Jerry Traylor didn't come to Juneau on Wednesday just to give a talk, he said. He came to change lives.
"I am free, I am thankful and I am blessed," said Traylor, leaning on the crutches that allow him to walk despite the cerebral palsy that has rendered his legs unusable since his birth. He spoke to an audience of 480 people as part of the Pillars of America Freedom Series of speeches sponsored by the Glacier Valley Rotary Club.
"You and I have to touch the world with the gifts that we have been given," he said.
Traylor, who was born in Nebraska and lives in Arizona, has run 35 marathons, climbed Colorado's 14,000-foot-high Pikes Peak three times and jogged 3,728 miles across the United States - all with the support of his crutches, his family and his friends, he said.
His crutches are his pillars - which the dictionary defines as "slender vertical structures used as support," he said. "If I did not have crutches, there would be no freedom ... With these crutches I can go forward."
Doctors performed 14 operations on Traylor during his first few years of life in Nebraska and fitted him with leg braces he wore until he was 14. When he lost the braces, he said, he felt freedom for the first time in his life.
"It was simply the lack of worrying about who I could be," he said. He learned that "It's not about circumstances. It's about what we do in those circumstances."
Traylor attended Western State College of Colorado, where he discovered his gift for motivating others while earning a degree in business administration. He began to speak to larger audiences, but soon realized he couldn't convince other people to reach their goals without setting some of his own, he said.
So he began skiing, running marathons and climbing mountains. Then he got the idea of running across the United States.
"My friends, if I can run all the way across this country on these crutches, just think about what you can do," he told the audience while running across the Centennial Hall floor, demonstrating his below-10-minute-mile pace.
Audience members, including more than 150 students who attended thanks to scholarships provided by Rotary Club members and local businesses, said they were inspired by Traylor.
"I've always had goals," said Eric Jacodski, a resident of the Miller House, a residential treatment center for youths with emotional and behavioral disorders. "Now I know that I can make them happen."
Scott McPherson, who attended the luncheon in a wheelchair, said the speech was "very inspirational."
"The most important thing is that you need to make do with what you have," he said.
The final speaker in this year's Pillars of America Freedom Series is Diana Nyad, an athlete and journalist who completed the longest recorded swim in history. The luncheon will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 7.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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