“Life can change in an instant so make the most of every minute of it.” That is the message that Joe Stone, outdoor athlete turned quadriplegic inspirational speaker, shared with a packed room of Cornell students on Tuesday night.
The wheelchair-bound Stone propelled himself up a ramp and onto the stage to introduce his 90-minute, eye-opening film, It’s Raining, So What. With rapt attention, over 100 attendees listened to the story of a young, avid sportsman from Minnesota. He was left paralyzed from the chest down after a speed flying crash in 2010 — a hybrid between paragliding and parachuting.
The film opens to scenes of Stone participating in the Ironman Triathlon, only three years after his accident, in an attempt to become the first quadriplegic to complete the grueling sporting challenge.
Stone’s parents, close friends and wife Amy are interviewed throughout the movie about the fateful summer day that changed their lives forever. It is the tale of this man’s boundless defiance and grit that have enabled him to overcome seemingly insurmountable physical and mental hurdles.
Stone took his near-death experience and turned it into a national campaign to lift the spirits of other men and women who are permanently scarred by tragic accidents. The Joe Stone Foundation, through sports camps and events, provides the disabled with resources to engage in outdoor recreational activity alongside able-bodied participants. Joe and Amy are on a mission to educate the public about the many opportunities available for handicapped persons to improve their lives.
After the screening, Joe returned to the stage, this time with his wife Amy and service dog Henry. The question-and-answer session that followed moved some members of the crowd to tears.
Responding to a question about how he managed to overcome so many daunting adversities, Stone admitted that at first “life seemed pointless.” Having been a person who loved white water rafting and bungee jumping, he initially thought that life devoid of those outdoor sport passions would not be worth living.
After a long, painful but empowering process, Stone was able to dispel this gloomy notion, he said, when “I discovered all the means by which I could continue doing what I love.”
“I stopped dwelling on the negative, worked to gain my independence back and focused on what motivates me most — being one with nature,” Stone said.
Stone showed a final clip to the audience, in which he was speed flying, using adapted gear, off the same mountain in Missoula, Montana, that he crashed into seven years prior.
“The disability goes away when I’m in the air,” Stone said.
With his wife by his side and a big smile on his face, the athlete and advocate ended with some words of advice for Cornell students. “Find your passion, stay true to yourself, keep an open mind, and don’t let life fly by.”