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June 29, 2005

Deciding on a direction in life

Eastburn discovers inspirational speaking as a way to get message out.

MAKING HIS WAY: ONE MAN'S JOURNEY TO THRIVE AND ENLIGHTEN

By BILL MOOR
Tribune Staff Writer





cEastburn-24.jpeg Brett Eastburn peers into his rearview mirror before pulling out of his Tyner driveway. He has been driving since he was 18.

Tribune Photo/MARCUS MARTER


cEastburn-23.jpeg Eastburn can drive his minivan with a pedal system designed for him.

Tribune Photo/MARCUS MARTER





Other stories in this series:
Making his way: One man's journey to thrive and enlighten

Fourth of seven parts

Not long after Brett Eastburn graduated from John Glenn High School, he was giving speeches.

He also was sleeping in a bathtub.

Both seemed a perfect fit.

He had moved to Indianapolis and began working at ESSEX -- a motivational speaking bureau. He became the right-hand man (no pun intended) of the company president, Bill Essex, a retired narcotics cop who could captivate audiences with his inspiring stories.

Brett was one of those whom Essex captivated when he gave a speech at John Glenn during Brett's junior year.

"Before that time, I wasn't sure which way I wanted to take my life," Brett says. "Was I going to get my message across through art or acting or writing or something to do with sports? But when I heard Bill talk, I knew I wanted to give speeches like that, too."

So he packed up his diploma, kissed his parents goodbye and moved to the Indianapolis area.

"Of course, it made all the difference in the world that I could drive (with extended pedals) by that point," Brett adds.

And the bathtub?

"At one point, I was staying in a crowded apartment with a bunch of guys and if somebody was going to have to sleep in the bathtub, I guess I was the logical choice," he says.

With no legs or arms, he fit the best.

Brett moved around to different places and had different roommates during his seven years in the Indianapolis area. Most of the time, he had a bed, too.

And just about everyone of his roomies fell for Brett's line of "Hey, can you run back in and get my shoes?" at least one time.

He started out helping Essex at his speaking engagements while Essex would work Brett into the theme. After a while, he would give Brett the last five or 10 minutes of the program.

"Then he would critique me," Brett says. "It was a great way to learn."

Brett also organized fundraisers, made travel arrangements and set up the schedule.

Eventually, he started to work on his own full-hour speech.

"The first thing I did was look up the word 'handicap' in the dictionary," he says. "I tell people that the dictionary states that a handicap is something that will slow you down or get in your way or stop you completely. But it says nothing about someone. A handicap isn't a person, and with that thought in mind, I started writing my speech."

Brett began giving his own speeches and traveling around the Midwest.

He even went to faraway places such as Japan.

He loved it, and also enjoyed the independence of living away from home and on his own.

"At one point while I was in Indy, I even bought my own lawnmower," Brett says. "I found I could mow in my electric wheelchair and the mower had a short pull rope that allowed me to start it, too.

"I remember thanking God that I could do something like that."

He always was trying new stuff, always challenging himself, and then often using those experiences in his speeches.

"I learned how the world rotates, how to live in different situations, how to learn to travel on my own," he says.

Brett also learned that he had a voice and a message that people would listen to. His sense of humor would win them over, but his example of persevering would leave them with a lasting impression.

But after almost seven years with ESSEX, he decided it was time to move back home. "I just wasn't making enough money," he says.

While still doing some speaking engagements, he began working as a greeter at a major department store in Mishawaka.

"He's like his father in that Brett will talk to anyone," says Barb Eastburn, Brett's mom.

He worked that job for several months while using a skateboard to get around after his electric wheelchair broke down again. "But as a greeter, you have to stay in one place an awful lot, and my body needs to be on the move."

He had an answer for that: Why couldn't he be an undercover security detective so he could patrol the store in his wheelchair?

"The store manager wasn't so sure that I could handle the job," Brett says. "So I asked if I could show him what I could do. I jumped out of my chair and tackled him."

Brett got the job.

And he fooled a lot of people, apprehending several shoplifters in a year's time without having to use any physical force.

"Actually, it would have been nice to have gotten to use my wrestling moves just one time," he says. "I came close once. A guy went running out of the store one time when I was in the parking lot, but I couldn't catch up to him in a rented wheelchair that is slower than my regular one."

Darn.

The job was another adventure, another chance to show people how he could do just about anything he put his mind to. But Brett found he was missing giving speeches on a regular basis.

He was ready to start his own business. Little did he know that he would soon find a business partner -- and a partner for life.

Next Article: Love at 2-foot-10 1/2

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