By Buck Latta
My name is Buck Latta. I am a 45-year-old man of faith, a husband, father and Colorado native. I am a laid-back person that enjoys good company and likes to be physically active. I believe people are good, and that it is our mission to pull the best out of people as much as humanly possible. Despite having only one arm I LOVE to ski and really enjoy golf and cooking. I am also a pretty talented musician, coach and car washer. Oh, and I am an automobile fanatic!
I met my wife through a work friend (her brother), and although he’s a really good guy, I NEVER thought I’d meet my future wife through him. I was talked into going out to the bar with them, despite already having had way too much to drink. Although it was neither of our styles, we ended up being the sloppy-drunk-kissing-couple at the bar! Gross… but that was all it took. We dated for about a year and got married soon after. About two years later we had our daughter, Kiera, who is now 13 and two years after that had our son, Flynn, who is 11.
I was a gifted 18-year-old athlete who had just been offered a college football scholarship and had plans to study medicine. On 1/25/1992 I had a horrific ski accident. I was Flight for Life’d to the hospital where after 24 hours of surgery I was facing the loss of my left arm. Six months later I had another 25 hours of surgery in an attempt to regain some use of my arm. I lived the next 20 years of life with my arm in a sling. Unfortunately, I then hit another tree while skiing with my family, which led to the amputation of my left arm above the elbow.
At age 18 I was emotionally devastated! What I feared most was not being able to physically do things as well as before the accident. I cried… a lot! But my mom, who also laid the foundation of my faith, helped me to know that the God I met in the near-death experience at Vail also had a larger plan for me. My friends also played a pivotal role in my emotional recovery as they never stopped treating me any differently than before my accident. They kept me laughing at myself and reinforced the fact that life is much more enjoyable when you don’t take yourself so seriously! Dealing with the physical part of my injury was easy for me, although very painful. When able-bodied people know you have a disability, they often don’t expect much. That attitude was my cue to start spreading some amazement wherever I went! The same went for when I finally had my amputation because I didn’t have a sling to hide behind anymore. If I had to sum up my philosophy, I would echo a comment I hear often, “You just have such an incredible attitude.” Attitude IS everything, and luckily, I chose to look at life as how I CAN instead of how I CAN’T. But that is a whole other Oprah…
The other major hurdle, which I was honestly pretty apprehensive about, came before we had our kids. Being an athletic person, I had dreamed of tossing my kids up in the air, hearing them laugh and giggle. And if I’m honest with myself, it’s still hard for me when I see other parents do that with their kids. But even basic things like changing a diaper or soothing a crying baby worried me. What if I were home alone with the baby? What if I couldn’t care for her at all? What if I dropped our baby? But my wife, Cammie, assured me that we would figure it all out. What I didn’t know was that my wife was even more clever than I thought!
While at home she would practice taking care of Kiera with only one hand. I never even knew until one day when I was trying to get our baby, Kiera, out of her crib she rolled over into my hand so I could pick her up. I told Cammie, all excited, that Kiera was some kind of super baby, only to have her tell me she had been practicing with her since birth. I have been lucky to have quite a few “God moments” in my life, but that was one of the most profound ones! But despite my fears, and even though it often took a little bit more time, I did end up figuring it out with the kids.
One of the best things about babies is that they only know what you teach them. My kids grew up learning how to adapt to my situation which was beautiful and sometimes pretty funny. For example, we often did the SOOO Big game where you teach them to raise their hands when you say sooo big. Well, when Cammie would say it, the kids would only raise their right arm, just like Dad did! But that has been a life lesson in our house that we still talk about, especially as our kids get older. Teaching them how to treat me can be frustrating, but it’s necessary.
Physically my biggest challenges are pain and physical exhaustion. Many people are actually surprised when they discover my disability because I physically don’t act disabled. But physically operating at 120% plus the regular pain I endure are incredibly draining, both physically and emotionally. As a dad It is also challenging for me to show my kids how to do things two-handed. I try to explain it, but all they see is me doing it one handed. I have to slow down, break it down step-by-step, and then at some point, the light goes on. I also don’t really like being helped. I have learned, however, that by asking the kids to help me with things, it makes them feel good as well as giving them the opportunity to try stuff out they wouldn’t have normally. For instance, both of my kids have learned to cook because I let them assist me. Was I leery of handing them a knife to chop stuff up? Sure. And, yes, we’ve had to use a few band-aids, but that’s life, right? We fall down to learn how to get back up.
Grievances: Hmm. I would say the biggest one is when people stare- and I’m not talking about kids. We are talking grown-ass adults! Like I tell my kids, if you are really interested, just ask politely. Which reminds me of another big challenge… trying to be kind to dumb people. The struggle is real!
One of my greatest joys is understanding how living with a disability has so positively affected my kids. I believe they are more loving, kinder and gentler, more respectful and have higher standards for themselves and others because they have lived with a dad with a disability.
Fears is a tough one. I would say I constantly fear that I am not living up to who I am meant to be. Coming to terms with the fact that God has given me an opportunity to do great things with my life has been incredibly empowering, but it also weighs on me heavily. I struggle the most with the guilt that I am somehow wasting such a gift. Another big one is how worried my kids get about me. If I ever get sick, or sprain an ankle, or get hurt in any situation they get pretty terrified. Recently I’ve had some issues surrounding my mental state, and my kids can get really upset and worry that something really bad is going to happen. It’s important for me to talk with them when things happen and ask them questions to understand why they are upset. I try to work with them to help us both be better. Kids are so amazing, especially when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with them.
Physically I’m mostly affected by exhaustion, but I do worry about my long-term physical state. I was pretty hard on my body growing up; I have broken almost two thirds of my bones. I am no doubt facing some tough physical times as I age. More recently I learned that the 15-plus concussions I sustained in my youth have left me with some mental deficits. These are so much harder than anything I have dealt with previously! They affect my mood and my memory. But unlike the physical I can’t always tell when things are out of whack and that can be pretty frightening. I just can’t effort through it like I can with my physical deficits, and that can be pretty defeating because I often feel more lost than when I started.
I think, just like everyone, I feel most supported when people bother to actually get to know me and what I am dealing with. People with disabilities have more “obvious” challenges, but I believe everybody is dealing with something. We all have to take it one day at a time. We all want to be heard, understood and validated. One of the most fulfilling things I do is volunteer in hospitals and within the amputee community. Sitting down with people facing catastrophic life changes is so powerful. I remember that when your life as you knew it is taken away, and all you know is bad news, grief and crying, simply being able to laugh again can win that day. I understand how important it is to have someone ask you about something other than your current situation, reminding you that there is a lot more about life that still awaits you. It’s also the constant reminder that it can always be worse. When you think your problems are so bad and life can’t get any worse, perspective is such a gift if you are open to it.
I want people to understand that those of us with disabilities have to try REALLY hard to lead a normal life. So, in turn, try a little harder to be your best self when you are around someone with a disability. Smile and say “Hi”, be observant to what they most often may or may not need, give an honest compliment, and be kind and gracious. Ask for their name first before asking what happened. Recognize that there is an incredible person with an incredible story in front of you. Treat them accordingly.
I want to give mad props to the spouses and kids of those with disabilities. Like their counterparts, they face some rather daunting times in helping, supporting and living with someone with a disability. We disabled folks usually get the attention, but if anyone needs to be asked how they are doing, it is the family.