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Gaining From Loss II: Jason Schechterle #139

Warwick Fairfax

November 8, 2022

Jason Schechterle was a rookie Phoenix police officer in 2001 when his stopped squad car was slammed from behind at more than 100 mph and burst into an inferno. The unimaginable burns he suffered left him in a coma for two and a half months. He woke up unable to see, his appearance dramatically altered by his injuries and the surgeries he underwent to treat them. He struggled emotionally with what had happened to him – but never gave up the fight, or gave up hope that he’d win it.

In this second episode of our special fall series GAINING FROM LOSS, Schechterle takes us on the journey of how he received the emotional and physical scars he still carries – but also how he found hope and healing that underscores a critical truth: the power of the human spirit can never be underestimated or extinguished. The motto that’s guided him through it all? Sometimes the most beautiful, inspirational changes will disguise themselves as utter devastation. Be patient.

Highlights

  • “Nothing short of perfect” (3:16) 
  • Wanting to be a teenager (5:54)
  • Detours along the way (6:56)
  • Failing in his first attempt to join the police department (9:50)
  • His dream of becoming a police officer realized (11:55) 
  • Jason’s loss (15:15)
  • The “miracles” that saved his life (18:17)
  • The long road to recovery begins (22:53)
  • How Jason gained from loss (34:15)
  • Wrestling with guilt, then finding comfort and hope (37:41)
  • Finally understanding the “why” of his loss (39:10)
  • Charting a new course (43:35)
  • The blessings from his loss (49:04)
  • The encouragement that led to his new calling  (52:50)

Transcript

Gary Schneeberger:

Hi friends. Here at Beyond The Crucible, we often get a chance to dive into some of the hardest moments of someone’s life. Everything from facing loss to trying to find your purpose in life. This summer we’ve been working extremely hard to pull together a full e-course, our first, filled with more than three hours of the lessons learned on how you can find and fully embrace Second-Act Significance. To gain access to this course, visit secondactsignificance.com. That’s secondactsignificance.com. Now, here’s today’s podcast episode.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

 

Jason Schechterle:

The fire was all consuming. The entire car was engulfed. The danger that they were in was significant and I’m trapped with my seatbelt inside this car. They got me out in 90 seconds. From impact to the time I was out was 90 seconds into an ambulance and I was two and a half miles away from what I would argue as the best burn center in the United States, the Maricopa County Hospital. And I was on their trauma table in less than eight minutes. Having suffered burns to 43% of my body. My neck, head, and face being the worst, they were fourth degree, which that’s a term I didn’t know existed until after this. I thought third degree was worst you can have, but fourth degree means it’s down to the last layers of muscle and to the bone.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That chilling description is just a sliver of the story our guest this week, Jason Schechterle recounts in recalling the car crash in 2001 that changed his life in unimaginable ways. The young Phoenix police officer was in a coma for two and a half months. He woke up, unable to see. His appearance dramatically altered by his injuries and the surgeries he underwent to treat them. He struggled emotionally with what had happened to him, but he never gave up the fight or gave up the hope that he’d win it.

Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. In this second episode of our special fall series, Gaining from Loss. Schechterle takes us on a journey of how he received the emotional and physical scars he still carries, but also how he found hope and healing that underscores a critical truth. The power of the human spirit can never be underestimated or extinguished. The motto that’s guided him through it all: sometimes the most beautiful inspirational changes will disguise themselves as utter devastation. Be patient.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, thank you so much Jason for being here. I really appreciate it. It really is truly an honor to have you here and listeners will discover why I’m using that word. But before we get to the loss, which is what this series is about, I’d love to hear a bit of the backstory of Jason Schechterle, what growing up was like, hopes, dreams. So what was life for you kind of growing up.

 

Jason Schechterle:

It’s an honor to be with you and to meet you, Warwick. Thank you for giving me a chance to share with your audience today. When I look back at my childhood, it was just nothing short of perfect. I mean, I grew up in a couple of great decades. I turned eight in 1980 and turned 18 in 1990. You can’t get any luckier than that right there to grow up in the eighties. I mean, it was 2the best decade. But yeah, so much freedom out riding horses and dirt bikes and four wheelers and grew up on a little bit of farmland out by Phoenix International Raceway. Great parents, older brother and sister. One set of my grandparents lived with us, which grandparents are the greatest thing in the world and went to good schools, played sports, had great friends.

I describe it as painfully easy and beautiful because it did not do much to prepare me for what life actually will hold down the road. I didn’t face anything but good as I grew up. There were no divorces. We grew up with not a lot of money. I would say lower middle class if you had to put a description on it. But yeah, my childhood was absolutely amazing.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So what were your hopes and dreams growing up? I mean, every kid growing up kind of typically has things, gosh, when I grow up I’d like to do X. What was that for you?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Oh, man. I loved sports and I was good at several of them, but I wasn’t great at any of them. And I got really into golf and dreamed maybe about playing professional golf. All kids have big dreams, as they should. You should dream very, very big. I remember wanting to be a train conductor. I thought it would be cool to ride the railroad. I wanted to be an over the road trucker. And it’s funny because to this day, I’ll be 50 years old this year and my favorite thing is still to drive. So I had just all these little back and forths with, oh, I don’t know what I’ll do.

But I really thought about, I grew up with a family of service members, my brother, my dad, my grandfather, they all served in the military. They all had great experiences, great stories, great attitudes, never heard anything negative even from the older generation who were in several of the wars doing some pretty difficult things. And PTSD as we know it today, I never heard or saw that as a child when I was talking to the older generations. And then when I was a teenager, I thought about being a police officer and just was always enamored by a uniform, wanting to wear a uniform, wanting to serve others. It’s a beautiful thing. And when you’re overcome with that sense, once it’s inside of you, it doesn’t go away.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, that was really the DNA of your family. It was modeled by your father, grandfather, brother, it’s we’re here to serve. That’s the purpose of life, to serve our others, to serve our brothers and sisters and our family. And so it’s makes sense. But from what I understand, you didn’t go straight into the police force. You had a bit of detour, right?

 

Jason Schechterle:

I had quite a bit of a detour. I succeeded a little bit at the game of golf, ended up with a college scholarship and then it did not take me very long to figure out, yeah, I’m pretty good, but I can’t do what these guys could do. And also at the time I recognized that I’m, you’ll hear me say this word a lot because it’s just how I live my life is with gratitude. I am grateful that I recognized at a young age that I needed some structure and discipline in my life and college and education was not my path to gain that. And so I decided to follow in the footsteps of the rest of the men of my family serving the military. I wanted to kind of take it easy. So I joined the Air Force.

There was no way-

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Come on, the Coast Guard is easier, isn’t it?

 

Jason Schechterle:

No, no. I don’t know why people give the Coast Guard a hard time and you should actually watch what those fools do out there in the rough seas. They are truly some of the best. But I definitely knew Army and Marines that I needed a nice dorm room, I needed good food and things like that. So went into the Air Force a little bit naive because I knew I like, Oh yeah, I think I might be a police officer someday, so I’ll be a police officer in the Air Force. Well, unbeknownst to me, being a police officer in the military is a little different. And here’s a guy who grew up in Phoenix, never seen snow in 18 years of life. And all of a sudden I found myself in Grand Forks, North Dakota, walking around nuclear airplanes at 40 below zero.

And that was one of those times in life that quietly to yourself you think, how did I get here? That was the first time I remember thinking, how did I get here? But it was great. I spent two beautiful winters up there. I spent a year in Korea. I got sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for the 1994 Haiti refugee crisis. I did my four years and it was exactly what I wanted and needed. It gave me the structure and discipline, got me outside of my comfort zones, got me outside of my hometown and then I was ready to return and begin my life.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So you returned and joined the police force in Arizona, I’m assuming?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Actually that was the plan, but I failed at it a couple of times. I think it was a combination of a lack of maturity, just not being ready for it and life, of course, changes on us very quickly. I met and married my beautiful wife, Susie. We had a couple of kids, a daughter and a son. And I actually ended up with a really great job with one of the main power companies here in the state, Arizona Public Service. And I started out at the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant and then I got into an apprenticeship program to be a lineman working on the overhead and underground power lines. Really great job. Outside every day, different locations. I was making a lot of money for my age in the nineties and having no college degree or anything.

And I really thought life was set. So that was just kind of the daily life. I was a dad, a husband, and just that good old fashioned blue collar work that I still love that term. And that all changed when I was actually 26 years old. So I had been home for four years. On March 26th, 1999, there was a Phoenix police officer named Marc Atkinson that was shot and killed in the line of duty and Warwick, I can’t explain to you why it was Marc or why it was his critical incident, but it changed my life in that moment. I just knew I had to be doing that job. I had to be wearing that uniform that he was wearing and that set my new path.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So it’s ’99, you joined the police force and then time goes on until the event that changed your life. So how long had you been in the police force before the event that you’re about to tell us about?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Well, I graduated the academy in January of 2000. First graduated class of the new millennium. And like I think most people, I was so full of excitement and enthusiasm as well as the comfort of my career is going to be what I make it. I’m going to have a 25, 30 year career. I want to be a homicide detective someday. I might want to work in these other areas, but then at the end, I’m going to collect my pension and ride off into the sunset. I remember having that comfort and confidence that that’s how life would go and my career would go. But yeah, I loved every minute of going to work. This job, I still talk in the present tense. It’s kind of funny.

Being a police officer, especially for me in the city I grew up in, and to be doing it with the calling and the reasons that I was doing it, that kind of honor, humility, pride, when you put the uniform on, it really opens up your ability to do the job in the right way and for the right reasons. And so for that I enjoyed it. I mean, I absolutely could not wait to go to work, but as it turns out, I only got to do it for 14 short months.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So just before we go to what happened after those 14 months, just so listeners can kind of get a sense of the life of Jason Schechterle, it just seemed like almost a perfect life. You had wonderful parents, you had a history of service, of serving in the military, you had a stint in the Air Force. Now you’re being in the police force, which is something you’d been thinking about for a long time. You had a wonderful wife, two great kids. It would seem like life for Jason Schechterle couldn’t be much better. You knew what you were going to be doing for the next 25, 30 years until you got your pension, maybe get into homicide. It seemed like you were just blessed. But tell us, because the audience, the listeners may not know. Tell us what happened on that fateful day and I guess it was March 26th, 2001. So tell us about that day.

 

Jason Schechterle:

Yes, and I hope that the listeners are paying attention to the date you just said because ironically two years to the day after Marc Atkinson was killed and the reason I became a police officer. It was on the anniversary of his death. And I went to work that day with that emotion in mind. And you’re also right in saying my life was pretty perfect and blessed. I mean, to have my parents healthy and married, all four of my grandparents at the time were still alive and married. I hadn’t even experienced death in my family at 28 years of age. That’s pretty remarkable. So blessed is a good way to say it, but also doesn’t prepare you for things that as life unfolds, adversity’s coming and it comes in different forms and puts you on different paths.

But I went to work that day and it was a routine Monday night and I’m going to work my 10 hour shift and go home and crawl in bed and went through about eight and a half hours of my shift and then I answered up for a call that I didn’t need to answer up for. It wasn’t in my area of responsibility, but the officers there were busy at the time. It was an emergency call. So of course, I grabbed the radio and I said, “I’ll head that direction.”

And as I was responding to that call, because it was an emergency call, I had my lights and siren on, I was going pretty quick. But I came to a red light in downtown Phoenix, a very busy part of Phoenix. And you still have to come to a complete stop as a first responder when you have your lights or siren on, you stop for red lights. So you’re just not flying through intersections and causing accidents. And it only takes a second and a half to clear an intersection. And just as I was going to proceed, my patrol car was struck from behind by a taxi cab. The driver was suffering an epileptic seizure at the time and according to the investigation, he was doing 115 miles an hour when he ran into me.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So what happened next?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Well, what happened, the sequence events after that is something that I was fortunate enough in time to put together through the use of the listening to the police and fire dispatch tapes, personally talking to everybody on scene because at that speed, that violent of collision, of course, I was knocked unconscious. Thankfully, I was knocked unconscious. It is one of many reasons that saved my life because I wasn’t yelling and screaming and sucking in all that incredibly hot air that would have killed me very quickly.

But my car burst into flames, traveled 270 feet through the intersection and came to stop 50 feet from a fire truck that was sitting right there. I mean, you talk about miracles, timing, twists of fate so much went into those two cars being in that position at that moment and never want to lose touch with the human side of what we go through. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. Doesn’t matter our background or what clothes we put on every day to go to work. We’re human beings and we are designed to feel an amazing range of emotions. And as first responders, a lot of times you have a little bit of information. You have a little bit of time to prepare for how you’re going to approach something or think about your training or whatever. Very rarely does the world literally blow up right in front of you. And for these four firefighters, that’s what happened.

And it was a police car and there’s a pretty serious camaraderie in the first responder community and I know that heightened their senses of the importance of what was going on and they were able to drive their truck, that 50 feet pull up right next to me and all four of them had their own individual specific jobs and they did just some amazing things in a short amount of time. A couple of police officers arrived on scene not knowing what they were facing and thinking that it was one of their friends who was dying inside of a fire and the fire was all consuming. The entire car was engulfed. The danger that they were in was significant.

And I’m trapped in my seatbelt inside this car. They got me out in 90 seconds from impact to the time I was out was 90 seconds into an ambulance and I was two and a half miles away from what I would argue is the best burn center in the United States, the Maricopa County Hospital. And I was on their trauma table in less than eight minutes. Having suffered burns to 43% of my body, my neck, head, and face being the worst. They were fourth degree, which that’s a term I didn’t know existed until after this. I thought third degree was the worst you can have. But fourth degree means it’s down to the last layers of muscle and to the bone. My shoulders, my hands were third degree. The tops of my thighs, my chest, my stomach, my back were not burned.

Again, another thing that helped save my life was my bulletproof vest protecting me. Burns are a unique injury. They will keep on burning. So if your chest gets burned to the extent that my arms and face were the way it becomes constricted, your lungs can’t expand and you will succumb to that injury very, very quickly. So I was very lucky in that regard. And outside of the burns, I had two cracked ribs and a mild concussion. I would’ve gone home just a couple of hours after the accident, had the car not caught on fire.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

How do you get your arms around the combination of the tragedy and the horror and the miracles? I mean, it’s just a strange combination of emotions and circumstances.

 

Jason Schechterle:

It is a strange combination and it’s difficult in its beauty, if that makes sense. So I was in a coma for two and a half months. For me, it was a blink of an eye because medically induced coma. So a lot of medication and one of them is kind of an amnesia drug. So for me, it was a blink of an eye and I wake up. Now I’m completely blind, obviously I’m incredibly sick, I’m still in danger of not surviving these injuries. But I wake up to this harsh reality of you’ve been in a car accident, your car caught on fire. It was slow learning of getting answers.

But what you were saying, I was constantly on one side was wow, this is the most devastating thing I could have ever predicted to be involved in a fire. And what is life going to be like now? I’m blind. I can only imagine. At the time, I had no idea, but my appearance is forever changed and it’s probably horrific. It’s disfiguring, it’s disgusting. What are my kids going to think of me? How am I ever going to be a public? And I’ve lost my job. But then it was the why am I the one that got a firetruck in their intersection? What about all these other people who deserve that same thing? What has my wife gone through for the two and a months I was in a comma and she’s still here by my side? What have the doctors done to fight for me? What did those firefighters go through? Yes, the miracles and the timing, but for the actual collision, every single thing went in my favor. And if you remove just one second of one part of that sequence of events, I’m not sitting here sharing the story with you.

So the contradiction, the force of that, it’s just a interesting thing to go through because you’re so elevated with gratitude and thankfulness and happiness like, okay, I’m alive no matter how bad things are. I survived, I’m alive. And what has my family gone through and I got to fight for them, but also the miracles and how do you even try to process that? And I’m a spiritual man. I wouldn’t consider myself real religious. I think spirituality is very personal. I never questioned God. I wasn’t angry at God. I recognized a lot of this stuff is way too big for me to answer. What I have to embrace is what I can control. And all I can do is live my life starting right now to the best of my ability. What that means, I have no idea.

Obviously, there were a ton of dark days. I mean, I cried so much every day with thoughts of what are my children going to think of me? I have lost my job. I am facing so many years of reconstructive surgeries, therapy, burn injury is a pain that all these years later, it’s hard for me to even try to put it into words because thankfully, our minds and our bodies tend to forget the negatives and hang onto the positives. And I really have to dig deep to go back and think about the actual physical pain. But the mental and emotional pain, it’s always right here.

I would cuss and yell at people who were there to love and support me. I would not talk. And I don’t want to say I was depressed, I didn’t have the energy. I was incredibly frail. I was incredibly sick, I was incredibly tired and there just was no clear path to what the future was going to hold. But I was very grounded from the beginning that you’re here, a lot of people fought for you when you couldn’t fight for yourself, and there is beauty and strength in vulnerability. It’s not something we want to talk about or that we like. But there is. And I just had to get to a point and thankfully I did where I accepted what happened and then I accepted the challenge of making the most of my new life.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So Jason, as I’m listening to this, I’m wondering, I can imagine for weeks or months there was excruciating pain. There might have been guilt almost that gosh, I’m not going to be able to play ball with my son and he’s not going to remember how I was. I mean, all lots of human emotions, I don’t know how will this affect my marriage? And maybe there might have even been a little survivor’s guilt. The person two years before who inspired me to join the police force, he wasn’t so lucky. How come I survived? I mean, survived in pretty tough shape but survived nonetheless.

So you probably had all sorts of series of guilt, not that any of it was your fault, it just bad things happen for whatever reason. But whether it’s survivor’s guilt or what’s this going to do to my family? And obviously the pain, I’ve heard this is from burn victims is probably as tough a pain as exists that any human can possibly experience that none of us who haven’t been through can understand. But I mean, how did you get through those weeks and months? Clearly you’re in a good place now, which you’re going to get to, but how did you get through those weeks and months with the physical pain, the emotional pain, the guilt, the sea of negative emotions? How in the world did you get through those first few weeks and months?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Well, thankfully it came pretty quickly when you’re talking about the timeframe involved here. It was only about three weeks after I woke up that I had two profound realizations that to this day I still am grateful for and live my life by. And first and foremost, I wasn’t targeted by this individual. He made a lot of mistakes and caused a lot of damage. But he wasn’t trying to hurt a police officer. He certainly wasn’t trying to hurt Jason. So I didn’t have to deal with, or I chose not to be angry at him. I chose not to look at it that way. And the most important thing that occurred to me was no matter what happens in this life, I think we have to have accountability. It’s very easy to say, why me? It’s very easy to be angry at whatever faith you have, whatever you believe in, it’s very easy to take out your personal struggles on people who love you or to just give up.

But no matter what happens, you have to realize, well, everybody has their own story. I’ll tell you what it was for me. Here’s this tragic moment in time that happened when two cars collided and one caught on fire. I did not catch on fire, get burned, be in that hospital or have my life completely changed because of that moment. If you go back to me giving up a college golf scholarship to join the military, only spending the required four years in the military, failing at becoming a police officer several times and then postponing becoming one until I was truly moved to do so by the calling of another officer dying, you can go back a solid 10 years of my life and see that every choice that I made is what led me to that intersection, to that fire and into that hospital bed. And therefore, every decision I make starting right now will take me where I need to go.

And that really laid the foundation for me to say, okay, I’m at least going to put in the effort and I had no idea what I could accomplish. And I’m still in the midst of, yes, a lot of sadness, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, all the things that you have to go on a journey within yourself. It is not possible to overcome anything in life by thinking that we are designed to simply say, okay, and then just move on. There’s not one setback, not anything that just says, okay, I’ll just move on. That’s not possible. You have to go on a journey within yourself. And I allowed myself to do that. Sometimes by, I didn’t really have a choice. If I went to therapy because I wanted something to get better, I’m going to have to suffer the pain that is involved in that therapy. But I still just had that foundation of I’m going to continue to strive for the next hour.

I didn’t have to get through a whole day, I had to get through the next hour and see what I could see from there. I did have to get to tomorrow. And I’m a big fan of cliches and sayings and I think they are powerful. And when they mean something to you, so you’ll often hear me saying little quotes, but it’s true that the sun comes up tomorrow and the world does not care about your broken heart. So you just got to keep going. And that turned into at least the start of some positive momentum. While I could also continue every day, no matter how I felt when I was at home, when I was in the midst of the fear and the tears and the anger and the pain, I was still surrounded by the sound of my children’s voices, the blanket of gratitude that I was alive, the love and support of my wife and family, my friends that had fought so hard to help me get through this. I was constantly being lifted up and propped up.

And I often say that I was, even though I was the least prepared person for this, because I had led such a blessed easy life, I was also completely set up to not fail. I was still getting a paycheck from the department because I was injured in the line of duty. So we didn’t have to worry about that. And I was able to go to any doctor I wanted to across the country once I got to a point where I could choose what kind of plastic surgeries I wanted to have, what kind of things I wanted to make better. I moved on to having really big events happen in life like carrying the Olympic torch, meeting the President of the United States, throwing out the first pitch at a DBacks game. And a lot of people might think, well, what do those things matter with what you’re going through? And in a lot of ways that’s true. They were inconsequential except in the moment that kind of inspiration is incredible even if it’s for five minutes. And then the memories of it last forever.

And then most importantly, the day that I finally got the perspective that I truly needed and I could truly understand the why of this was on October 29th of ’02 when our third child was born. And now to have an entire life that shouldn’t even exist, I was able to say, you know what? This wasn’t about getting me out of a car or getting me through one or two surgeries, but everything that I’m doing, everything that my wife is doing, everything that my entire support system is doing helped to bring this life into this world. And now we are talking about something that is easy to say it was this horrible, tragic accident, but it can end up having endless generations of positivity on the world. And that is, that’s an incredible thing to be able to look at and have perspective on.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And when I heard you speak the first time, Jason, I whipped out my camera and snapped a slide that you put up because you said this, which fits in exactly with what you just said. Sometimes the most beautiful inspirational changes will disguise themselves as devastation. And your last line was beautiful, Be patient. That’s what you just described. Everything that you just talked about was you being patient through each of those valleys because at the other side of the valley was a peak and you found that. You were patient and you worked through it. I think the inspiration I hope listeners take away from this part of the conversation for sure.

 

Jason Schechterle:

Well I’m glad you bring that up because I want to point out, for as much as I love cliches and things like that, I did get tired of stealing from everybody else. And that quote, I actually came up with myself. It could be attributed to me. And I loved it when people like you, snapping a picture of it or somebody writes it down because it is word for word very true. And yes, it’s how I lived until it finally dawned on me that every time something got better, it was like, oh, if I’d have known this a year ago, if I’d have known this five years ago, it would’ve made it easier to be patient. Being patient, that’s not one of our strong suits. None of us. None of us. We want it right now. But it’s very true. You got to be patient in your grief, you got to be patient in your struggle. But it’s going to work out. And I’m living proof of that today.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Wow. I mean, that’s such a great quote. I want to talk about gains and what you do now, but one of the things I don’t want listeners to miss is when you go through a crucible or a tragedy, rarely can you undo what happened. You couldn’t undo the car crash and the consequences of what happened. That was life altering. You couldn’t control the, I think it’s what? 56 plus surgeries or something, some massive number.

 

Jason Schechterle:

Yes.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

The pain, the therapy, you know it’s going to help, it’s going to hurt, I don’t know, something unimaginably. But you had a choice. You could choose to live, you could choose to say, I’m going to press on for the sake of my kids and now my three kids, my wife, and try to find purpose amidst the pain or I can choose not to live. So there’s one thing listeners are probably wondering. When you go through something like what you’ve gone through, there’s typically immense anger, whether it’s at God, some higher power. Obviously, you had every right to be angry from what I understand about. The Ford Motor company and Ford, Crown Victoria, which understand it has a history of police cruisers getting on fire and obviously accountability is important, but you clearly didn’t wallow in the sea of bitterness, you forgave. Again, forgiving doesn’t mean condoning. Doesn’t mean the guy that had the epileptic fit, from what I understand, it wasn’t the first time he had it. So you had a list of things, again, not to condone, but to forgive, you clearly must have made that choice. If you get the difference I’m trying to make between condoning and forgiving, but you couldn’t be where you are now if you hadn’t dealt with that anger and bitterness at some level.

 

Jason Schechterle:

Certainly not. And you keep saying the right word, it is a choice. And just as I described, I made so many choices over so many years of my life that got me into this situation. Not knowing, I mean, you make choices every day, dozens or hundreds. And very rarely do we think about the consequences, the ripple effect that it might have across the rest of your life. But having that foundation gave me the freedom and the permission to know that my choices now will completely dictate where I’m going to go. And you make the best choices that you can with the information you have at hand.

And I would make choices in the midst of anger. I would make some choices. It could have been, you know what? I’m not going to therapy today. I don’t feel like being in pain today. I want to sit here and I’m not giving up. I’m not quitting, but this is what I need today and it’s okay to not be okay. You just cannot be strong and successful and perfect every single minute of every day. You talk about a recipe for failure, but it is my choice. And I see examples of that all the time.

So when I learned to deal with the survivor’s guilt and you brought up Ford Motor Company, yes, 33 officers and countless civilians across this country have burned to death in these rear end fueled fires because of the Ford Crown Victoria. So do I have survivor’s guilt? Sure. Do I ask why me in that regard? Of course, I do. But then I have the choice to be grateful that you know what? This is a pretty strong appearance and a pretty strong voice to speak for those people.

I don’t know why it was me. I don’t know if I was chosen. These are questions too big for me to answer. All I can do is live my life the best way that I can. And I did go out and become a voice for them and a face for them. That’s what got me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would’ve ever stuck my face in front of a camera. I don’t know if I would’ve ever given interviews. But because of the people who had gone before me, because of the potential of people who would go after me, I had a role to play and that gave me a lot of strength. Still being a husband, still being a father, still being a son. For people who didn’t give up on me, who am I to give up on them? That’s a choice that is easy to make when you look at it in the right sense.

So often in life people say, Oh, I was standing at the crossroads of life. You’re standing at a crossroad 15 times a day. I mean, at a minimum. If you choose this path, you don’t get to know what’s down the other road because you can’t go that way. But whatever road you go down, you have to accept whatever’s coming. All the roadblocks, all the speed bumps, all the detours and accidents and everything. And so I think it’s the perspective of the power of choice and what a blessing that no matter what you believe in, that is how we are allowed to live our lives, our own free will and our own free choices.

You have both been through plenty in your life and I think if you go back and look at choices that you made that you thought were good at the time, they might not have worked out. Is there any point in saying, Oh, I made a bad choice, or I wish I wouldn’t have made that choice? No, I made that choice. Here’s the consequences and here’s the choices I’m going to make starting right now. And that momentum just keeps you going forward.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And that’s powerful what you just said, Jason. Talk a bit about what you do now and just some of the gains that you’ve experienced. And you’ve touched on some of the gains already, but the series is called Gaining from Loss. So talk about what you see as the gains and how you’ve really turned those gains into a mission, a purpose that you have beyond yourself.

 

Jason Schechterle:

Yeah, it is, going back to that statement that the last two words are be patient. I have the incredible fortune now to say, and I mean this, I have gained everything and lost nothing because even though I still have limited eyesight, even though I lost half my fingers, even though my appearance is not as attractive as maybe it would’ve been had I still had the look that I had before, but I gained a bigger family with my child. I see what my children now that they’re grown, what these three kids are doing in life, the way they lived their life, the compassion they have toward other people, the kindness, it’s just perfection. So it’s all gain and no loss. I did for a time return to work. I did achieve my dream of becoming a homicide detective. I did it for almost three years. That can never be taken away from me. I gained something, I didn’t lose it.

When I changed careers and then found my new calling of being a public speaker and having no idea how to do that, I was not a good speaker 12 years ago when I started doing it professionally for a living, getting paid for it, for the lack of a better word. But I worked at it and it was choices to learn and to get better and to tell my story. And then people along the way helped me. I gained the perspective of other people’s stories, of their kindness, of their compliments, of their criticisms and knowing that I get to help other people. And if you leave somebody better than you found them, you can never be a failure. You can never say you’ve lost anything. I wouldn’t trade a day of my life, I would not take away a single moment of anything I’ve gone through because you erase one thing and it ends up erasing so many things that are good. So yeah, it’s amazing. But I’m very proud and it makes me smile. I’ve gained everything and lost nothing.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That sound that you just heard in case you didn’t know it, listener, that’s the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign indicating that we’re going to begin our descent into wrapping up this conversation. We’re not there yet, we’re just starting it. Before we do that, I want to ask you one question, Jason, and then give you a chance to tell listeners a little something. But at the start of this conversation, based on what you just said about all the gains that you’ve had through your journey, you indicated when Warwick was asking you about your childhood and then your young adulthood that you had lived in your words, a perfect life, different circumstances, different perspective, maybe different definition of that word perfect. But would you say, can you say you’ve regained a life that in some ways is perfect now?

 

Jason Schechterle:

For sure. I have gained, I don’t know that I would use the word perfect. We always put adjectives on different things. When I talk about my childhood and I say it was perfect, that’s more of my choice and my hindsight being 20/20 to say, you know what? It was that good. And I am so thankful for how I grew up, who I grew up with, where I grew up, everything about it. So that’s what the word perfect means. Is my life perfect now? No in the sense that I do have physical limitations, I do have struggles. I am getting older, I have my worries, I have my anxieties, but what I have now is just the peace and serenity of I am right where I want to be and I’m right where I need to be. I don’t know if it was destiny, I don’t know if it was fate. Again, great words that we can use. I can’t answer those questions, but I don’t want to be anywhere else than where I am.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And before I let Warwick ask you the last question or the last couple questions, I want to give you the chance to let people know how they can find out exactly where you are and they can find out maybe how to hire you to speak. They can find out more about your story. How can they find you online, Jason?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Yes, I am incredibly easy to find and I’m the only one. I don’t have a team. I’m the only one who answers my emails, my social media. I’m very active on Instagram and LinkedIn and I’ve got a pretty unique last name. So once you figure out how to spell it and you look it up, my website is burningshield.com. I have a book titled Burning Shield that you can get on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. My email is jason@burningshield. There it is right there.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

There it is right there.

 

Jason Schechterle:

My email is jason@burningshield.com. Again, I’m the only one who gets those emails and I will answer you right away. If you just want to ask a question or inquire about my speaking. I am very easy to find. If you type my name into Google, it’s humbling and kind of comical at how much comes up.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Wow. So Jason, as I’m kind of listening to you, I’m almost hearing you say that you feel blessed. I don’t know if we’ve used that word. It doesn’t mean what happened to you wasn’t horrific, but yet you’re with your family, and which I’ll ask you about here in terms of what you do now, one of the things you wrote, I think is just pretty profound stuff in terms of blessing is something that your wife said, Susie. And she said, “I can’t tell you why Jason’s appearance never bothered me, but I’ve never missed how he looked before the night of March 26th, 2001. I didn’t marry the face. I married the man. He’s the same human being.” I don’t know if everybody’s wife would’ve said that, but to have somebody that says it’s not about the face, it’s about the man, his character, who he is, that’s pretty amazing stuff. I mean, that alone is a reason to feel pretty blessed, don’t you think?

 

Jason Schechterle:

Oh, feeling blessed is constantly I’m covered in it. I think about that all the time. And when you talk about my wife and when she made that statement, we got married very young, and regardless of my life changing event, accident, appearance, whatever, we change and our significant other is going to change as they age, and we are different people. Marriage is very difficult. And for her to have that foresight back then and that commitment to the, for better or worse, the part of the vow, most people take for… like I did in the police academy, that’s going to be a 25 year career. It’s going to be easy. I’m going to have fun, I’m going to collect a nice retirement. I think that’s how a lot of people go into marriage is they just say the words not realizing those words are in there because they mean something.

And yeah, I could never have done this alone. I know I said on stage Gary, when you heard me, I’m 2% of who I am today, barely 2%. The other 98% is my wife, my children, my parents. I lost my dad five years ago to cancer. My doctors, those firefighters who I still keep in touch with because I want them to see, look at what you did that night, look at what it turned into. Not often do we get to see the fruits of our labor and I am going to always go out of my way to make sure that people who helped me in the beginning see that it was worth it. I want them to have some peace and serenity over that like I have. So yeah, I am incredibly blessed. Beyond words.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So as we close out here, and that is profound what you just shared, Jason. Talk about what you do. I think you have a scholarship fund for kids of officers who’ve been severely injured and you speak and just an advocate. So just talk about what are the things you do that you’re pouring your life into, at least vocationally and your calling.

 

Jason Schechterle:

Yeah, my new calling for sure was being a public speaker. And I’m a very lucky individual that I had two aha moments. The first was when Marc Atkinson was killed and the second came about when New York City firefighter who had been at 9/11 and then was going through a divorce. He heard me speak and he told me that I changed his life and I owned a business at the time. I was just being Jason and I walked out of that room, got on the phone, put my business up for sale and said, “I know what I need to be doing.”

And to be able to touch other people’s lives, to be able to maybe shape their perspective. Of course, I love talking to law enforcement and first responders, but I love talking to Fortune 500 companies and people in real estate. We’re all human beings and we all have life happening to us. I don’t think we should compare adversities. Whatever we’re going through, we have to embrace it. And I am very blessed that I have an opportunity to have that platform. Not everybody does. I don’t take that lightly. I don’t take it for granted. It’s something that I can’t… I’m leaving on an airplane tomorrow to go speak to the Washington State Fire Chiefs Association. And I can’t wait to share this story with them. I can’t wait to say thank you for what you do every day and speak for all the people that you dealt with who I bet would say thank you for that call you went on 15 years ago or 20 years ago. And give them a little bit of perspective.

So I just remain so inspired and so excited about the future. And I love what my kids are doing. I’m so proud of them, blessed to have those three individuals in my life. So it’s just a constan, every day I wake up and I’m inspired. I’ll go to bed at night like you should, and I’ll let the weight of the world come down. I will think about my adversity. I will think about, and it’s not the 20 year ago adversity, it’s not the burns, it’s what I’m going through now at my age and worrying about my kids and their future or worrying about my speaking and how I’m going about that. But I do let the weight of the world come down on me. But I wake up every day, two goals.

Number one, I’m going to leave this day better than I found it. And it’s simple. Put a shopping cart away, smile at somebody at the gas station, leave a meeting positively beaming. It’s amazing how you can live your life when you can leave the day better than you found it. And the other thing I dedicate myself to every morning is whatever moves me today, I’m going in that direction, I can tell you very honestly, I woke up this morning and I was excited to do this podcast. I mean, Warwick, I’m incredibly honored to meet you and the life that you have lived for you to give me a chance to be on your show, that’s very humbling and it means a lot to me. So I was very excited.

When I wake up tomorrow, I don’t get to do this show. So I have to find something else and that will be my motivation. What is tomorrow? What does it hold? What can I find? You can always find something to be grateful for. You can always find something to be inspired by and then just go in that direction each and every day and the days start clicking by and it gets really, really good.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

It’s interesting that you mentioned Jason that soon you’re going to be getting on a plane because our plane in this conversation has just landed. Perfect landing on your part, four point landing. I think that’s actually a term that works. As I close, you said in the show, Jason, you said that you like to use and maybe sometimes you appropriate other people’s quotes, not that you steal them, but you use other people’s quotes and you’re very proud of the fact that the one I sent back to you that I took the picture of at your speech was one that you came up with. That was in fact original from you. Well, I’m now going to appropriate that quote in closing the show, and I’m going to tweak it just a bit for Crucible Leadership and that is this: Listener, remember this as we close this episode of our series Gaining From Loss. Sometimes the most beautiful inspirational changes will disguise themselves, we’ll say it our way, as crucibles. Be patient. As you’re being patient, next week we’ll be back with another episode of our special series Gaining from Loss. See you then.