Roller Coasters saved my life


I’ve spent the majority of my life in an odd space. By that, I mean that I have always been mildly competitive and mostly successful. If that sounds middling, well… it’s probably right on target.

To that end, I’ve had massive successes in my life… and massive failures. I only saw the failures as such, meaning I didn’t know really how to respond, and I never really appreciated the successes. I just assumed they’d always be there…. that they’d always exist. After all, I was highly intelligent, and capable.

I have always been a self starter. I didn’t need anyone to tell me how to succeed because I’ve always found a way. My parents recognized this early in my life. I tested extremely high on my IQ tests (when they did such things back in the 60’s), and I was artistic. I had a natural compulsion towards musical expression and I didn’t need motivation. My parents were kind enough to purchase my first drum set when I was 4 years old and a second, more professional one, at 10 years old. They didn’t need to push me… ever. It was a natural fit… those drums and I. In addition, I didn’t need help with homework. I just completed it. I received high marks in my classes, at least those that required detail. If it came down to my ability to disrupt the class with jokes or incessant talking, well… I received strong (re)marks there as well… in the wrong direction. At least I knew where I stood in the hierarchy of entertainment, but I couldn’t be stopped.

Then, it happened. I turned 18 years old, was now out of high school, and all my peers had caught up to what I believed made me unique. No longer was I the special kid that had the high level of talent…the kid that the town came out to see perform a 15 minute drum solo. No longer was I looked upon as a standout at anything. I was the perfect example of a child prodigy who just found out he wasn’t that prodigious, and it rocked my world to the core.

This lack of faith in what I believed was my “purpose” carried with me for another 28 years. Sure, I had smatterings of success here and there, but it wasn’t until 2 years ago that I saw the failures and near misses as a sign that I was on the cusp of something even greater, yet had no idea how to push the idea over the proverbial cliff.

Going back in my history, I had been fascinated with roller coasters all my life. When I was little, we would go to the Western Washington State Fair, known commonly as The Puyallup Fair. It’s an iconic place, and it has its own wooden roller coaster. One that stands silent all year, with the exception of 2 weeks in September. Every year, I went to the fair, and every year, I couldn’t muster up the courage to ride it. Then, at age 16, I took a chance and rode it with my friends. I made a discovery that night, and I never looked back. I was hooked.

In 2000, the roller coaster community, both enthusiasts and builders alike, experienced a bit of a renaissance. Amusement parks, fattened by speculation in the stock market, took risks to build radical new rides and created what became a sort of battle to be known as “the roller coaster capital of the world.” Both Cedar Fair and Six Flags bought into this hype and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on development and marketing, which, in turn, allowed the roller coaster enthusiast community to grow and thrive in unparalleled ways. That excitement found me at a perfect time in my life.

I had never fancied myself an enthusiast, at least not in the traditional way. I wasn’t the guy that quoted technical data, I wasn’t a member of a club, and I certainly wasn’t a ‘nerd”…at least I didn’t publicly align myself as one. I was just a guy that liked to ride roller coasters, plain and simple. It was a hobby at best, maybe even 3rd or 4th tier on the list of things I liked to do.

In the summer of 2002, I met a soon to be lifelong friend, Matthew Sullivan. Matthew was a true enthusiast…the kind of guy you saw on the Discovery Channel, and knew everyone: enthusiasts, park owners, and coaster designers alike. In Matthew, I found an unselfish friend who liked me for who I was, shared his passions and personal life openly, and did what he could to encourage my successes. For Christmas of 2002, Matthew sent me a gift certificate to attend an enthusiast event in Indiana the following spring.

It was a kind gesture, so I made it a point to commit to attendance. I decided to make it a larger experience and tour the Midwest across the span of 9 days, hitting an equal amount of parks. The centerpiece of the trip would be the “2 day event” at Holiday World in southern Indiana, of which the gift certificate was for.

May of 2003 came and here I was, travelling across the Midwest with a new friend, of whom I’d never met in person until I picked him up at the airport. Madness, I know. Over the next 9 days, we’d go to many parks, ride 53 roller coasters, and meet many amazing and eccentric people, all new to me.

On the 2nd day of the enthusiast event at Holiday World, a devastating moment occurred. A fellow enthusiast made a fatal choice of unbuckling her seat belt on the Raven and was ejected from the ride on the famous 5th hill. Not only was the death an absolute tragedy, but it echoed through the enthusiast community for years. All of us left the park that evening in shock and spent the remaining hours of the night sitting around a campfire, talking quietly and bonding. Sharing. Loving.Regardless of how the trip ended, I could easily count 20 new-to-me friends who shared my passion for this silly hobby. It was a surprise to say the least.

Matthew and I remained great friends until his untimely death in 2011. I miss him greatly because he was the catalyst for a magical occurrence that transformed my life.

Recently, I was at home with my wife recounting these stories, and it occurred to me that all it took to find joy and new purpose was one friend reaching out, attempting to better my life by bringing really interesting people into it. Ultimately, meeting Matthew forged so many truly amazing friendships that exist to this day. I am blessed by each of them and I have applied this principle to every day of my life.

I connect people to people. It’s what I do.

I pride myself in this. I love the opportunity to connect the dots. I find that everyone wants customers, but rarely do we send our business contacts what they truly need: Other business leaders who can speak directly into their lives. I believe it’s a difference maker. THE difference maker.

Do you want the success that eludes you? Go ride your own roller coaster, and I think you’ll find what you’re missing: People. It’s all that matters now and all that will ever matter later.