Billy Lister: Unstoppable
Strokes are not supposed to happen to kids – neither is the damage that follows – but that’s precisely what happened to me when I was a freshman in high school at the age of 17.
The stroke was from a complication related to a life-saving, complex brain surgery that happened a year earlier. I know that operation saved my life, but it also slid me into a decade of darkness.
I’d been a great athlete my whole life, good at every sport I played. Active, healthy and happy, I never anticipated how my life would completely change. No one does. But one morning I woke up and couldn’t brush my teeth or button my shirt, and within a month I no longer could walk without assistance.
My stroke was a very atypical and unique event, in that it was a slow and regressive episode. Every day I woke up to realize I couldn’t do something that I could the day before. After about four weeks the stroke entirely ran its course and completed its permanent destruction, leaving me with a full left side hemiparesis state.
Having been an athlete my whole life, it was a tremendous strain to cope with the burden of losing the ability to take part in sports. For many years I merely survived with my disability, but I was only sustaining life, not living it.
In 2009, I found myself buying an airline ticket to Miami. I had heard about this fantastic weekend event for people with disabilities, and I knew I had to attend. It was the No Barriers Summit, and it saved my life! I found a light inside of me that started to shine again. I found a family from across the nation who inspired, supported and challenged me—they still do. I found hope. I didn’t yet know what would come of it, but I knew I was changed. It was like I was standing all alone in a completely pitch black room and No Barriers tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Billy, the light switch is right behind you.”
Since then I’ve only missed one No Barriers Summit, and I’ve seen this incredible event grow. Now serving thousands, the No Barriers Summit is for everyone. It’s still for people of all abilities, but it’s also for family members, friends, employers and employees, students, teachers, and veterans. The fact is we all face barriers in our lives, and No Barriers helps each of us turn on that light that will guide our way to a full and purposeful life. I can attest to that with all my heart.
For me, life started again in 2011 when I attended a paratriathlon camp for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and got on a bike for the first time since my stroke at 17 years old.
In just a few short years, I went on to fully dedicate myself to the realm of paralympic cycling. In 2016 at TeamUSA Paralympic Trials, I finished as the first overall male 2- wheeled cyclist, automatically qualifying my spot for the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games—the culmination of years of blind determination, all of which was spawned by the No Barriers Mindset.
Today, I’m a proud member of Team USA as a United States Paralympian and a professional cyclist who travels all over the world competing for the red, white & blue.
It’s not trite to credit each of you who supports No Barriers for saving my life. Without your generous contributions, the past, present and future Summits would not be possible. My darkness was deep. It was black. I hated my body, and I couldn’t see a future. The No Barriers Summit brought light back into my life. For that, I can’t thank you enough.
I hope you know the difference your gift makes, and I hope to see you at the 2018 No Barriers Summit in New York City. Together we can change and save the lives of many more!
There is no better opportunity than the No Barriers Summit to ignite the flame within our spirit. For participants like Billy Lister, the Summit is genuinely transformative.
As with our Learning AFAR Scholarship programs and No Barriers Warriors programs, the 2018 No Barriers Summit is free of charge so that all individuals may find a space to safely explore how to find the gifts earned through struggle and elevate their own lives, as well as the lives of those around them. We cannot do all of this vital work without your support!