Photo: Hay House
Of course, it's hard to pass for normal when you don't have hands or a face, a fact my kindergarten classmates made abundantly clear to me by screaming "monster!" and running away in terror whenever they saw me in the schoolyard. Even at home, life was far from normal for me. Most kids develop the skills to perform the simple tasks daily of life—brushing teeth, buttoning a shirt, picking up a fork—without even thinking about what they are doing. But for me, every little chore required months or even years of practice.
Sometimes life seemed so difficult and the future so bleak I could see little point of carrying on. My dream of skiing in the Olympic Games was being slowly beaten out of me by the painful struggle to just get through another day. But in fighting to overcome the thousand little adversities I faced because of my accident, I learned that as long as I never gave up, I could achieve anything.
When I was 5 years old, I applied this theory to what I considered the greatest failure of my young life—my inability to tie up my own shoelaces. After nearly giving up on this seemingly impossible task, I promised myself to keep practicing not matter what, and if ever I felt like tossing in the towel, I'd force myself to practice twice as hard. I worked on pulling those laces into a bow until the stumps at the end of my arms were rubbed raw. It took me more than seven years, but I succeeded.
My shoelace victory gave me the confidence to aim higher. Within a month, I picked up my first set of drumsticks and figured out a way to keep the sticks attached to my arms long enough to hit the drum at least one time before I dropped them. I practice playing the drums like a madman. Within a few years, I was playing gigs on Bourbon Street with some of the best jazz musicians in the world, touring the country with my own band and recording a CD of original music. As I wrote in my book The Gift of Fire: How I Made Adversity Work for Me, I have learned with absolute certainty that, no matter how difficult life seems at times, dreams can come true if you never give up.
While I've yet to become a champion Olympic downhill skier, I haven't given up on my boyhood dream...not by a long shot.
Most of my friends and family called me crazy when last summer, not long before my 30th birthday, I packed my bags and moved from New Orleans to the tiny mountain town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to finally learn how to ski. It took months just to find boots that would fit my twisted feet and even longer to master the bunny hill without using poles, but now I'm skiing the entire mountain and jumping moguls on the way down.
So if you happen to be watching the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, keep an eye out for the 42-year-old downhill racer hurtling toward his first gold medal, even though he seems to have forgotten to bring along his ski poles. That'll be me.
Dan Caro was born and raised in Southern Louisiana and grew up surrounded by the sounds of the New Orleans jazz scene. He vowed at a young age that, despite the childhood fire that robbed him of his hands, he would become a professional drummer. His pursuit and achievement of his dream inspired thousands of people and launched his second career as a motivational speaker. Dan is also an author of The Gift of Fire: How I Made Adversity Work for Me and serves as ambassador for the Shriners of North America.
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