Sean Neal – Taking the “DIS” out of disabled
There's a remarkable amount of strength residing in those who move forward without being able to physically move... Ones that carry the weight of disability, they battle wars most know nothing about. They are the true warriors of the world, the ones who have every reason to quit but never do. (author unknown)
Taking the "dis" out of disabled is exactly what Sean Neal has been doing ever since he was old enough to understand his body wasn't going to do exactly what he wanted. You see, he was born with a genetic mutation called SMA or better known in the medical world as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. His internal organs would grow and perform at a normal pace but his muscles would not, leading to extreme weakness.
Even at the tender age or three or four he discovered ways to make his world work, to make himself laugh, to make sure he was not ignored. He was only four years old when his sister Annie (his second mother as he calls her) took him to play on their backyard swing set. They were at the top of the slide...
Could it be raining?
"You ready to go down?" Annie asked her unsteady brother.
"No you go first. I have to go to the bathroom."
As Annie went down quickly, planning to go get mom to help her brother inside, Sean got a devilish idea. Annie reached the bottom of the slide while he got ready to "let 'er rip." He took perfect aim and relieved himself with a yellow stream splashing off the top of Annie's head. (Taken from "Forged" by Sean Neal)
Anyone that knows Sean is very aware of his sense of humor. They hear it, sometimes they see it and other times they FEEL it.
Sean was born a perfect baby boy, the first son of a third generation farmer. The pride could be cut with a knife as Warren talked about HIS BOY, high-fiving anyone ready to respond. Mom Kelly, just as proud, showed him off with the demeanor expected of a real lady.
...and the world stood still
Sean's early years seemed quite normal but when he started to become more mobile his parents recognized something was not quite right. After visiting doctor after doctor, they received a diagnosis that nearly brought their world to a stand still.
"He most likely will not live past the age 10."
Imagine the emotions felt, coming all at once - denial, anxiety, panic, sadness. From that day on the lives of Warren and Kelly Neal changed. Even though day to day work continued at the Neal farm near Garfield, Washington, dad's thoughts continually lingered with his only son. All spare time was spent thinking or talking about how their beloved son would live. Would he be in pain? Would he understand? His mother's heart was breaking. She prayed and cried and prayed and cried until she could reach a place of peace.
Warren wouldn't accept the possibility that he could lose his son at age 10. With his "fix it" determination he began a quest to learn all he could about Sean's condition.
Finally, he heard about a doctor and a seminar that could possibly provide more information. The Neals rearranged their lives and headed out for Texas and later for the east coast. The trips gave them hope as the doctor testing Sean told them the diagnosis was not as grim as they had been told. THIS boy would most likely enjoy his grandchildren.
The path to get there, however, wouldn't be easy for the Neals and especially for that little boy. Sean went through several operations with the last one taking about 12 hours. He was only 11 years old when he had a full spinal fusion, consisting of rods being placed on each side of his spine, forcing his back to remain straight.
As Sean got older he grew to love sports, anything that would go fast ("need for speed" he calls it). He also felt his competitive nature growing stronger. He was unable to compete physically which caused a great deal of frustration for him. His desires to run and play and later to join in sports teams was no different for him than any other sports-minded, active-desiring boy. His father was a star basketball player in high school. As a matter of fact, his entire family were athletic including his sister and grandfather. Sean admits he often spent time in a deep black hole of "why me?" With his ever encouraging parents and his growing faith in God, he was able to shake off the discouragement and find ways to work within his limits.
Besides the "need for speed," he was given an amazing brain that would never let him give up. Loving, compassionate and encouraging parents were a big enabler of his "never give up" attitude. That beautiful brain took what he loved and wanted to do physically into actually finding ways he could be a part of all of it. "It was amazing how he pushed himself mentally to satisfy his physical craving," a friend said.
Because he couldn't actually play basketball, he became the manager for his high school team. He never missed a practice, an early morning meeting or a game. He cheered the loudest when HIS team succeeded. He always stayed after practices to put in his "time" tossing the ball at the hoop. Yeah, yeah, the ball fell short but he'd roll over and get it and repeat, over and over again.
FFA becomes a turning point
The weekly community paper (The Boomerang!) said:
A team from Garfield-Palouse High School, sponsored by Schweitzer Engineering in Pullman (Washington), has been chosen as one of six teams to compete nationally designing a machine that can lift a disabled driver into the cab of a combine. The team members involved are Colby Cocking, Miles Pfaff, Travis Mallet, Beau Fisher, Sean Neal, Spencer Gray, Aaron Rager, Steven Tronsen, Anna Iverson, and Katie Redman. (Jim Stewart, advisor; Robert Lopez contributed engineering expertise).
Their innovative machine, conceived by Sean's father and grandfather, was to help a handicapped farmer get into the gigantic farming combine and work the fields. The original design needed two able-bodied men to run the machine. But the student team, along with Advisor Jim Stewart, took it to a new level making it operable by just the handicapped farmer, giving him the possibility to harvest his crops.
After the team's trip to DC they were invited to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the country's most prestigious science and math college. They presented their demonstration to top minds in the country.
Support, excitement was palpable in Garfield/Palouse
The small towns of Garfield and Palouse (population between the two towns about 1300) exploded in excitement and this genius kid in a wheelchair was all that was talked about on Main Street, in coffee shops, at the grocery store. The pride was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Residents ponied up monetary support as well to put together funds for materials needed to build the PAL and for the team to travel to competition.
FFA sends brain working/achieving
Sean joined FFA (Future Farmers of America) in high school and it was really this organization that really set him free from his handicap. He discovered he was only limited by his own mind.
Public speaking opened up to him and he discovered he loved it. "It is my most favorite thing to do," he clipped.
Sean competed and won in speaking arenas time after time through FFA. Later he was elected not only to local leadership positions but also state. He saw an opportunity to use his new found skill to promote the FFA organization by traveling to conventions to speak and visiting high schools, helping other students find, as he did, their voice, along with their ability to learn more about agriculture.
Working toward a dream
Sean graduated with a 4.0 gpa from Garfield-Palouse High School and served as co-valedictorian (along with Katie Redman) for his class. He then attended the local college (Washington State University) planning to push his brain even more. His plan was to become a financial planner... well the BEST financial planner ever.
Following graduation from WSU he went into training with the Edward Jones company. Part of his training required a move to Arizona to learn the ropes, study, pass tests.
Moving to Arizona from the Pacific Northwest may not seem like much to most of us, but for Sean, who relied on other people to do even the simplest of tasks, it was a huge deal. His mom and Aunt Laurie Kinzer set their lives aside and volunteered to move with him. Mom Kelly, always in the background, said, "I never let him out of my sight."
Having been raised in farm country, Big City Arizona was, to say the least, out of his comfort zone. His mother and aunt were finding it uncomfortable as well. Even with the "uncomfortable" rising up daily, Sean completed his training (much of which required door to door contacts - imagine that in a wheelchair) and passed the testing with high marks. Time went on but more and more he felt unfulfilled with this type of work. He decided he might like to return to college.
An intuitive mentor is good as gold
Jeff Bollinger, his mentor at the Moscow Edward Jones office was more than just a teacher, Sean says, "he has the heart of a giant and at 6'2" with the stature of an NFL linebacker, 'giant' is a good description."
The feeling between these two men was instantaneous love and admiration. Bollinger easily looked beyond the veneer of of Sean's disability and saw great potential. "He is crazy smart," Bollinger said. "I love him like a brother. I can't think more of someone than I did of Sean."
The men worked together about a year when Bollinger told him he wanted to try to work it out for the position to be permanent. Sean was taken by surprise. This isn't a normal happening in this business. "You don't just get handed a ready-made business like that," he said.
It was about this time Sean got a call from his Alma Mater (WSU) and was offered a job, one that would provide him a living wage and opportunity for advancement. He took the job and has since been promoted.
It works when you "Don't limit your challenges, challenge your limits!"
This is certainly not the end of this story. You remember how Sean found his brain has no boundaries as long as he is willing to push? Sean admits public speaking is his favorite thing he now does and he has discovered he is very good at inspirational speaking. He is becoming more and more in demand in this respect.
Taken from his website: Sean Neal is one of today’s most EMPOWERING speakers. Through his disability comes a NEVER QUIT attitude that he passes on in a way that is APPLICABLE to individuals from all walks of life. His use of HUMOR and unique PERSPECTIVE on life make audiences REFLECT and feel ENABLED to confront the challenges of their world.
Book is in printing stage
WAIT.... this isn't the end either...
Sean has recently finished writing a book appropriately named "FORGED: Made Strong in Weakness." It is full of fun stories, inspiration and how he overcame his fears by meeting them head on. With his perseverance he learned his disability would not hold him back.
"His book will be available soon from bookstores everywhere, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. It's an autobiographical tale about a life being shaped and molded and how in the hands of our Creator all our lives can leave an impact on this world. Ultimately we can all be #Forged into a battle hardened weapon ready to tackle the trials of this life if we avail ourselves... Will you?" (quote from Sean's website)
For any other information on this book (and future books) and his public speaking go to his website at Sean Neal Books.