It’s Veterans Day and I thought it was a great time to share a speech I gave at an event for the DAV at the Hilton in Bloomington, Minnesota last month.
It was an honor for me to introduced veteran Marcus Kuboy. Injured during his time as a medic, Marcus realized, as he says, that he could either “get bitter or get better” and he worked hard to get back to his normal life. (Scroll down to the bottom of this page to watch Marcus tell his story.)
Erik & Marcus
October 17, 2012
It is a true honor and a privilege for me to be here tonight. Not only is it great to be in my hometown of Minneapolis, but also I am so pleased to be here with the DAV to recognize the many individuals and community leaders who are playing such an important role in the lives of veterans.
Veterans have given so much to defend the way of life that has allowed people like me to be so very blessed.
Since 9/11, I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to travel across the country to speak with veterans at hospitals and events.
You could even say that it has inspired me to come out of the closet.
It’s true! I… am… an amputee. There I said it.
You may have not known that when Super Troopers first came out, or when Beerfest or any of my other movies were released. That’s because I was afraid. I had overcome so many things in my life, but I was afraid of – being typecast to certain roles.
I was afraid of showing that I was different.
Then all of these brave men and women started coming home from the wars. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a soldier wearing shorts with a prosthesis. His injury was part of his identity. He was a hero.
The veterans I first met who had visible injuries were proud – not because of what they’d lost – but because of what they knew they were overcoming. They weren’t going to let the enemy decide their fate. They were going to live the American Dream they went over there to defend.
I was impressed.
And I have to admit, the comedian in me appreciated the stickers they proudly wore or their prosthetic devices that had inspirational messages like: “FAILED SKY-DIVER.” Or the double amp who had the sticker: “PRICE OF GAS COSTS AN ARM AND A LEG.”
To me, these were inspirational because they used humor to deal with their injuries.
I’ve never been in combat, so I can’t begin to compare my experiences to these heroes.
But what I can relate to is some of the challenges these veterans are going to have to deal with after coming home – I know it takes ‘foolish perseverance’ and ‘irrational determination’ to overcome adversity.
Life threw me some pretty big curveballs growing up, but, from my experience, it’s how we handle those curveballs that prepare us for the choices we eventually make in life
Let me take my baseball metaphor and explain a little bit more about my childhood.
You see, I grew up in a pretty average middle-class suburb in Hopkins, MN – just down the road from here.
Growing up, all I wanted to be was the Minnesota Twins’ Hall of Fame first baseman, Rod Carew.
Every summer, like any self-respecting kid would, I nagged the hell out of my mom until she signed me up for Little League.
And like every other kid on my team, I ran onto the field and played my heart out.
But the thing was, as much as I tried to be like everyone else, I knew deep down that I was different.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m an amputee- I was born without a fibula in my right leg. It was just one of those genetic mistakes.
Now, 30 years later, I can lift up the hem of my pants and show people my prosthetic leg, and when I see their jaws drop, I’m totally fine with it. But when I was 8, I wanted to die when I heard names like “Gimp,” “Woody,” and “Cripple” – and that’s just what my sister called me!
I could have become introverted and stayed home playing with Star Wars toys all day. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are hours of fun to be had with a Princess Leia doll and a light saber.)
But my parents always insisted that the best way to be like all the other kids was to go out and do all the things the other kids did.
And, no, playing baseball with a wooden leg wasn’t exactly a cakewalk.
That’s right: back then, my leg was made of actual wood.
Ol’ Peg Leg Stolhanske they used to call me.
When I would grow an inch taller, they would add an inch of wood to my ankle. I was just like a tree – you could measure my growth from the rings around my ankle.
However, if I grew just a quarter of an inch, I’d just get a waiter to shove a matchbook underneath it until I felt even.
Before I’d head down to M.B. Hagan field, my mom would always say, “So what if you fall down. Just get back up!” I fell down a lot but, thanks to my mom’s advice, I always got back up. Before long, it became a habit. (Sometimes it’s always the simplest things, isn’t it?)
Now I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I remember the pain of running on that old-fashioned leg was so intense that my eyes would sometimes fill with tears as I sprinted toward first base. Prosthetic technology has improved a lot, but back then my skin would tear from pistoning as I ran, and when that happened, it would take days or even weeks to heal.
But I never saw Rod Carew miss a game because of an injury, so I’d put on some ointment, pop some Tylenol, and get back in the game.
Now, I know you’re all thinking, “That’s one tough kid!”
But, seriously, the point of telling that story isn’t so you’ll be impressed by how tough of an 8-year-old I was. The point is, I just never bought into the conventional wisdom that a kid with one leg shouldn’t be out there, taking hits and swinging for the fences.
And I didn’t buy into that conventional wisdom when I set out to make it in Hollywood… many years later.
If fact, to this day, I don’t believe that any of us should shy away from taking hits and swinging for the fences.
And I know a lot of these vets are swinging for the fences every day of their lives. In fact, my wife and I had the privilege of attending the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic last winter. When you see someone who is blind heading down a mountain on skis or someone playing hockey on a sled with no legs – let me tell you… you start to realize what it is about these men and women who serve that make them so special.
Everyone has a ‘wooden leg’ of one kind or another. Be it mental, emotional or physical.
And I hope that I’m an example, and I know a lot of these vets that I’ve met are living proof that… your ‘wooden leg’ is often just a ‘perceived limitation’ … and once you realize that… well that’s when you can stay true to yourself, achieve success in life (whatever that may mean to you), and pursue your dreams with… Foolish Perseverance.
I feel very fortunate for MY ‘wooden leg’ because it has allowed me to meet so many inspiring veterans. It has also afforded me the opportunity to work with the DAV – an organization that plays such an important role in helping hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families take back their lives.
I love to share my Peg Leg Stolhanske story because I have seen the power stories have to inspire others.
In turn, the hundreds of stories I’ve heard from veterans have inspired me.
Whether their injury is visible or internal like Traumatic Brain Injuries or PTSD, they have taught me a lot about the power of positive spirit and courage to overcome these adversities.
You see, it takes a lot of courage to fight…not just during battle, but also long after the war is over.
Whether veterans are amputees like Jerry, or if they have wounds you can’t see, their stories show us the very best of what it means to be an American and their sacrifice makes our way of life possible.
To me, veterans are heroes. And when our heroes return home, they deserve our gratitude and support.
It’s an honor to be here this evening among those heroes and you who have made a commitment to honor them in your special way.
I want to take a second to introduce a very special person.
Among those heroes with us this evening is veteran Marcus Kuboy. Injured during his time as a medic, Marcus realized that he could either “get bitter or get better” and he worked hard to get back to normal or as he put it so eloquently, “as normal as he could.”
Here is his story…
Thanks again to all of you. Please welcome… Marcus Kuboy.