where did your love for sports begin?
Joe [00:04:51] I was just I think I was born with it. I remember seeing pictures of you know, a glove or maybe a golf club or whatever, like whatever it is, and really loved affirmation that I got from coaches that built in constructive criticism or that built in feedback that you’d get. And then, hey, I’m going to do a really good job and then you get praise or I did a bad job and you don’t get praise. And looking back, I think that was partly because that’s just one of my love languages. And then secondly, my dad wasn’t in the picture in my life. And so I think, you know, my stepdad was there, but I think I just really wanted that affirmation from coaches and really desired that. And so growing up, it was basketball, football, baseball and middle school I did track and swimming as well. I did plays and musicals. I joke that, you know, Pirate number seven was a really big part in The Pirates of Penzance play,. Like, number eight? Like, that guy’s a loser. But pirate number seven man, one step away from Broadway basically. I just loved being a part of something that’s bigger than myself and fitting in. And as far as, like, you know, where do I fit in the puzzle of my leader or am I a role player or whatever it is. And so like that, that part of it always fascinated me from the chess standpoint of strategy and different games. And so, my goal in high school was to make it to college and be a college athlete.
Meg [00:06:19] Being part of a team can be so special. There’s purpose, there’s focus, there’s drive. Something to focus on with your body, your mind. Everything, your academics, everything kind of fits toward a goal, right? So, what was your relational dynamic like in high school?
Joe [00:06:35] Yeah, Yeah. I mean, my sisters sometimes get a little jealous of because I, you know, my mom would buy me all this different sports stuff and my sisters really didn’t weren’t involved really in sports that much. But it’s like, “Why are you buying Joe all this stuff?” And she’s like, “Well, he needs it for this and he needs of that and that whole thing.” But no they were super supportive of my sports and would cheer me on. And my mom, she’s always high pitched and so she I was like, “Mom, can you not yell that loud of games? I know you love me.” But no she’d go there and her big bright pink coat and cheer me on at the top of her lungs. And. And I’m like, “Ahh”.
Meg [00:07:13] Your face printed a poster.
Joe [00:07:16] Yeah, the whole thing. I don’t know. Being a dad now, like, I mean, it’s kind of fun to embarrass your kids sometimes. Like, there’s a little joy in that. But no, I was definitely supported there. And then as far as my friend group and everything, I tended to just like hanging out with whoever. Whether it was you know, usually it’s like the jocks and then like the theater nerds and and I would hang out both groups because I was in both things. And so. I was just like, “You guys have this weird dynamic going on and I don’t get it.” And I was a big, I think a pretty big, lovable teddy bear. Ended up becoming the prom king in high school. And that whole thing was like, yeah. I really enjoyed people and it didn’t really matter to me what group they were in or if you were popular or not or whatever. It would be like just, just love people.
Meg [00:08:09] Where was your faith at in high school years? Was that a formative time for you as far as growing in your faith and owning it as your own?
Joe [00:08:16] Yeah, Like, I mean we were in church on Sunday, Sunday night, Wednesday, that type of thing. Sometimes not by choice. Like I was like, “Hey, I got want a set. But that was something that my mom had us do. And so it was a battle like just being honest. And as a teenager growing up, you’re trying to make it your own. But then it’s more of like, Well, my parents are making me or is that tradition and, you know, that whole thing. But definitely had a relationship with Jesus growing up and, you know, remembering like Him talking to me and, you know, 13 years old, I’m at a district youth conference. We went to this big district youth conference in Wisconsin. And I remember God telling me I’m going to be a speaker someday at 13. And I was like, “there’s no way I’m I’m not that cool.” Like the guy that was speaking that night, I don’t remember his name, but I remember his jersey. He had a Houston Astros jersey on. And the Astros are really popular back then. And I’m like, This guy is so cool. He has a Houston Astros jersey. There’s no way I’m ever going to be as cool as him to be up on stage and speak. But I remember just crying that night. We still have people from our youth group, which I don’t know tends to happen when you’re at youth retreats, but definitely had a relationship with Jesus. But it was just it was this battle between pleasing people and pleasing God. And I think a lot of people can relate to that. Are we on fire for God or on fire for what people think? And a lot of times those two don’t coexist very well.
Meg [00:09:40] Totally. Oh, and I can’t wait to hear more more about that down the road. I know we will. And also with speaking, that’s pretty amazing that as a 13 year old, God came and tap you on the shoulder and said, “You know what? You’re going to be speaking.” I like that. So did you get to do college sports? Were any offers coming in?
Joe [00:10:01] Yeah. So I was pretty pretty good in basketball and football and then got some offers the D2 and D3 level for both sports and decided to play football and go to Winona State. And there’s a coach named Coach Hiller that recruited me. I really liked what he had to say and everything like that. And, and so we ended up going there and getting a scholarship there and, and that freshman year was awesome. Like it was it was a really fun year. I ended up playing as a true freshman, which means that I didn’t have to redshirt and which means that I’d have to get up early and wait train every day with that redshirt freshman. So that was kind of a nice.
Meg [00:10:37] Cool night. I mean, you were like,.
Joe [00:10:39] Way cool. Like, I don’t have to lift so, which looking back like I was like, Man, these guys are getting jacked. Maybe I should have done the whole lift thing. But no, it was great. It was a great year and it was a historic year for them. Little did I know at the time, but that whole year, though, like the affirmation and the desire to get that from coaches and teammates and the captains and fit in really took root. And so as my athletic career is taking off, my relationship with Jesus was completely going the opposite way where I didn’t get plugged into a church that freshman year. I didn’t get plugged into a FCA or Athletes in Action or anything like that. I was just like, I want to do whatever these guys are doing. That’s a house party. I want to do that. If that’s drinking, I want to do that. If that’s, you know, whatever it is they’re doing and that’s what I want to do. And so that that whole freshman year, that’s what we did. And for me, I was like, “Man, I’m living out my dream. I’m accomplished my goals.” I had no idea really what I wanted to do after college, but I was like, “This whole thing is amazing. Let’s see how far that career can go with with sports.” And that’s all I had planned.
Meg [00:11:44] Yeah. It’s so easy to be in the moment. And what’s funny is I’m sure you’re that you’re the kid, you know, the the prom king, the the stud athlete that everyone was looking to thinking you were the guy that they wanted to please and here you struggled with all of that insecurity.
Joe [00:12:00] This entire time. I hadn’t seen my dad since I was five.
Meg [00:12:06] Wow
Joe [00:12:06] It was at 18 when he said, “Hey, I’m going to get out of prison and come to your high school graduation.” And he never showed. And from there I was like. There so much bitterness. And I was like, “Well, I’m I’m never going to speak to this guy again.” Like, that was kind of the final straw. He missed my entire childhood. Entire childhood. And I was heading from Winona State back down to my hometown of Prairie de Chein, Wisconsin to work there for the summer and work out and get ready for the fall football season.
Meg [00:12:36] So your dad was in jail? Like, how did that affect you as a young man? You had a stepdad that you really like, but were you thinking about your dad and like, did you ever try and write him a letter or do anything like that? Like, what was going on in your head?
Joe [00:12:52] Yeah. So all the way through childhood with that, you know, my my stepdad, who I call dad and still call him dad and love him and he, you know, provided for us and put food on the table. And but I always had trouble with, like, I would want to have a relationship with my biological father. I just desired that. And I got when I, you know, going through sports and you see the dads coaching their kids and doing all that, like I was, I was so jealous of that and of their relationship. They could have had the worst relationship, whatever that was, you know, probably ten or 15 different fathers, sons and and they could have had half them could have had terrible relationships. I didn’t know. But like, I saw that and I’m like, man, I really wish that my dad would get his act together and and show up for me. And it never happened. And there’s times at night that I cried myself to sleep. Thinking about my dad not being there and asking God. “Like, why? Like, why me? And why is this? Why? Why can’t I have a relationship with my own dad and, you know, have a dad that’s that’s coaching my sports and being there and cheering me on.” And my dad did, it wasn’t just 15 years straight in prison for some crazy thing. It was choices over and over and over again, whether it was drugs or whether it was check fraud or whether it was, you know, slipping back into those things again and or, you know, not paying his rent. And I didn’t notice at the time. But, you know, going back into it later in life and realizing all the different choices that he made to do that and continued to make them and continued to make them and then went back into prison and they continued to make them and then went back in there and like the whole thing, you know, for well over 15 years.
Meg [00:14:42] Do you think that affected you said in your high school and college years something you really struggled with was, you know, pleasing others and just fine, finding that affirmation outside of you. Do you think your dad not being there has shaped shape that part of you a little bit?
Joe [00:14:59] Yeah, I think I think it’s kind of interesting the way God’s used it on my heart that like, I, I really, really, really want to see the good in people no matter what they’re going through. And and I mean over and over again, you see it with Jesus where where He’s seeing the good in people before and He can see the bad in people, obviously. But like seeing the good in people before He starts to correct them or construct them, they were whether it’s the women at the wall or whatever it is, He could have went straight there and said, “You got seven different dudes that you’re that you’re hanging out with, and now you’re on your eighth.” And what? And instead it’s just like,” I’m thirsty. Would you give me some water?” And saw her as a person, you know? And so I think it’s for me been something that’s, that’s been good. But then also that sometimes can the enemy can use it and go like you know just seek out that approval, seek out that affirmation, seek out that. And you need people that tell you that you’re valuable. You need people to tell you that you’re worthy when really, really all along you get that rooted in Jesus, you get that rooted in your faith and knowing that you’re a child of God. But the enemy says, “No, you need you need this person’s approval. And if you don’t get it, then you’re a failure. If you don’t get it, you’re a loser. If you don’t get it and you’re not good enough for less” And whatever it is. So it’s definitely a slippery slope for sure.
Meg [00:16:24] After your dad said, I’ll be there and then he doesn’t show up. What kind of change took place in your heart then? Did you just let go hope? Did you just fully harden yourself and forget him? I don’t want to see him.
Joe [00:16:40] Yeah, you can. You can for sure. There’s a hardening of the heart. But a lot of times and you don’t even realize that that bitterness and resentment overtook everything. You think that you can love. You think that you’re good. And it’s a weird deal because now, like, bitterness overtakes it and resentment overtakes your heart and becomes hardened. And I’m just like, no. And really, you know, the world says, “Yeah, that’s okay. Yeah, they wronged you. That’s okay to be resentment or be resentful or that’s okay to be bitter or that’s okay to lash out at that. And because he deserves it, that that’s what he deserves.”
Meg [00:17:26] Fast forward to college. College is going great. You’re a beast athlete. You’re doing really well. And then some major thing happens. Do you have a big giant change in your life?
Joe [00:17:36] So I’m back down in my hometown, Prairie de Chein, Wisconsin. It’s on the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin, which borders Iowa. In the small little river town. Everyone does boating activities, Knee board, jet ski, that whole thing, you know, water ski, fish, whatever. Yeah, so between freshman and sophomore year, I’m back home and Prairie de Chein and working for the summer and hanging out. And in that weekend of July 10th, 2004, changed my life. It was a weekend where my my two best friends growing up on the same street, Ohio Street and Prairie, Kyle and Adam were back from their respective colleges as well. And we were each Saturday or Sunday or Friday night, whatever we could get on the river we did. And so that was no different. So that Saturday we got on the river that morning and were knee boarding, Adam’s knee boarding, Kyle’s driving. I’m sitting in the boat enjoying the nice, beautiful summer day. It’s 75 degrees, partly cloudy and. I’m going to lean back in the bass fishing chair that has the pull on it. And I’m with my hands behind my head and and we’re in a back slew and in the back slews of the Mississippi. You never know how deep or shallow the water is, but it’s a lot calmer, so it’s easier to knee board, that’s why we’re always back there. We’ve been back there a hundred times and Kyle accidently hit the bottom of the river and I flew backwards, hit my head on the front of the boat, inside the boat, and I snapped my neck at the C6 and 7 on impact, six and seven vertebrae down from the base of your skull. So I blacked out and woke up and Kyle and Adam are looking over me, and they’re…Tears are rolling down their face and I’m waking up with excruciating pain from the head injury that I had. I had a big gash on my head where I hit and I was just like , “guys, like what happened you know, my head really, really hurts. We got like, what’s going on?” And they start asking me if I can move my legs. And I said in the signal from my brain down through my spinal cord into my legs, and nothing happens. And I’m kind of going like, “Oh, maybe it’s a stinger or something’s going on.” And they asked me to feel my legs and it felt like I was touching someone else’s legs. And the whole thing was just kind of an out-of-body experience.
Meg [00:19:49] And were you on the shore or you’re out in the water still?
Joe [00:19:55] Yeah, Just in the boat, in the water. And so they call 911 that all three of us were lifeguards growing up. And so we knew not to. They knew not to move my neck, but they, you know, call and they got the rescue boat over there and got me from that boat to the rescue boat and to the ambulance and to the local hospital where Adam’s mom is a nurse there still, and she’s been a nurse there for 40 years. And so she greeted me and the family doctors there, and they started doing these tests on me and they start poking me with the needle. It’s called an Asia test. And they poke at the top part of your body and work their way down just to see where you can have feeling. And so they put me in the shoulder. “Can you feel that?” “Yep I’m good.” And they start focusing in the shoulder, the arm, the hand, whatever. And then and then lower and lower. And as it gets down to the chest, I don’t feel anything in there. I’m like, “Are you poking me still?” And their like, “Yeah, Joe, we are. And we think what you’ve had is a spinal cord injury and you need to go up to La Crosse. Which is the local bigger hospital in the area and they fly you up there and get you into surgery.
Meg [00:21:00] And you’re coherent the whole time? Like you weren’t feeling pain? You were just…?
Joe [00:21:06] Yeah, I was. I was feeling excruciating pain. But I was aware but unaware of like, the gravity of the situation, unaware that I was going to be paralyzed or that, you know, what a spinal cord injury was or what C6 and 7 meant or what incomplete or a complete quadriplegic meant or anything like that. And when I medflighted up and I remember them cutting my clothes to get ready for surgery. And I was just like really mad. Like, I just bought those new swimming trunks and like, that was like I had no idea what the situation was, you know? And, once I got into surgery, I don’t remember anything for probably a day or two, but they ended up doing like a 5 to 6 hour surgery on my neck that fuzed me from the C6 and 7. And then I woke up with a bunch of tubes out of everywhere, out of my body parts to pee and and tubes to help me breathe and the whole thing and woke up and kind of was laying there.
Meg [00:22:04] If we could step back for a second.
[00:22:06] Your parents, did you get a talk with your parents and then from the boat on the way to surgery? Was there any kind of conversation with family at this point?
Joe [00:22:15] Not a whole lot. So my parents met me at the hospital and then they followed the ambulance or the helicopter. They drove up to La Crosse, which is about an hour and a half away. And as I was med flighted up there. So they booked it up there. And I know from talking to my mom later on that, you know, she was praying the whole way that nothing bad is happening. And of course, something bad is happening. And of course, Adam and Kyle are devastated. And you know, word gets out and this is before Facebook and the whole thing and but you know, word gets out and people start, you know, to call my parents and Adam and Kyle and that type of thing. But I just remember kind of waking up in the hospital and kind of going like, “What is going on? “
Meg [00:23:05] What happened? Yeah. Wow. You woke up and you have all the tubes and stuff. You know what? What were you thinking? Because you also were coming out with some really intense drugs from a very serious surgery.
Joe [00:23:18] Yeah. So I got to backtrack for a second. July 3rd, 2010, I was at a basketball camp at the local high school and working as one of the counselors. And I had been working for the city. So I was there and I had on this Don Beebe House of Speed shirt and Don Beebe was a former Buffalo Bill and Green Bay Packer and won the Super Bowl for the Packers after he lost the Super Bowls with the Bills. And he’s a little white dude that ran around as a receiver. But he had this House of Speed camp. I didn’t go, I just got the shirt from one of our teammates in college. I had forgotten my shirt underneath my pads and I was asking around like different teammates, “Hey do you, have like a shirt?” And our kickers like, “hey, I got, I got a shirt for you.” And I’m like, “Great.” And he throws it over awesome. And I see like House of Speed. And he’s like, “Ahh you’re slow.” Cause I was a tight end and I always joked I was like a cheeseburger away from being a tackle type of deal and they always like and even like the receiver coach was always like, “Hey you guys if Joe can get open running his tight end routes and he’s slow like why can’t you…” I’m like is that like a backhanded compliment, like what? And, but I was like, you know, this guy’s going to make fun of me. I’m going to keep the shirt. So I kept the shirt. And then July 3rd, 2004 I was wearing it. And I had no idea that the counselor’s like, “Hey, what’s on your shirt?” And I’m like, “Oh, Don Beebe House of Speed, yada, yada, yada.” And he’s like, “No, what’s that Bible verse on your shirt?” And like, “What are you talking about?” Like at that point, I probably had my Bible up since I left for college, basically. And he’s like, Well, Proverbs 3:5-6 man, “Trust the Lord with all your heart. Lean not real understanding in all your ways. Acknowledge Him and He’ll direct your pass.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s really cool, whatever.” And I had went home later that day and open my Bible up and read that. And, like any Christian knows that verse, I feel like, I feel like it’s always, you know, or in someone’s house or someone’s grandma has it or like, we had it in our bathroom for a while, which is kind of weird. Like, I don’t think you really need to trust the Lord while you’re taking a dump. That’s kind of like, you know. So yeah, but, but those next couple of days in the hospital, I remembered that verse and told my sisters about it and they ended up writing it really pretty and putting out poster board and putting it on my wall in my hospital room. In that first week, I remember staring at that each day when I wake up and I remember being angry and really frustrated and really mad. Because as I’m praying and begging and hoping that God’s going to change the situation that I’m in, I’m looking at this going, trust the Lord. And I’m like, I don’t want to. Like, I want to know why I’m in this hospital bed and why I’m paralyzed and why this is happening to me. I’m going, “God, like You knew that athletics was my goal and my dream, my identity. Like You’ve made me like, You made me like this? Like, this is. I’ve had this in me forever. Like, why are you doing this?” And I’m like, “God, you know, like my dad hasn’t been in my life. And then like this, like. Like, oh, my God.” You know? Just the anger and the pain and the mad and the sad and the resentment and the bit like all of those feelings every day. When I look at that, lean not on your own understanding like, No, I want to understand. I want to understand God. As those first couple of days turn into a week. And each day I’m hearing that and looking at that verse, I’m just like, “No, no, no.” Like, it was just such a battle of that saying this is what you need to do, and me saying like, “I want to know what’s going on.” Like, “No, God, like I can’t trust in You unless You let me know what’s going on.” And I feel like a lot of us are like that sometimes. Like we have the plot, like, “God, I got a plan, and my plan is pretty good.” Like, I got a pretty dialed in plan here, you know? And I’ve got, like, 25 slides with the PowerPoint in the whole thing. Like, here you go. Like, “Hey, I’ll trust in You, let’s just make sure we do this plan here.” And I feel like we do that a lot with God. We’re like, “Nah, like, this is what we need to do. And in hindsight, it ends up being that it doesn’t really work out very well for us.
Meg [00:27:49] But did you have any way to communicate? You said, did you wake up with like, did you have a ventilator or when you woke up, were you able to speak?
Joe [00:27:57] I didn’t have a ventilator. I was able to speak of a little bit. I could remove my right arm just a little bit, but otherwise fully paralyzed. And I remember the doctors came in for the first time in the room and in they’re like, “This is what happened. You had 5/6 hour surgery. We fuzed you at C6 and 7. We think you’re an incomplete quad.” Which I was like, “What? I have no idea what that means.” But then. And then they say, “Joe, you’re not going to walk again.” and I was like, “What? What do you mean?” They’re like, “There’s maybe a 3% chance that you’d ever walk again and you’re going to be in a wheelchair the rest of your life, and you’re going to be going through rehab and this whole thing.” And and I’m like, there’s at nineteen years old, you’re already having this question that’s that swirl around your head that they kind of dominate your headspace. And, you know, like with like who you marry? What career you going to have? And what’s that going to look like? Do you want kids? And when you have this paralysis, like, everything just amplifies. Can I do this in a wheelchair? Is this girl that I’m with going to stay with me and are we going to be able to have a baby? Like, my mom’s in the room asking the doctors if I can still have sex because she wants grandkids. I’m like, “Mom, get out of my room. Like, this is, like…
Meg [00:29:25] Give me a moment here Mom.
Joe [00:29:26] Yeah, yeah. These questions are just dominating my headspace and circling around in my head. And I’m just begging, like, wiggle a toe, move a limb, something to make me know that I’m going to be okay. And little did I know that that was already there in the room through that Bible verse of “Trust and love with all your heart, lean not on understanding in all your ways, acknowledging Him and He’ll direct your path.” Like God was working on me each and every day when I wake up through that verse that was on my wall and through the miracle that was in the room, in that miracle, that was in the room was the wheelchair. Lot of times we think that our obstacles in life, our circumstances in life are there to make us struggle with. A lot of times our opportunities become real through our obstacles or through our circumstances, or through whatever is put in our life. And for me, that was that wheelchair. You know, I looked at it and I’m like, this is less than this is inadequate. This is disabled, this is non abled or or this is insecure. I don’t want to be a man with the disability and be a man pushing a wheelchair around. And I’d look at it and just like… You know? A reminder that I’m paralyzed and my dreams are gone.
Meg [00:30:57] Did your buddies come and visit you in the hospital and what was it like? Did you have any read on your parents or your sister as far as while the doctors telling you and your processing, did you pick anything up on them and their reaction?
Joe [00:31:13] My buddies were in the room and I went to a small little rehab. I had nobody else that had a spinal cord injury. It was me and then a bunch of stroke patients. And so it was just like me isolated. But at the same time, I was in a small little hospital that was close to my high school friends that would come up and visit me and my coaches that would come up and visit me. And it was close to my college friends that would come and visit me, my college teammates and coaches that would come and visit me. And I just had this insane support group around me that literally every minute of the day people were coming in and speaking life into me coming in sometimes probably even lying to me and just be like, “Hey, Joe, it’s going to be okay.” And I’m like, “whatever.” But I think it was something that I absolutely needed at the time for people to come in and say, “Joe, you got this.” People that come in and say, “Hey, it’s going to be okay.” Like friends at college, instead of going out party on a Saturday night calling me and talking to me for 3/4 hours while I’m laying in this hospital bed. And it really like stoked a fire of my already like, positive personality, but it just stoked a fire that maybe, maybe this is going to be okay? Something happened about a month after staying in the hospital room and I’m still kind of wrestling with this whole trust the Lord thing with Proverbs 3:5-6. And I’m still kind of wrestling with everything that’s happening. But we got a call from our local youth group, Pastor or friend. I’m not exactly sure who called me that night, but called and said, “Hey, there’s been an accident with Josh.” He was 16, so a little bit younger than me. And then they said Josh was was driving home from the state fair on a back row and on gravel road. He ended up getting thrown from the vehicle in a crash and broke his neck and died on impact. And I remember thinking through that and just started sobbing. Crying. Realizing. I had been given a second chance. That could’ve easily been me dead on impact. The craziest thing about it and the thing that I didn’t really realize and was just again mad at God about was…The day before Josh passed away. He was talking to one of his friends saying, “Hey, I know where I’m going to go if I leave this earth. Do you? Witnessing at 16 years old at a state fair when most usually just running around trying to chase girls and get a funnel cake. But he’s speaking to people about their relationship with Jesus. And about the reality of heaven and hell. And I remember going like, “God why would you take Josh?” Like, I’m just I’m just playing football. And that was all I wanted to do. And He just started working on my heart. That was when my heart started to soften. And He started working on it and said, “I’m giving you a second chance Joe. I’m giving you a second chance. Trust in Me. Don’t lean on your understanding. You’re not going to understand it. Acknowledge Me in all your ways and I’ll direct your paths.” And that’s when I started to realize. Wow, this wheelchair. Let me just jump in. Let’s figure this thing out. Let’s start. You know, let’s start to do physical therapy with a little bit more aggression. Let’s start to do occupational therapy and figure this thing out. And, you know, and that’s around three months in the hospital and then going home back to live with my parents, which, you know, at 19, that’s just a dream come true.
Meg [00:35:15] Yeah, right.
[00:35:16] No, it’s not. And now that I have kids, I’m just like, no, I wouldn’t want them to to move back in with their 19 either. But yeah, but moving back home and again, having a community around me, they had built me this addition onto my parents home that was like its own little, you know, apartment with a bathroom and the whole thing. And it was just really a labor of love that a bunch of people in the community provided for us. And so that was really important as well. But again, continuing to to try to be independent. You know, it started with It wasn’t just me going from, “Oh, I’m going to be in a wheelchair now. I’m a Paralympian.” It was me going like, “I’m in a wheelchair and I need to figure out how to put my socks on and figure out how to put my shorts on and how to put my shirt on and then figure out how to transfer and figure out how to push around the block.” And, you know, it starts with such small little steps. Everyone thinks it’s a big, giant leap of faith. And it’s not. It’s just a step.
Meg [00:36:16] From your initial diagnosis, has anything changed?
Joe [00:36:20] No. So I basically function as a C6 and 7 quadriplegic. That’s incomplete, which means I didn’t sever my cord completely, but basically I don’t have any movement in my legs. I can feel the bottom of my feet, but that’s it. Like I don’t have any other feeling. And in my legs and no movement, my hands don’t work, so I can extend my fingers out, but I cannot close my hand to make a fist or grip really anything. It was learning how to eat differently, learning how to use my hands differently, since I didn’t have hands that gripped anything and learning how to just do things differently and adapt to it. And a lot of that is just choice. You know, a lot of people will play the blame game at that point and be like, “Well, it wasn’t my fault I’m in this situation and I’m not going to figure it out.” And it takes a certain attitude to just go, “I’m going to fail over and over and over again, but I’m going to just continue to try to figure out a way to put my socks on them or shoes on and figure out a way to zip a backpack and figure out a way to…” you know, whatever it is. And it’s that mentality that there is a way to do things even if your hands don’t work and can’t move your legs.
Meg [00:37:35] Wow. That’s amazing. Are you able to travel by yourself?
Joe [00:37:41] Yeah.
Meg [00:37:41] And then we’ll talk about rugby.
Joe [00:37:43] Yeah.
[00:37:44] You have said and what you’ve done is really remarkable and all the, the things that, you know, most people would just completely don’t even think about or take for granted with that athletic tenacity to just attack some of those things to prepare you for the rest of your life. You have said that you felt like Proverbs 3 and God was just giving you a whole second chance.
Joe [00:38:08] The biggest thing, if we can get into the rugby stuff here in a second. But the biggest thing that it did with the second chance was it started to soften my heart towards my dad.
Meg [00:38:20] Hmm.
Joe [00:38:21] And that started to come up.
Meg [00:38:23] When he heard about it, did you get a talk with him about the accident?
Joe [00:38:25] So my grandpa, who was still alive at the time, had and I got to see him, you know, quite a bit. And it was, you know, my dad’s dad and he’s and his wife, who wasn’t my grandma, but his wife was like, “If you ever want to go see your dad, this is where he’s at,” type of thing. Just put it out there and he knows that you’re in a wheelchair and had an accident. And we told them and you know, we write to him a lot. And initially I’m like, there’s no way. Like, I’ve been through way too much. Like, no way. And it just started to, you know, it’s just crazy how God does this. And he puts little bits of pieces out for you to chew on and you get a second chance. Why doesn’t he? And I’m like, that’s like sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, a millionth chance. It’s different. And like, you know, and then you get these little things and I talked to my girlfriend, who’s my wife now, April. I’m like, “April, should we go see my dad?” And I’m like, I’m asking her, hoping that she’s going to say no. Like, I need an ally in this whole deal. And she’s like, “That sounds like an amazing idea. You should absolutely. You know, I’ll go with you. Let’s do it. And when do you want to go? Should we go this Saturday or next Saturday?” I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” And still wrestled with it and ended up going to see him. I ended up finally saying, “Okay, let’s go do it. Thanksgiving of 2005 November of 2005 is when we went over to a local correction facility in northwestern Wisconsin. And I go into the jail and we had kind of like he knew we were coming and we had we had to get on a list to be a visitor and kind of told us, like, you know, you need to bring some quarters for snacks and that whole thing, but it’ll be pretty easy. So we get there and, you know, being what, a year and a half out from my injury, I still had no idea how to advocate for myself. So I get in there and the security guards are like, Well, you can’t go in your wheelchair. And now I be like, “Well, no, these are my legs I’m staying in my wheelchair.” But then I’m like, “Okay.” So I transfer into this giant like park bench with wheels on it type of thing, this big, huge hospital chair or whatever, and April wants to wheel me in cause I can’t even wheel myself in, that whole thing. And I’m just going like, “Oh my gosh, like, this is not the way I want to, like, meet my dad for the first time in 15 years.” So we get in there and we get some snacks, and then my dad comes out, he’s in a green jumpsuit, and he comes and sits down at the table across from me. And I look into his eyes and that experience was something that that reconciliation, that forgiveness is something that is just straight transformational from Jesus. I looked into his eyes and his eyes looked like mine. His freckles look like my freckles is features and personality quirks and the whole thing looks like me. And we sat and had some popcorn and Skittles and some soda and talked. And, you know, we had our talk. I told him, you know, how hurt I was by what he did. But I also told him, “Hey, I got a second chance and I want to give you one.” And that love that was shown that day wasn’t mine or his or April’s. It was through the blood of Jesus. It was through only transformational power of Jesus can do. You know, maybe I was a vehicle that went there. But later, years, years and years later, he passed away in 2016. So we ended up getting 11 years together to try to reconcile and to have a relationship and to get to go to a Cubs game. We’re both huge Cubs fans and went to a Cubs game together and sat in right field at Wrigley Field and got to do the father/son thing. And years and years later I said, because he never messed up again, never had any problems with drugs, never had any problems with bad checks or anything like that.
Meg [00:42:34] From that day forward?
Joe [00:42:35] From that day forward.
Meg [00:42:36] Wow.
Joe [00:42:37] You know, served the rest of his time and got out and and I said, “What was the difference?” And he said, “I finally felt loved.” And we never know how people feel. We never know how…We never know what kind of impact we make by simply being kind and showing love to people. And we see that over and over and over again in Scripture. I think a lot of times you make it so hard. You know, our greatest commandment is a love our God with all your heart and soul and mind. And the second one is to love your neighbor. Full stop, period. We messed it up so, so much. And we let bitterness ride and move into our heart and let resentment move into our heart. We let this stuff overwhelm us to the point that we don’t have the capacity to show love to someone. And it’s so beautiful when it does. For me. I feel like that was probably one of the smartest things I’ve done besides, you know, marry my wife is to be able to go and spend that day and Thanksgiving in 2005 and reconcile with my dad. Because I think if you would have passed in 2016 without me doing that, I would have a lot of regret, a lot of remorse.
Meg [00:44:13] Wow. Joe, that’s just remarkable. God’s so good. I will never forget that you shared that. That’s beautiful. I’m so glad you got the Cubs game, too, though, I have to say, for you to get that because here’s the thing that, you know, you didn’t get to be your father’s son for very long, you know? You got that? Because you’ve been the caretaker, right?
Joe [00:44:38] Yeah.
Meg [00:44:42] What else was happening in your life at that time?
Joe [00:44:45] I was, yeah. Yeah. At that time it was still, you know a year to year and a half out and trying to figure out life again. And I knew, you know, I started to become independent. And it was, we were 20 years old when I proposed to April and I went through all of that. We had broken up for a little while. By we I mean, I had broken up with her because I was really dumb and thought like, “Oh, I’m not sure if I love you enough” and that whole thing. And then we broke up and I’m like, “Yes, I do”. And we had broken up for about three months. So, one of the I was like, I need to go back to college. I need to be able to provide for this girl. I need to be able to, you know, be independent. And so wrestling with who I was as a person still what this wheelchair thing’s going to look like. As far as sports went, I just thought they were off the table because I thought adaptive sports are pathetic. Like I’m not out for a hug. I’m competitive. You know that big, rough, tough football player? I’m 6’6, 260 pounds.
Meg [00:45:43] You’re 6’6?.
Joe [00:45:44] Yeah. There’s no way like that’s going to translate in adaptive or in the adaptive world. And it was again, someone in my life that spoke into me. And I think it’s so important. Like, you know, a lot of people are like, “Joe, you’re inspiring.” Or “Joe, like you’ve done so much” and like, it’s so important to have people around you that are real with you, that are vulnerable with you, that will keep you accountable. And Kyle, one day is like, “Dude, we need to get you weighed.” And I think Kyle and April and Adam probably talk like, “Hey, this dude is getting a little too big. He’s not gonna build a push himself or transfer with all the added weight.” Because I was about 220 pounds out of the hospital, I lost a lot of weight. And so I’m going back home. I just, I ate a lot of my feelings. Kyle’s like, “Let’s weigh you.” And we ended up going to the hospital, weighing me. I thought I was like, “Your bed’s broken.” I’m not 284 pounds there’s no way. And they’re like, “Yes, you are.” And I’m like, “Let’s try to weigh me again.” It said the same thing and I’m just going, “Okay Kyle, I get your point.” And that’s when I finally started to kind of like, “Man, maybe I need to look at wheelchair sports?” I went back to college, was helping out the football team, and it was like, “I don’t want to do that. Like, I don’t want to be reminded of what I used to do.” And I finally looked at wheelchair sports and looked up wheelchair basketball and realized I really couldn’t play that with my function like wheelchair racing. And I was like, “That sounds really boring. I don’t want to push round the circle.” Finally found wheelchair rugby and saw these cripple people smashing into each other as hard as they could and trying to make each other more crippled. And I was like, “This thing is so weird, right?” Like what? And I was like, “Yeah, perfect sign me up.” I found that out that there was a team about two and a half hours away from Winona, Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one place called Courage Center. And I ended up going up there with April. We drove up there and got into a chair that night. They strapped me all in. We have like straps in our legs and our feet and our waist and our the whole thing. That way, when we fall over, your body’s going everywhere type of thing. And yeah, no one wants to scrape that off the floor. So we’re strapped into our chairs and that whole thing and I remember, you know, going up and down the court and passing the ball and pushing up and down. And my lungs are starting to fill up with air like an athlete’s would. And my body’s getting hot and realized through that night that I got to be an athlete again. Like, like I was a big, out of shape, terrible athlete, but I was an athlete again. And that night changed my life. And then there was also this group of guys that I could talk to you about, like, how do you guys use this catheter? How do you guys transfer into your cars like that? How do you take apart your chair by yourself? How do you like like a one stop shop for rehab that I didn’t get at rehab? Like, it was a way for me to have a support group for a 19 year old kid that did not want to be in a support group any one type of deal. So it ended up being a beautiful thing and then a thing where, you know, the scripture says to delight yourself in the Lord and He’ll give you the desires of your heart. Like He knows you because He made you. And it was like, “Wow, I get to be an athlete again.” And at that point I didn’t know. I had no clue that I was going to, you know, to be a Paralympian or win a bunch of medals or whatever it would be. But that athletic identity came back in a good way where, you know, Jesus was first and athletics was second. But then I was like, “Wow, I can set some goal. Let’s set some goals. Let’s start losing weight. Let’s start getting in shape.” “Oh wow, there’s a national team for wheelchair rugby” and they play at the Paralympics. And I watched them in Beijing and they won gold. And then I was like, I want to do that. And so I started to set up goals to be able to do that and then made my first national team and was able to make London 2012 after working my butt off. And April and I moved down to Phoenix to train with three Paralympians. And so I just completely moved our life that way. And things started happening in the sport all because of that one practice that changed my life.
Meg [00:49:58] So you’ve gotten to go to Olympics a couple of times and now you have kids. Can you bring us up to speed with where you’re at now?
Joe [00:50:06] We have three babies, nine, seven and five. Braxton’s nine, Braden’s seven and Brindley’s five. We live in Wisconsin now. We moved to Arizona for eight years and move back to Wisconsin to be closer to family and then training for the Tokyo 2021 games and then obviously with COVID 2021, so we’re about 100 days away. When we’re recording this right now, there’s about 11 days until we find out who’s selected to the team, which is exciting. So. So yeah, so it’s been a really cool ride. I’ve been on the national team for 13 years as a captain for eight years and was cut and in Rio and that’s like a whole other podcast. But it was during that failure where God reminded me that my value and my worth aren’t tied to a medal. My value and my worth aren’t tied to an outcome that a scoreboard says I’m a winner or loser. My value and worth is in whose I am and what He did on the cross for me. And I think a lot of times we like to even as Christians, we kind of forget like we work hard at it, which is great. Like work ethic is good. Working hard at something is good, goal setting is good. But if we’re, you know, on the hamster wheel and we’re going, going, going, going, going, like we got to just realize like we’re a child of God, like He loves you through your failure. He loves you through your faults, He loves you through your sin. He loves you through your insecurities, your inadequacies, or whatever are there for you at that moment doesn’t make you make Him love you any less or any more. And I think it’s a reminder that we need. And then I just want to close with this. That 19 year old kid was in his hospital bed begging for a sign, a toe to move. A leg to twitch. Something. And looking back, God gave me a theme of three’s to show me that He had a plan for me that back when he said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t lean on your own understanding, Joe. You’re not going understand this. Acknowledge Me and I’ll direct your path. I got a path for you. I have a plan for you. I have a purpose for you.” When I was 13 years old. God said, “I’m going to be a speaker.” Six years later, I break my neck a week before on July 3rd. I get that verse. Proverbs 3. I’m training for my third Paralympics. I didn’t know if I was going to have kids. I didn’t know if I’m going to have passion or purpose. Third Paralympics, A theme of threes. God gave me three babies when we tried for five years. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to have kids as a quadriplegic. We have three babies. Naturally, I ended up having to get a vasectomy because that shop just runs way too well. And then at 33 years old. I stepped into obedience to be a speaker 20 years later after He called me into it.
Meg [00:53:11] Wow.
Joe [00:53:11] God gave me a theme of threes to say, “Joe, I had a plan for you all along. Get in the wheelchair. I have a plan for you.” You wanted to be walking around. But I’ve got a plan. I got a plan and I got a purpose for your paralysis. Go and spread this message and this story to as many people that will listen as possible. This theme of threes is going to open people’s eyes to see that they can have permanent victory in Jesus. They’re not defined by a circumstance or an outcome or an obstacle or failures in life or things going wrong. They are defined by who I am and defined by the reaction to their failure.” So when we fail and we do it all the time, we can react in a positive way that says, “Now, this isn’t who I am. This sin doesn’t define me. This, this feeling that I have right now of insecurity or inadequacy doesn’t define me. People calling me less than or are unworthy or not valuable or not good enough.” You know, forever is listening and you’ve gone through something like that. That’s not you. That’s not who God’s called you to be. You’re a child of God. Your identity is in Jesus. You are worthy because He says you are worthy. So get up and react in that way. It’s powerful when you say I am a child of God. Go and do what you’re purpose to do. Go and do it. God has a plan for you.
Meg [00:54:46] Before we seal up the envelope on this story of encouragement, I have prepared bonus material for you that we like to call the P.S.
Meg [00:54:55] Sure to make you smile and be moved within your heart as you see a bit more of the heart and personality of our guest.
Joe [00:55:04] Here is your P.S.
Meg [00:55:07] Are you ready for some bonus questions, Joe?
Joe [00:55:10] Let’s do it.
Meg [00:55:12] All right. Do you have any hidden talents or party tricks?
Joe [00:55:18] I’m a pretty decent singer. It’s kind of like the hidden talent that I whip out every once in a while. Yeah. Yeah.
Meg [00:55:26] Any national anthem? Have you sang at any of them?
Joe [00:55:31] I did it in high school before a basketball game. I don’t think I’ve ever done it for rugby, though, no.
Meg [00:55:36] What was your best sports moment? The one that just really you’re most proud of, I guess?
Joe [00:55:42] Yeah. Making 2012. I remember. And it wasn’t even like the game or anything like that, but the selection and making it. And we had worked so hard for it. April and I moved to Phenix and moved away, and then in January 2012, had our son Braxton. And then being able to make this team and remember kind of the culmination of everything was like, Wow, I mean, I just cried like a baby called my mom and called April. I was kind of incoherent with she’s like, “So did you make it or not?” And I was like, “Yes, yes, I made it. Yes, I made it.” And so it was an amazing moment and a culmination of a lot of hard work and ended up losing close to 90 pounds to get in shape to be able to do it. And so that was that was probably my favorite.
Meg [00:56:30] All right. What was your worst sports moment? Did you have a worst sports moment?
Joe [00:56:34] Yeah. So my worst sports moment was 2012 as well. It was playing Team Canada in the semifinal to go to the gold medal game. We were ranked number one from 2005 all the way to 2012. So heavy favorites going into the tournament ended up losing by one point to go to the gold medal game. We were down by eight in the first quarter, fought all the way back so like it was the anti Disney movie so like we got it were down by eight, fought all the way back fourth quarter it’s a tie game we get one more turnover. All we got to do is go to score and win like there’s that theme music that Chariots of Fire, theme music playing the whole thing, like they’re going to make a movie. And we ended up turning the ball over and Canada goes to score. They win, we lose. We have to go to the the brown poopy medal game and just devastation. I can laugh about it. And that bronze medal means so much to me now. But for a long, long time. Like it just I thought I was a failure because of it. And we all thought we were failures because of it. But in reality, you look at that and bronze means something devastated happened and you reacted in a positive way and got that medal anyway. Like the very next day, you have to go out and put that behind you and go in. And that’s what we did.
Meg [00:57:48] And so how has your injury affected how you parent, Joe?
Joe [00:57:53] Like for the most part, not a whole lot, but there’s definitely some things with being a dad, especially being some of the masculine things can really get me down, you know, whether it’s throwing a ball with my kids and I can’t throw that far and trying to figure it out or kids saying stuff and I don’t really care about it, but maybe my kids are like, “Oh”, you know? Or figuring out different ways to do things. But for me, I’ve always had an attitude like, figure it out and adapt and do it. I stayed at home with my two boys for two years, being the primary caretaker while my wife worked. So I changed diapers, did the whole thing and got through it. They’re still alive. Yeah. So yeah, but definitely some feelings of insecurity, inadequacy pop up and I got to just give those over to God and make sure that, you know, that’s not me. That’s, you know.
Meg [00:58:46] I would guess in the long run, your kids are going to respect you even more for that because just really in your daily routine is probably way, way harder than other people. What is it that takes extra long or what is it that people don’t know about?
Joe [00:59:03] Being in a wheelchair it’s like, “Oh, being in a wheelchair must be hard. It must be hard to push a wheelchair.” It’s not like that that’s kind of the easy part. Every day I get up and I never look at the chair and go like, “Oh, can I get in the wheelchair again.” But the everyday activities take a while for me to get up and get dressed and go do something takes longer than the average human being. Unless it’s the woman that’s sitting in her closet and deciding what to wear for an hour. I’m kidding. Don’t send me an email. So no, you know, I have to do intermittent cathing, you know, five or six times a day to empty my bladder because I can’t pee my own. I had to figure out how to do bowel management and how to do a bowel program for a long time. Then realize that with healthy eating and learning my body like I go to the bathroom naturally that way with the whole number two so that was a big deal. But showering takes longer, you know, like dressing takes longer. So the average person can do that now, probably about 30 minutes. It takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to do so. It’s in a way I don’t have as many hours during the day.
Meg [01:00:09] I see. Well, do you feel like you have all the tools, though, because you have some feeling in your hands. So do you have like tools that you have to attach or like, I don’t know, I might not even put on there? I’m just curious?
Joe [01:00:20] Yeah, yeah, yeah. At first there’s like these hooks and like different things and different apparatuses. But I found it easiest to just learn how to use my hand to kind of hook into my pants and pull them up and do stuff without the tools because the tools just got in the way. And so that’s kind of how I learned. So there’s probably some people that do it differently. But then, yeah, just asking guys like, “How do you get dressed in your chair?” I always have to get dressed in bed or, “How do you get dressed on a different chair?” Or like whatever it would be. And how do you put your legs to put your shoes on and just just being curious and asking questions.
Meg [01:00:59] And for our listeners who can’t really see what I see, I’m looking at Joe and this interview and he’s got a headset and he’s going to be doing podcasting and he’s got a microphone and all these super cool things. It seems like, like, you know, we met on clubhouse, like you do everything that everyone else does. It just takes you longer and, you know, there’s some pieces that you don’t have, but it seems like you’re you do just about everything.
Joe [01:01:26] Yep. Yeah. Completely independent can travel on my own like don’t need my wife or a nurse or anything to take care of me and learn how to transfer in bathtubs. And so I wouldn’t necessarily have to bring a shower chair with me or anything like that. And so, stuff like that is really important for me.
Meg [01:01:43] Is there anything that would be helpful for people to know that maybe wasn’t helpful? And, you know, whether it’s something people say to you? Or, you know, like what would be helpful for people know to how to support people in wheelchairs?
Joe [01:01:55] Yeah. So there’s this whole deal. Okay. So I call it I call it inspirational porn. It’s what I call it
Meg [01:02:03] Oh, my.
Joe [01:02:04] Well, it’s basically if you’re saying, “well, you’re inspiring because you’re in a wheelchair.” Like, it’s like, that’s not true inspiration, right? Like, that’s just that’s just you looking at someone that’s in a chair and going like, “Well, my life doesn’t suck as much as theirs.” I guess it’s kind of like awful to say, but I think of a lot of people are like, “Oh, you must be so inspiring.” It’s like, “Well, I’ve met a lot of people in wheelchairs aren’t. And so I think it’s just going like seeing the person as a person first, wheelchair second, and going like, All right, well what do they do and how do they do it? And maybe find something inspiring about them, but not just going, “Well, man, you’re just so inspiring” and then rub my head type of deal. Which a lot of people have done over the years. They just kind of pat my head. And I’m like, “I’m a grown man. Why are you really stop doing that?” Or coming up and, like, touching my wheelchair, Like I would never come up and be like, I’d see Meg walking up steps and start pushing you and be like, You look like you need some help like that. No one would do that. But with a wheelchair, they’re like. “Well, you look like you’re struggling.” It’s like, “Well, actually, no, I’m not.” And so just asking the question, you know, I think for me, sometimes I’m like, “Yes, I would love some help.” But if when someone asks me the question, they empower me to answer instead of if they just do it, they completely I lose all power in the situation.
Meg [01:03:28] Yeah. You know, isn’t it that that’s, I think, one of my greatest lessons in life. It’s listening.
Joe [01:03:36] Yeah.
Meg [01:03:37] Being in the moment and paying attention. Read the room, see what’s going on. It’s not helpful if you’re not, you know, if you just step in like that. Anyway, that is so good. Joe. Sounds like you really had a great group of people that came alongside you. And in just you have a lot of experiences speaking in different churches. What would you say is the greatest need in the church today?
Joe [01:03:57] I have a heart for discipleship, like true discipleship, but I think a lot of times in church we try to make it a program or a group or whatever. And like true discipleship isn’t that hard to do in life together. And like the steps are pretty easy, being vulnerable and accountable is the hard part. And I think if we can do that in a vulnerable and accountable way with discipleship, like our churches will grow and we’ll see revival through that.
Meg [01:04:28] Absolutely. Is there a character or a person in the Bible that you really admire or relate to?
Joe [01:04:33] I relate to the whole Moses thing. When Moses is, you know, I mean, he’s got like he’s got it all. Like if you in, you know, you read through Exodus and the dude’s like, “All right, you get the burning bush, bro.” Like, step into obedience, man. Like, be faithful. God showed up as a burnt bush and then he’s still…But it’s so real when you think about it and you think about maybe for me going, you know, I’m 13 and you’re going to be a speaker. And it took me 20 years to figure it out. A lot of times when you have a calling or a purpose, you’re like, “Just send someone else.” “Hey, my guy Aaron, he’s pretty good like send him.” You know? Or Moses like, “I’m, you know, I’m not very good at speaking. I stutter a little bit.” Or send me a sign or miracle. And so I can just relate with Moses where it just seems like, man, you’re such a real human in this moment. And I feel that a lot of us can relate to, like that whole thing where we’re just kind of arguing a little bit and going like…And, you know, the insecurity of, well, I can’t do it without like the staff that’s getting in this snake. I need one of those. I need like, you know.
Meg [01:05:42] Oh, that’s, that’s so good and so Joe I’m sure a ton of people want to book you for speaking because what you’ve shared in your heart for Christ and what God’s done in your life is just incredible. So I know your website’s www.joedelagrave.com. Is there somewhere else or any input you would want to give anyone who might want to book you?
Joe [01:06:06] Yeah. Jump over the dms, @jdelagrave14 on Instagram @Joedelagrave over on Twitter Facebook pages open Joe Dot Belgrave Linkedin, the whole thing. So I think I’m pretty much everywhere except Tik Tok, I’m not on Tik Tok.
Meg [01:06:22] Whoa
Joe [01:06:22] I’m not doing the Tik Tok thing.
Meg [01:06:24] Cool factor just went down. How old are you, Joe?
Joe [01:06:26] 36.
Meg [01:06:27] I don’t know. Maybe that’s something you have to tackle. I don’t know. Just Tik Tok now. Yeah, Tik Tok, either. Now. You know, I just thought.
Joe [01:06:36] I’m most active on Instagram. Twitter, I’ll get on, but then, I don’t know. Sometimes I’m over on Twitter and I’m like, “Everyone’s so angry over here. Why’s everyone so angry over on Twitter and Facebook. Yeah.
Meg [01:06:48] Yeah. And he’s got a great Instagram. I highly recommend. Check out Joe’s Instagram. It’s encouraging. I was actually crying reading some of his posts from other rugby players and inspiring people in his life. It’s just been really great to read about, So thank you. Joe, what would you say? And this last question, what would you say is the great message and theme of your life?
Joe [01:07:10] I think that my message that that I want to get across is that there’s a lot of things that happen in life, whether it’s the circumstances with the obstacles, whether it’s disability or disease or addiction or like whatever that big thing, divorce happens in life. It doesn’t define you. You’re not less than you’re not unworthy. You’re not who that sin says you are at that point, or the enemy wants to get you to think you are. That you’re a child of God. You’re loved, even if you don’t know God, you’re loved. He made you uniquely you with a purpose, with passions that He knows about. And I want people to know about that. I was in a point where I thought I was less than an unworthy and disabled and not enough and inadequate. And I realize no I’m not. Like this wheelchair has been a miracle in my life that has taken me through life and given me many, many blessings. And yeah, there’s tough times, hard times, but because there’s a God that loves me, because there’s a God that says I’m a child of God, I’ve been able to step into permanent victory, not a scoreboard that defines me or one circumstance that defines me, but I have permanent victory because of God and what He did on the cross for me.
Meg [01:08:40] I trust Joe has encourage you greatly. Isn’t it remarkable that strength and determination that God worked in his heart to do something about it for that second chance. Just seeing that deep gratefulness that led him to a drive to do all that he could with the limited physical ability that he had. Also, just thinking of that moment when he visited his father in the prison and the forgiveness in his dad’s words, saying that he felt so loved. He didn’t know what it felt like. And I love that, Joe said, we never know what an act of kindness will do. And I’m just praying for us all today that we step out in faith, that we bless, that we’re forgiving, that we don’t let hopelessness settle. No matter what the circumstance, that we trust God in greater and bigger ways. For us and for all of those that we’re praying for. Oh, and a quick update. Joe did make that Tokyo Olympic team. How cool is that? Go follow him and watch him and we’ll just celebrate alongside him and his family for all the great things God is doing it. Go, Team Jesus. As a podcast listener, do you sometimes struggle with Where should I listen? Which app on my phone was I at? Or where was I? Struggle no more. Letters from Home Podcast has our own app in the Google Play and Apple App Store. And guess what? It’s free. Just search Letters from Home podcast in the search bar in your phone’s app store and click download. How about that? Then, all of our everyday extraordinary faith stories will be right there in one easy place on your phone so you don’t have to go searching anymore. You can just tap the rainbow icon and encouragement is on the way.
Speaker 3 [01:10:39] Links from our guests will be in the show notes. For more every day, extraordinary faith stories, go to our website, letterfromhomepodcast.com and click “Subscribe” or “Follow” on whatever platform you’re listening to. 2 Corinthians 3:3, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. Not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”
Narrator [01:11:06] Until next time. Go in peace.