Pamela Kalstrom interviews her son and founder of 2LIV4 Greg Cooley about his life both before and after the accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. They also discuss Greg’s motivation for launching the nonprofit as well as some of his 2LIV4 moments.
If you haven’t yet read 2LIV4's Founder Greg Cooley's Story — Told by Mom, click here.
Mom: Tell us about yourself before the accident.
Greg: I was the boy that would rather do something outdoors than be in the house. I remember trying to ride my bike up a river, catching tadpoles, turtles, catfish, and sunfish, lighting fireworks, climbing trees, and jumping in the river. If a boy can be a tomboy, I was the ultimate tomboy. My favorite activity was digging holes in the yard to put the fish in that I caught. I was always outside. I did not have a care in the world. I led a non-conforming life. School was tough because there was a lot of structure, and I did not do well with structure. My favorite comedian was Robin Williams. I knew all of the funny lines from Good Morning Vietnam.
There was a conventional way of doing things; then there was my way. I still do things this way. The conventional way does not always work when you have challenges, and so you must learn how to get things done in unconventional ways. For instance, when I went skydiving, I asked the instructor how we would land since I cannot walk. The instructor decided we would land on gravel, and when he said, “Pick up your feet,” we would slide in on our butts — not the most conventional way of landing, but it worked!
Mom: Do you remember the fishing trip to Canada?
Greg: I do not remember fishing, but I do remember a few things on the way to and from Canada. My first memory on the way there was in front of the “Welcome to Montana” sign at the border. We all piled out of the car, and of course, I started to climb on the sign right away. My dad’s friend took a picture of my dad and me, and then we noticed that he was standing over a rather mad rattlesnake!
My next memory was meeting another one of my stepdad's friends in Bismarck, North Dakota. We had breakfast at a little diner, and their pancakes were as big as my head.
My last memory of the trip was when my dad woke me up in Wyoming to see the Northern Lights.
Mom: Do you remember the accident or being in a coma?
Greg: Luckily, I do not remember the accident at all. However, I do remember the coma. Well, not the coma itself but my dreams during the coma. All of my dreams were strange, but the strangest one, and it is going to sound cliché, was about war. I was a pilot, and we flew around in cardboard boxes — not airplanes, but square cardboard boxes. Our ammunition was fireworks, the kind that explode in huge circles, and the only way to protect yourself was to close the flaps on your box — very hi-tech. If that isn’t strange enough, if any part of the firework hit you, you turned into a Jell-O mold of yourself. In the basement of the base, there was a mountain of Jell-O molds. My co-pilot was my best friend, and unfortunately, he was hit with a spark from a firework and turned into Jell-O.
Another dream took place at my grandma and grandpa’s house. I was swinging through their apple tree, and grandpa kept calling me a chimpanzee. For some reason, that made me extremely mad in my dream. Finally, my grandpa called a doctor to see why I was so mad, and he told him that it was because he was calling me a chimpanzee, but I was really a gorilla.
Mom: Do you remember the stories I read to you?
Greg: The one story I remember you reading to me was Robin Hood starring Kevin Costner. I do not remember the beginning of the book, but I heard you read the same page repeatedly; I have no idea if you completed the book.
Mom: What do you recall about waking up from the coma?
Greg: I didn’t suddenly wake up, but more gradually. It was almost like waking up in the morning if the morning lasted a few weeks. I do remember I would pretend to be asleep when the therapists came in, and it worked for a little bit, but they caught on fast.
Mom: What are your memories of the therapies you received at Children’s Hospital?
Greg: A lot of my rehab was unexciting and not worth remembering, but I do recall a few specific occurrences. My initial memory was when I crawled for the first time. It started out as just another day in therapy, and as usual, I was joking with my therapist. I do not remember what I said, but after I said it, I turned to get away, and without even thinking, I started to crawl away. Of course, I did not pick up my knees and had terrible rug burns, but I had done it.
My other memory happened a little later. My occupational therapist let me make her a hand brace with the unused scraps from mine. I also used to recite all the funny lines from Good Morning America. I could sound just like Robin Williams, and it helped me get through my speech therapy.
Mom: What has been the biggest challenge in your life?
Greg: My biggest challenge and my biggest accomplishment can be summed up with three words: graduating from college.
Mom: What has been your greatest joy?
Greg: There have been a lot. I was proud when I got my first job at Blockbuster Video. My summer job was stacking videos. They did not trust me with cash, but somehow, they trusted my balance enough to assign me the task of restacking videos on the racks. One time, I lost my balance, hit a shelf, and knocked a ton of movies down. The manager asked what happened, and I was like, “What do you think?”
Other joys were getting my driver’s license, getting accepted into college, living on my own for the first time at my condo, getting certified to scuba dive, and getting a job in the oil and gas industry. It was the first job where I could use my brain and not have to deal with physical challenges at the workplace.
Buying my first recumbent bike was also exciting. I went to three different payday advance places to get the money. It was the first time I had ridden a bike in 14 years. It was awesome. The first time I took it out on my own, I turned too sharp, and I flipped it. I still have the bike, but it is too dangerous where I live now to ride it. Traffic makes it difficult.
Mom: What’s your favorite place to go on vacation?
Greg: I loved Ireland for sightseeing, Hawaii for the beach, and the Caribbean for scuba diving.
Mom: Besides the physical and cognitive challenges that you face, how did the accident change you?
Greg: Live each day like it is your last, which I did before the accident as well. And above all, treat everyone with respect.
Mom: What would you say to others who have experienced life-altering challenges?
Greg: There is always a way forward; it might be a little more unconventional or difficult, but there is a way forward. The road should not end with your injury. It is just a speed bump along the way.
Mom: Why did you create the nonprofit 2LIV4?
Greg: I started the nonprofit to create opportunities for people with disabilities to share their stories with the hope that it will provide resources and motivation to others living with a disability in discovering their 2LIV4s.
Mom: What are your 2LIV4s?
Greg: My beautiful dogs, Chewy and Dexter, my family, and my love of the ocean. I am still traveling down the road and managing the bumps and wrong turns along the way, but I want to prove to myself and the world that just because I have a disability, my life does not have to be limited.