230 – Bonner Paddock Rinn of Laguna Beach, CA Founder of Project Possible, Ironman Triathlete with CP & NYTs Best Selling Author
Our guest this week is Bonner Paddock Rinn of Laguna Beach, CA, founder of Project Possible, the first person with Cerebral Palsy to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro and to complete the Ironman distance triathlon, a New York Times best selling author of the book One More Mile, founder of Spark – launching poverty fighting ventures that open the door of possibility. He was featured in the documentary film Beyond Limits, narrated by the actor Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), depicting Bonner’s successful summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We’ll hear Bonner’s inspiring story on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Website – https://www.projectpossible.org
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/bonner-paddock-rinn-95086b5/#experience
One More Step (book) – https://www.amazon.com/One-More-Step-Kilimanjaro-Surviving/dp/0062295586/ref=sr_1_1?crid=190EXPIPU91GQ&keywords=bonner+paddock&qid=1669956550&s=books&sprefix=bonner+paddock%2Cstripbooks%2C134&sr=1-1
Beyond Limits (movie) – https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Limits-Jayson-Dilworth/dp/B005ILZ0N8
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at HorizonTherapeutics.com.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Love your child for where they’re at. See the beauty in exactly where they are. That is a beautiful, special person there that’s gifted into your life, and it’s up to you to figure out what those gifts are each day and see the beauty in those. Cuz there’s gonna be great challenge. I know that. I understand the divorce rate is so much higher. I know there’s so many other challenges that go on with raising a disabled child. But do your best to try to love yourself, and love your loved ones where they’re at.
Tom Couch: That’s Bonner Paddock Rinn, a New York Times bestselling author, an Ironman triathlete and founder of Spark – launching poverty fighting ventures that open the door of possibility. Bonner was born with cerebral palsy and he’s our guest on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to The Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.”
Tom Couch: So let’s listen now to this conversation between David Hirsch and Bonner Paddock Rinn.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Bonner Paddock Rinn of Laguna Beach, California, founder of Project Possible, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling book, One More Step, an Ironman triathlete, and someone who has cerebral palsy. Bonner, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Thanks for having me.
David Hirsch: Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I was born and raised in Southern California. Bounced between Arcadia and Mission Viejo area. And growing up, parents divorced, separated when I was young, about seven or eight. And then most interesting thing, I absolutely love soccer still to this day. So soccer is my sport. My jam.
David Hirsch: Okay. And did you have siblings growing up?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I do. I have two older brothers, Matt and Mike. Eight and three years older.
David Hirsch: Okay. And I know we’re gonna get into it in a little bit bigger way, but there were some complications around the time that you were born and just as a flag, what were those?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, during the birthing process, the umbilical cord got wrapped around my neck a couple times according to those that were actually there that remember. [laughing] So obviously the critical time that it took to get me out of the birth canal and get that untangled and try to get oxygen to the brain was the time that the cerebral palsy happened.
David Hirsch: Okay, fair enough. Back to growing up, I’m curious to know what does your dad do for a living?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: My dad was the civil engineer for the Metropolitan Water District or the MWD. He learned and created ways to mass move water across the Western United States.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I wish we had more time to talk about that because I know that going forward is gonna be a really important issue as the years and decades go.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: It will be worth more than oil before we know it.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. And I know California, Southern California in particular, is probably gonna be a leader as it relates to the use of water, just because of the population and all the growth that you guys have experienced.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: 100%.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: My relationship with my dad is one of my most treasured relationships because he and I’s journey together and separately have been a very beautiful way to show that through forgiveness, honesty, and accountability, we can absolutely work through anything with anybody else if both parties are willing.
So for me, it’s been that number one relationship that through love and through continuing to have these difficult conversations and sharing emotional stuff… Emotional vulnerability is very difficult for men, and so with my dad and I, we’ve been able to really get to a point where for both of us, we feel safe to do that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I think it’s wonderful that you have that perspective because I suspect if we were to go back and look at your life from this age to that age to another age and I ask you the same question, you might not have the same answer.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: 100%. My dad and I have touched all aspects from not talking for a long time to the best relationship we’ve ever had is currently. So it’s a beautiful thing.
David Hirsch: Yeah. We’ll dive into it. So I’m wondering if there’s any important takeaways when you think about the relationship with your dad, lessons learned, something you’ve tried to incorporate into your own life.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah. Ultimately it is allowing what I call surrender and letting things go. At some juncture once they’ve been addressed and they’ve been talked about, it’s up to myself to let the things happen that go in the past. And realization that helped me get to that point was taking that experience that I had in childhood and as a young adult that carried a lot of anger and everything towards him, I had to realize that he was doing the best he could with what he knew and what he knew how to do. And I think that is something that many of us don’t take, and I know I didn’t for most of my life take that into consideration when trying to work through a past challenge or in a relationship of things that happened in the past. And getting to that point is a great way to love somebody for where they’re at and honor that they truly were trying the best they could, knowing what they knew and what they had available to them.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Great insight. Thank you. So I’m thinking about other influencers and I’m wondering what if any relationship or influence your grandfather’s had, first on your dad’s side and then on your mom’s side.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, on my dad’s side, I never got to meet my grandfather. He passed away when, I think my dad was around 19, 20? So my dad was even young when he lost his father. And then, my grandfather on my mom’s side was very influential and was definitely the male, one of the strong male influences in my life growing up, cuz my dad was not around much.
David Hirsch: And he’s the one that you referred to as your Bampa, if I remember.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, Bampa. So my older brother could not say grandma and grandpa, so it turned into Bama and Bampa. Bama was my grandma, and Bampa was my grandfather. And he was one tough man. Extremely tough man. So growing up with him and a father that was very different taught me a lot of interesting dynamics in what is or isn’t a healthy masculine in your life. And so I think I learned a lot of different types of masculine in my life and have had to go on that journey myself to learn what a healthy masculine is for me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s another thing we have in common was our maternal grandfathers and the strong influence that they played on our lives. Thank God for grandfathers. Not everybody is blessed to know them, let alone have an adult relationship. Because my recollection was that he lived into his nineties, right?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah. Just short of his 91st birthday. About a month short.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Any other father figures, men who played an influential role as you were growing up?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah. Our next door neighbor in Arcadia, he had twin boys and an older daughter. And his name was Mr. Clark. And so during that first part of when my parents separated, he was that kind of father that I think I had a made up in my mind that I really wanted. He was good at athletics, would shoot the basketball with his kids, play baseball, had the enthusiasm for sports like I did and everything. So I think I gave him an idyllic nature right out of the gate and almost pedestalled him and wanted to really be included in that family.
So there was a very interesting dynamic there. They were very nice to include me in a lot of things. They could see that I was very much looking for that father figure in my life and wasn’t getting it at home or in my family the way that I was hoping for or looking for. And he gave a big part of that, that he was able to meet that while just being a neighbor and friend and I became good friends with his twin boys.
David Hirsch: Is that a relationship you still maintain then?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: No, unfortunately, being very disconnected from my feelings for a long time and not allowing people close, it was something which was mainly an abandonment trigger. Not letting people too close to me because of what I felt my experience was, that juncture was those people close to me would abandon me at some juncture in my life. So I wouldn’t let people close to me growing up.
David Hirsch: Wow. We could probably have a whole session just on that. [laughing]
Bonner Paddock Rinn: [laughing] Absolutely. 100%.
David Hirsch: Okay we’ll let that go. My recollection was that you took a BS in business management at San Diego State University, and I’m wondering where did your career take you from there?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Went into corporate America right outta the gate. Worked for a couple fortune I think at least 1000 companies. They kind of ebb and flow. I think they’re both Fortune 500 companies now. Didn’t enjoy the massive corporate structure at all. Felt there was something else that I wanted to chase. So through a mutual friend moved into the marketing world and more of the business negotiation and activation world. So I moved into the sports industry. And absolutely loved it and thrived in that for a good long time in my career. And then ultimately finished up as the Senior Vice President of marketing and activation for a huge wine and spirits company out here in the west.
David Hirsch: Let’s give a little attribution because my recollection was not that last company, but a company or so before that, you worked for the Anaheim Ducks, which has gotta be really exciting.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, it was awesome. That was probably one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. It was a ton of work, but it was absolutely a great environment. The new owners had just bought it from Disney during the lockout and then the owner really treated it like he wanted to win that cup. And sure enough, the second year I was there, we won the Stanley Cup and got to drink from it. I still have a Stanley Cup ring. That was just awesome. And it was fun to come in and just build an organization like that almost from the ground up, cuz Disney had not invested much into it during the lockout and while it was for sale. It was basically almost like a new… we treated it like a new franchise that was awarded and grew it from there with a very well financially backed owner and an owner that gave big to the community. So it was a really nice combination to be part of that.
David Hirsch: Do you do anything with your ring outta curiosity?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: It’s actually with a good friend’s son who is actually a phenomenal hockey player that plays for the Junior Ducks. He’s the keeper of the ring while I live abroad in other countries and stuff like that. He actually has it. His son’s name is Case. And so my buddy’s name is Brad. And so Case is the keeper of the ring.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. We again, we could have more conversations about this. All five of our kids played hockey, including the three girls. And so we’re a hockey family. And I just learned recently that there’s underwater hockey, which I didn’t even know existed.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I did not know that either. [laughing]
David Hirsch: I was in the Cayman Islands and one of our neighbors there said, oh, you want to come on Wednesday night and play underwater hockey with us? I thought they were just joking. And apparently this is a thing. YouTube “underwater hockey.” You’ll be like, oh my God, I didn’t know that existed.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I had no idea.
David Hirsch: Okay. Let’s talk about the world of special needs first on a personal level and then beyond. And I know your story pretty well and it’s not traditional, I’ll just say that. The circumstance that you made reference to earlier about your birth and being deprived of oxygen… not uncommon, when something like that happens. And fortunately or unfortunately, cerebral palsy is not one thing, it’s like a broad range of things, right, depending on the level of oxygen deprivation, if it was even result of that. It could be something totally unrelated. And there was this sort of uncertainty about your development and I’m wondering if you can share with our listeners what that was like from the time that you can remember. You knew that there was something different, but you didn’t know why.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, absolutely. From my experience and what I recall is that we as a family never really talked about it at all. So it wasn’t like we got around in a huddle one night at the kitchen table and said, okay, nobody talk about that. It was a different type of secret. It was just an unspoken secret. It was just like something we just didn’t talk about.
And I think part of the reason was because there was major confusion for the first 10, 11 years of my life, of even what I had because our family doesn’t… at least my experience was our family doesn’t really like to talk about things or take ’em head on. So it’s how do we ignore ’em? How do we brush ’em aside? How do we pretend that they’re not there? And when that happens, when you willingly, knowingly are tripping and falling and getting teased at school because of the way you walk and your legs are considerably skinnier than I would say most kids, and there’s lack of muscle development in the legs, there’s obviously kind of the giant elephant in the room. And the lack there of the talk made me really feel like there was something majorly wrong with me. So maybe if we just don’t talk about it, maybe he won’t think it’s as bad as it is or whatever. That’s the story I made up in my head. They reference it as that they decided because I was doing so well that they really didn’t want it to get in my head that I had a disability.
But we were misdiagnosed till 11 years old. So there’s just a whole confluence of confusion, lack of abilities to talk about things. And once I was able to look at that and say, wow, no wonder why I felt like there was something majorly wrong with me that I didn’t feel like I was equal. It gave me a major complex when we looked at it and I labeled myself that I’m not as good as others. So I constantly had this stubbornness and mule will to do as much as I possibly could in the avenues that I was maybe “excelling” in, because that was the only way I felt like I got any type of attention growing up.
That’s what I deemed is the way to get “love” from my family and get recognized. So knowing that everybody else had their own journey and really understanding that they had their own world that they had to take care of and manage and everything else, I took it as the youngest and everything else, so therefore, a lot of the challenges the family had with the divorce and separation and everything else, I took it as a lot of that might have been my fault because I was the youngest child.
So I carried a lot of anger, frustration to that and had major temper tantrums, including in sports, which I was really good at sports. So when I get scored on as goalie and everything like that, it was like, my life “ended,” like that was the end of anything. I wasn’t gonna get the attention that I wanted and desperately was hoping to get through that.
Very unique, I would say, in that aspect while still maintaining that there are many people out there that were trying to get attention and the love that they wanted in the avenues that they figured out. And that’s just a survival mechanism that we all do as kids to try to get our needs met. And that’s the way I built my world to try to survive and per se, thrive in that space that I thought was my canvas of growing up.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. You didn’t use the word denial, but at some level it seems like there was some level of denial about the reality of your situation.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: 100%. 100.%
David Hirsch: And, if you look back on anything, it’s not all good, it’s not all bad, but it has some hair on it. Maybe a lot of hair on it. And you can’t change the past which is, I think what I heard you talking about. But one of the things that I do remember was that I think when you were nine there was a doctor that diagnosed you, misdiagnosed you, I should say.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, at 11.
David Hirsch: So why don’t you pick up from there and go forward.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: The final doctor that mom said that she… and I don’t remember any of this, so this is all stuff that came mainly from my mom. My dad wasn’t around, my parents were already separated. What I understand from her is that they finally threw a myriad of doctors, which they didn’t… I didn’t go to doctors all the time. It was like when someone noticed something, then mom would almost just make, not an assumption, but she’d ask a question of what I thought or what the doctor thought I might have, but never ran tests, never did anything truly to diagnose any of these things that the doctors said I might have, based on their short limited viewpoint that they had in that moment.
But finally, two doctors just threw out syringomyelia. My mom said that, okay, if two of these doctors finally said something that she recalls is similar, then that’s probably what I have. But it wasn’t, again, never talked about it, never told me about it. Never really recall any conversations like that happening.
So yeah, according to her, it was syringomyelia until meeting Dr. Arnold Star when I was 11.
David Hirsch: And from my recollection, he was the head of neurology at UC Irving and was like a test-based person, right? He wasn’t like an opinion-based situation. And I’m wondering was that the beginning that allowed you, your mom, your family, to more clearly understand what the circumstances were?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yes, in some ways. For sure, for her, because he was the one that actually insisted on having a CT scan, MRI, like a myriad of tests because he was very perplexed because I was high functioning. But just having that diagnosis through medical actual exams and everything else, I think gave a big peace to my mom and then comfort that at least we have a way to approach it now. So it just immediately stepped into a ton of physical therapy starting around my 11th birthday.
David Hirsch: And was that a turning point as far as your physical development and knowing that you needed to do something, be a little bit more intentional about your physical development? This is a lower body issue for you, isn’t it?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, the official diagnosis is spastic diplegia of the lower half. So primarily it is my legs that are affected and lower back, so everything below my lower back is where the CP resonates in me. I hated it as a kid all of a sudden having to go to physical therapy most days after school. But looking back, it made a massive difference in my development, in my abilities, flexibility, strengthening, and just general understanding of stretches that I need to do for the rest of my life, basically. And so there’s a great apprehension on my end. There’s a lot of shame, but I had an insatiable drive that most parents and most people commented that would leave most people in the dust. The willingness and desire to be great at things and to not lose was a huge factor of me growing up.
David Hirsch: You didn’t use the word competitive, but that’s what I think of when somebody says, I hate to lose.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I would say it’s hyper-competitive, [laughing] which I think is going down the unhealthy side of competitive. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive. The ability and the way I lost and the way that I handled that was just a straight up very unhealthy way. And I understand why people did not wanna be my teammate growing up. I was good, really good, but the attitude and everything that came with it isn’t worth it. And that’s what a lot of coaches told my parents and everything else like that was that he’s fantastic at what he does at mainly a goalkeeper in soccer. And I was a shooting guard in basketball. And I was a pitcher and catcher in baseball. But the attitude wasn’t worth putting up with the good talent that came out on the field as well.
David Hirsch: Okay. Thank you for your transparency. I’m sure it’s taken a lot to put all that in perspective, right?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah.
David Hirsch: To look back and say that these are some of the issues that I was dealing with and for good or bad, this is your reality.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, I think it was a lot of shame for a long time. And I read a great book about that called Healing the Shame That Binds You. And it’s a fantastic book. It’s a very confronting book, but it’s got exercises in it and everything else. And through my internal deep dives that I’ve been doing to continue to try to grow, that book was a huge turning point for me in terms of understanding my shame and not hating myself for it and not continuing to hold that over my own head and learning how to release a lot of that shame and be okay and comfortable with the actions that I did and maybe the reasons why I did them. And there’s a lot of comfort that comes with that and a lot of relief.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. That’s certainly worth checking out. Healing the Shame That Binds You.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yep.
David Hirsch: So let’s fast forward a little bit. It wasn’t until you were a young adult and you got involved with the United Cerebral Palsy Organization there in Orange County. And I’m wondering if you can recall what was it that motivated you to engage?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah. The two major things that kind of motivated me to engage in that was, one was, for my recollection, it was the first time when I applied for the Ducks job that I actually put on my application that I had cerebral palsy. So that was a major step, and thinking that I was probably gonna not get the job just for merely putting that on there. At least that’s a story or narrative I made up in my head.
And then the second one was that it was in the middle of the NHL lockout in 2004, 2005. And so the owners of the Ducks, the Samuelis, Henry and Susan, would do these monthly update talks on what’s going on in the lockout and that type of thing. And it was mainly just for the whole organization. Get together with everybody and just hang out and have a breakfast. My first breakfast in the organization was, he was up there with Susan and they just encouraged us because he is not cutting jobs. He didn’t cut our pay, he didn’t do any of those things. So he said, we always look at these opportunities to give back more in the community. Join an organization that you feel passionate about with the extra time that we all have during the lockout.
And so that resonated a lot. That wow, okay. And it was the new job and the gungho attitude. So I was like, okay, they know who I am. They know I’ve got CP, they hired me. Now’s the opportunity to maybe go explore and begin actually talking about CP and learning actually what I even have. Because back then we didn’t talk about it. So even at 29 years old, it’s like a lot of fear, a lot of hesitation to still talk about it. Even though I wrote it on an application, I didn’t have a party with a banner that says “I have CP” or anything like that back then.
So it’s like, how do I basically begin to ease into that? Back then, I didn’t really do good job of easing into anything. I apparently like jumping off into the deep end headfirst. So as usual, that’s what I did with joining UCP and everything else. And it was quite a plunge that I was not ready for at all.
David Hirsch: Yeah. My recollection was that you spoke, I think it was a speech or something that you gave, that sort of brought you out of the closet, if I can use that phrase.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yep.
David Hirsch: And things really transpired in a way that you could not have imagined.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, I just literally went online and just typed in “cerebral palsy orange county” and UCP of Orange County popped up. And so I literally looked at the executive director and just called him and just left a message and just said what my name was and that I work at the Ducks and that I have cerebral palsy and I’m interested in volunteering at your organization. So then he called back and set up a time to talk and he asked a lot more questions.
And it was interesting because that was the first time that I really sat down with someone and really had someone ask questions. And it comes from the area of understanding disabilities. And there was a lot of things I didn’t know, but just my general overall story about playing soccer and some of the things we’ve talked about today. He was just floored about where I was in my career, what I was doing, what I was able to do. And so he set up a lunch and we had a lunch. And said the same kind of story, and then they invited me to the next board meeting to come in and meet all the board members. And that’s how the whole path opened up in that world of getting involved within the disabled community. Up until then, nothing. Zero. Nothing.
David Hirsch: That’s pretty amazing, right? You went dormant for the first 29 years of your life and then all of a sudden, you’re like making up for lost ground, if you will. And was Steve Roberts at that meeting or how did you meet him?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, Steve Roberts was at that meeting and was part of the UCP board, so that was my first interaction. And as it happened there was only one seat open and so they just invited me into the board meeting. Everybody was already there and I was invited just to be for 10 minutes of the board meeting, if I recall, or something like that. So they were already in the middle of their board meeting and the chair was next to Steve Roberts. I ended up sitting next to him and he really just gave me his card and introduced me, but not really say much at all because they were in the middle of the meeting and I pretty much spoke for 99% of the time of that space that they gave me. So I met him, definitely recall it. He handed me his card, but that’s about really all of our interaction was that day.
David Hirsch: And my recollection was he ended up doing some running event that he was involved with. And you had this, what I think of is, shared values bonding experience which forever changed your life.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah. One immediately and one six months later, moments with him changed my life.
One was the next morning. I came into the office and there was an email from him. I gave everybody on the board my card, and so he had sent me an email that night and just said that he had told his wife about me coming in and speaking to them. And that just hearing my story gave him and his family hope for their son, Jakey.
I think he said that he was four years old in the email, I don’t recall exactly. But thank you for me coming in and being honest and sharing my story, and that was powerful. I cried at my computer screen at my desk. That was obviously the first time I’d have really been open and honest about that in a large group like that of 14 or so people.
So nervous, scared in that, and then to get that reception later from somebody was wow. So we were one of the recipients of funds for the Orange County Marathon that year, which was January, six months later. So Steve and I, he was doing the full marathon. I was gonna do the half. That was where I met Jakey for the first time in person.
So they were all at the start line. A bunch of ’em were there to wish Steve good luck on his first ever marathon attempt. And so I was just there, half marathon, never trained, everything else, but just again, gung-ho, excited to be on the board. So Steve, again, instant connection after that email, felt safe with him. Felt like I could talk about CP and not have to pretend like I knew everything, which I knew almost nothing about CP. And yeah, we just spent the next probably two, three hours together, running that. And by then once people meet him, he’s just got this dynamic, hilarious personality. So he convinced me to go to our water station, which was on the full marathon course, not the half marathon. So I ended up going 16.1 miles. [laughing] And what I didn’t know, what he told me later on was he was struggling with connecting with his son like his two older sons that were older than Jakey, because they were very good at sports, very active and Jakey couldn’t walk or talk or communicate with his eyes or anything else so far at four and a half. So he was really struggling with how to connect with his son, really struggling on how to understand what his son is maybe going through, what he is trying to say, what his experience is. And what I didn’t know on that marathon course is he was really trying to learn maybe that it might be something roughly or similar to the general things that I was experiencing with my CP and maybe frustrations and everything, pains and tightness and those types of stuff.
So for him, it was deeply connecting as well, which I didn’t know. And then, Jakey passed away that night and so it was this just confluence of less than 24 hours of going from a higher high with him and everything in that experience to one of the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced, and obviously that they experienced. And watching them, that pain that they felt and had and mine as well, was definitely one of the lowest points of my life for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah, very sad to hear about Jake’s short life, but I guess that was the foundation, right, for a lot of the energy that you were able to rebottle and redirect and some pretty amazing things. And I’m wondering what was it that took you from that experience to starting what was originally the One Man Foundation, which is now called Project Possible?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yeah, it was the single culminating experience of not gonna really talk about my disability to springboarding it to, wow, I actually have a gift and the gift is my legs and my arms and my speech, things that Jakey didn’t have. So it was absolutely an earth shattering view of my cerebral palsy. Still took a long time to work through all of it, but at least in terms of the general direction it made a snap 90-degree turn and was like, I’m gonna spend the rest of my life trying to do something for all these other Jakeys in the world so that I don’t have to watch another family experience that pain that I saw them have because it was brutal to watch that and go to that funeral and everything else. So it really did springboard everything that I pretty much do now and my approach to life.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey, will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: So it was OMF Global, now Project Possible, which is a not-for-profit organization that you do all these positive things in and crazy things in which is your life. There’s so many things I want to dive into. I want talk about your experience climbing Kilimanjaro. I want to talk about your Hawaii Ironman experience. I wanna talk about the book One Step. So why don’t we just tackle ’em in that order? What in the world motivated you, a young adult with CP and obviously a more mild case of CP than many families experience. But still, you have some real physical challenges, right? And they have to do with your legs. And I don’t know how high Kilimanjaro is, but it’s considered one of the tallest mountains in the world and a bucket list item for many people. So what was it that said, that’s what I want to do?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Kilimanjaro encapsulated a lot of the things that scare me. I don’t have balance. I have obviously weak legs. I have tightness in my legs. Going long periods of time exercising is difficult for me with the cramping of the muscles and then the tearing of muscles and it is harder to recover obviously for those that do have CP and have loved ones that have CP. It’s much slower recovery for us as well, as we use three to five times the energy the natural human body does every day just living, doing normal things cuz of the tightness in the muscles. So Kilimanjaro presented that lovely adventure that would be like, I thought would be pushing a lot of the limits that I already had placed on myself, mostly on my legs and my balance and long-term goals of an eight-day climb and those types of things. So it really pushed my limits and areas that I wanted to grow in.
David Hirsch: I read your account of that experience, and the only word that comes to mind is “grueling.” What a grueling experience it was. It’s just unbelievable. I can’t even imagine the feeling you must have had to make it up there with most of the people that started, not all of them, but with most of the people that started and then have that to look back on and say, never say never. The level of self-confidence I think that you get from setting a goal, working toward the goal, accomplishing the goal, and then knowing that’s something you will always be able to use as a reference point.
[Excerpt from the film “Beyond Limits”]
Bonner: I don’t see how there’s any way I’m making it to the top if I’m this tired already.
Kilimanjaro is a tough climb. But for me, it’ll be tougher with cerebral palsy. I think it’s gonna be a much more difficult challenge than for someone that’s “normal.”
Narrator: This is Bonner Paddock. Bonner developed cerebral palsy when he was deprived of oxygen during birth. To climb Kilimanjaro, he will hurdle through an oxygen-thin challenge of his own creation.
Interviewer: When you get to the top, is there someone in particular you’ll be thinking about?
Bonner: Jake was a little boy that had CP. I ended up running with Jake’s dad. I got the call that he had died in his sleep, and I just told myself right then and there that I was gonna do everything and the rest of my life that this would never happen to another kid
Narrator: Beyond Limits.
[End of excerpt from the film “Beyond Limits”]
It wasn’t too long after you did the Kilimanjaro climb, or maybe the movie came out, I should say, that the seed gets planted that you’re gonna attempt one of the hardest races on the planet. And most people have to qualify to participate in Ironman Hawaii, the World Championship. But apparently you decided to forego that just because of your personality and maybe took a charity spot and just said, I’m taking the plunge. But at least you trained right? You took it more respectfully.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I was an Oakley athlete for nine years, and so Oakley, actually, Greg Welch worked at Oakley. And so they took that MCD documentary Beyond Limits to Greg Welch and said, this guy wants to attempt it. Would you at least have a lunch with him? And so he tried to scare me out of it, which was hilarious. He knew that there was a point in the documentary that, as he called it, I balked on the mountain and then we figured out it was probably somewhere around 17,000 feet or something. And he said, most people never even get up and get in the ambulance when you balk, and so he said, somehow you got up and you actually made it all the way to the summit and down. So he said, you would never give up if I coached you and everything. So he ended up training me and coaching me for almost two years.
David Hirsch: Yeah. If you had to share something about your Ironman experience that would encapsulate the training and the experience itself, the race itself, what would it be?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: The main difference between Kilimanjaro World Record and Ironman World Record is I actually started to accept my body for as it is, and I started to accept my CP for what it is. It really helped me go within myself and better understand who I am as a person to work through the things that I needed to, specifically to complete that pretty interesting, we’ll call it interesting, race. So it uses every muscle and everything in your body. I think it really just taught me to really understand more delicacies and intricacies with my body, what I needed to focus on to get stronger, to adapt and become better at certain things so that I could complete this race.
And you couldn’t look at it the way I looked at Kilimanjaro. I could muscle my way through Kilimanjaro per se, in terms of mental muscle. But Ironman, you gotta have that balance of both physical training and mental training and you just can’t do it without it, in my opinion. Especially maybe with what I was going through.
And that was the big difference, is that I really started accepting my cerebral palsy, beginning that process at least, and really beginning to actually love parts of me that I really didn’t so prior to that. So I’d say that’s the huge lesson for me in Ironman journey.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing and there was a lot of maturity, right? That’s the difference that I heard you talking about right from the time you went up Kilimanjaro and the transformation that took place that put you in a good place, better place I should say, to be tackling one of these over-the-top type of experiences, physical and mental experiences. And having done two Ironmans myself, but not Hawaii, I’m curious to know, I think I know the answer, but I’ll ask anyway. Which one of the three legs of the triathlon was the most challenging for you?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Without a doubt, the bike.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Okay. The book, One More Step, which summarizes both of the experiences, that Kilimanjaro and Ironman experience, turns out to be a New York Times bestseller. Go figure.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: [laughing] Yeah, go figure. That’s still one of the most puzzling things that’s happened in my life. Not other things, but that.
David Hirsch: I’m thinking about advice now and I’m wondering if you understand that most of our listeners are parents and majority of them are dads who are raising children with special needs. What type of advice can you offer?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: I think the biggest advice that I try to offer when people ask is something I still struggle through currently is loving people for where they’re at. From my dad to my own disability, to my own journey, and then obviously my partner Jill, is how do I love these people and myself where I’m at? It helps me not allow expectations to get out of alignment for where I’m currently at or where that person is currently at. So I would say for the dads with disabled children is love your child for where they’re at. See the beauty in exactly where they are. That is a beautiful, special person there that’s gifted into your life. And it’s up to you to figure out what those gifts are each day and see the beauty in those. Cuz there’s gonna be great challenge. I know that. I understand the divorce rate is so much higher. I know there’s so many other challenges that go on with raising a disabled child. But do your best to try to love yourself and love your loved ones where they’re at. And then that’s the best advice I could give people. And it’s very hard, but it is something that creates a great presence within each person’s journey in the moment.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Excellent advice. Thank you. Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend Shane Madden, another Special Fathers Network mentor father and podcast dad number 154 for helping connect us.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Yes, thank you Shane for putting us in touch and appreciate you having me on your podcast.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about Project Possible or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Best way is ProjectPossible.org. You can learn about all of our centers we’re building worldwide. We’re gonna have a big announcement this year about our entire digital platform that we’re building to hopefully share with the rest of the world for free so people can continue to get better care for their disabled children, regardless of where you live in the world.
That’s what we’re here to do and that’s what we’re trying to do. So I’m fortunate to have a successful career before retiring. And now I’m just spending the rest of my life with our 501c3 and it’s all funded outta my own pocket. So a hundred percent of the money we raise goes to these programs and projects, which is a beautiful thing these days.
And you can go visit any one of our centers you want. So it’s fun like that as well. So we always love having people and visitors and it helped me shape my world and continue to expand at learning new cultures and languages. So it’s given me some tremendous gifts that we’d love to share with anybody that’s interested.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. We’ll be sure to include the website in the show notes so it’ll make it as easy as possible for people to connect. Thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Bonner is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax-deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support. Bonner, thanks again.
Bonner Paddock Rinn: Thank you David. Appreciate you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch.
Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at HorizonTherapeutics.com.