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America Size Freedom and Bravery- A Tribute to the Bravest Person I’ve Ever Known

Point to ponder:

What perceived handicap do you have, or in other words, what is something you’ve told yourself you can’t do or are afraid to do?

Last Monday, one of our dearest friends passed away. His name was Shane Whitehurst. Shane was only 47 when he passed and while his physical stature wasn’t much, he lived the life of a giant, took no short cuts and I believe entered the pearly gates of Heaven running through the victory line of high-fives, to then meet face to face with God saying, “Well done good and faithful servant. Mission accomplished!”

To give you some insight into Shane, I first noticed him in 1996 when I was a Freshman, attending Austin Community College. Shane wasn’t a student, rather he had graduated from the University of Texas and worked for the Longhorn Foundation (an organization within UT athletics). There were hundreds of students who lived in this apartment, but what set Shane apart was the way he zipped around the complex in his motorized wheelchair. Shane was physically handicapped and had been since he was five years old.

While living at this particular complex, I never meet Shane, but that changed during my Junior year at UT. One day while walking across campus, Shane, out of the blue, zipped right next to me and started talking--asking my name and what I studied. Then, seconds later, up walks Russell, my now husband. I was caught waaaay off guard and honestly, I can’t even tell you what all we talked about. I just remember walking away thinking how strange the whole thing was.

After being approached by Maverick and Goose, I never saw the duo again...until three years later when I stumbled into Russell at church. We literally almost ran into one another, when he stopped and asked me if my name was Neissa. I said “yes” but then apologized because while I recognized him, I couldn’t remember his name or when we met. That’s when he told me about the awkward occurrence on campus. He said, “I don’t want to freak you out, but I noticed you several times on campus and told my buddy Shane about you. Then, the day I was with him and saw you walking I said, hey! That’s the girl I’ve been telling you about. And before I could say anything else, he put his wheelchair in 5th gear to catch you.”

Once Russell jogged my memory I vividly recalled the bizarre exchange. Two years later Russell and I married and of course, Shane was a groomsman and also the life of every couples shower, dinner party, and gathering we had. He was larger than life. He was like a brother to Russell, a faithful friend to me, and Malaine and Durant called him Uncle Shane--never noticing his physical limitations. In fact, they saw his wheelchair as a means to get joyride through a parking lot or street.

At two years old Shane was diagnosed with a very rare and crippling disease. At five years old he was confined to a wheelchair and never walked again. He had limited use of his hands and a few years before passing, had no use. He was able to maneuver the joystick of his wheelchair, but wasn’t able to feed himself. When we were with him we would feed him. Shane couldn’t bath, shave, cloth himself or get in and out of bed. He relied on an personal attendant to help with these needs and while he drove a wheelchair accessible vehicle for a few years, the majority of his adult life he was dependent upon public transportation. He was stolen from, hit by cars (yes, cars- plural), broke bones and even beat colon cancer. Shane endured more physical trauma in his short life than ten people combined experience their entire lives. However, you’d never know because Shane’s faith, spirit, humor, optimism and love for life is what sustained him, and that’s what what drew everyone to him. We admired him deeply and were inspired to live like him.

Upon graduating high school, Shane moved out of his parent’s house in Fort Worth to never return. He lived in a dorm on UT’s campus, then an apartment complex and condo in Austin. Although Shane may have been physically confined by his wheelchair, his incredible mind knew no bounds. He never asked for anything and was the first to offer help to others. He embraced life to the fullest and never met a stranger. Being with Shane was like being with a celebrity--everyone knew and loved him. From waitresses, random people on the street, Bible studies he led, the people he worked with and lived by--he enriched the lives of every person he met.

Ironically, here we are, just days before the 4th of July--the birthday of our freedom, provided by the brave. Shane embodied the American dream and spirit, and his life exemplified superhero size freedom and bravery. His physical body may’ve been crippled, but that never stopped him from pursuing and fulfilling his dreams and living one of the single greatest lives I’ve ever witnessed. In my opinion, his life ended too soon, but truth be told, he likely crushed all expectations provided by physicians and specialists. He is the bravest person I’ve ever known.


Action Item:

Drop any negative self-talk or limitations you have placed on yourself. You have none. You live in the land of the free and home of the brave. God created you for greatness. There’s nothing you can’t do and opportunity is at your fingertips. Begin taking action towards something that you’ve been telling yourself (or someone else told you) is impossible and start making some 4th of July size fireworks.


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