Growing up with Forrest
I’ve been a big fan of Tom Hanks and Forrest Gump since I was a kid. I was enamored by the story, Forrest’s adventures, and his kindness to others. Despite being different, he led anything but a restricted life.
Yes, “Forrest Stump” is a cheeky tribute to Forrest’s run across the country; however it is much more. The name I chose for our journey is also rooted in a deeper message that Forrest’s story promotes:
(1) That although in many ways our life circumstances may be unfair, our ability to make choices and to do something with our condition is fair, as the ability to choose is equally distributed to all. We all have an equal opportunity to give our lives value.
(2) That every person is entitled to the same opportunities and has the same human dignity as everyone else.
It wasn’t until after my amputation that these messages truly sunk in. Regardless of losing a leg, I had not lost my ability to think, to laugh, to joke, to play! I still had many ways to give my life value, to find a new way of doing the things I loved. Lieutenant Dan’s character especially took on a different role in my mind once I became an amputee. Seeing him crippled not by his condition, but by his own emotional bitterness, was heartbreaking. It gave me a window of insight into the struggles we all experience between body and mind. A challenge that is very real to many amputees. Amputation is not just physical, it is also a complete mental and emotional experience.
Even more than this, the film implanted a message of equality, that every human life is important and deserving of the same opportunities. I hope my work with Forrest Stump will make others think more critically about how our society should support those with disabilities. A society that believes physical activity is a fundamental right to all, even if it has to be performed differently than “able-bodied” standards. A society that puts people before profit in its healthcare system.
These lessons had a huge impact on me as a young adult. To have a role model like Tom Hanks at that time was transformative. His life’s work has been more than just acting. On and off screen, he embodies a much larger social mission, which was recognized in 2016 by President Barack Obama with the Medal of Freedom. So, to say I’m a fan of Tom Hanks is a bit of an understatement!
Making a dream come true
Two very special people, who had been following my journey from the beginning, got wind of this and wanted to do something extra special for me. They made it their own personal odyssey to get ahold of THE TOM HANKS! Without knowing how they were going to do it, in a matter of weeks, they did!
So how did this come about?
It all started with a presentation I gave to a small group of amputees and caregivers at the University of Michigan. I told them about my upcoming Forrest Stump journey and asked their advice and challenges they’ve had accessing prosthetics. The room blossomed into a passionate conversation filled with energy and ideas! One of the amputee’s caregivers, named Faye, left that day with a huge amount of enthusiasm and she contacted her friend Gail, a Michigan alumna, to tell her about Forrest Stump.
As soon as Gail heard about us, she was ecstatic about our mission and story. Being the fierce and determined woman she is, she immediately looped in her son, Greg, who works as the Treasurer for Specialized Bicycle Components.
She said, “Greg, you have to help these girls out!”
Greg then messaged me over LinkedIn and in an instant a friendship developed over our love for the University of Michigan and our knack for taking on big obstacles, especially athletic ones.
Greg sprung into action to get our team hooked up with top of the line race kits (helmets, jerseys, bibs, socks, shoes…the whole works!), water bottles, and a VIP tour of their headquarters. Over $3,000 worth of gear was sent to us. We felt like VIP athletes and were now equipped to take on the 1,500 mile journey.
After we started biking down the coast, Gail called Greg up again and said, “Greg, we need to get Tom Hanks on this!”
Of course, Greg laughed and asked his mom if she had Mr. Hanks’ phone number, which she didn’t.
They didn’t know how they were going to do it, but in a matter of weeks, their determination paid off.
After many phone calls and connections later, they found a way to get ahold of Tom. Greg’s sister Elise had a long time friend from school named Ben who worked in Hollywood and knew Tom’s personal assistant. Ben was eager to help and join in on the Forrest Stump bandwagon.
Ben relayed the message to Tom’s assistant about our journey who then let Tom know about Forrest Stump. Tom was happy to sign an original Forrest Gump movie poster with the words, “Run, Nicole! Run!” He even mentioned he’d be interested in helping once it was time to take our documentary to D.C.
This was all kept as a surprise from me until the night before CAF’s San Diego Triathlon Challenge. When my teammates handed me the tube and I unraveled the poster, my jaw literally dropped. I didn’t think it was real! I was in complete shock. Tom Hanks had literally written my name, “Nicole!”
When my mom told me that Tom had mentioned being willing to help, I broke out into tears. This was the most amazing showing of support and a huge win for our cause.
Now, thinking back on it, I’m not sure which was harder: me swimming, biking, and running 1,500 miles – or – Gail and Greg trying to connect with Tom Hanks to get his signature! Both were endurance events.
It is really special for me to look back on this and realize we were all doing a journey of Forrest Stump in our own ways. I couldn’t be more grateful to Gail and Greg for being the unstoppable force they are. And thank you to Mr. Tom Hanks for believing in Forrest Stump!
At the end of our 1,500 mile journey, and the night before the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Triathlon Challenge, my team presented me with the poster signed by Tom Hanks. As I opened the tube and unraveled the poster, I was in complete shock! My first response was, “Is this real?” I couldn’t have imagined in my lifetime that I would receive a signed poster by Mr. Hanks, who had served as a role model for me growing up. And to know that he even wrote my name! It was a true honor, and a very special gift.
An unstoppable force
After the journey, we stopped back at Specialized’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, CA to celebrate with Greg. This was his first time seeing the poster signed by Tom Hanks that he and his mom Gail worked so hard to make happen! An incredible and selfless gift! Both Greg and Gail are a truly unstoppable force. I am so thankful for their friendship!
Behind the name
As much as “Forrest Stump” is a cheeky tribute to Forrest’s run across the country, it also carries with it a much deeper meaning. The name I chose for our journey is also rooted in a deeper message that Forrest’s story promotes:
That although in many ways our life circumstances may be unfair, our ability to make choices and to do something with our condition is fair, as the ability to choose is equally distributed to all. We all have an equal opportunity to give our lives value.
That every person is entitled to the same opportunities and has the same human dignity as everyone else.