Paul Valukas

Evanston, Illinois

I love life. I love every morning that I wake up (even when it’s -26 outside in Madison, WI). I love to ski, I love to fish, I love to hike, and I love to get people fired up about being alive. This was not always the case though. At 19 (4 years ago), I was stuck at a school I hated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, and I knew I was at a turning point in my life. I could stay put and be unhappy or I could leave, seek out an adventure, and, in the process, get back to the things that made me the happiest. So I went for it and three months after leaving school I returned from the National Outdoor Leadership School in Patagonia with a wild mullet, a great new outlook on life, and a dream to do damn near every wild thing this world had to offer. This was my first Give’r moment.

Since standing at that crossroads as a 19-year-old, I have “gone for it” in every opportunity. I have become a Wilderness First Responder, transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, become a certified Olympic Weightlifting Coach, fished all over the west and south, cut my hair into a mullet three more times, skied naked from the top of the Gondi at Jackson and done my best to be fired up about every day I wake up.

My second Give'r moment happened just last year. I volunteer for the UW Adapted fitness program, in which I work with people who have suffered major injuries to the head and spinal cord. During our meetings, I help my clients exercise to better improve their quality of life. Well, my first client was a woman who had broken her neck when she was thrown from a horse and the doctors told her she would never walk or stand again. She didn’t want to believe that, and I'm not a doctor, so I told her that since I didn't have enough schooling to say otherwise, she would walk again. Long story short, she has walked again since then, she stands up on her own, and every day she gets a little stronger in hopes that one day she won't need her chair anymore. I can’t say that I inspired her to walk again, but I can say that she has inspired me. Each day I work with her, I’m lucky enough to witness someone kicking ass and doing the “impossible,” so I feel it’s my responsibility to go out and do the same.

So what does give'r mean to me? It means getting people fired up to be alive—getting people fired up to go try the impossible and giving them the confidence that they can do it. I think it’s a heavy dose of excitement, a shot of f**k it, and a belief that every day you get to wake up is a great opportunity to do something awesome.