A few caring people can change the world

Harry Pappas with JT Townsend
Harry Pappas with JT Townsend
provided by Harry Pappas

Sometimes in life, we are fortunate to meet truly inspirational people. Let me tell you about one incredible person who lived his life with purpose, passion and by design so that he could truly influence others’ lives. This young man embodied what Earl Nightingale proclaimed in what may be the greatest motivational piece ever written, The Strangest Secret. According to the author, what makes this a secret is that “very few people have learned it or understand it. That is why it’s strange, and why for some equally strange reason it virtually remains a secret.” What makes J.T. Townsend so special is his remarkable and passionate message of “influence”. J.T. reminds me of the words of Margaret Mead who said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

J.T. Townsend epitomizes perseverance and commitment like no other. He was just an ordinary young man pushed beyond his limits to confront uncertainty, fear and pain. Growing up, JT had dreams of becoming a professional football player and he was well on his way as he accepted a scholarship to play football at Florida State University. This 17-year-old, six-foot-three-inch, 180-pound strong safety’s dream was cut short when he was paralyzed from the neck down in a 2004 high-school football game. “I went in to make the tackle. I hit the guy and fell to the ground. When I tried to get up, I wasn’t able to get up,” he said. JT knew something was very wrong and so did everyone around him, as he began gasping for air, went unconscious, and was rushed to the hospital.

Despite the fact that JT would need a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he was prepared to move forward by turning tragedy into triumph. JT’s spinal injury took most of his physical ability but did not take away his burning ambition to accomplish his purpose and passion to fulfill his newly acquired dreams. Against insurmountable odds, JT committed to lead as normal a life as possible. While persevering through extraordinary obstacles, JT graduated from the University of North Florida in May 2013 with a degree in sports management. In 2011, while facing many roadblocks, physical pain and difficulties, he established the J. T. Townsend Foundation to provide physically challenged children and adults with medical equipment and assistance. With his limited capacity, JT gave more to others than many of us who are fully functional. JT was extremely grateful for the tremendous support that he received since his injury and one of his dreams was to repay the community that helped him when he needed help the most. JT simply wanted to pay it forward. He took a life-changing situation and turned it into an opportunity to make life better for those less fortunate, and he gave all the glory to God. Never once did JT feel sorry for himself. He never asked, “Why me?’” He knew it was God’s purpose.

JT told me, “We must have a strong mind, believe in God, keep our faith, and live every day like it’s our last”.

This incredible 26-year-old role model demonstrated just how powerful a persistent mind could be. If someone had the right to give up on his dreams and accept defeat, JT did. Surrendering to adversity was not even a consideration for JT. Instead, he persevered and redefined defeat, not according to his physical restrictions but according to the size of his dreams.

To have been a part of JT’s journey was a humbling and inspiring honor for me. The most important lessons I learned from JT was that one can often gain more wisdom from observing those who are less fortunate than from observing those who have possessions and wealth. Witnessing JT’s accomplishment underscored my conviction that if we want something badly enough, we can get it. Nobody and nothing could prevent JT from choosing to be exceptional, and that applies to you and me.

Harry Pappas Jr., CFP®, CDFA™, Managing Director-Investments, Certified Estate and Trust Specialist, Pappas Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, 904-273-7955,

The use of the CDFA™ designation does not permit Wells Fargo Advisors or its Financial Advisors to provide legal advice, nor is it meant to imply that the firm or its associates are acting as experts in this field. Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, Member SIPC, is a Registered Broker-Dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. Wells Fargo Advisors did not assist in the preparation of this report, and its accuracy and completeness are not guaranteed. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Wells Fargo Advisors or its affiliates. The material has been prepared or is distributed solely for information purposes and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any security or instrument or to participate in any trading strategy. Additional information is available upon request.