A belated thank you
As of yesterday I now know the schedule for the DARPA Risers 2022 conference. Or rather just the conference part itself, the website makes no mention of the Risers program specifically, again adding to the mystery. If the confirmation email I got was any indication, the information will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. So I now know who will be speaking at the event and I’ve discovered the universe isn’t without its own sense of humor.
Once again I need to talk about the story of why I’m even here writing this. I was a dumb kid fresh out of the military. By fresh out, I mean forced out, but hey who’s holding grudges, surely not me? When I say dumb, I really mean it. I was never really socialized as a kid so my idea of how the world works was colored almost exclusively by my experiences in the Marines. Suffice to say, life in the Marines is not exactly how the world operates on the civilian side.
Long story short, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was hurt, basically broke, couldn’t exactly work, and had absolutely no clue what was next. I knew I wanted to help people, specifically veterans. I had a friend who needed a prosthetic and the image stuck in my brain. It was your basic hook style and while phone technology improved far beyond what I could’ve imagined when I first went in, prosthetics were basically unchanged for the last few hundred years.
So I tried searching the web, came across DARPA and their Revolutionizing Prosthetics project and did the dumbest thing I could possibly do. I called the guy who was overseeing the whole project at the time, Dr. Ling. Sometimes dumb luck is a real thing because while I didn’t get him when I called, I left a message and the guy actually called me back.
I probably could have figured out what I needed to do on my own. I mean it’s obvious in hindsight, go to school, learn how to build prosthetics, ???, profit. Right? But again, dumb kid, so I had to have it spelled out for me. He made some suggestions, recommended some research labs around where I was living at the time, and the rest is history. I’ve been following that path ever since.
That was fifteen years ago and between the suicide attempt, hospital stays for my mental health, and homelessness, it’s been a winding and incredibly slow journey. Undergrad alone took over twice as long as it should’ve, but I had really gotten off the path and homelessness after a suicide attempt no less isn’t an easy thing to recover from. Point being, I made it (somehow) and now we’re here.
I have no doubt that Dr. Ling has long forgotten that phone call. I mean he may remember it simply because it was so outrageous for me to do, but I doubt it. I never forgot because it literally changed my life. After fifteen years, I’ve never met the man, I’ve never spoke with him again, and we don’t keep in touch. That last part is somewhat my fault since he did suggest I reach out again if I had questions.
Since he’s moved on to do other things, I thought our paths would never really cross. But the universe has other plans apparently. The fact of the matter is that the DARPA conference (called DARPA Forward) isn’t one conference, it’s six scattered across the US over the later part of this year. Out of the six conferences, it turns out that Dr. Ling will be a speaker at exactly one of them.
The same one I will be attending.
So after fifteen years, I’ll finally get to say thank you to the man who, for all intents and purposes, is the reason I’m where I am now. I was planning on reaching out after I graduated anyway to say thanks, so maybe this is for the best. I mean even if he doesn’t remember me, I would hope that positive feedback would help encourage him to continue to make time for people like me, who have no real business contacting him, haha.
But in all seriousness, it’s hard to say if I would be here now without his intervention. I think I may have figured something out, what exactly I couldn’t say. I wouldn’t be here right now typing this, but would I be doing research, or something totally different? It’s anyone’s guess. Predicting where the road not taken goes is always a futile effort anyway. While this path has not been easy, or on occasion enjoyable, it has been rewarding. I wouldn’t want to change it.
Fifteen years and I finally get to say thanks. I knew this year would be interesting, but not even I thought it would be this interesting.