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He entered to a quiet applause, that turned to a hushed silence as he slowly lifted from his wheel chair and took those tenuous steps to the podium. His speech was short but touching, it seemed to have been well received by our small group. He slowly made his way back to his wheelchair, where he could sit with more comfort as he prepared to take questions from the group.
He spoke openly and honestly with us about his life before and after the accident. The quiver of his voice, and pure raw emotion he expressed added to the power of his message.
Blake Mcmeans had been the all American boy. He was voted most handsome in high school. He was an all-star athlete on track to being a world class tennis player. He had it all.
His drinking started innocently enough, as a 12-year-old boy doing something his parents told him not to do. By the time he hit high school, he had developed a regular pattern of drinking. He was able to maintain a rigorous schedule of five hours of tennis practice, school, and a social life despite his drinking. He did not realize that he had a problem, neither did anyone else.
He received a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee, where he continued to hone his craft. He was hanging out with an older crowd, and felt even more pressure to drink. He would often attend bars where alcohol was readily available to him.
Blake said, “Everyone was drinking, I thought it was cool, but it wasn’t. I was gambling with my future, and I lost.”
One bad decision altered Blake’s life forever. His decision to drink and drive cost him his dream, and almost cost him his life. His message is one that we have heard countless times from our parents, but it never had quite the impact coming from them or from a film as it did coming from Blake. I think that his message reached a great many of the students in assembly today. I know that it touched me, although the promise not to drink and drive was one I made to myself long ago. I was happy to re-iterate the statement today.
Blake picked up the pieces of his life and moved forward. A great many of us may have given up any hope of walking again, but not Blake. He worked hard every day until he was able to take those first steps seven years later. He continues to move forward in his life and in healing his body every day with the help of his assistant and friend James Barron. Blake said that the same work ethic that made him a star athlete, and landed him a scholarship at UT helped him recover and achieve his goals after the accident.
Blake’s goals today are very different than they were back then, but no less lofty or honorable. He says if he can save just one life then he has done what he set out to do. I have a feeling he has probably accomplished this goal many times over during his Promise Tour. He hopes that his story will encourage young people not to drink and drive, but also that he inspires them in other ways.
He said, “I hope that you will not look back with regret or missed opportunity.”
Blake’s presentation was one that I doubt that I will ever forget, but the Q& A is where he really shined, this is where we got a glimpse of his personality. We knew about his work ethic and perseverance from the fact that he had progressed so far after such a traumatic injury. We knew that he was extraordinary, but we really had no idea how extraordinary until he engaged the audience in discussion after his presentation. The level of openness and comfort that he exhibited while answering some of the more personal questions was just incredible. What was more striking was the fact that he had not allowed his disability to detract from his drive, ambition, and zest for life. I think he had us all wrapped around his finger by end of the discussion. He had a fantastic sense of humor and really just put everyone at ease.
I spoke briefly with Blake’s assistant Mr. Barron. I asked if Blake was always so upbeat. He said that he was in good spirits every day, and that even after 13 years he still amazes him. I could tell by our short conversation, and from the way that he acts around Blake that he has come to care very deeply for Blake. I thank them both for all that they do to make a difference in this world. It was truly a joy to meet both of these gentlemen.