Deciding on a direction in
inspirational speaking as a way to get message
WAY: ONE MAN'S JOURNEY TO THRIVE AND ENLIGHTEN
Tribune Staff Writer
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,
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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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.
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