Posted by cservaes on March 12, 2012 in "The College"
Kevin Waterhouse can still fly airplanes. It’s different now, sure. He uses his hands to steer the rudders instead of his feet. Landing and takeoffs are more difficult. But it’s still flying.
When he was a kid, Waterhouse, a junior at Ottawa University, planned to join the Air Force. He wanted to become an experimental aircraft pilot, flying the SR-71 Blackbird or the F-117 Nighthawk. He thought maybe he’d be a flight instructor someday. “My plan was to be a career pilot whether militarily, commercially or both,” says Waterhouse. Waterhouse’s plans changed, though, when he was paralyzed from the chest down his senior year of high school. He and some friends were involved in a car accident. One of them died. His paralysis changed his life, but it hasn’t prevented him from flying. As a matter of fact, it hasn’t stopped him from doing much at all — not hunting, fishing, camping and certainly not attending college. He’s even training for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “I was paralyzed from the chest down. All I can do is make the best of my life,” he says. “I’ve done more in this chair than most people do out of it." Waterhouse graduated high school on time. He finished his school work from a hospital bed and managed to do so, thanks to a teacher. Which explains why Waterhouse has traded in his dreams of being a pilot for dreams of becoming a math teacher. “I want to teach at a rural school,” he says. “I’m not going to be rich.” Even after all Waterhouse, an Ottawa Tribe member, has been through, he never has wasted time wondering, “Why me?” He gets down on himself. He struggles every now and then. But his parents raised him to be strong, he says. “It was a complete redirection of what I was going to do,” says Waterhouse. And when Waterhouse does get down on himself, he says he remembers his love for airplanes and has used it to conjure up a recipe for success. “I use what I call the AIR Philosophy,” he says. “The A is for Accountability. It’s nobody else’s fault that I’m here. By taking ownership of that, it allows me to move past it. Independence. No matter how constrained you are, be as independent as possible. And Reason. No matter what it is, everyone has to find their reason to get out of bed every morning. Whatever it is, learn what it is and use it.” Waterhouse can still identify an airplane by the sound of its engine. That hasn’t changed. But he has. Paralysis has made him into a different person, he says. A better, stronger person. “My chair doesn’t define me,” he says. “It’s a tool to help me reach people.” Since coming to OU, Waterhouse has started an archery club. Additionally, he is getting to know students and wants to help people with his story. And when he graduates, Waterhouse says he wants to continue helping people. He wants to be a living example to people that challenges, like paralysis, are just challenges. Nothing more. Nothing less. And even if you’re grounded by a wheelchair, Waterhouse knows you can still fly. “I believe things happen for a reason. The challenges in life are an opportunity,” he says. “I’m just an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances.”