Podcast

Jason Regier

Jason Regier_Jung Park

Sometimes we chose our Chapter Be, sometimes it happens to us. Jason Regier is an amazing example of how you take an unexpected life event and turn it into something good. In 1996, Jason was in a car accident that left him without the use of his legs. His injury forced him to create his own path. It not only brought him things that he might not have expected, but also allowed him to really focus on what he felt was important in life.

Less then a year after his injury, Jason started playing wheelchair rugby – a sport that was brought to the world’s attention through the 2005 documentary, Murderball. Jason had always been an elite athlete and was determined to continue to be one. It was through his love and dedication for the sport that he eventually pursued two master’s degrees, was motivated to start sharing his story with a wider audience and eventually was competing in both world championships and the Paralympics for Team USA. The Paralympics originally started in 1947, when so many veterans came home with spinal cord injuries. Jason has been committed to not only participating in the games, but also building an audience by being an advocate for educating people about the competition.

Jason is now principal of his own company called Spellbynder, which handles his motivational speaking engagements across the United States. This summer he was in Denmark for the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) World Championship. The US team ended up coming in third place behind Australia and Canada.

Jason’s story is one of inspiration, dedication and hard work. He continues to shape it and is allowing his journey to dictate where he goes next. Read on to learn more about his Chapter Be story…

Can you tell me a bit about how you decided to create a life that allowed you to share your story through motivational and public speaking engagements?

When I was in high school I took a three-hour class my senior year on filmmaking. I was always very interested in film and video, and that was my original major when I went to school. That was my storytelling roots, if you will, and I was always attracted to that visual medium. I am just a very visual person, and it has always been something that I gravitated back to throughout the years. I ended up going to Oregon State University and went there for sports – to play soccer. It was 18 years ago that I was headed back to my senior year at school, and I got in a car accident outside of Salt Lake City. I rolled my Jeep going 75 mph. It brought me back to Denver.


I did rehab at Craig Hospital and went through that whole crazy traumatic injury. I was 21, and the whole world seemed to be caving in. I had job offers back in Denver and was pretty excited about a future. After the injuries, though, I began speaking to different groups. I had gone to the University of Colorado for Health Sciences. I helped out with their physical therapy program and people wanted to hear the story of what you had learned going through those kinds of pains. I thought it was kind of interesting to speak, but when I first got hurt I could barely move my arms. I had to deal with the injury and learned that communicating and speaking and those types of things were going to have to be focused on because they were the only skills I had left at that time.

For 10 years I donated speaking and just went by request, whether it was a high school, a kindergarten, or anything all the way through medical school. I joined an agency and traveled around doing speaking engagements at colleges and universities for 3-4 years. I’ve always come back to the idea of filmmaking. Even with my injury I started doing projects around wheelchair rugby, the sport that I now play. I’ve always come back to it. After helping other folks with their injury and sharing brave and inspirational stories, I wanted to be able to share my stories and hopefully have an impact in a positive way.

You eventually found yourself doing corporate training work and speaking engagements – all of those were a divergent from what you had originally envisioned yourself doing. Did you feel as though you had to start all over again or did you feel like it was just changing the path that you had envisioned? What was that process of switching gears like for you?

Jason Regier_Denver Post I was pretty fortunate. I had a good family friend who helped people who were in transition or looking to build job skills. She worked with me, and the first thing was outlining what I liked and what were my core skills. This is how I got to the idea of coaching/education training. I would say that corporate training was the farthest from what I was thinking when I first got hurt. I loved working with kids and coaching but the more I looked at high school teaching (I did some job shadowing) it was kind of one of the things that just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.

Then I entered corporate training and this was before I had ever taken a business course. I definitely had some mixed feelings about the corporate world. I thought it was the devil, you know? I thought I would just go and see, and actually became fascinated by business. The corporation I worked for was overly enthusiastic. They were definitely chasing a profit, so it kind of felt like a soul-less company but it had some great people. That actually made me realize that I wanted to pursue more education. I looked originally to go to film school, but I went a different route and went to business school. I felt that I needed a different angle on the storytelling to compliment the things I already knew – the shooting and technical pieces. I went back to learn about running my own business and see how I could converge that with the video/film story telling project ideas I had.

When did you get involved with wheelchair rugby? Was that something that you got involved with before you got your MBA or was it afterwards and you saw the opportunity to meld your master’s experience with what you were doing with the sport?

I actually thought about it when I was in the hospital in rehab. It was about 7-8 months later that I went out and just started playing for practice. I had been a pretty good athlete – I played at a D1 college. I didn’t know there were athletes in wheelchairs to be honest. I thought that perhaps it was just a sentimental thing for the players, but I was just blown away by the level of competition and athleticism. These guys get the most out of their bodies even though they have lost 80% function of them. They may not have full function of their hands or arms, but they can still do amazing things on the course. I started playing right away and then went back to school.

I finished business school with a MBA and MS in Marketing with a focus on entrepreneurship. I followed Murderball while they were taping it for 2.5 years. I had the background in film and video so I kept in touch with the producers and helped them with some marketing as well as just basic rugby information that they needed that they didn’t know. Then I decided to join wheelchair rugby’s national organization board to see if we could help drive some of the marketing and just get our sport out there since not many Americans know about it.

Rugby was one of the biggest impacts on my life after the injury. It gave me that physical outlet and focus. Because of this there was a real passion to see what I could do with it. Before I went to grad school I wanted to host a national championship. So, I got a board together and had 16 teams competing. The budget to film a national championship came to about $70,000, but due to people donating items and services we were able to film the national championship for $7,000! We even got someone to donate a TV truck. You get to live a few years, and when I look back at my life I always come back to the same few things that really get me going and that I am passionate about.

Yes, you can take a divergent in life, but if you are really passionate about something then it seems to re-emerge. It seems like that happened for you. Things seemed to come together in a way that worked, but I’m not sure if you felt that way when you were living it?

London 2012 Paralympics_logoYeah, the London Paralympics in 2012 was kind of where it all came together for me. Channel 4 (C4) outbid the BBC to get just the Paralympic rights for London. They had eight anchors that were on board for over four years leading up to it. They had over 400 hours of programming, and it went from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on 3 different channels. It was covered just as much as the regular Olympics.

That is wonderful! They don’t really do that over here.

No! The United States promised to improve over what they showed for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, and they didn’t. NBC produced I think 6.5 hours and it was basically a highlights package and was on a Saturday afternoon or something like that. It was a blink of the eye compared to all of the media coverage that this country is capable of putting out there. They made some strides with Sochi, though, and hope that Rio (2016) will be even better.

It’s an improvement, but not even close to what they do for the Olympics. It’s crazy. When NBC produced the Olympics they spent $1.2 billion. Yet, they weren’t even willing to spend $500,000 to produce and get the Paralympics out there. I understand the position in that America is a capitalist society. Television and all of that is based on advertisements and their ability to sell commercials. I think that is why they are leery of it, but I think they will come around in time.

I hope, because the athleticism is amazing! The competition is there, so it is just as equal of a sports event to be watching as any other Olympic event. The way they sell the Olympics here, when they broadcast it, is really through telling the athletes’ stories. Athletes competing in the Paralympics have some pretty incredible stories, so it surprises me that they don’t see it as something that would sell really well and people would watch.

Team USA_Paralympics_logoYeah. When people see wheelchair rugby, it’s a full contact sport, 4-on-4 on a basketball court in modified chairs. As a sport, and the thing I love most about it, is that it changes and challenges people’s perception of the abilities of people in wheelchairs. It is a powerful thing. With the Paralympics sports there is opportunity to break down barriers. The Olympics has always been about the world games and about all of the political issues being set aside and just being a human race. We face some challenges here in America with disabilities and the perceptions that people have.

My biggest drive was that I had spent so much time researching it and seeing what they are doing and producing. I talked a little bit to NBC Sports Network to see if we could get the Paralympics on so that everybody knows what it is and would be cheering to see it. It’s such an opportunity to break down people’s differences and see that everyone has talents – whatever they might be.

It is obviously a passion of yours to get the Paralympics to be better known and broadcasted. What were the steps taken to try and make this happen – how did you even try to tackle this when big networks were involved?

It goes back to 2000 Sydney, Australia Olympics – every wheelchair rugby game they had sold out. I had friends on the team and one of them said that they went from the Olympic village to go watch a basketball game and they got caught by fans wanting autographs and they wound up there for 2.5 hours and missed the whole game. They went from being somebody with a disability to someone who was an amateur athlete, to being all over the news and being an Olympian star athlete. It was such an amazing shift.Murderball_Movie Poster

Then Murderball was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2006, and it brought so much attention to the sport. I had a chance to compete in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and when we went to the Opening Ceremony there were 90,000 people. It was everything that you saw at the Olympics three weeks before, but you were living it. We opened up against China. We beat them pretty good in that first game, and then we wound up on the front page of an English newspaper in China. It was incredible. It was one of those things where the whole world was following you. For hours there was a focus on disabilities, and it was a huge shift just to break down those barriers.

There are a handful of topics in our country that we just ignore or sweep under the rug. We don’t put it out there or create a space for open dialogue. By doing that, people remain so uneducated about it. I really applaud you for making it a personal mission in your life to try to break down some of those barriers so that people can have a more accurate idea of what it means to live with a disability.

When Murderball came out it was a $1 million budget movie, which is small even for a documentary, but because it had some great connections it actually got the second most amount of press of any other movie next to Pirates of the Caribbean. It got a lot of notoriety. One of the producers who made it said, “We just made the best film we have ever made, it has amazing reviews, when people see it they absolutely love it, but nobody will go and watch this movie. The only thing I can figure is it is still the underbelly of society that we don’t want to acknowledge is there. We just ignore it. It’s been rated as one of the best movies but because of the topic it will just scare people away.” That was something that stuck with me. We have so many rights here in America, but our biggest challenge is people’s perceptions.

At the London Paralympics there were 4 billion viewers. NBC lost money on the London Olympics, but the Paralympics brought $72 Billion in revenue. 100 countries broadcast it. I think there were close to 10,000 Olympic athletes and the Paralympics there were over 4,000. So, there were all of these things, as well.

You have the stats on your side, too. I mean you now have not only the personal stories but also you now have hard statistics. People are proving that they do want to see it, are willing to see. It is like anything, the more you put something out there the more people become educated about it and then the more engaged they become.

Jason Regier_London 2012It has all of these different pieces and it’s like, what is the deal then? Basically, we have a marketing problem on our hands. When London knew they were going to do the London Paralympics, they set out and did an educational program. They did it in K-12. You could ask any kid and they could tell you what the Paralympics is and could name the top five British Paralympics athletes, just like Olympic athletes.

That is brilliant to start with the kids. The kids will educate their parents then.

Yeah. It should be a 2-fold process. My goal would be to have K-12 programs, so that if you ask a kid what the Paralympics is they could give you a one-sentence answer – elite athleticism for people with physical disabilities. Then having the broadcast in a way that you have created a demand before you show it. It’s hard to know if that is the way to go or if you have to show it to create the demand. That is the question.

It seems, though, that along with the Paralympics, storytelling has always been important to you. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about storytelling. Why do you like it? What does it add to your life? What does it add to the greater good?

Storytelling is what moves people to make change. If you want to make a change then you have to reach people through a story. It’s what you feel first and then what you feel makes you act or make a change. For me, I was really drawn to film and video because I love the visual aspect of storytelling. Now that I am older I just really love the power of the story. It is truly what moves folks. It is a huge challenge in today’s world. We have lowered barriers to reaching an audience but there is also so much clutter out there that it’s hard to break through. But great stories, with amazing content, can make a difference.

It’s something I struggle with – the dichotomy of the Internet where we can reach anybody we want but with that I feel like there has been a break down of interpersonal relationships and people connecting face to face. So, how do you take advantage of the Internet without losing the personal stories and the personal touch to things?

Jason Regier_competition_Jung ParkThat is a hard part. Even when you watch something on TV it is not the same as when you’ve lived it and know it. It is probably why I am so passionate about the Paralympics. I really believe that sports have a positive effect on kids on many different levels. It has allowed me to have a positive impact on the schools and communities that I have been in to talk about my experiences. It is just a real positive thing, and we could use more of it then some of the reality show BS that is out there!

So, right now you are mostly doing speaking engagements and focusing on rugby?

Yeah, I’m still deciding whether to pursue trying out for the Rio Paralympics, but I like to engage my formal education occasionally and do some marketing and training work. I’m not traveling quite as much, and I’m trying to decide if I want a job where I work for a small company. I’m still asking myself what do I want to do? But every time I go through this exercise I come back to the fact that I enjoy sports, I enjoy speaking, and I enjoy film and video.

It sounds like you have been creative in finding ways to combine those 3 things and it has taken on different iterations at different points in your life.

Rio 2016 Paralympics_logoAbsolutely. It’s one of those things where I never thought I could make a job out of coaching a game like wheelchair rugby, but some of the international coaches get paid $60-70K to do it. When people ask me if I will be playing in Rio in 2016, I tell them I will probably be there either as a player, a coach, or a producer – one of those 3!

It is wonderful that you can stay connected to it on three very different levels. Some people feel like once they can no longer compete as an athlete that they are just out of it. If it is something that has really driven you and that you love then that can be a hard thing to go through. You have really positioned yourself in a way that you can always stay connected to something you are passionate about which I think is very smart. You have approached it in a way to make sure you can keep it in your life.

Yeah, that is truly part of it. My injury has shaped my path in that it made me realize that I can’t be putting in 60-70 hours a week if I don’t care about what I am doing. I was working 50 hours a week, and it was running me down. I finally realized that the energy I do have has to be going to something that I care about. I’ve been fortunate to be able to explore some projects, and it’s hard because there is no roadmap but at the same time it is exciting because there is an opportunity to make the road. That is the benefit.

I left a full-time job three years ago and have been trying to pave my own road and it’s a struggle. I have my days where I wonder if I should just go back to an office job because I know what I’m going to get and it’s a consistent paycheck. So…it is always nice to talk to people who have been doing it, and that they continue to find ways to do it and see that it is sustainable and possible.

I love working on projects and interesting opportunities. You might call it adult ADD. If I had to do something monotonous over and over, it would probably make me hit my head against the wall.

When I heard you speak at the Create Denver event, you talked about a friend who had a job, knew that he hated it 2 weeks in, but 15 years later he is still in it. It can be frustrating to keep hitting your head against the wall, but I think a lot of people just continue to do it. I think that tends to be the model I have seen more of, compared to people who try to create something on their own.

Jason Regier_Create Denver 2013_Chapter BeYeah, I totally agree. You have a chance to create a life. If I grew up in my parents’ generation, where my mom’s choices were to be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. It was like, here are your 3 options, and that was it. Now, after going through my injury and seeing the world from a different side – being a minority and understanding some of the struggles of other disabilities, women, other countries, of all of those things. Technology is a cool thing in that it does allow opportunity to do some things that you want and takes away some barriers.

I think it is interesting how things that can be perceived as being horrible can actually turn into something that creates a much better path for you. People cite the economic downturn of 2008 as being so horrid, but I have talked to a lot of people who have said that it actually changed their life and made it way better because it forced them to do what they always wanted to do.

That right there is seeing an opportunity through a chosen viewpoint. For me it is that drive to do something different, to follow that passion and to do what you want. At the end of the day it is a hard piece because you want to be able to save some money or live in a nice place but there is also your quality of life and it is about finding that balance.

My hope is that as more people are trying to create what they want to create and, to your point, technology is allowing and helping people do that, that we will rethink the way that people work. Creating an atmosphere that allows people to choose what they want to do and make lifestyle choices instead of being forced to stay at a job because of something like health insurance.

Yeah, I think things have definitely changed to where people don’t stay in the same career path or job – you may be doing five different things, but you do them well. And that is cool!

Jason Regier_competition shot


Notes of Reflection:

  1. Events that we could chose to see as being horrible, can actually be the catalyst to push us into our life’s work. Jason went from not even knowing that there were athletes in wheelchairs to being one of the world’s top competitors. We can spend so much time worrying about what our future holds, where the truth is that we have no idea. We cannot let something unexpected throw us or ruin our lives. We have the power and ability to take that event and turn it into what we want it to be.
  2. If you are passionate about something, find a variety of ways to work with that thing. This way it never gets old and the options continue to grow. Jason has found a way to tie in rugby to his life outside of just being a player. He uses his marketing and business background as well as his own story to share what wheelchair rugby is with a wider audience. There is more than one way to attack your passion!
  3. When we are uneducated about something, our perceptions about that thing are not always right. Jason playing rugby isn’t just about his interest in playing the sport, but also about his bigger mission of change people’s perceptions of what people that are differently abled can do. In this country we tend to be so afraid of anything that is different. Yet it is these very differences that make our country and world such a beautifully diverse and interesting place. Take the time to talk to someone that is “different” then you and hear his or her story. There is so much to be learned from it.


READING LIST:

  1. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  2. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  3. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  4. Fast Company Magazine
  5. It Starts With by Sarah Peck (website)


*Images via Jung Park, Jason Regier, IMDB, Denver Post and Chapter Be

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Jason Reiger via Chapter BE | - August 28, 2014

    […] Jason’s story is one of inspiration, dedication and hard work. He continues to shape it and is allowing his journey to dictate where he goes next. Read on to learn more about his Chapter BE story. […]

Leave a Reply