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Joe Delagrave is a husband, father, elite athlete, and keynote speaker. Whether he is on the court, speaking to audiences, raising his kids, or spending time with his wife, Joe aims to live life with faith, authenticity, and passionate purpose.
At the age of 19, he was in a boating accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Not sure what life would be like in a wheelchair, Joe found an adaptive sport called wheelchair rugby. He made his first national team in 2009, has been on the team for 12 years, and has been a captain 7 of those years. His career has been successful, but not without its share of ups and downs.
Whether winning a Paralympic medal or being left off the Paralympic team, Joe has learned that every day presents him with a choice to be a victor or victim. Choosing to find opportunities within the obstacles is something Joe loves to share with his wife, kids, teammates, and audiences!
[00:00:04] Kristen: Welcome to this week’s edition of Insider Secrets. The show that turns multifamily investing into reality. Each show we interview guests who are seasoned professionals, actively closing and managing real estate deals. Your host Mike Moraski has more than 30 years of multifamily, real estate investing and property management expenses.
[00:00:26] Mike is the founder of My Core Intentions. And he’s been involved in over $285 million of transactions, helping you create short-term cashflow and long-term wealth. Here’s your host, Mike.
[00:00:41] Mike Morawski: Hey everybody, welcome back. It’s Mike, your host of Insider Secrets, brought to you by My Core Intentions. I ask every week and I just want to know, what are your intentions? What’d you get up this morning and decide to do for today and for your future? Did you make a decision?
[00:00:57] You know, I just got off the phone with somebody who said, “boy, I’ve been through all kinds of education and done this and done that, and I just can’t seem to get anything going.” The conversation I had with this lady was about mindset. It’s really about what we put our mind to. I know that today’s show we’re really gonna get into that a lot and I’m excited. I’m really excited about today’s guest.
[00:01:17] Today I’m joined by Joe Delagrave, Joe say hi to everybody.
[00:01:22] Joe Delagrave: Hey, how’s it going everyone?
[00:01:24] Mike Morawski: Joe, I’m glad that you’re here. We’re going to get into Joe’s bio here in a minute, but first let me do a little bit of housekeeping. Remember if you like us, follow us on social media, whether it’s Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Clubhouse, Twitter, wherever you are I am. So go like us, love us, follow us, subscribe to us. We provide you all kinds of great content speakers.
[00:01:46] Today we’re going to really dive into some mindset. Let me tell you about Joe a little bit, Joe’s a husband and a father, an elite athlete, a keynote speaker. Whether he is on the court, speaking to audiences, or raising his kids or spending time with his wife, Joe aims to live life with faith, authenticity and passionate purpose.
[00:02:07] Joe, welcome to Insider Secrets. Man, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. You and I talked several months ago and I’ve watched you over the last few months. I’m just grateful that you’re here. I’m honored that you would take the time to be on Insider Secrets today. One question I ask all my guests, whether we’re talking about mindset or real estate, what describes you in one word personally and professionally?
[00:02:30] Joe Delagrave: Such a great question. Normally, I never really do anything concise, but as I was thinking about that, it’s compassionate. I think we need to have compassion no matter what we’re doing. For me, I’m in a leadership role a lot, whether it’s as a husband or as a father or on my team. I think we need compassion in our foundation of what we do as husbands, and as fathers, and then as leaders, wherever that is in the world. So I hope, and I’d strive, to be compassionate with whoever I meet.
[00:03:04] Mike Morawski: So you’re going to make me cry today, right?
[00:03:07] Joe Delagrave: We might have a cry-fest with each other.
[00:03:08] Mike Morawski: You and I will probably wind up in some rabbit hole and I already see it. Listen, Joe, I kinda left your bio open, just hit a couple of highlights about who you are, but I really want you to tell people who you are and your background and how you got to where you’re at today and what brought you to this point.
[00:03:26] Joe Delagrave: So right now I just finished up training for my third Paralympics. I was in Tokyo in 2021, I’ve been doing that for 13 years. I’ve spent 13 straight years in the national team, 8 as a captain. Had some really great ups, some really terrible lows within that time span, but just finished wrapping up with that and deciding what the future looks like right now. That’s been the full-time gig and something that, not only me as an athlete striving for, but my wife, April, and our three kids it’s a full-time job. Outside of that, the last 3 years I’ve been building my speaking career, where I believe that’s my purpose, that’s my calling. To be able to speak to people and talk to people and hopefully inspire people to inspire themselves. And so that’s what I do now, besides a bigger role being a husband to April and a father to my 3 kids.
[00:04:17] Mike Morawski: Did April and the kids go to Tokyo with you?
[00:04:20] Joe Delagrave: No, unfortunately they didn’t. No family, friends, anyone could go, it was teams and athletes, coaches only. That kind of stunk, but they were able to watch on national television, which was neat, the Paralympic games got massive coverage this year from NBC. So they were able to watch dad on national television, which I think is cool for them.
[00:04:41] Mike Morawski: It was pretty cool to watch, I watched some of it. What I really enjoyed were some of the clips on social media that you guys were doing, that was some cool stuff. So listen for our listeners that don’t know, Joe, why don’t you explain to them what Paralympics are and how you wound up in a wheelchair.
[00:04:55] Joe Delagrave: So ‘para’ in the Paralympics means parallel to the Olympics, for athletes with physical disabilities and it is the second biggest sporting event in the world aside from the Olympics. We use the same venues, same Olympic Paralympic village, the whole thing, and it’s about 2 weeks after the Olympics. I got involved in the Paralympics back in December 2008 was my first tryout for the national team and made it. Before that, as a normal able-bodied kid, grew up playing sports, football, basketball, baseball, swim, plays, musicals. So I just love being a part of a team and that team environment. That was my identity and my passion was sports and being able to play them. One of the goals I had was to be able to play college football or college basketball, I was pretty decent in both sports.
[00:05:42] July 10th, 2004 rolls around and life changes. 6’6″, 260 pound football player in college and in between my freshman and sophomore years of really just living out my dream, I wanted to go to college and get an education and be able to play a sport. So I was just living out my dream. I played at a division 2 school in Winona, Minnesota about two hours south of the Twin Cities. July 10th, 2004, I was back in my hometown of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, which is right on the Mississippi River, bordering Iowa.
[00:06:13] My buddies, Kyle and Adam, are back from college, I’m back from college, and you can picture a July day, it’s 75 degrees, partly cloudy. I think any of us can think back to being 19, it’s romantic time in your life because there’s so many different avenues you can go down or maybe go down or who you’re dating and what you want to major in. There’s no real responsibilities, except for making sure you get your tuition in or do I got enough money to go hang out with the boys on the weekends? There’s nothing really holding you back and that day I had my hands behind my head like signaling, “Hey, I’m just a 19 year old kid living the dream.”
[00:06:52] Kyle ends up hitting the bottom of the river, I fly backwards in the boat. I was sitting in the boat and I wasn’t drinking, wasn’t doing anything crazy. Wasn’t flipping myself into the water, but just sitting on the boat and Kyle hits the bottom of the river accidentally. We were in a back sluice, you never know how deep or shallow the water is. I fly backwards, the chair breaks, I hit my head on the front of the boat, inside the boat, and instantly break my neck at the C6 and 7 level, which is 6 or 7 vertebrae down from the base of your skull.
[00:07:20] So in a split second, I go from this rough, tough football player that’s on top of the world to something’s wrong. Something’s really wrong. I didn’t know the gravity of the situation, I didn’t know the permanency of the situation, I just knew that something was wrong. Kyle and Adam ended up calling 911, I go from the boat to the rescue boat, to the ambulance, to the local hospital, to a helicopter, to get med flighted to a bigger hospital.
[00:07:45] A couple of days later is when I’m coming through surgery and coming to realize what was going on. The doctors are like,” you’ve got a spinal cord injury, you’re paralyzed at the C 6 and 7 level, this is your function, this is what life’s going to look like.” They just start spewing out all these different things and I’m like, I have football practice in a month. What do you mean I’m not going to walk again? What do you mean I’m not going to play football again?
[00:08:06] And it just went from life is easy and living out the dream to a complete emergency break and going, wait, what? What do you mean paralysis? What do you mean spinal cord injury? What do you mean C 6 and 7 incomplete quadriplegic? Like all these different things. Phrases and terminology being thrown out and I’m going ” what’s life going to look like now?”
[00:08:32] Mike Morawski: I got chills. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for you to be in that situation. Or for your parents or your friends, I gotta imagine that that it was a tough little bit of time. So from that day and that news and information, where did you go?
[00:08:52] Joe Delagrave: Some things in my life that I’ve really clung to, on that day or the weeks and months after, years after, or through whatever life circumstances, faith is at a foundation. My faith is extremely important to me. Then the people in my life, the people in my inner circle, it was something that I clung to as well. So my wife, April, we were dating at the time and, at 19 years old, it’s just a college relationship. We had started dating our last month of our senior year and she was there every single day in the hospital for 3 straight months. To have that kind of love and support there, we ended up getting married, she’s been my wife for 14 years. To have that kind of love and support shown to me at such a young age, with such a devastating accident, was just a godsent. Having teammates come into the hospital room from high school or college coaches, from high school or college, our parents, friends, family. There was so much support around me saying, “Joe, you got this, you can do this.” It was hard to sit and pout, even though there was, there’s plenty of times that I did, but at the same time, like there was so much love and support.
[00:09:57] From that face standpoint, there was a Bible verse, Proverbs 3:5-6, that says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge him and he’ll direct your path.” I’d had a shirt on a week before my accident. It was a House of Speed shirt and I ended up getting this shirt from a friend of mine on the football team in college. He was our kicker, and our kicker decided to make fun. It was my freshman year, I was a true freshman, so of course I’m getting like the brunt of all the jokes and whatever. He gives me the shirt, I was a tight end and he’s like, “dude, you’re slow” or whatever.
[00:10:28] He gave me this because I had forgot my shirt underneath my pads at an away game and I’m like, “guys, someone’s got to give me a shirt, I don’t want to get all chafed and rubbed down.” So he throws me this House of Speed shirt and it was, ha yeah, I know I’m slow, I’m a cheeseburger away from being a tackle basically and he’s giving me crap. So I’m like, I’m going to keep the shirt and a week before my accident, I had the shirt on, and a guy I was working with was like, “Hey, what’s that verse?” I had no idea what it was. Then a week later I break my neck and I remember my sisters putting it on a poster on the hospital wall and I see it each morning waking up. But to be honest with that verse, it was a promise, but it was also something that I just got pissed off about. I like to be authentic, I was mad, I was angry at God and at my circumstances and at my situation.
[00:11:17] I’m 19, I don’t want to be in this hospital bed paralyzed or looking at this wheelchair alongside me as this thing is crippling and devastating. What do you mean trust in your plan? When I had a great plan of getting through college and being able to play a sport and that’s gone now. My identity is ripped away. So right away, it was just this wrestling match of listening to the support and love that I have, but also, “man I’m angry, I’m mad, and I’m frustrated at the situation and at the circumstances and obstacles that I have now.
[00:11:51] Mike Morawski: Couple of things I just want to unpack here for a minute. First of all, life changes, man like that. My story, where I was all the success I built and lost it all and spent 10 years in federal prison as a result of that. My identity, which I think is huge for people. They put their identity in the wrong things from time to time. The business I had and how many apartments I owned, all the wrong stuff. I said I was a “Christian”, I said I walked with the Lord. This whole episode might turn some people the wrong way, but you know what, hopefully we’re going to touch somebody by this because the compassion on your heart, the empathy, you can just hear it. So how did you come from that place of, “oh my God, my life has changed”?
[00:12:34] Joe Delagrave: Yeah, it’s not a flip of the switch, it’s not a pill that you take that everything’s better. I think a lot of people get stuck when they’re like, “yeah, today I want to make this choice that I’m going to be having a positive attitude, or I’m going to have a mindset like I can get through this.” It’s the discipline to make that choice every single day. It’s a choice, every single day. To be completely honest, I’m in a spot right now, at the time of this recording, I’m off the high of highs of the Paralympics and then I come back and it’s gone, right? Very interesting. It’s a very easy thing to fall into depression and I’ve got a beautiful family and a lot of things going for me, but at the same time, I’m feeling like, man, that was a lot of my identity right there.
[00:13:16] It’s a daily choice to say, “no I’m pursuing my purpose. I’m continuing to walk in the same direction that I have with other goals.” It was no different when I was in the hospital room. A lot of people say ” I really want to get better, I really want to, I really want this goal.” But their behaviors aren’t lining up with it, they’re completely against what they’re actually trying to, their actions and their words aren’t aligning. That’s something where a lot of people fall into that trap of “I don’t know where to go from here.” Honestly, they do. It’s easy. I talk a lot about W’s- the first one is words with goals, second one is work, and that’s where everyone just says maybe it’s not worth it. It’s a lot of work, like it’s a lot of work.
[00:13:56] So in the hospital, I was like, man, I want to get as much function back as possible. That athletic mentality, the doctors going,” you got a 3% chance to walk. You’re probably not going to walk.” So I’m like I’m going to try my best to get whatever I can back. They said from the way the nerves and everything come back that it’s about a 2 year window. So I’m working my butt off, I’m working to try to get better, each and every day working at how do I get home out of this hospital? And how did you push this wheelchair around? And you’re going through a spinal cord, like you can’t sweat, and so you’re trying to learn your body and how to regulate your temperature. You can’t go to the bathroom by yourself because you’re trying to figure out catheter and how to get on a bowel program and like things that at 19 years old, you’re just like, “Ugh, I don’t want it to.”
[00:14:39] It’s like when a nurse told me that I was gonna have to use a catheter the rest of my life, 6 times a day, I’m going like, ” no, I don’t want to do this, this sucks.” Or talking to a nurse about how do I get poop to come out of my body now? Like let alone the wheelchair, just stuff that you take for granted. I don’t want to do this at 19 years old, I just want to be able to, go back to school and play some ball. So it’s the wrestling match of working hard, but then dealing with a lot of the setbacks throughout that time in the hospital. There was the mentality and the setback, and the mentality and then the setback, and the mentality and then a setback.
[00:15:14] But I’m not going to get through it by myself. A lot of people say they’re self-made and I call BS on that. I just call BS straight up, because for me there’s a lot of people are like, ” Joe, you’re inspirational.” And, but I’m like no there’s people, there’s April, my faith. Clinging to that verse that saying you’re not going to understand it all the time, but just lean on me here, lean on me here, as you’re getting through this. So I think it’s a myriad of things, but that work aspect and the choice to say, I’m going to go back and work at it. I think that’s a big one there.
[00:15:43] Mike Morawski: It’s interesting what you said about every day you have to make the choice. And I think that, we live in a society today where social media makes it look really good for everybody to be living this life that’s so grandiose. We live in a world today that for a couple hundred dollars an hour, you can go rent a private jet, a car, and a model to take some pictures to post on social media to say, you’re really famous. Yet you don’t want to go through the work or the daily grind and the daily discipline that it takes you to get that jet, fancy car, or model to hang out with. People say, “oh, I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” You know what, when you take somebody in your situation or somebody who’s built a business from scratch, because there you’re right, there is no self-made millionaire. No self-made person. Everybody does it with somebody around them. You have to have people on your side, in your court, in your corner, to help you to lift you up, to push you forward, to help you do the things that are so critically important in our lives.
[00:16:47] Damn Joe, how do you get through and has any of that stuff changed from when you were 19, laying in the hospital bed, and they told you all that, has any of that improved? Are you different today or where are you at?
[00:16:58] Joe Delagrave: Yeah, 100%. The difference is learning how to respond to circumstances or obstacles in your life. At 19, I’m waiting in the hospital I’m like,” this sucks, this whole thing is awful.” You’re getting told that you’re not going to walk again and you’re getting told that you’re not going to be an athlete again. You’re getting told that life’s going to look different and you’re gonna have to do XYZ. All these thoughts and questions swirling around in my head. I’m going like, is this girl going to be with me still? Do I have to switch majors? What am I going to do now? Where am I going to find my passion and purpose? I have no idea what I’m passionate about besides sports. And all these questions around my head. A lot of times it starts with the foundation and it’s a call to action in a way, don’t worry about what you’re going to do but get up. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do, but take the next step.
[00:17:40] It’s a leap of faith. It’s one step forward. For me to go live life at 19 was just getting in the wheelchair and seeing that the wheelchair was the miracle. I’m praying for a toe to wiggle, I’m praying for a leg to move, I’m praying for my paralysis to be gone. But really a lot of times what we do is we’re able to understand how to find the opportunity within the obstacle. A lot of times we see the obstacle and go “my life’s ruined, my life sucks.” The blame game, you’re blaming God, you’re blaming other people, whatever it is and you become rigid with it. Then you realize like what opportunity do I have here in this obstacle? And it’s sitting right next to the bed, and it’s a wheelchair. If you get in that, then you understand how to do some rehab and understand how to take care of yourself. You get in the wheelchair and you’re able to start going back to school, and you start to find out who you are as a new person in a new body.
[00:18:36] For me, it was from 19 to now, 17 years later, I’ve learned that it’s not the victories that are on a scoreboard. It’s the choices you make in your failures. It’s the choices you make in your valleys of life that will truly define your character and your integrity. What reactions do I have, when something bad happens or an obstacle or a circumstance that I didn’t see popping up, how am I going to respond to that?
[00:19:07] Mike Morawski: I love what you said, that the choices we make in our life define our character and our integrity. I think our character is defined by our integrity. I guess it’s all in perspective and how you look at it as an individual and some of the listeners today might be looking at it different than you and I look at it, but because today my identity is in Christ. I can say that those setbacks in my life, as in yours, defined who I am today, the man that I am today and what I want to do in the world today as a result of it. So the setbacks really were good when you look back on it. As crappy as they were, they were good. Life is interesting, right? It’s a journey we’re all on. And you know what? You and I both got a lot of runway left, neither one of us are done yet. Here’s what I want to talk about. And if we don’t want to go here, just tell me. How has April hung in there 14, 15 years and what’s life like for her?
[00:20:06] Joe Delagrave: Yeah we obviously have a different relationship than most. I don’t fit a lot of the male roles within the family, which has been interesting and good to communicate on what our expectations are. I always say that, unknown expectation leads to future resentment. So we’ve had to communicate a lot about what our expectations are within the marriage, our roles within the marriage and what that looks like. There might be things that I do that some guys don’t do and it took a while to get over some of that, cause you attach yourself to some masculine things.
[00:20:37] I mow the lawn, I take the garbage out, I’m a man. You know what I mean? Which couldn’t be farther from the truth like those boxes don’t need to be checked in order to be masculine. But April’s been phenomenal in who I am. I always tell people, man, get yourself a wife that is going to hold you accountable. She’s so good when we have conversations about goals and we have conversations about what we want to do and how we want to parent. To be able to come alongside me and really keep each other accountable towards those goals and really do a check and a rundown of ” Hey, where are we at with that, are we aligning with what we talked about doing?”
[00:21:13] That part of it’s been amazing and she’s just always been someone there that is able to lift me up when I need it, but also pull me back. So having that relationship where we can encourage each other has been great. Also, our relationships no different than other people, there’s a disability, there’s a wheelchair, we do things differently. But she treats me like a person, she’s not going to open the door, push my wheelchair around because she knows that I can do it. She’s not taking care of me, I’m completely independent. She obviously cooks way better than me, unless it’s on a grill. What I’m trying to say is she treats me like a normal husband that happens to have a disability and can’t do a few things.
[00:21:49] Mike Morawski: You kind of alluded to this early on, but to get somebody who’s going to hold you accountable. If somebody holds you accountable, you need to pay attention to them. I always tell this story about back in 2008, I never talked to my wife about business and a situation happened with my ex partner in 2008. I never told my wife about it. We go to dinner a couple nights later with his wife and my wife and the four of us. On the way home, out of nowhere, she says, “I don’t trust him.” And I say, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about it. I got it.” Thinking I’m being a good husband, right? When really I should’ve said, “what do you mean? Tell me more about that.”
[00:22:23] See, that makes us a better husband. I know that today, I didn’t know that then, we need to listen to our spouse because from a male perspective. I really think that the female is much smarter than we are and their insight matters and I never thought that before. So it was interesting you brought that up. What’s on the agenda for you? Where are you headed? Where’s the Delagrave family going and what are you guys up to?
[00:22:47] Joe Delagrave: I’ve got to make a decision on whether I’m going to play still or go into a different role or whatever that would be, still trying to figure that out as far as an athlete goes. We feel as our purpose, April works with me within the speaking business and on the administrative side of things, but truly believe that’s my purpose and calling in life. So just rocking with that. Our kids got the calendar’s full of activities with sports and church activities throughout the week. So it’s a busy time and that’s what we’re chugging along with.
[00:23:16] Mike Morawski: Get to live vicariously through your kids today, huh?
[00:23:20] Joe Delagrave: Yeah. I’m figuring out how to be a sideline parent. If I’m not coaching or I’m not playing as an elite athlete, I get a little excited during the games.
[00:23:30] Mike Morawski: I want to ask where’s the guys that were in the boat with you, where are they today?
[00:23:34] Joe Delagrave: Yeah, my friends, Kyle and Adam, still two of my best friends in this life. They’ve been phenomenal. So Kyle lives in Chicago, Arlington Heights there. Then Adam lives back around our hometown, just across the river in Iowa, he jumped across the river there and has a farm.
[00:23:50] Mike Morawski: Yeah, I live in Chicago, I grew up in Palatine right next to Arlington Heights. I want to thank you for today. Let’s lighten this up a little bit and I always like to ask those bonus round questions, tell me what your favorite tourist attraction has been, you’ve been all over the world in the Olympics and that so.
[00:24:06] Joe Delagrave: I think probably the favorites been the Sydney Opera House when we were there. The reason is because with the kids, I’d watch Finding Nemo so many times and it was like the movie was coming into real life type of thing. The first time going there was in 2013 and getting to see that makes the world feel really small.
[00:24:30] Mike Morawski: Nice, that’s cool. Best book you ever wrote or read?
[00:24:33] Joe Delagrave: Best book I ever wrote? Hopefully the one I’m writing right now. The best book I’ve ever read, besides the Bible of course, Uncommon Ground by Tony Dungy. Fantastic. I’ve went back to it a couple of times throughout the years.
[00:24:45] Mike Morawski: Real good book on marriage. Then best restaurant, meal, what do you like?
[00:24:51] Joe Delagrave: I’m a sucker for pizza. I don’t get into this whole Chicago, New York, Detroit battle. I just appreciate good pizza, whatever it is. That’s definitely like the guilty pleasure, let’s go get some pizza type of thing.
[00:25:03] Mike Morawski: When you come to Chicago, we’ll take you for some good deep-dish.
[00:25:06] Joe Delagrave: Sounds good.
[00:25:07] Mike Morawski: Hey want to thank you for being here. If anybody wants to get ahold of you, pick your brain, talk to you about speaking or have you at an event, how do they do that, Joe?
[00:25:15] Joe Delagrave: Head over to joedelagrave.com. Check me out on Instagram, @joedelagrave14. If you want to get angry and go hang out on Twitter, I feel like everyone’s angry over there, @joedelagrave.
[00:25:25] Mike Morawski: Yeah, I got a couple of buddies that are political advocates, they want to kill each other on Twitter, so it’s funny you say that. Hey, I’m grateful for this time today. This totally took a turn that I didn’t think it would take, and I’m glad we both got to express our faith. You could talk about your family and mindset and it’s so much about the choices that we make every day and moving ourselves forward. I appreciate you being here and look forward to continuing our relationship and getting to know each other more.
[00:25:54] To the listeners, we will be here next Tuesday, pass this episode onto somebody else because I am confident that it will move hearts and move minds. Have a great week, everybody.
[00:26:05] Kristin: Thank you, Mike, and thank you for joining us for another great episode of Insider Secrets, brought to you by My Core Intentions. Join us on social media and visit mycoreintentions.com where you can get expert coaching on all things multifamily investing and property management. We’re looking forward to having you back again next week for more Insider Secrets.