Editor’s Note: In the 1992 “A River Runs Through It,” the movie tells about the life of a family with their high points, their disasters and all the elements encountered in life. The retreat and repose for the family was always a fishing trip for trout the members took to one certain river. In this movie, three generations of one family returned to the river, and we saw what an important role the bonding that took place at the river played in this family’s life. For Christopher Di Virgilio, the river that continually ran through his life and helped mold and make him into the man he was and still is, always was his friend, Chuck Olson. Part 2 of a 3-part series.
Chuck Olson and I went to school together. Chuck had a skateboard accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury when he was in the 8th grade. After the skateboarding accident, Chuck got up and seemed fine, but the next day he couldn’t walk anymore. He was like a brother to me. I met him not long after he was injured through his brother, who was in school with me.
Chuck and I formed a closer bond than I had with his brother Jim. We both came from broken homes. Chuck had the most wonderful sense of humor I’d ever seen and the most hearty and contagious laugh I’d ever heard. Regardless of what was happening, when Chuck laughed, everyone laughed.
I never really saw Chuck’s wheelchair when I looked at him. I was totally amazed by what all he could do. He would drive a car and go swimming, and he never seemed to be limited by his injury. We teased each other back and forth, just like all kids would. When he’d ask me to do something or get something for him, I’d look at him and just say, “What’s the matter? You crippled? Get it yourself.” We would horrify people who saw us acting this way in public. Chuck and I would just laugh about our antics.
Sometimes I’d dump him out of his chair and take it away from him. Then I’d tell him I’d give him his chair back when he settled down. One time we were cutting up, and I pushed Chuck through a drive through at Burger King. When we pulled up to the speaker to order food, Chuck made noises and simulated the sounds of an automobile while I ordered our food. We’d do all kinds of crazy stuff.
When we got older, we always hung out together. I helped him fix his car and installed his hand controls, we would go out and hot rod around town. I never felt safer in an automobile than when Chuck was driving. Chuck was very good with computers and made his living in IT for a number of companies. Chuck moved out to Arizona and I soon followed. When we first moved out here, we lived next door to each other, and I was married at the time. We stayed at the same apartment complex in Tempe, Arizona, and Chuck snored unbelievably loud. As a matter of fact, Chuck snored so loud, we could hear him in our apartment next door.
Many nights my wife would wake me up and scold me, because she thought I was the one snoring, but in fact the snoring was coming from Chuck. Soon after that, he moved into a house and worked for the Charles Schwab Corporation as an IT manager. I called him the computer nerd. We never outgrew our ability to have fun together. The strong bond between us was almost visible.
I’d take Chuck hiking in the Grand Canyon, and if he couldn’t navigate the trail with his chair, I’d drag him or carry him. I wanted Chuck to experience what I was experiencing, and that’s what he wanted as well. Chuck and I were close, closer than brothers, and I always saw him as my guiding spirit. He was a crucial part of almost every decision I made in my life. He was a straightforward guy and one of the greatest men I ever knew.
Unfortunately, Chuck had diabetes and had to have dialysis. In 2001, we celebrated New Year’s in downtown Phoenix together. Then, 26 days later, Chuck passed away. His wife came home and found him. I felt like my entire world had ended.
Before I even took this job, I’d always volunteered and worked with veterans. They provided comfort for me. They understood not only my military service but also life after the military and the feeling of loss that I’d been through. They were always upbeat. Even today I love hanging out with my military friends, because these people never turn their backs on you. The loyalty they demonstrate to and for each other is a result of having common backgrounds and common lifestyles.
Bridging generation gaps with military people, regardless of age, is much easier. I really enjoy spending time with World War II veterans, because there probably never will be a generation of people like them again in this country. I enjoy the company of my brothers and sisters in arms. The military experiences that we’ve all shared have made us brothers and sisters. We’ve all been through boot camp and the daily rituals of being a part of a team that supports each other.
The military has no color, race, age, religion or other factors that discriminate and segregate people. In the military, all you see is another person in green clothing. The military uniform is a bonding force that solidifies instead of dividing people. Yet the people in the military are probably the most diverse group in this country.
They have learned to depend on each other, regardless of any factor. I’m glad to work with people who have been in the military and other people like Chuck Olson, who have overcome difficulties, moved on with their lives and become successful and happy.
My dream job has been to share their stories, their courage and their positive outlooks with others, and now I can with my love for writing. Through it all and every day, these people remind me of Chuck Olson, and I see the spirit of Chuck in many of the people I work with and interview.
Next: Chris Di Virgilio Talks About One of His Most Inspiring Interviews
About SPORTS ‘N SPOKES: SPORTS ‘N SPOKES is a bimonthly publication produced by the Paralyzed Veterans of America. S’NS reports on competitive sports and recreation for wheelchair users. Since 1975, S’NS has been a leader in wheelchair sports coverage and currently goes to more than 43 countries worldwide. Our readers come from all walks of life all having one thing in common: determination! SPORTS ‘N SPOKES is committed to providing a voice for the wheelchair sporting and recreation community. Learn more at: http://pvamag.com/sns
About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com