No Barriers Podcast Episode 146: Steve Emt, Paralympic Champion Curler

about the episode

Today we meet Steve Emt, vice-skip of the US Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team. Steve is a life long athlete. He played baseball, soccer, and basketball in high school and set a few records along the way. In college he successfully walked-on to the storied mens basketball team at UConn. Steve lived for the chest-thumping, high-fiving, intensity of competitive sports… then the figurative curve ball of life came spinning in. And by curveball, I mean an unexpected event, that took away the use of his legs. That was over 25 years ago. Today he’s an olympic athlete; and an 8-time US National Champion in the sport of Curling.

You get the sense, talking to Steve, that he’s not the kind of guy that would let a life altering event stop his destiny, but as you’ll hear, the twisting path his life took, had no guarantees.

Connect with Steve Emt:

Steve’s Book: You D.E.C.I.D.E.: A 6-step action plan to becoming the hero of your own life

Steve on Team USA: https://www.teamusa.org/usa-curling/athletes/Stephen-Emt

Steve’s Website: https://www.steveemt.com/

Steve on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stephen.emt/

Episode Transcript

Steve Emt:
Look at yourself as your own hero. When I was growing up, Larry Bird was my hero. But when I was told I was never going to walk again at the age of 25, he wasn't going to help me through that. The doctors and the nurses and the therapists and all that, they were going to do their best. But ultimately, it was on me. And we're all capable of doing that. We all have it inside of us.

Erik W.:
It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest. To climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak The Grand Canyon. And I happen to be blind.
It's been a struggle to live what I call a No Barriers Life. To define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call No Barriers.

Diedrich John:
Today. We meet Steve Emt, vice skip of the US Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team. Steve's a lifelong athlete. He played baseball, soccer and basketball in high school and set a few records along the way.
In college, he successfully walked on to the storied men's basketball team at UCONN. Steve lived for the chest thumping, high fiving intensity of competitive sports. Then the figurative curve ball of life came spinning in. And by curve ball, I mean an unexpected event that took away the use of his legs.
That was over 25 years ago. Today he's an Olympic athlete and an eight time US national champion in the sport of curling. You get the sense, talking to Steve, that he's not the kind of guy that would let a life altering event stop his destiny. But as you'll hear, the twisting path his life took at no guarantees.
Dave Shurna is our host for this episode. Our regular host Erik Weihenmayer is still on an expedition in Ecuador for a few weeks. He'll be back soon. Thanks for listening to this conversation between Dave and Steve. I hope you enjoy it. I'm producer Diedrich John, and this is The No Barriers Podcast.

Dave Shurna:
Welcome everyone to another episode of our No Barriers Podcast. I'm super excited to be joined by Steve Emt today. We're going to have a great conversation about how we achieve our goals, despite the adversity in our way. It's not often that I get to talk to an Olympian. And so I'm really excited to learn about Steve's recent Olympic experience. And to talk through how we can all learn to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. So Steve, welcome to the show.

Steve Emt:
Dave, thank you very much for having me. Hope we're going to have a good time here today and hope you're having a good day so far and life is good.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah, Steve. Where are you dialing in from?

Steve Emt:
I'm from Hebron Connecticut, small town outside of about 20 minutes east of Hartford, Connecticut. So I'm on an East Coast. Got some beautiful weather right now. Spring is coming.

Dave Shurna:
Love it, love it. So did you grow up in Connecticut as well?

Steve Emt:
I did. I actually live now about two minutes from the house I grew up in. So been here the majority of my life minus college and all that and a few times away. But now it's a beautiful little town in Connecticut and I love it here.

Dave Shurna:
And I know we're going to talk a lot about how to pursue our dreams despite adversity. But I imagine if you're into sports and you grew up in Connecticut, playing basketball for UCONN has got to be something in every kid's dream. And you achieved that dream, right?

Steve Emt:
I did, yeah. I was fortunate enough to spend two years on a team as a walk on. I started my college career at West Point at Army. And played a couple years there. And I transferred over to UCONN and walked on. And you nailed it Dave. Every boy, now girl, which is great, because we have an incredible women's program.
But growing up and dreaming. I'm about 20 minutes from campus and dreaming, wearing that Connecticut across my chest and playing basketball. So I walked on for two years. I played with some incredible people. Ray Allen and Kevin Ollie and Donyell Marshall and all these future pros. And for Coach Calhoun, legendary Coach Calhoun and incredible two years of my life. And got a great education while out there too, so incredible times.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. I bet. I bet. And tell me about the walk on tryouts because I went to Xavier University and I was not good enough to make the walk on, although I tried. But tell me about your walk on experience at UCONN. What did you have to do?

Steve Emt:
I was fortunate because I guess the year after I was there, I was there from '92 to '94. '95 is when they made it a lot worse, a lot harder on the walk ons. They gave them their own locker rooms. They had to go get dressed in the bathroom and all that. But I was in the main locker room. So the tryouts were intense. It was pressure situation, got to go out there and perform and do your best. And hopefully they like you enough to take you in a team.
And like I said, I was fortunate enough to make the team and Coach Calhoun, he jumped into my life right away. I lost my father at the age of 19 and I went to the UCONN at 22. And he jumped right in as a father figure. So incredible people, incredible program. But it was tough. It was tough to walk on, but, hey, wanted to do it and set those goals. And you got to keep them going and keep achieving.

Dave Shurna:
And Coach Calhoun wrote the forward to your book, is that right?

Steve Emt:
He did. Yes. Again, I can't say enough about him. I can't say enough about the program. And once you're a Husky, you're always a Husky. And bleed blue and incredible brotherhood and sisterhood of basketball and student athletes. So yeah, I was fortunate enough that he wrote that forward for my book and contributed to it. And I'm grateful for that.

Dave Shurna:
Awesome. Well, we'll get into the book and the process, the six step process that our listeners can use to achieve their dreams. Let's fast forward though.
That was more than 20 years ago that when you were playing college hoops. But more recently, just, I guess over a month ago you competed in the Olympics. Is that right?

Steve Emt:

Yeah. In the Paralympics, yep. Over in Beijing. Incredible. 2-time Paralympian now. And incredible experiences being over in Beijing and competing for the greatest country in the world.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. And you are in the sport of curling. How did you get into curling as your Olympic sport?

Steve Emt:
And I love how you say that. Every time we do interviews and all that, it's the same way is curling. I mean, what the heck is curling. And how do you get involved in curling? I mean, I love the way people say it. But it is so true.
For me, I just happened, eight years ago, and I was 43 years old. I thought I was all set in my life and I was teaching and I had my career set. I decided to go away to Cape Cod, Massachusetts for one weekend just to get away. I heard great things about it. Never been there before in my life. So I go to Cape Cod, Mass. I'm in Falmouth, Massachusetts. And I check into my hotel, what do I do? I'm not from here.
Well, you need to go down to Woods Hole, little town, right down the road. Go to this place called Pie in the Sky, get something to eat. It's a bakery. It's on a Harbor, sit outside. It's a beautiful day. You enjoy the sunshine and enjoy the day. And just have a good time.
So I parked my truck in Woods Hole. I push up a hill and I go get, I think I got a cinnamon roll or something, Pie in the Sky. It was incredible though. I don't remember that. Sitting outside just watching the boats and by myself, just mind of my own business. And this gentleman comes around the corner and he comes up to me he and says, "Excuse me, are you local?".
And if anybody, I don't want to stereotype here, but he was, he looked Italian, David. I mean, know he had the hair slick back and my wife should tell you, we know Italians, they have a certain look to them. And I'm thinking to myself right away, "I'm in trouble here. I'm getting stalked. Where am I going to get away from this guy?"
So finally I said to him, "Do you mind telling me why you asked that?" And he said, "Well, I train with the Paralympic curling team here on the Cape. And I saw you pushing up the hill back there. And with your build, I could make you into an Olympian in a year."
I'm like, "What the heck is curling and where do I sign up?" Heard Olympics and being an athlete, "Where do I sign up? Let's go." That man was Tony" Colicchio. And he literally stalked me into the sport. I got stalked in the sport of curling.

Dave Shurna:
That's amazing.

Steve Emt:
He had to be driving down the road. When he saw me pushing up the hill. He walked around Woods Hole for 45 minutes until he found me. And that day, I'm very fortunate and I owe him everything this sport has given me, because he gave me the opportunity that day. He approached a perfect stranger without his way to talk to me. And gave me the opportunity that day to learn about the sport.
I went back up a couple weeks later, I threw my first couple stones down the ice and it was just, it just bit me right away, Dave. It just bit me like, "This is what I need. This is what I want to do." And since then, just been an incredible ride the last eight years.

Dave Shurna:
Man, it sounds incredible. I want to hear more about the recent experience. But since you brought up this story of how it happened, I've not had the opportunity to read your book yet. But I wonder what part of, when you're trying to, as you said, you were living your life. You weren't thinking about becoming an Olympian. This was not on your mindset.
And then you are given this opportunity. But I think a lot of people wouldn't necessarily have stepped through that door. They might have questioned whether it was the right thing to do or questioned whether they had time for it or who is this person.
And yet you're the guy who seized on that opportunity. And so where does that fit in to, as our listeners are thinking, "Geez, would I have stepped through that door?" Where does that fit into that process that we use to seize opportunities as we're pursuing our dreams?

Steve Emt:
Dave, we got to step through that door. We got to. I mean, there's so many people nowadays, especially coming off of this the pandemic that hit us and people are still stuck in our own homes and stuck in our own ways. We have to step through that door. We got to get out of our comfort zone and take chances and take opportunities that come into our lap.
For me, it was a no brainer. I was an athlete. I was a diehard athlete my entire life. All American soccer goalkeeper in high school. I'm still the all time leading scorer for basketball in my high school. I was a baseball player, football, I mean everything. It was just, athletic is part of my life. And in my opinion, the two greatest things you could do to be an American is to serve in a military, which I did, I'm a veteran. And to go to or be Olympian or Paralympian, which I am now 2-times.
So for me, it was a no-brainer. This man just came out of blue and said, "Hey, you've got an opportunity here. I can make you into an Olympian. You could travel the world and wear the Paralympic swag and the team USA gear and represent USA." And I got goosebumps now just thinking about it. I was all in.
But for everybody, I mean, we got to take chances in life. We got to take those opportunities. We have to go out there and get out of our comfort zone. And I also coached high school basketball for 20 years. And I'd always tell my kids in practice and camps and all that. "If you're comfortable, no. We got to change something. Get out of your comfort zone. That's what practice is for. That's what this..."
So everyday life. Drastic changes, maybe not. But these little things that come along that could turn into drastic changes, we have to investigate. We have to look into them. Life is too short, Dave. I mean, I almost lost my life when I was 25 years old. And ever since then, I've been living a dream. And life is too short, we got to go for it. We only get one of them. So make the best of it. Go through those doors. Step through those doors, break down walls. We got this.

Dave Shurna:
And so you went through those doors with the curling story. It's, you've been doing this throughout your life. But tell me what it took to then, you didn't know anything about curling. This was brand new to you. You're like, "What the heck is this?" And now lo and behold, you're a 2-time Paralympic competitor. You just competed in China. You guys came in fifth place I understand.
How did you get from knowing nothing about the sport to then becoming super competitive and a world champ.

Steve Emt:
I went all in. I went all in Dave. I mean, that's what it is. And that's one of the, again, many of these things that we talk about now are all in my book. But it's putting your heart and your soul and everything you have into your passion. And this sport of curling quickly became a passion of mine.
And if you're passionate about anything, whether it's work, life, relationships, wife, husband, family, whatever it is, put everything you have into that. Why not? Why wouldn't you? I mean, that's just living. That's just living. The whole home, no, no, no. Put everything you got into that and you will be successful.
And for me, it came pretty quickly. It was the summer of 2013. The team had already been picked for the 14 Paralympic Sochi Games. So I missed that team. But right when they came back from Sochi, I was on the team right away. And I just wanted it. I wanted it. Goals. I had seven goals when I started this, just weeks after that conversation with Tony.
I listed out seven goals. One of them is to earn a spot in team USA all the way up to a Paralympic medal. And I wrote them down on sticky notes and I put them all over my apartment. And I had them in my car. And I had them on my TV in my mirror. And I read them and I looked at them every day, seven goals. And the more we write them down, the more we look at them, the more we read them, the more we say them, they're going to happen. They're going to happen.
So it comes embedded in you. And that for me, it was easy because I wanted it, I wanted it bad. I wanted to be that Paralympian. I wanted to be number one in the country, which I have been now for eight years. I wanted to be one of the best in the world, which I was last in Beijing. I was ranked fourth out of everybody in the world.

Dave Shurna:
That's amazing.

Steve Emt:
When you want it, you put passion into it and you go after it. You don't let anybody tell you, "No." You can do this. You will do this. "No you can't." You will do this if you set your mind and your heart to it.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. And I love that. Just even that little subtle hint that I'll call out from what you just said. Putting it on a piece of paper in a visible place. I mean, this is a common tool we use in No Barriers. Once you've set a goal, you've got to be reminded of it. You've got to put subtle and very clear reminders to yourself in different places because life gets busy.
And you want to make sure that once you put that down, you're voicing it to others and you're making it visible to yourself. I carry in my wallet, I have this little metal card where I wrote last year, my own goals for the next five years. And I look at that metal card every day.
It's a reminder of what it is I want to do because, every day something hits you that isn't expected and you've got to stay focused. So I think that's just such a great little hint and glimmer. It's just one of the many things you can do as you're setting your goals and living to fulfill them.

Steve Emt:
Yeah, definitely. And when you achieve one of those goals, set another one right away. Don't wait around. I mean, just keep going. Keep going, keep building on that. And that's important. A lot of people, they set a goal up and they get it and it's like, "Okay. Now I'm good."
"Nah, why not? Just a little bit more. A little bit more." I mean the goals have to be realistic, but when you achieve one, celebrate it. Go out, nice dinner and pop a bottle of champagne or whatever at home. But set another one right away and keep going. Keep living.

Dave Shurna:
Well, I think having grown up around basketball and soccer and baseball myself and just growing up in America, those are common sports that you see. And you could probably imagine how someone trains for that or trains to be a runner. How do you train to be a Paralympic curler? What does that look like?

Steve Emt:
Well, it's difficult for me because, well, there's two clubs in Connecticut and they're both about an hour and 15 minutes from where I live right now. But when I started off with Tony, I'd be going to the Cape every weekend. And that was a two and a half hour drive one way for me.
So my training, my first year and a half, probably two years, consisted of finishing my school, teaching, about two, three o'clock on a Friday, going home, getting my gear, heading up to the Cape, practicing a couple hours, Friday night, practicing. All day Saturday practicing, all day Sunday, and then driving back to Connecticut, getting back to my apartment about one o'clock in the morning. Back in my classroom at 6:00 AM. Just five hours later teaching. But that's what I wanted to do, that's what I love to do.
And what's incredible about this sport and finding something that you're passionate about. I know that after a two hour drive or a six hour drive, wherever I'm going to curl, I know that ice is waiting for me. And when I get on that ice, I'm in my element. And I mean, nothing can touch me, no matter what's going on in my world. That's where I want to be.
That's what drives me to be crazy and drive five hours round trip just to curl. And again, when you're passionate about something, whatever it is, you will do whatever it takes to get there. And for me, that's two years of doing that. A lot of driving, a lot of [inaudible 00:16:59].

Dave Shurna:
Tell me, what are you literally doing in a training session? Is it about getting, are you practicing the exact speed? The repetition, the muscle memory?

Steve Emt:
It's muscle memory, it's repetition. It is thousands and thousands and thousands of stone. 42 pound piece of granite, we deliver it with a stick, pushing it down the ice and pushing it. And now I get to the point now where I can literally close my eyes and get on the ice and throw the stone and pretty much have it end up pretty close to where I want to be.
So, it's building up that point where it's just boom. And training in the office, COVID hit. All the clubs shut down. Actually all in the country in the US all shut down. So what do we do? Well, I shift my attention to the mental aspect of the game. So I'm sitting in my living room. I have my stick in my hand and I'm closing my eyes and I'm imagining the house, which is called the bullseye. I'm imagining the shot of a throw. And I literally go through and I throw the stone. And I throw the stone.

Dave Shurna:
Over and over again.

Steve Emt:
A was doing hours of that now in my living room, getting my mental prep. When I got back on the ice, when the clubs opened back up again, I was ahead of the game because I was doing it every day for the last year and a half in my living room. So I was seeing it right there. And the sport of curling is such a mental game. It's not a physical game at all. The younger generation are incredible athletes, but I'm 52 years old.
I got teammates that are 50s. I curl with 60 year olds in chairs. You don't need to be an incredible athlete. But a lot of it is up here in mental. So a lot of that time off the ice is mental, a lot of meditation, positive imagery, positive imprints.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. And if you think about, it's like the putt in golf or the free throw shooting in basketball. Whenever you hear athletes talk about whatever their sport is, that act of visualization is a really key part. And even if you're not an athlete, visualizing yourself going through that thing that you're striving towards and visualize it actually happening, is another really important tool, right?

Steve Emt:
It's incredible. And visualizing that promotion at work, visualizing that wedding. Visualizing the house and the car and the kids and a white picket fence. And yeah, a hundred percent. And you nailed it with the golf. And in my pre-shot routine, I came across a video of Tiger Woods many years ago at a clinic. And how his father taught him to putt to the picture.
So I don't know if he still does it, but when he's going through his practice swings putting, he's taking mental pictures in his mind of the path of the ball. And then he just putts to the picture. So I heard that, I'm like, "That's curling right there." I mean, it doesn't matter about the ice or what's in the way or whatnot. It's just, "How's that how's that stone going to move down the ice."
And I picture that in my mind a couple times and take a mental picture. I literally close my eyes before I throw, I open my eyes and I just throw the stone and I let my subconscious take over. But yeah, positive imagery and visualization seeing your goals come to fruition, it's going to happen.

Dave Shurna:
Tell me about Beijing. What were some of the highlights for you? Obviously it was a different Olympics because of the global pandemic. But talk a few of the highlights of Beijing.

Steve Emt:
Yeah. Beijing was incredible. It always is, whenever, I can't. Again, goosebumps just thinking about representing my country and being there. And now a 2-time Paralympian. It was a little bit different in the crowds, smaller crowds. Testing obviously every day. Temperature checks and COVID testing every day.
But beyond that, it wasn't really that much difference. The coverage, the media, was incredible. NBC, our sponsors specifically with USA Curling, Toyota and Columbia were just incredible. Delta took care of all the US athletes, the Olympians and Paralympians. Charter flight over. I had a suite on a plane.

Dave Shurna:
Oh my gosh. Wow.

Steve Emt:
It was walls up, big screen TV seat laid flat. I mean, come on.

Dave Shurna:
Oh my goodness.

Steve Emt:
Yeah, right. But we got there and it was games as normal. But knowing that you're always out there in the ice and competing with the best in the world at what you do. And for us, our competition is about a week long. These skiers and snowboarders that go out there for a minute and a half and then they're done. And they train their entire life for that.
And I guess the conditions on the mountain for the skiers were pretty bad in Beijing, because of the warm temperatures. So there was some bad crashes. We lost a couple Paralympians that had come home early due to injuries that were medal contenders, medal favorites. But you get out there and you're in front of 1000, 1500 people in a curling club. And you see the American flag and you know you're wearing the colors and you go out there competing against the world.
It's incredible. An incredible feeling. Like you said before, we ended up fifth, which was a huge improvement. PyeongChang in 2018, we were 12th. We were two and nine. We had the worst team in the world. We were awful. We were an awful, awful team. But this time we made some changes and I'm the only returning Paralympian from that team.
So I had four new teammates and we went in there and we were one game out of medal contention day. One game. I mean, I should have a medal around my neck right now. And you know what, I think about that every day. And that's going to drive me, not just to be a better curler, but to be a better person, a better father, a better husband, everything.
I mean, success is success, no matter what you do, whether any aspect of your life. So if I'm a better person because of that, I'm going to be a better curler and a better father and a better husband. But incredible experience. Always is representing the US. And we're back on the team again and would be working again for the world championships coming up next year. And I think Switzerland, so we just continue on and keep going.

Dave Shurna:
Well, I'd love to rewind a little bit. And you were a college athlete, you mentioned you were a high school athlete. And then you had this tragic accident. And so I'd love to just have our listeners hear about what happened in your accident and how you moved through that process after the accident.
Obviously this is many, many years later, but I'd to get more into that. What really you struggled with at that time and how you moved through it to be this person that you are today. So tell us about your accident and how started to recover after it.

Steve Emt:
Yeah. Well, the recovery obviously was very, the most difficult part of it. And we'll get to that in a little bit. But the details just as far as what happened. Again, 25 years old, normal 25 year olds are setting their lives and pretty much out of college and their careers starting to take off and their relationships.
But for me, I thought I was in the same situation, but unfortunately I woke up one day and was told I was never going to walk again, because a couple nights prior I did something real stupid. And I got behind the wheel of my truck after I'd been drinking.
Myself and a couple of my buddies, we went to a local bar here in Connecticut to watch some, some basketball, midnight. March Madness. Went into the bar and right away they recognized me as being a former UCONN basketball player. "Steve, whatever you like. Help yourself to ton whenever your pitcher's empty go fill it up with some beers, get the food enjoy it. And we're glad you're here."
And one drink led to another and it got out of hand pretty quickly. The last thing I remember Dave was, I remember getting into my buddy Glen's truck and then we drove to my truck, which I had parked offsite a little bit. I remember getting into my vehicle, putting the keys in the ignition and then starting to drive away. And that's the last thing I remember.
Now, as I'm talking about this, I want you and your audience to keep in mind, at 25 years old, what I've already been through in my life and what I could have been. Being the All American athlete in high school in the West Point cadet in the UCONN basketball player. I could have gone overseas and played professional basketball. I could have gone overseas, played professional soccer.
But I made this terrible decision to drink and drive. From what I was told, I was traveling about 85 miles an hour on a highway when I passed out behind the wheel and my truck went off the side of the road. I hit a ditch, cartwheeled and rolled and flipped about 75 yards down the road. Three quarters on the length of a football field.
I did not have my seatbelt on, which was an awful decision in itself. I rolled with the truck the entire way. My body was found laying next to the truck. So I rolled it the entire way. And I'm 6'5, probably about 240 at the time. They think I got thrown out the back window.
The truck came to rest in a ditch on its roof, tires blown, all the sheet metal gone, all the glass shattered. And I don't remember what it was like obviously to be in the cab of that, being tossed around. I wish I did to more detail in the story, a little bit more effect. But the way I was found, police officers happened to be driving the other way on a highway and his lights shine off the Chrome of my truck.
He got to my truck. He figured I was in the ditch for about 30 minutes. He found me laying next to the truck, obviously all bloodied up, clothes torn off and everything. And he got on the radio to the hospital and the hospital sent the helicopter, LifeSaver helicopter out.
And when something like this happens to the human body, there's something that's called the golden hour. And they say that if you don't get the necessary treatment within that first 60 minutes from the trauma, the chances you of you passing away are very good. If they get to you within 60 minutes, then your chances of survival go up exponentially.
The police officer figured out I was in the ditch for about 30 minutes, took LifeSaver eight minutes to get to me. They tend them to me on the ground for eight minutes. And it took them eight minutes to get back. So if you're doing all the math there, eight times three is 24, add it to the 30, 54 minutes. I'm looking about six minutes to live.
Again, after everything I've been through in my life, six minutes to live and they flew me back to the hospital, multiple surgeries. They cut me open from my chest down to my Naval, had massive maternal bleeding, broke majority of my ribs, broke my back in three places, head injury, blew out my knees. I ruptured my spleen. So they took my spleen out. I severe my spinal cord and that's where the paralysis came in.
Two days of coma was, shut down completely. Hooked up to a machine that was keeping me alive. Again, I'm like, "What's going on here? Just wait a minute. I'm Steve Emt. I'm an All American. I'm a stud athlete. And I'm hooked up to a machine now that's keeping me alive.
The way I came out of my coma was, I had a dream. And I remember this dream vividly. I was at my old house where I grew up just five minutes down the road from where I live now. And it was a spring day like it is today. Nice and warm out. But it was rainy and misty out.
And I remember I was in my old bedroom and the window was open. And I saw a cloud of mist come to the window. And it was so hot out. I leaned forward into that cloud of mist and something grabbed me and threw me down on a corner of a closet. It started spinning me around in circles real fast.
And as that was happening, I saw a beautiful bright skeleton of a person, bright lights, full skeletal, features everything. And then all of a sudden those lights came together at one point. And I woke up for my coma. And everybody that I've talked to in the last 27 years, since my accident from here to California, Florida all said the same thing. Probably my guardian angel.
Probably my father, because I lost my father when I was 19. Saying, "Get back down there. Get back down. You messed up, you made a terrible decision, take responsibility for this. Get back down there and help people. Talk to people, share your story. Listen to people, go out there because you will. Now you can, you will impact lives with what you've been through and how you're going to overcome this."
Of course, I didn't understand that at the time. How the hell am I going to overcome this? I woke up from a coma. The first person I saw was a doctor that had performed a surgery on me a couple nights prior. And she came out of her room. She looked me in the eye and she said, "Steven, you've been in a bad automobile accident. You'll never walk again." And she left the room.
What? "You'll never walk again." "Wait a minute. I'm Steven Emt. I'm the stud athlete here. I'm the All-American. I'm the West Point cadet UCONN basketball player. What are you talking about I'm never going to walk again. Get out of my room, get out of here, leave me alone."
I'm in denial. It didn't happen. I'm going to wake up tomorrow. Everything's going to be fine. And then my mother came in, she kissed me on the forehead. "Steven, I love you." And she left the room. Drinking and driving, selfish act.
When the people that are doing it are doing it, they're not thinking about the hundreds of other people that they're affected in their lives. And I'm living proof of that. For those two days when I was in a coma, I had people coming by all the time in the hospital in the waiting room and holding vigils out there for me to wake up and survive and get through this. "What's Steve going to do now. What's going to happen to his family."
And my sisters and my brother and my loved ones there, all these people, seeing the priests come into my room to read me my last rights and hearing the conversations between the doctors and the nurses. And in my family saying, "We don't think Steve's going to make it through the night. You better start making funeral arrangements.", and stuff like that."
It's like, "What was I thinking? My poor mother, my poor family. I wasn't thinking because I was an idiot. I was off doing some selfish, stupid stuff, drinking and driving and I almost died because of it." And it was an awful, awful accident and changed my life.

Dave Shurna:
And so I mean, you wake up and you told you can't walk. Walk us through how you went through this tragedy and came out still with the hope and optimism and positivity. It must not have started that way. You must have started in some pretty dark places.
Talk to us a little bit about that process, because obviously there's the physical process of recovery and then there's the mental process as well, which can last for a really long time.

Steve Emt:
Correct? Yeah. And the mental process of recovery is in my opinion, more important than the physical ones. I mean we can't heal in any way until we're okay up in our minds. So yeah, there was darkest days of my life. Days I never thought that I would allow to come to my mind and my being. And the key word there was allow.
And I've talked about that a lot in my book. But there's three, four months afterwards. About two months after my accident, I'm in my hospital bed, in my rehab hospital, and the nurses wanted to bring me down for some therapy. So they had to carry me from my bed to my wheelchair and they dropped me. And I landed on my tailbone right on the tire of my wheelchair. And I bruised my tailbone.
So for two straight days, I had to lay in bed. Couldn't get out of bed at all. Bathroom breaks, no. Food, no. For two straight days, I had to lay in bed on my side with my butt cheeks taped wide open to the window. Fortunately I was on a second floor with the window open and the air coming in, trying to heal me up. And that's when I hit rock bottom, Dave. That's when I was, "Who the hell wants me now? Who's going to take care of me for the rest of my life?" "Who's going to?" I'm a vegetable."
"Who am I going to be a burden on?" "Maybe this world's a better place without me in it." And I thought about taking my own life. And anybody that came into my room those two days, was met with curses and swears. And get the hell out of my room. And me throwing at them things, anything within my reach. To, "Leave me alone. I don't want to F-ing talk to anybody. I just want to die."
"I don't be a burden. Awful. Awful two days of my life." And the doctors and the nurses and the therapist was coming in. They were doing not their job. They're doing their passion. They're coming in to help and here I am being an idiot, being a jerk. Being a loser saying, "Hey leave me alone. I just want to go." "No, no, no, no."
Awful two days of my life. That's when I hit rock bottom. But then something incredible happened. I healed up. The nurses came in two days later. Nurses came in, said, "All right Steve, we're getting you into the swimming pool."
So carefully this time, they carried me from my bed to my wheelchair. And they brought me down to the swimming pool and they put a life jacket on me. And when I was a kid growing up, we had a cottage in New Hampshire on a lake. So I love the water. And it's ironic now that my life, my passion, is on frozen water.
So water is definitely a theme in my life. But they put a life jacket on me and they put me in this chair and the chair lifted me up and over the pool. And it slowly loaded me into the pool. And I saw how the water hit my feet. I'm like, "I can't feel this. This is weird."
Just remember, this is just a couple months after my accident. And it's coming up my legs. I can't feel it, it's weird. It's coming to my hips. I can't feel it. All of a sudden it hit my hands and my leg and my arms and my chest and my face. And it was incredible, incredible. One of the most invigorating feelings I've ever felt in my life.
So for the next half hour or so, I'm floating around a swimming pool there in my rehab hospital, all by myself. And I'm thinking to myself, "All right, something needs to change. Do I want to still be this negative person I've been for the last two days?"
The darkest days. The hell of my life. And being a burden, being a jackass to everybody that comes into my life. "Do I want to be that person? Do I want to continue to allow these negative thoughts to come into my mind? Or do I want to go back to the person I was before? The life of the party, the stud athlete. Everybody's friend?"
I'm a public speaker. I go into a room and I suck the air out of them. I mean, I love talking with people. I love being around them. So I decided right there in the pool, "I got to make a change. I have to accept what had happened."
Remember, this is about two and a half months out of my accident. And for those two and a half months, I was in denial. "No, I'm going to walk again. No, I'm just, I'm going to get through this. I'm going to be fine."
But now I was like, "I got to accept what happened. I'm paralyzed. I'm not going to walk again. I got to make the best of this."
And until we accept these things in our mind, until mentally we accept what happened and what just occurred, we can't allow the healing process to begin. There's no way I was going to get better physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whatever, until I accepted, "Hey, I was a drunk driver." "I screwed up. I take full responsibility for this."
"And now, how do we move forward?"
So as I'm sitting around in that swimming pool, that's where I came up with the title of my book. You D.E.C.I.D.E.: A 6-step action plan to becoming the hero of your own life. "These steps, what am I going to do to get through this? How am I going to become a better person because of this. This isn't the end of me. This isn't the end of life. I am lucky to be paralyzed."
I'm lucky to be sitting here today with you, Dave. But not being able to feel from the waist down. I should have been killed that night.

Dave Shurna:

Steve Emt:
It was a horrific crash, should have been killed, but there I was in a pool. Boom. I had my "AHA moment", "I'm done." "I'm done with this. I'm done being this negative person. I'm going to move forward. I'm going to get out of here as soon as possible or I'm going to stay in the pool a little bit longer, because it was nice warm water."
"But I'm going to get to the weight room. I'm going to get to therapy and I'm fired up and I'm going to get out of here and I'm going to take on the world."
And so for me, literally, that's what it took.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. It was that one moment of clarity of acceptance and channeling back to who you were before the accident and realizing you could still be that and more.

Steve Emt:
Correct. Yep.

Dave Shurna:
And that's an amazing decision you made. And it sounds like in that moment, the title of your book emerged and your new life after accident started.
And sorry, I want to make sure we have time to talk about the book because I think a lot of what's in it is probably super practical those of us listening in terms of how we set and achieve goals. Regardless of whether you have a disability or have had an accident, it's really about how to achieve your wildest dreams.
So tell me about the book and the six step process.

Steve Emt:
The title is You D.E.C.I.D.E., decide is an acronym. It's, A 6-step action plan to becoming the hero of your own life.
And I've been told my entire life I got to write a book. I've been through so much in my life. The death of my parents, becoming a Paralympian, so many things. And I needed time to write a book. I didn't have time. But then COVID hit, "Hey, we got time. So I'm going to go ahead and write this book."
It's part memoirs. The first half is my life and what I've been through in my life. And the good and a bad. And the second half is a six step action plan. And the title of it D.E.C.I.D.E. The D, determine that a change needs to be made in your life. That's very important. And for me, it was clear sitting in the swimming pool right there, I needed to change my thinking. I needed to get on and move on with my life.

Dave Shurna:
And so that's the D. You made that's the D.

Steve Emt:
That's the D. Yep. Determine that a change. Again, people are stuck in their ways until you determine that there're changes to be made, whether you want that promotion or you need to get out of this abusive relationship. Or you need to find another job. Or you need to move or something, because we're so stuck. So a change needs to be made. "Okay, boom. I'm going to go on to the next step."
And the next step is to educate yourself. Find information. Go out there and talk to people. Listen to people. Google stuff. Look on the internet. Call that 800 number, drug addiction or prevention, whatever's going on in your life. There's people out there that are educated people that can help you with gathering information. Okay. So determine the change is necessary and gather information about it. Educate yourself.
The C is to create a plan. And this is what a goal setting in the book comes in there. The template, I have a goal set, it's so important. Create a plan. We can't do anything without a plan. We can't go out there and do anything. So timeline, what are you going to do? The goals that you have. The setbacks that might come off, the limitations, financial travel, whatever it is, create a plan. List it out. Write it out. Boom, put it on your calendar.

Dave Shurna:
I'd love to jump in. Just, I want to ask before we go on to the rest of the acronym. So I find sometimes that, so you make a decision that, "I've got to make a change." You start to gather information. We are a world where information is at our fingertips at all time. Sometimes so much so that it's overwhelming.
And sometimes it's that plan creation, that can be hard. "Okay. I know I need to make a change. I have so much information about all the stuff I could do."
Talk to me about how, Emt, all that coming at you, how do you actually create a plan?

Steve Emt:
Yeah. And again, I refer to that in my book, as that third step is the most crucial in this entire plan. Yes, you're right. There is and some of it is wrong, information out there. There's some places that would steer you the wrong way.
But you also need the wrong information. You need to hear about the people that failed and did things wrong in order to be successful. And again, I keep referring to the book, where I talk about failure all the time. There's nothing wrong with failing. There's winning and there's learning, and that's something I live with every day.
There's no losing in life. There's no losing in curling. There's no losing in sport. There's winning and there's learning. So you learn from your own failures, you learn from others and you continue to educate yourself and move on.
But yeah, you're right. There's a lot of information out there. But if you just go out there and just keep in mind, "My ultimate goal is to get this promotion. My ultimate goal is to get out of the hospital. My ultimate goal is to move or get out of this.", whatever.
Keep that one thing in your mind and everything that you're doing is creating a plan, a process, that leads to that one ultimate goal. Now that being said, there's going to be a little bit of more goals along the way, but there's always got to be that one thing. And that's the one thing that's got to drive you. So any information that has nothing to do with your ultimate goal, let it go, take it in, hear it, then let it go.
But ultimately that one thing, boom, you got to have that written down. Again, I wrote it down all the time.

Dave Shurna:
And I think that idea that you said so well. Like, "Hey, you've got the goal. You keep coming back to the goal." And there are going to be things you choose that aren't necessarily the right path. And that's okay. But if you stick to the goal and iterate and try again on some new path, that works. So talk to me about the, I, now. What goes after the C?

Steve Emt:
The I is easy, implement. Put that plan into play. I mean, so many people have dreams and goals and plans and never do anything with them. I mean, why waste the time of doing all that work when you don't put it into play?
So the I is to implement your plan. Do whatever it takes, keep going and talking with people. And listen to people and surround yourself with people that are going to push you to stay on your plan. And they're going to push you to be a better person. Don't hang out with people that are just going to tell you how great you are. That's garbage. You want to hang out with people that are going to push you and going to challenge you and tell you when you're wrong, that you're wrong.
And that's the kind of people you want. That's the kind of people I surround myself with. You've got to have great people around you. If you want to be great, you got to surround yourself with greatness. So implement the plan.
The D, the second D, big one. Don't ever give up. Don't ever give up, no matter what happens. There's going to be naysayers out there. There's going to be people telling you, "You can't do it. That's impossible. That's garbage. That's crap." Put it in your head. Put it in your heart."
A lot of people say, "If you got it, just whatever you want to do, think about it, put it in your head." No, I say, "Put it in your heart.", because sometimes we get crazy in the head and we forget where we lose focus. But again, it goes back to that passion, whatever this is, what you want to achieve, whatever this change you want to make in your life, put it in your heart. And you will.
So don't ever give up. Don't listen to people. All your passion goes into that. The last E is to evaluate. It's very important. We got to evaluate what we're doing. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, whatever it is. If it's something as often as daily, "How was today?", at the end of the day. "How was today?" "Well, today it was a good day."
"Well, tomorrow I'm going to do the same thing. I'm going to do it 1% better though." I talk about that in my book too. 1%. Just make 1% change every day. Think about that. How easy is that to make 1% changes, it's not hard. And we're going to get better tomorrow.
But if today was broken, "Okay, we're going to fix it and then get better tomorrow." So we have to take a step back on what we're doing and evaluate what's going on in our life in order to get better. There's winning and learning, there's no losing.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Well, I love the simplicity of the acronym and the reminder of these basic steps that we all need to take as we're setting ambitious goals for ourselves. Where can people find the book?

Steve Emt:
It's available on Amazon right now? It actually hit number one best seller a couple months back ago.

Dave Shurna:

Steve Emt:
Yep. Thank you. I appreciate it. It's an easy read. It's an easy read. And that's what I wanted to when I was writing it. It took a lot to write it, and I'll admit that. And it was incredible. So cathartic to be able to go out there and put all my feelings down on paper.
But it's an easy read and that's the way I want it to be. It's simple. And I'm getting messages from all around the world for people saying, "Thank you." Just, "Thank you for making this easy. And I've carried this with me. I keep it my car.And I refer back to it a couple times here and there."
And like I said, if it's part of my life that inspires you and motivates you to go out there and make a change, excellent. If it's all six of these steps, if it's one of them, whatever it is, excellent. But read the book, go through it, take action in your own life and be your own hero.
And real quick, we talk about heroes so often nowadays, and some of them are incredible, don't get me wrong. But ultimately, we got to look at ourselves and that's why I wanted to do this book. Look at yourself as your own hero.
When I was growing up, Larry Bird was my hero. But when I was told I was never going to walk again at the age of 25, he wasn't going to help me through that. The doctors and the nurses and the therapist and all that, they were going to do their best, but ultimately, it was on me.
And we're all capable of doing that. We all have it inside of us. So hero word, how about we look at ourselves. I'm my own hero of my life. And with the right plan in place, this is how you do it. That's my book.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Love it. Well for those listeners who want to check that out, we'll be sure to put that in our show notes with a link to purchase the book and a link to Steve's website as well.
So Steve, we've gone through fairly quick overview of key aspects of your life. And you mentioned that you're looking forward to continuing to compete.
What has been your late, I assume this D.E.C.I.D.E is an acronym that you use throughout your life and it keeps evolving and changing. So what is your current D that you've made a decision to focus on?

Steve Emt:
Right now I'm considering whether I want to continue to be a Paralympic athlete. And I think I will. And I think because it's in me. And my wife is like, "You're nuts. Why are you even considering it? You know you're going to do it." And she's incredible. I have incredible support.
But it's a lot of time away. The sacrifices we make as Olympians and Paralympians, I don't think the normal listener realize the amount of time that goes into our craft and our professions and our passions. I don't think they realize I drive five hours just to curl for one or two hours. And these 17, 18, 19 year old kids that are snowboarders or gymnasts or whatever it is, spend 6, 7, 8 hours a day honing their craft.
And so that for me right now is, I'm weighing, I'm going through the process and yes you are correct, I use the D.E.C.I.D.E process a lot. Big stuff, little stuff. But I'm weighing everything now and I'm going through it, whether or not I want to continue with this. I think I will. The numbers are coming back in my favor. So I think I'm going to continue on and get one more.
And when I started this, I said I wanted to be a 3-time Paralympian. I wanted to be the most decorated wheelchair curler in the history of the US. I got one more coming up in Italy in 2026. So to achieve my goal, that's where I think that's where I'm going.

Dave Shurna:
Well, Italy's not a bad place to have that goal achieved.

Steve Emt:
Right. That's right. Never been, but that's what I hear.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Well, I think you're right too. I mean, I think understanding all the hard work that it takes to put into the fulfillment of that goal and the commitment that you make. But I love the practicality of what we're hearing as listeners to this podcast, which is, "Hey, your thing isn't necessary." You want to be a Paralympic athlete, maybe. But that the process is still the same, that you go through to make these commitments. To implement your plan, to evaluate your progress and to make incremental progress every day.
And as some past guests have said, sometimes it's two steps forward, one step back and that's okay. It's not always going to be this elegant progression forward of everything's going to work well towards your goal. But if you stay fixed on that thing that you've decided you want to accomplish, that's your driving force.

Steve Emt:
Yes, sir.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Well, thank you Steve so much for joining us today and for sharing your personal story with us and for all the great work that you're doing.
Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and maybe even book you as a speaker?

Steve Emt:
Yeah. Yeah. My website, steveemt.com. My last name is E-M-T. So simple there. All my information's on there. And booking up through the year and just, I enjoy it. I enjoy sharing my story. I love being with people and listen to others and impacting lives. And it's important that we get back and continue to get out there and do some great things with our lives. So, yep, steveemt.com. And my book is available on Amazon and it's an easy read.

Dave Shurna:
yeah. So I encourage everyone to check out the book. And Steve, I was looking through some of the reviews of your talk by many school principles saying it was the best talk that they'd ever heard. So please do check that out. And Steve, we wish you all the best. I hope to be watching you in 2026 in Italy.

Steve Emt:
Yes, definitely. And we'll come back right afterwards with a medal around my neck for that one.

Dave Shurna:
That'll be awesome. Yeah, can't wait. Can't wait. Thanks.

Steve Emt:
Thank you, Dave.

Dave Shurna:
Well, everyone as always, you can find our show notes at nobarrierspodcast.com. And if you enjoyed this conversation, I encourage you to share it with one other person. I love this really straightforward, practical approach that you can use in your own life to go through that process of setting and achieving goals. I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to future conversations with you all. Take care.

Diedrich John,:
The production team behind this podcast includes producer Diedrich John,, that's me. Sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cottman, marketing and graphic support from Stone Ward and web support by Jamlo.
Special, thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song Guidance.
And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us.
If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. That's nobarrierspodcast.com. There's also a link to shoot me an email with any suggestions for this show or any ideas you've got at all. Thanks so much and have a great day.


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