a message from a stranger on LinkedIn changed my life
We all face moments of self-doubt, insecurity, lack of confidence or fear, all of which lead us to not pursuing a dream or taking that big step forward. Everyone has their own unique challenges; they are what make us human and stronger, but they can also be the things that can, and often do, hold us back.
In early July I received a message on LinkedIn from a guy named Tucker Dupree that just said “thanks for connecting, I would love to learn about what you do as a Retail Director. I am trying to figure out what my next step is going to be after being a professional athlete”. To be completely honest, I had no idea who he was or how I could help, but if someone goes to the effort to reach out and ask for a few minutes of your time, no matter what they do or who they are, it’s not only just polite to say yes, but at the very least you have the opportunity to lead with curiosity and learn something. Nobody is too busy to spend 10 minutes on the phone when someone asks for help.
We had a fun, friendly conversation; one where you are trying to figure out what you have in common, like sitting next to a chatty stranger on an airplane, and ultimately we agreed to keep in touch and maybe find a way to collaborate on something in the future. He told me that he does motivational speaking, and maybe I could have him come to NYC from Chicago to speak at a meeting. I am embarrassed to say I never Googled him and kept going on with my day.
Six weeks later we connected again to say hello, and shortly thereafter Tucker sent me a YouTube video about himself that changed everything; he is a sliver and bronze medal winning Olympic athlete in swimming- and he is blind.
Tucker never mentioned either of these things on the phone - he was too humble to say that he has 4 Olympic medals and too proud to mention that he accomplished this with a rare disease called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), where in a matter of months starting at the age of 16 he lost 80% of his central vision in both eyes.
When you start to doubt your ability to do anything, or you give up on your dream of achieving a goal because of fear, here is just one person’s story that might change it for you, because Tucker changed it for me. Let me share a bit more about him….
Tucker got his athletic start like many young men do in North Carolina- through soccer. Upon entering high school, he joined the swim team as a fun aside to his soccer career, and he took to it quickly as a natural athlete. However not long after his 16th birthday, Tucker began to lose his vision in his left eye. As the months of tests and doctor visits continued, his vision continued to deteriorate. He kept much of what he was feeling quiet from his friends because he just wanted to be a “normal” teenager.
Eventually he was diagnosed with an extraordinary rare and incurable degenerative eye disease, and he lost his vision in both eyes by the age of 17. Soccer, driving and reading were just a few of the things that Tucker found he was unable to do. However, his resilient spirit quickly embraced what he COULD do; he learned to play the piano by ear. He learned to navigate public transportation. And he found his freedom in swimming, saying “ I could go to the pool and be like all the other kids”.
“It didn’t really hit me until the day that I had to give up my driver’s license, and I will forever remember that day. I wasn’t able to see the stoplight right outside my neighborhood, but I was able to safely get to my house. I put the car in park, I pulled out my driver’s license, took the keys out of the ignition, and it was the last time I was able to sit in the driver’s seat. It was definitely the pinnacle moment of acceptance.”
But Tucker swam every day. He learned to adapt. He persevered as he learned to swim by counting his strokes. He embraced the water like never before, training harder and swimming faster.
While attending the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in 2007, Tucker was introduced to the Paralympic Games. He swam in his first Paralympic swim meet at 17 in 2007, shattering multiple American records.
He made the national team and became the fastest blind swimmer in United States history.
Less than one year later, he marched in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Paralympic Games representing Team USA in Beijing, China.
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Tucker brought home a silver medal for Team USA in the 100m backstroke and bronze medals in the 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle events. More recently at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, he brought home another medal for Team USA, a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke.
Today, he embraces his role as a spokesperson for the Paralympic community, and works to improve the opportunities afforded able-bodied and disabled athletes alike. He has been able to present keynote speeches of how to disarm disability and speaks as an advocate for overcoming adversity. His drive pushed him to become what he is now; one of the fastest, most decorated blind swimmers in U.S. history.
Tucker says “When people are faced with adversity, I think that a lot of people get restraints put on them by others and by themselves. Having the ability to redefine your limitations and say ‘this is not going to be my identity, I’m going to go and do great things, when you’re faced with adversity and it’s all channeled through limitless vision. I am able to do more without vision than I ever would have dreamed of doing with it.”
So the next time a stranger reaches out and says that they would like to learn a little bit more about you, for no apparent reason, take the call. You never know what might happen or how they will change your life.
And I am proud to call Tucker Dupree my friend now.
Follow him @ facebook.com/tuckerdupree Instagram: Tuckerusa1 Twitter: Tuckerusa1