Champion of Hearts


By Rev. Dallas Teague Snider // Photo by Liesa Cole

Recently while returning from Chicago on a business trip, I noticed a tall gentleman with a stick working his way through the maze towards the TSA security checkpoint.  As he tapped the floor before every step, it was clear to me he was using this as a tool that helped him navigate where he needed to go—something that many of us take for granted. When I told him he was an inspiration, he immediately deflected the compliment by saying, “I am not an inspiration.” I replied that he was indeed an inspiration to me.

This experience mirrors the mindset of this month’s City Lights Everyday Hero. Joe Ray would have never envisioned that one day he would be a World Champion with numerous world titles, championships and metals to his name.

It was a car accident he had while in college pursuing a technology career that altered his plans altogether, propelling his life in a direction he would have never dreamed of.

Today, Joe, who lost the use of his legs in the accident, serves as executive director of Adaptive Aquatics in Wilsonville (adaptiveaquatics.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the introduction, teaching and advancement of adapted water skiing for children, adults and wounded veterans with physical disabilities.

As Joe is preparing for his final world championship this April, I asked him a few questions about what it means to be an everyday hero. Just like the gentleman I met in the airport, Joe’s inclination was to respond by saying he was no hero. I assured him, however, that while many will see the titles, we all will experience his heart.

What does it mean to be an everyday hero?

Well personally I don’t think of myself of being some sort of hero. The blessings that I receive from all the families, and seeing how the lives of disabled individuals that come through the programs here at Adaptive Aquatics are affected, that makes them heroes to me. I am just me, doing good things, very quietly…

What are you doing to be a light in the lives of others?

I run a nonprofit called Adaptive Aquatics that teaches disabled children, disabled adults and wounded veterans various water sports activities including our main sport of adapted water skiing. There is no greater satisfaction than watching the facial expressions of participants reflecting feeling of pride, positive self-esteem, and accomplishment as they overcome obstacles both great and seemingly small. We continue with our 37th year of changing lives at Adaptive Aquatics next year and hopefully many more years into the future.

What was the turning point after your accident?

Well in fact when I first became disabled I was a skier in the Adaptive Aquatics program. It changed my life for the better and I started helping the founder Phil Martin doing the actual teaching, seeing the differences it made for other disabled individuals and eventually took over the program when the founder himself became disabled with multiple sclerosis.

What is the best challenge in taking on your role as executive director?

Growing pains for the nonprofit, finding donors for the nonprofit programs and trying to manage a building project during the 2008 recession but overcoming all those challenges. That building project would eventually become the permanent home of Adaptive Aquatics on Lay Lake and be a very popular destination for all disabled individuals and families.

What is your personal motto?

Live life like a song. If you stumble, make it part of the dance. Dream big and have a vision for your life to help others.

How would you encourage others to #ThinkLoveFirst?

I try to not sweat the small things, have uncommon kindness in treating others just how you would like to be treated. If you pay some small thing forward, you may never know the greater impact you may have had on that person’s direction in life.

What would you say to others to inspire them to be a light?

Be the light that others look for. Don’t be afraid to let that shine somehow. Inspire others to strive and be greater than they ever thought they could be!

One Response to “Champion of Hearts”

  1. Judy and Robert Switzer says:

    Joe has been a great inspiration for our Grand daughter who will be competing with Joe at the World competition in Australia. What a hero he is. Even if he doesn’t think he is. Love him

Leave a Reply