South Bend Tribune
Series of 7 Front Page Articles:
- It Was Never an Issue
- Bouncing Back — Lessons from Adversity
- Heart of an Athlete
- Deciding on a Direction in Life
- Going on a Real Date — Settling Down
- Breaking Down Life's Boundaries
- Lessons on Different Traits
In the News
That means he can go anywhere Eastburn goes, including airports and restaurants.
"Almost always when we're out, someone comes up and starts petting my dog. There are two problems with that," he said. "First, he's shy. He doesn't like it. How would you like it if someone came up and started petting you? "Second, he's a service dog and that means we must have a special bond .. he has to listen to me only. Imagine a blind guy and his dog on a street corner. "What if you're on the other side of the intersection and start yelling, 'Oh, what a cute doggy, come here, come here.' Well you can see how that would go. Just make sure you get permission to pet the dog, first." Normally, Eastburn travels in a 280-pound electric wheelchair. But sometimes he likes to go out with his friends in their cars. "And you can't just pick this thing up and chuck it in the trunk," he said. "That's when I switch to my manual chair and Murray pulls me." While Eastburn is able to get out of his chair to retrieve things he's dropped, many times it's quicker if that is also Murray's job. With that, Murray left the stage to watch the remainder of the convocation near Chrisa. Eastburn began by asking for definitions of "handicap." Several were offered -- someone incapable of doing something .... something that makes it hard for someone to do something that others do, etc. "I've been across the United States, to Japan and Panama speaking and I always get definitions that include the words 'can't' or 'unable.' Once one kid even told me it was 'someone who was, you know, messed up.' Honestly I wasn't sure if this was a definition or an explanation," Eastburn said to a chorus of laughter. "What I've noticed is that these definitions always include the word 'someone.' And back when I was little, that's what I thought, too. "Then I read in the dictionary that a handicap is something that slows you down, something that gets in your way. It said nothing about someone." At that point, as if for effect, Eastburn jumped from his chair straight onto a table. Then, he related the story of how he came to play on the school basketball team.
"One day we were walking down the hall and my friend said, 'It's time to sign up for basketball ... let's sign up Brett.' I said, 'OK.' "The good part of that is the coach knew my potential and the next thing I knew I was the point guard." He started off playing in his electric chair. Team members would put the ball in his lap and he would take off, at more than 7 miles an hour, down the court. "That worked really well until someone stood in front of me to block. That guy was like a big speed bump ... I think I even caught air off him! When I went back and looked down, there were tire marks on his face!" he joked. "The officials pulled me off the court and said, 'Hey, Brett, we can't let you use that chair anymore, it's too dangerous. Sorry, you're not going to be able to play basketball.' "I said, 'You guys don't know me too well. I didn't need the wheelchair to play. You're the dummies who let me use it!'" That's when Eastburn remembered something he learned at the mall. "I don't go to the mall to shop ... I go cruising! It doesn't matter what kind they are, as long as you have wheels you can pick up chicks," he told the students. "But what I learned is that if I get too close to someone they back up quick and make this face. They think if I'm missing parts I must be contagious. What I like to do is go up to them, touch them and say, 'You got it, you got it.' "The same is true for the opposing basketball team. When I'm on the floor they stay away from me. They also figure I can't throw the ball to my teammate under the basket." And with that, he launched the basketball he had been holding into the audience. "Every time I was in the game we got two points. You see, they thought I had the handicap. But I gave them the handicap," he said more seriously."You are handicapped only if you choose to be. It's all in your head. I'm a person who could have everything in the world done for me. I could have someone carry me to the bathroom and squeeze me if I wanted to." But that's not what Eastburn wants out of life. What he wants is a life. His life. And he's done better than most of us at creating one. For this man with no arms or legs not only played basketball in school, he also played football.