- Dalai Lama’s Unsung Hero of Compassion
- Thirteen Paralympic Medals
- World Champion in both winter and summer sports
- Most medals of any male monoskier in Paralympic history
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Middlebury College
- First Ambassador International Paralympic Committee
- Founder One Revolution Foundation
- First nearly unassisted paraplegic to summit Mt Kilimanjaro
- Paralympic Hall of Fame
- US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame
- People Magazine “50 Most Beautiful People”
- Skiing Magazine “25 Greatest Skiers in North America”
- NPR: The Best Graduation Speeches, Ever (Middlebury College ’11)
Chris Waddell always thought that the lessons he learned in sports would provide the foundation for later success.
As a ski racer at Middlebury College in 1988, he had no idea how profoundly one moment could change and paradoxically enhance that conviction. On December 20th his ski popped off in the middle of a turn. He fell, broke two vertebrae, and damaged the spinal cord. Paralyzed from the waist down, he learned and achieved more than he could have imagined.
He returned to college just two months after the accident, started monoskiing in less than a year and was named to the US Disabled Ski Team a little more than two years later. With 12 Paralympic medals, he became the most decorated male monoskier in history.
Also a track athlete, he’s one of a handful to have won World Championships in both the winter and the summer. He competed in four Winter Paralympics, winning 12 medals and three Summer Paralympics, winning a Silver Medal in the 200 meters in Sydney. In World Championship competition, Waddell won 9 total medals.
Waddell was inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Paralympics Hall of Fame.
The Dalai Lama honored him as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion”. People Magazine named him one of the “Fifty Most Beautiful People in the World”. Skiing Magazine placed him amongst the “25 Greatest Skiers in North America”.
Middlebury College presented him with a Doctorate in Humane Letters. National Public Radio (NPR) named his 2011 commencement address to Middlebury College as one of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.”
In September of 2009 Waddell became the first nearly unassisted paraplegic to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. The film documenting the climb has won awards throughout the world.
Chris has appeared on Dateline, Oprah and 20/20. He is the founder of the One Revolution Foundation and does his best to share the belief that, “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.”
No One Climbs a Mountain Alone
In 2009 Chris attempted to be the first unassisted paraplegic to 19,340-foot Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. On the crater rim he encountered a boulder field that he couldn’t surmount in his handcycle. His team, which had watched him struggle for five days, 9-10 hour a day, ignored the danger to carry him over those boulders. Together, the next day, they achieved the impossible, reaching “The Roof of Africa. “
From the time in the hospital bed, Chris said, “I can do it myself,” for fear of being a burden and losing those closest to him. Asking for help on the mountain, he realized that he’d empowered others to help him achieve greater heights. Together they were far stronger than any of them were alone.
Bold Goals Require an Optimistic Soul
Retiring from competitive sport brought the kind of depression, soul searching and questions about identity that Chris hadn’t experienced after the accident. Feeling cheated by the passion that had woken him early in the morning, one more rep, one more set, he cheated himself of the optimism that had once made him so strong. He continued to set bold goals like climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, but couldn’t recapture his greatest power until he embraced the optimism to believe in the big goals, to celebrate the minor victories that would bring him there and to stay committed to the journey in the face of adversity.
Chris’s motto, “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you,” originated in ski racing, where there’s no such thing as a perfect run, but applied even more to his recovery and to rest of his life. Successful people recover most quickly and persevere the longest. There’s always a way to win. If someone is going to do it, why not us? Through stories, Chris shows that embracing change as inevitable allows us to make the most of the situation.
Every evosoan goes through a process known as The Dig. The goal is epic clarity of who they are and what they’re being called to share with the world. By the end, they’re able to nail down their entire truth to just one word. Immediately following their discovery of this word, they must write a manifesto about how their word influences their lives. Here is Chris’ manifesto on his word – bold.
When we think of our own challenges and obstacles, we’re going to remember how Chris’s intense preparation, discipline, and unexpected help from a larger team led to results. Chris’s powerful story speaks to the importance of having the right mind-set to go the extra mile. In fact, we are still hearing from colleagues who say Chris inspired them to want to create an even better firm for our clients and for each other.
You have a gift. You need to share it.
I watched a lot of speakers when I worked for a bureau. Your authenticity separates you from all of them.
You’re a great presenter, linked in to our themes so naturally and were super motivating. I’m sure you get this a lot, but in our feedback, you had the highest rating!
Your perspective on “it’s not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you” is empowering & inspiring. Your determination, focus, commitment, passion & positive attitude are humbling.
Things I Want to Remember Not to Forget by Chris Waddell
In Things I Want to Remember Not to Forget, Chris Waddell achieves honesty rarely seen. From the drawing on the cover, replete with erased first attempts, he lets us see and benefit from his struggle.
His 2011 Middlebury College commencement address provided the genesis of the book of great insight and inspiration. “Commencements are glorious moments when a beginning and an ending occupy the same space.
In our non-stop lives, they represent an opportunity to pause, to assess the past and to plan for the future. Amidst the reflection, celebration, and optimism lay the landmarks, if we can recognize them.” He concludes saying, “If there is anything to take from a graduation speech, it’s that everyday should be a graduation.
Everyday should be an opportunity to stop, just for a moment, and look forwards and backwards. Otherwise, one day spills into the next. One day becomes ten or twenty years.”
Between the two thoughts, he makes everyday graduation, inviting us into the start of a ski race, the bright lights of open-mic night at a comedy club, first steps and trying something new like learning to draw.
Along the way he introduces us to our best selves—the fun, bright and charismatic ones. Chris Waddell’s story is different from ours, but it feels familiar—familiar to the lives that we hope to lead.
Things That I Want to Remember Not to Forget is a fun read. Read it once. Reread it again and again. Give it to your friends.