While visiting my daughter, Korey, in Denver, we attended a benefit for Scleroderma. The event chair mentioned the emcee, Tony Drees, was a professional speaker from Denver; then he approached our group. I introduced myself and the others, mentioning that I, too, was a professional speaker. We chatted about our respective topics, businesses and challenges.
Tony was a Desert Shield Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient. One bomb and 58 surgeries later, the man is an example of survival, perseverance and tenacity. I shared that Dad was a WWII Purple Heart recipient and, how, I had no idea of what he’d endured, until I was in college. American Family History class required we interview a relative. It was shocking to learn Dad’s POW story, seeing as he never spoke of the war. Emcee duties resumed for Tony, so I asked him and his girlfriend, Amy, to have coffee in the morning at Denver’s Union Station.
Tony presents on myriad topics from his past; all with a common thread of survival and doggedness. Child abuse? Check. Foster family to adoption? Check. Near death/white light experience? Check, check. Physical therapy, PTSD, depression, divorce? Check, check, check and check. What stories and messages! Amazing stuff, right there. None of his stories were more amazing, however, than the visual scars he sustained. He explained that he declined amputation of his left leg, only to endure horrifically, painful physical therapy, but he was still walking! Seeing as he’d worn shorts this morning, he cautioned me not to react, and showed me where the bomb had chunked out his hamstrings. Let me tell you, I’m not good with blood, breaks or dismemberment and gasped as subtly, as possible. He explained the grid pattern on the front of his thigh, was from a skin graft, with a matching grid covering his entire back.
Next, he wondered what had colored my life. “Unfortunately, it seems, I was born a princess. Except for the time, which I don’t even remember, a country club blackballed our family for being Jewish.” In comparison, it now seems so petty. Luckily, the positive followed the negative, and an unbiased swim club opened in 1961, my swimming career began, and made me what I am. I also bravely shared some history of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and watching Alzheimer’s steal my father’s life. Clearly, my stories are not nearly as riveting as Tony’s. Still, we agreed, it’s important to own our pasts and pull lessons from them, which need to be understood and shared.
Time ran out, we promised to stay in touch and parted ways. Nobody in Union Station had a clue of the stories those long khaki shorts of his hid that day. I felt fortunate to have been able to get to know Tony and hear his unbelievable patchwork past and path.
My pride was that I actually had the guts to have asked him for coffee that morning and am very glad I did. What a shame it would’ve been to have not met a hero. Thanks for your service and message in so many vital areas of our society, Tony.
Originally published on November 03, 2015 by SpeakerMatch Speakers Bureau