Our hope is to engage in challenging conversations that push us all to do what we can within our own spheres of influence in order to ensure everyone's tomorrow is better than their yesterday. I'm excited to introduce you to Chris Kelley today. Chris Kelley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, and currently enrolled as a master's in sports management through the College of kinesiology at the University of Michigan. He has osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that causes him to have brittle bones making him prone to frequent fractures. Due to this he has been unable to play contact sports.
However, this has not stopped Chris from excelling in adaptive sports. He is a decorated wheelchair tennis player, and some of accolades include a first place finish at the USTA Wheelchair National Championships in St. Louis in 2019. Chris is also someone I like to consider a personal friend as I have been recruiting him for several years to join our adaptive sports and fitness program. And now that he is part of the program he has been instrumental in getting our team to where we are today both from a wheelchair tennis standpoint, and in an aspect of demonstrating just how everyone is equal and able. So, Chris, thank you and welcome to the Equal & Able podcast.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Thank you for having me.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: So our listeners don't know that we've had a relationship for quite some time. And so this as I tell everyone, I hope that these podcasts just sound like two people having a conversation that our listeners get to engage in. And I really hope that that's what this one will be today. So I want us to just really have a conversation about how we got to know one another, how you got to where you are professionally and personally, athletically, academically, and hopefully sharing whatever you're comfortable sharing about your journey to date. So with that I know I gave an introduction, but please feel free to tell the users-- tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm Chris Kelley. I use he/him pronouns. I'm an American-born white young male. I have medium to short light brown hair. I identify as a transgender heterosexual male and a wheelchair user that's ambulatory every once in a while.
My disability allows me to get up move around, but the wheelchair makes it a little bit easier every once in a while. I play wheelchair tennis. I have since high school. And I am a student.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: All right, now tell the audience about how we got connected, because people know that we've been excited about building this wheelchair tennis program and building adaptive sports and fitness at the University of Michigan. But it's these personal stories that are really exciting to me, and so tell them about how you got to the University of Michigan. And you can start with your athletic career prior to, but I'm just wanting people to know about how you ended up where you are now in terms of University of Michigan.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, absolutely. So tennis is my family sport. My dad went to school for professional tennis management, my brother played. So when I was in high school my dad found an adaptive sports program in Grand Rapids. He asked me if I wanted to try it out. I was like, that sounds awesome. Absolutely.
So from high school through the beginning of my college career I was going to Grand Rapids two times a week to practice with the team. I excelled pretty fast. I got pretty good at it, and as I continued to play I also got more involved in providing opportunities for tennis in the community. So I started coaching kids tennis. I started doing camps and clinics around the Midwest to really expand opportunities for tennis locally.
So that was a lot of fun, and every single opportunity I had to expand tennis I was like, this is awesome. I love it. It's absolutely my passion. And so I was finishing up with undergrad I decided to take a year off between my undergrad and going to grad school to have the most fun year ever just traveling around playing tennis during tournaments and coaching.
And then because I'm so involved in wheelchair tennis in the Midwest I saw on Facebook that when Bender actually had posted an article saying the University of Michigan is starting to adaptive to sports, they're starting wheelchair basketball. And I was like that's fantastic, because I wanted a program when I was in undergrad student in my home state that had adaptive sports. There just wasn't a competitive program.
So I ended up at Grand Valley because it was closer, but I was like, that would have been awesome as the University of Michigan was there when I was an undergrad student. But yeah I saw the article, and shot a little email to Dr. Owen. I was like, hey, I don't play basketball. Basketball is not my sport, but I love tennis. I helped to grow tennis in the Midwest if you ever think about starting a wheelchair tennis program let me know. I'd be more than happy to help whichever way I can.
At that time I didn't know if I was going to be a student. I didn't know if I was just going to help out do some clinics, help coach wherever I could, but he responded very quick. And he was like, yes, absolutely. We want to start all the adaptive sports at U of them, whatever we can start we want to do. And I was like, that's awesome. So from that first email Dr. O started to hounding me to apply to grad school. It was relentless.
I swear every a couple of weeks I'd be getting the call, and he'd be like hey, hey, have you taken your GRE? Have you applied, had you done this, have you done that. And I'm like, yeah, yeah, I'm getting around to it. I was like I don't exactly know what I'm doing right now, but yeah I'm going to I'm going to apply eventually.
And then this just weird situation happened I was I was on my way to New York for a wheelchair tennis tournament, and Dr. O gave me a call. And I had left the airport, but I was still at the airport where people pick up. So there are cars zooming by I've got one finger in my ear trying to listen to what he's saying, and it's one of those calls where he's hey, apply to grad school, apply to grad school and I'm like, Yep, yep. OK.
And I'm like I'm on my way to a wheelchair tennis tournament right now can I call you when I'm heading back, when I get back, and he's like, yeah, for sure. Absolutely. So I go to that tournament. Super fun tournament it's at the USTA Billie Jean King Facility. So that's where the US Open is played. Had a lot of fun won singles and doubles, so it was a good tournament for me.
And then I'm flying back with my team, and I just get through security. And I hear somebody say are you Chris Kelley, and I'm like, yeah, that's not something that you want to hear, right? After going through airport security do some random person say, hey you're this person. So I turn, and I see somebody and I'm like, that looks like Dr. O from U of M. And I'm like, what is he doing at the New York airport. I'm like this guy's crazy he follows me.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: Exactly.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: But you happen to be I think coming home from a conference, and your flight got delayed which was the only reason you were there.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: It was ridiculous. So I don't even remember which conference or speaking engagement was coming back from. But we were at either LaGuardia or JFK. But what happened with my flight was actually that so there's one of these airports where the gate that I was at was at a lower level than where the concourse was. So there's a ramp to come up to the main level of the concourse, and my flight was so delayed that I wasn't going to be able to make it back home.
And so they arranged for me to then get a limo ride from whichever one it was either JFK to LaGuardia or LaGuardia to JFK. And so I was leaving the gate to go get into the limo to get to the other airport, and as I'm coming up the ramp the super steep definitely not ADA ramp, and huffing and puffing. I see this little chair with a backpack on it. And I mean, first wheelchair user, any time I see a wheelchair user my eyes turn. And so as I'm coming up though I see that there's this little person in the chair, and I was like is that Chris Kelley.
And so that's exactly what I did. I said Chris Kelley, so I'm sure it looked like I was talking to this guy because we just had this conversation. And then it was serendipity divine intervention, whatever you want to call it he's there at the airport. So yeah, I clearly I talked to him. We see each other. And then I mean-- and then after that what happened?
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: After that I think there was actually one more situation where randomly we saw each other. I was at a USTA convention or whatever for being on the Midwest committee in Indianapolis, and this was after I had applied. So pretty much after that first interaction I was this is too weird not to think that something is meant to happen here. So I applied, took my GRE, sent in my application all that stuff. And then I saw you in Indianapolis I think you were at some convention I was at our annual meeting. And I was just like, what the heck. This is crazy.
And at that point you were like oh, yep, so you're coming to Michigan, right? And I was like, yeah, I sent in my application, so I was like, I finally did that part. I sent into my application. And at that point I was just I was just waiting, and it was a bold strategy because I knew I wanted to go back to grad school. So my undergrad is in social work.
And I knew that I was either going to end up getting my master's in social work or getting my master's in something else. I ended up in sports management, but I didn't want to go into my career with just my bachelors in social work. I wasn't going to end up having a job that I was super thrilled about to be honest. But I only applied to Michigan, it was the only school I applied to, so I put literally all my eggs in one basket. It was just hoping for the best for that semester.
I thought about applying to Alabama for wheelchair tennis, so that I could play there. And that one I could have applied the next semester, and it would have been fine. It would have been OK. But I was like, what, we're going to go for Michigan right now see what happens. And I ended up getting in.
I was actually on my way to the University to do a visit with some faculty in the kinesiology building, and then also practice with the team. Because I needed to get a practice in with a team prior to nationals for me to be able to play with the team, so I ended up on campus at U of M the day that the pandemic shut everything down. So the journey going through to this moment has been just weird, just a little weird but great.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: Now I think that you need to let people know what your athletic prowess has been, because they're going to say why has this guy been chasing you down for this whole time. And I think that many people are still learning about adaptive sports, right? So we talk about wheelchair tennis, you talked about Billie Jean, you talked about the courses that you've been or the courts you've been playing on. But tell people about your wheelchair tennis prowess. Really and this is OK like talk about where you are, at how you're ranked in the country, some of your accolades.
Because these are the things that I knew about. These are the things that I had heard about, and the fact that you were a Michigan native made it even better. So talk about some of the options that you had. You talked about Alabama, so tell us a little bit about adaptive sports in general in your experience with it after you got involved, how far you have made it in the adaptive sports landscape. And that will give people a little bit of a sense as to why it was hounding you so much.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Well, you stalked to me in the airport.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: In the airport.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, so like I said, I--
FERANMI OKANLAMI: For my conference that I was there for.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Exactly. Exactly. I think you were at the tournament to be honest I just didn't see you.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: Exactly. I made it very clear that you were going to see me. I got my ways.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, like I said tennis has been in my family, so it's one of the few adaptive sports that I can compete in fully safely, right? With my disability. Sled hockey looks awesome, looks fun, I've skated on the ice, it is a blast. Could I play competitively? Maybe I would probably break myself pretty frequently.
So tennis was the best bet for me. I did a little bit of competitive swim when I was younger, but once I started playing tennis I was like, yeah, this is the sport. So I started going into just about my freshman year of high school, but I had-- I been out on the court a couple of times in my everyday chair on my forearm crutches just hitting the ball. And I was lucky my dad's a good tennis player so he could get the ball right back to me so I could develop some of the hand-eye coordination, and shots needed for tennis. Without really understanding the movement, which is a critical part of wheelchair tennis.
But once I started playing and practicing wheelchair tennis in a sports chair I rapidly got better. So I started playing with the junior team that is in Grand Rapids, Mary Free Bed's team. I did that for probably about a year, maybe a year and a half before they transitioned me to practicing with the adult team. I was still a junior, but they took me under their wing and let me travel with them to tournaments all that stuff.
And then by my junior year in high school I was selected to represent Team USA at World Team Cup. So World Team Cup is an annual competition, the best countries in the world get to send a team to play against each other to see who's the best, second best, and third best team. And the ranking goes all the way down, but you get hardware if you're one two or three.
So I got selected to be on that team. I was the number two junior in the US at the time. We traveled to Antalya, Turkey. It was my first time going like on a really long trip for wheelchair tennis like across the ocean. So it was an amazing experience to represent Team USA on the tennis court.
We played on red clay. Is my first time doing that in a chair, not very easy you cannot just coast into the ball of your catcher's will sink, but it was an awesome experience. My family went, so they were able to watch me compete on that stage for the first time. And since then I've been still involved with Team USA developmental camps and stuff like that and it's been great.
My 2019 was probably my best career win streak in terms of how it did. And it was an interesting situation where I didn't expect it to be that great of a year. I graduated from Grand Valley in 2018, and then a couple weeks after graduating I had my top surgery. So I had a double mastectomy, and that was the first time I had had to recover from a surgery that was waist up.
I rely on my arms, right? My arms are my main source of mobility, and being able to do stuff. And I was a T-Rex for like a month. I couldn't get my own cup out of the cupboard. I couldn't cook my own food. I got-- it's called the keyhole procedure.
So I don't have-- I didn't want huge scars, and I don't have huge scars because they were able to do the surgery that I requested, but the recovery was a lot longer. So I was not able to drive for a good six to eight weeks. So I just did a lot of puzzles. Did a lot of reading. I wasn't able to be active.
It was a great day two months after surgery when I was able to walk a quarter of the block, because that's really all my legs would allow me to do, but I was like at least I'm doing something. And then it was-- I went through PT. It was a long recovery experience. It took me a really long time just to have some range back, and then I got back on court. And it was awful.
It was so bad because it had been a really long time since I hit. I didn't have the mobility that I had. I didn't have the range of motion. I couldn't hit my full range on my serve. So I was like this is going to be an awful tournament year once the tournament year starts.
And I had a couple more months until tournaments were really going to pick up, but once they did 2019 ended up being really a career season for me. I think I lost three singles matches altogether. I brought my ranking up to number two in the US. I beat the number one guy in the US at the St. Louis tournament, so it was a career run for me. And I mean it was a lot of fun and unexpected also.
But it was great to. I had been in the process of getting my therapeutic use exemption for a while, so I wasn't able to play tournaments prior to that really either because I was-- testosterone is a prohibited substance unless you have a therapeutic use exemption. So I had to go through the paperwork aspect of that to be able to compete too, so the stars really somehow aligned in 2019 for me to have a career year like that.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: Now something that you seamlessly have been integrating into this conversation is something that I am going to put a little more attention on. Because I want to make sure that the listeners hear this. So you had an opportunity to be part of a beautiful video that the USTA made, and it was talking about just your experience with your tennis. And in it there were two lines that caught my attention that I hadn't heard before. The two lines were you talked about how the hardest part was transitioning from women's tennis to men's tennis.
Now I have to listen to this twice because up to that point, I had no idea that you identified as transgender. And I'll be honest that when I heard it, and I watched the video two or three times my initial response was that I had not created a welcoming environment at the University of Michigan if I didn't know that. And I made it about me, right? I initially made it about me because I thought why didn't he tell me this? Why didn't I know that Chris was trans?
And clearly I said he's comfortable talking about this because this video has been viewed I don't know how many thousands of times that this USTA video has been viewed, but lots of people have seen it now. And it's an amazing video talking about multiple different things, and that's just one aspect of it. And as soon as I got over myself I loved it though, because that's what I tried to demonstrate to people is that every single one of us has multiple identities that we identify with. And too often what people do is we categorize or judge or pigeonhole people based on one thing about them that we think is the most important. We don't let the person decide what they think is the most important part of their lives, right?
We don't let people just create the narrative that they want people to see. We then assume that, oh, he's disabled, he use a wheelchair now that just must be the hardest part of your life. And so all the people want to talk about now is my disability, is my chair, right? During the time that everyone is finally reconciling with racial injustice and social injustice. Everyone just wants to say oh, how hard it must be to be a Black person, right?
But all of those things are being won, and we haven't gotten a chance to talk about when you choose to disclose, why you disclosed, and how that's been. Because you went from playing women's tennis to playing men's tennis, and playing in the same tournaments, right? And the reason I wanted people to know how good you are is because one, people see adapt to sports as disability sports, and they don't see the competitive nature of-- competitive level adaptive sport. They don't see how much work people need to put into it to be good at their sport. Not only did you do that, but there's also a dynamic that people think that women are not as strong as men.
They think they can't compete with men, and you have had to manage adjusting to the fact that first of all, you had a father that is a tennis pro. That you were playing tennis with able-bodied folks most of your life, and then you made a transition as well. So I want you to whatever extent that you're comfortable, share that process.
Because we haven't talked about the fact that you didn't tell me. But you also didn't have to tell me, right? That there's no reason. So just pick up from there yourself.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, for sure. So I guess I'll like start from the beginning, because I think that sometimes everybody's life experiences are different. Some people come to their gender identity at a younger age, some people come to it at an older age. For me it was-- there was never this realization moment and was just as soon as I could vocalize feelings I was expressing to my parents that I wanted short hair. I was going to wear my brother's hand-me-downs.
But I told my parents I feel I'm a boy, but I didn't have-- I didn't have the vocab, I didn't have the understanding of what was happening to really do anything about it. And I was fortunate in that my parents were very just OK, with self-discovery discovery in terms of I picked out my clothes. I picked out my haircut. They were like it's not worth the fight, for them it just it wasn't worth a fight with some five-year-old who is going to put up the biggest bike to fit in a Kohl's in the ski.
They were like, it's not worth it. We're just going to let him do what he wants to do, and what we'll figure it out whatever. And so all through elementary school, middle school, I really presented in a way. Sophomore year to senior-ish year I was like, you know what I'll try to fit into the whatever more than I'm supposed to be fitting into right now.
Obviously I'd already gone through like puberty, which was a horrible experience, just awful. I hated every minute of it. I was like, I'll try. I'll see what happens, and I made myself miserable trying to go through the experience of fitting into society's idea of what I was supposed to be presenting.
And then I got done with my senior year started taking some college classes, and I was like I'm not happy. I'm not happy at all. I was not happy in the slightest bit, and I was actually texting my best friend Olivia. And I don't even remember what we were talking about, but it felt like out of the blue she asked me Chris do you want me to use male pronouns. And I read the text, and I was like, yeah, actually 100%.
I would have taken that my whole life. That's really what I wanted my whole life. And I was awesome, so that was really just the little nudge over the clip I needed to really start this next journey of my life. So probably a week later, I was in the car with my mom. I think I was coming back from a doctor's appointment or a dentist appointment or something. We were going to be in the car for 45 minutes though.
And I have the tendency to tell bigger news in the car because I know as soon as I say, hey mom I have something to tell you I'm going to have to tell her. We're locked in this car I can't just like tuck and roll. So I was like, I said, Mom, I have something to tell you. I think I want to start a medical transition from female to male, and she was so supportive from the get go.
And I grew up a Catholic and conservative, church three times a week. So based on what I had heard every once in a while discussed at church I was like, I don't know how she's going to react. I knew she was going to be loving. I knew she was going to be understanding, but I didn't-- obviously I was on my mom's insurance so I didn't know what was going to happen, right?
FERANMI OKANLAMI: Right.
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: But in order for me to start that transition I needed really full support from my parents, but specifically my mom because. It's her insurance that was going to allow me to do this. And she was like awesome. Let's figure out the next steps together, and I was oh, mom I've been doing research for years. I got you. I know the next steps.
I was like, I need to find an endocrinologist. I had already been seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression, because obviously living in a body that doesn't feel natural I was not in a great headspace. So that part was pretty easy, because she was super OK with writing my letters of recommendation that I needed to go on testosterone so that sped up that process.
So we found an endocrinologist in the Grand Haven area. And I went in was talking to him, and he was like, oh, I don't prescribe testosterone for gender changing, and I was like, oh, OK. I was like OK. So I went home and I did some research, and I found a guy in Grand Rapids and I was like OK.
This guy treats trans patients can we make an appointment. My mom was like, yep, absolutely. So I made an appointment, but it was going to be I think like a two and half month wait. And at that point I was like, I don't want to wait anymore. I was I've been waiting so long, and that was the process that I was like, this is-- the waiting I was like this is awful. But eventually I made my appointment, got in, and then I think a week after that appointment I was able to start testosterone so.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: And it's something that you have a roommate who is another one of your teammates, right? And you've been with this team, you've traveled with this team you've been a leader on this team. And I don't know when you told your teammates, right? And I don't know if you told your teammates, but the part of it that is important for me to make sure that listeners recognize is that everybody is entitled to share or disclose whatever aspect of their life they choose to share.
And this is something that yes you identify as trans, but it doesn't mean that it needs to be the first thing that you say to someone. Because you're saying the truth is what does it matter. Like really, what does it matter? Does do you why do you other than your curiosity, why do you need to know that I was born into a female body, but felt as though I was always a male? Why is that something important for us to know?
Because the truth is in my opinion we all just need to then accept people for whoever they feel they are. We need to make sure that everyone has equitable access to the same opportunities as others. And that's why as much as we could have spent time talking about how amazing of an adaptive sport athlete you are, how amazing of a student you are in terms of being able to come to the University of Michigan get your master's degree. We know that you've had some job opportunities that have been thrust your way from Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, there opportunities that you could have had in Alabama, there opportunities at the USTA, right?
So from a professional standpoint after you graduate in a few weeks here. I know that you're going to have options, right? All of these things however are you. And so this was me recognizing that as an individual who feels as though diversity, equity, and inclusion is central to the work I do if even I had an initial response of centering it on myself of saying why didn't he feel comfortable telling me. I think that's the part that I want people to take away from today is that you told your story, and throughout it you mentioned a couple of things here and there.
You talked about had your top surgery, when you talk about it it's just you're just talking about your life. But other people are going to then hang on to certain aspects of it, and that's the only lens through which they're going to see you after that. And I think that my goal for this was to get people to know all of Chris Kelley, right? All of the Chris Kelley that Chris wants to share, and whether he chooses to share that he is trans or not doesn't matter. We could have had a whole conversation where you didn't talk about being an athlete.
And so that's the part where people need to recognize there's so many dimensions to every single one of us, and we need to then do a better job of making sure that everyone feels equal and able. Not because we know aspects of their lives, but because we create an environment that is accessible and inclusive. So that no matter what you identify as or with that people feel comfortable in that space.
So what we always do is we close by asking the guests what we can all do to ensure that we are all equal and able. And so for someone who is a young man living with a disability, student athlete, identifies as transgender whatever angle you want to then answer this question. What do you want people to know, and how can people ensure that we all feel equal and able?
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, I think you nailed it on the head, right? Every single person has multiple aspects of what makes up their identity, and every single person can share how much of that or how little of that they want to. And that's valid, and that is OK.
When I first started my transition I didn't tell anybody. I mean, there was a point where I mean, obviously some people were going to know, right? Because they were getting to know me when I was a kid, and then be like, oh, wow interesting Chris has a beard or something like that. Spencer for example, one of our teammates I knew him from junior tennis, but he never broached the subject and I never broached the subject.
But I'm pretty sure he knew this whole time. Whereas when I got to Michigan I didn't tell people. I didn't tell people. At Grand Valley the only times I brought it up was when I saw it as an educational opportunity, because I was in West Michigan it's a little bit more conservative over there. But I was in the social work program, and I'm like you are going to work with people like me.
You're going to work with people with disabilities, you're going to work with people who are trans. I would prefer information to come from somebody who's experienced it as opposed to just making assumptions. And it's one of those things I think when I started my transition at first I couldn't have people not see my disability. I'm visibly disabled. So there was already that aspect of as soon as somebody sees me they're already going to make assumptions.
They're already going to see me as the disabled person Chris, not Chris who has a disability. And there was really-- there was only so much I could do to change that original perception. But for my gender identity I had the freedom. I could tell people if I wanted to, or I could not tell people if I wanted to. So it gave me a little bit of autonomy in really sharing who I was.
So whenever I met new people I presented myself as Chris, and then naturally as it comes up that's when things generally get shared. The USTA video is actually an interesting thing because I was asked to make this video, and then Jason was like, I'm going to call you about the topic that we're going to discuss. And I was like, OK, cool.
The topic was resilience. I was like, I think I know the angle they want to take this in. I wasn't positive, so Jason called me. He was super cool about it. He was like we can take this whatever angle you're comfortable with, but this is what we were thinking.
And we were thinking this because a lot of people are going to see this video, and you could help somebody. You could really help people out there by being willing to share your story. So I was like, yeah. I sat on it for a little bit, and I was like, OK, I can do that. That's totally, totally fine. But that was the biggest stage I'd ever shared that story on but by far.
But generally it's not a topic that I just bring up right away, and it's not out of shame. It's not out of like, oh, this is bad it's just at the end of the day, it's my choice. And it doesn't always come up in natural conversation every once in a while, it does, but usually it doesn't. So when I knew that video was going to come out that's when I was I hadn't moved in with my roommate yet, but I was like, I'm going to give him a call.
I was like at the end of the day I want to let him know that this is going to be something that's going to be put out there. And I just wanted to make sure everything was cool, and he was like, yeah, absolutely totally fine. And I was like-- it was kind of out of like a mutual respect thing I was like, I didn't want him to hear from not me directly.
So every once in a while I just bring up the topic if it feels the right time, but it's not that interesting. To me, to me it's not that interesting. I'm like sure I'd stab myself in the leg a couple of times a month to get testosterone. But I had surgery a while ago, I recovered from that. Now I just I wake up, brush my teeth, eat food, go to school just like everybody else, and it's a part of my life but it is not-- it is not the entirety of who I am.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: And as we're wrapping up here. A lot of times people look at a life that they can't identify with, right? And they sometimes think, oh, how difficult that must be, right? And I know personally I don't anyone to pity me. I don't want anyone to think oh, this life of disability must just be really terrible.
That doesn't mean that there are certain aspects of my life that aren't really, really difficult. And that I feel as though since I had a life before my disability, and life after my disability I can acknowledge that some of the things are harder. But a lot of times what people will ask me is how I'm able to then be resilient as you said or how I can find the courage to keep going every day. Do people ever ask you that, right? When they then find out.
Is it something that people say that's so brave of you, Chris? Or how is that, and then just end with that is where is it that you feel whatever the word is that you want to use, whether it's courage, whether it's resilience, whether it's determination, whether it's grace. How is it that you feel as though now where you are in this stage in your life you are able to then essentially keep going, you're able to then manage the looks or the comments or the thoughts. How do you find whatever that is that keeps letting you move forward?
CHRISTOPHER KELLEY: Yeah, I think it's a combo of the nature and nurture really. There are some people who and again you can use whatever word, I'll use determination I guess for this. There are people who are born with a certain amount of determination, and then there's also life experiences that allow you to foster that determination, if it's not there it's not there. And then you see it and life is going to continue to kick you down and kick you down kick you down.
I think that I was to an extent I was able to take any determination that I was born with, and then through life experiences it's practice, right? You break your leg you're like, oh, this is a bummer, but it's fine. I'll figure out ways to get through this, and then I'll continue on with life. And then you have a surgery, and it's like, oh, well, OK that's going to kick me down a little bit more, but you're able to bounce back, you're able to come back from it. And the more it happens is the more you practice.
But I think that it doesn't have to be some big thing that allows you to show that you have resilience or determination or anything like that. Small things you can let those ruin your day, you can spill your coffee in the morning and be like, oh, yep horrible day. It's a horrible Monday. Or you can hit traffic on the way, and be 15 minutes late to school and work and be like, well, this day's ruined or you can be like, no that 15 minutes maybe that 15 minutes is ruined. But the day doesn't have to be, and you can just bounce back and just try to find as much enjoyment out of life as you can.
And I think that it's just it's a better way to live. It's way easier to go about, and not to say there are not bad days. There are absolutely bad, bad days. There are situations that can really knock you down for a little bit, but I'd say for the most part if you're able to just bounce back. Give back to other people, you're going to live a more enjoyable life, and that's what I try to do.
FERANMI OKANLAMI: Chris Kelley, graduate student in kinesiology at the University of Michigan. Nationally ranked wheelchair tennis player, stellar student athlete, and someone that I call a friend. Thank you for joining us on Equal & Able. We hope you all will tune in to subsequent episodes as we continue to bring in leaders, to engage In thoughtful and challenging conversations about what each of us can do to demonstrate how everyone is equal and able.
NARRATOR: Dr. Feranmi Okanlami is a partner and spokesperson for Guardian Life, and Chris Kelley is an adaptive sports scholar from the University of Michigan. This Equal & Able podcast is for informational purposes only, and includes the views of Dr. Feranmi Okanlami and Chris Kelley based on their own background, research, and/or experience. Individual situations may vary, and the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice.
Speakers are not endorsed by Guardian Life, and opinions stated are their own. They are not intended to give investment, legal, or tax advice, and that should not be substituted for regular consultation with your investment, legal, or tax professionals. This podcast does not constitute an offer or solicitation of a product or service.