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May 23, 2019

4/17/2019 1:16:00 PM
Wheelchair-bound speaker has uplifting message for La Conner students
MAKING TIME COUNT – Motivational speaker Todd Duitsman spent time with La Conner Middle School students Hadley Shears and Kailey Carlson after his appearance at Landy James Gym last week. Duitsman, a successful realtor and businessman, was injured nearly five years ago in a body surfing accident. He urged his audience to make every second count. – Photo by Jacob Carver
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MAKING TIME COUNT – Motivational speaker Todd Duitsman spent time with La Conner Middle School students Hadley Shears and Kailey Carlson after his appearance at Landy James Gym last week. Duitsman, a successful realtor and businessman, was injured nearly five years ago in a body surfing accident. He urged his audience to make every second count. – Photo by Jacob Carver

Bill Reynolds


Todd Duitsman remembers the exact minute he went from being an active sports-oriented realtor and businessman to a paraplegic bound to a wheelchair.
He was, both literally and figuratively, riding a wave of high expectations, full of life and believing all things were possible.
But the wave crashed hard. 
Five years ago, Duitsman and his family were enjoying their second Hawaiian vacation in three summers when a sudden body surfing accident profoundly altered the 45-year-old Lakewood man’s perspective.
Now the minutes that matter most to him are those in present time.
The seconds, too.
“I want to win every second,” Duitsman told La Conner students from his wheelchair while courtside at Landy James Gym last Wednesday. “If I put those seconds together, I win the minute. When I put the minutes together, I win the hour. And if I win the hours, I win the day.”
He used to take those small daily battles for granted. That was before the accident.
“I was on top of the wave,” he recalled. “I really hit it and the adrenaline was pumping. Then, all of a sudden, I hit the beach, and everything shut down.”
It was July 2, 2014.
Duitsman had slammed his head into rigid sand, severely damaging several vertebrae. He couldn’t move and was afraid he might drown as more waves approached.
On-duty lifeguards rushed to him and removed him from immediate danger. He spent a couple weeks at a Honolulu hospital and then was transported via a medical flight to Seattle.
His prognosis was grim.
So was his outlook.
No longer able to rise from bed, brush his teeth or even scratch his face to relieve an itch, Duitsman was especially downcast one day while awaiting a therapy session. Then, he saw another man in a wheelchair. Only that rehab patient was without legs or part of one arm, yet was engaged in friendly banter with others at the hospital.
“All at once,” Duitsman said, “I realized that I’ve got it better than him, but he had a better attitude than me.”
Duitsman knew changes were in order.
“The moral of the story,” he explained, “is somebody always has it worse. Be thankful for what you have.
“I’d had 45 years of a particular perspective,” he stressed. “I could do anything I wanted when I wanted and then all of a sudden, I’m in this wheelchair.”
So, he made it his new mission to learn what he could do, and focus on that, rather than dwell on what he had lost.
“I decided I could either be a victim or a winner,” Duitsman said. “I chose to be a winner.”
The first step was developing the right mind set.
“They say life is a roller coaster,” he said. “It’s not. You have no control on a roller coaster. Life is actually a chess match. It’s up to you to make the right moves.”
Duitsman said one of the best moves he’s made since his accident is bringing his message of optimism, perseverance and goal-setting to students in the Puget Sound region.
At La Conner, where he met in separate 30-minute sessions with middle school and high school students, Duitsman implored his young audiences to strive always to do their best and appreciate even the smallest of blessings.
And to have a Plan B when things go haywire.
“You need to have a default,” he said. “It’s all about how you’re set up to deal with the challenges that come up. Things are going to blindside you.”
During each assembly, he asked students to place their hands under their legs to simulate what it’s like for persons who can’t control their arms. He also noted that technology, while often beneficial, has its limits.
“The smart phones that you have are cool,” said Duitsman. “But they can’t do what you can do. They can’t touch. They can’t taste. They can’t smell. They can’t play. As cool as that smart phone is, it’s not as cool as you guys.”

Since his accident, Duitsman said he has curbed much of his social media use.
“It’s not a good thing for me,” he said, “because when I get on there I see people doing all the super things I can no longer do.”
Among those things he can do, Duitsman has learned, is inspire young people.
It was only reluctantly that La Conner High softball players left his presentation early to catch their bus for a game at Cedar Park Christian. Other students lingered after each of his talks to speak directly with Duitsman.
He was obviously moved.
“This place is an amazing place to be,” he said of La Conner. “You shouldn’t take it for granted.”
In fact, Duitsman had been here before. More than once, said La Conner teacher and coach Suzanne Marble.
“Todd and I met a few years back,” she said, “the first time when he was walking. He came to watch his son play basketball. The second time he came was to watch his other son play basketball here. Only that time he was in a wheelchair.
“And I can tell you,” said Marble, “that he’s still the same person.”
It’s just that his motivation has changed. Now he has a rooting interest in everyone.
“Ever since the accident,” Duitsman told the students, “I’ve realized how precious everybody is. Each one of you is special. Hopefully, something I say affects you and you’re able to share it with someone else.” 







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