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The Power Of Choice: The Inspiring True Story Of W. Mitchell

2011 January 9
by Marquita Herald

You are as powerful as you allow yourself to be … you can choose your own thoughts, reactions and emotions to every event in your life.

W. MitchellW. Mitchell (Mitchell as he prefers to be called) wheels himself on the stage to speak.  Inevitably, his badly scarred face and fingerless hands cause a hush among the audience.

With his signature irreverent sense of humor and soothing voice he soon manages to create a sense of intimacy, as though you’re sitting with an old friend. Then something magical happens and the scars fade away as Mitchell begins to tell his story.

On July 19th 1971 Mitchell started the day on top of the world. He was a strong, good looking young man of 28 who enjoyed an active life and had a passion for sports; he’d just made his first solo flight, had a dream job as a gripman on the San Francisco cable cars, and did real well with the ladies.

That afternoon he jumped on his brand new motorcycle, which he loved, and headed out to see his girlfriend. It was then that fate changed his life forever.

Mitchell didn’t see the laundry truck until it was too late and hit it squarely in the side. Even with the impact at that point his injuries were minor; but a faulty gas cap on his new motorcycle popped off and drenched him in gallons of gasoline. The hot engine ignited and he was turned into a fireball about ten feet high and four feet wide.  

A nearby car salesman grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the flames. The ambulance arrived minutes later and rushed him to the hospital, but with horrific burns over 65% of his body and most of his face and hands literally burned off, chances of his survival were considered extremely low.

But through incredible care, multiple skin grafts, stubbornness, determination and many, many small steps to take back control of his life, he did recover.

“If only I had”(fill in the blanks) is what many people say to me . . . and to that I simply reply “Look at me.  My face looks like a badly made leather quilt. It has literally made children chant, “monster, monster,” as I passed by. I have no fingers. I cannot walk.”

Many people faced with his pain and problems would have given up. But Mitchell is no ordinary person, and despite his seemingly overwhelming disabilities he continued learning how to adjust to his new reality and moved to a small town in Colorado. He even managed to fly a plane again.

But fate wasn’t quite finished with Mitchell yet.

On a clear, chilly Colorado morning in 1975 he was about to take a group of passengers on a routine flight.  As the plane took off he noticed they weren’t rising as quickly as they should have. What  Mitchell didn’t realize was the wings had been covered in a thin sheet of ice which slowed the normal climb. They reached about 100 feet and the plane stalled and fell back to earth, slamming into the runway belly up, bursting open the fuel tanks. Mitchell yelled for his passengers to get out of the plane and he tried to follow . . . but he couldn’t move.

Later in the hospital, the doctors told him he’d crushed his spine and was paralyzed from the waist down.  He would spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair.

For a man who’d just spent the last four years of his life recovering from incredibly devastating injuries, this must have seemed too much to bear.

As Mitchell tells it, every day the orderlies came into his room, put him in a wheel chair and took him to the gym. He absolutely hated it. Things were too high to reach, it was too difficult to get around and again the world seemed filled with impossibilities. Yet, every day a few more obstacles would disappear and a few more things became possible. And every day he learned to do more, and eventually to love himself a little bit more. Once again, with amazing courage and determination Mitchell managed to overcome his problems.

Mitchell now lives between Santa Barbara and Hawaii and despite his many disabilities he continues to live a full life as a successful businessman, sometimes politician, environmental activist, and author.  He’s also a highly sought after motivational speaker, spending much of his time traveling the world sharing his sense of humor as he walks through his life’s tragedies and what he chose to make of them.

What I want, is to be a symbol for you. With my scarred face, my fingerless paws, my wheelchair – and real, genuine happiness in my heart – I want to be your mental image of the power of the human mind to transcend circumstances.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Mitchell speak on three occasions, most recently at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu.  On the way to my car after his presentation, I spotted him with a small group of people at the far end of the hotel lobby.  Determined not to miss the opportunity to meet and thank him for his inspiration, I quickly headed in his direction. With great enthusiasm I thrust my arm out to shank his hand . . . suddenly time stood still as I gazed down in horror, first at my arm dangling in mid air and then at the stubs that serve as his hands laying folded across his lap.

Yes, well, as he likes to say, disabilities are not always physical.  With typical Mitchell grace, he simply looked up at me with a warm smile and reached out with both arms and embraced my hand.

Please take a moment to listen to W. Mitchell himself, talking about the power of choice.

 

 

 

“It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.”

- W. Mitchell

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One Response
  1. September 11, 2012

    Wow! Very inspiring especially when I watch the video! You’re the best! Keep it up!
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