By Michael Adams, HD editorial director
HD Summit has had many memorable events in its 16-year history, but not many can match the appearance of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, a wounded veteran of the Afghan war, who spoke to our delegates last Thursday morning. A near-deadly encounter with an improvised explosive device (IED) resulted in quadruple amputations, with Mills only one of five soldiers in the Middle East conflicts to survive such severe wounds.
We knew that Mills’ story would be motivational and inspirational, but we weren’t prepared for the abundant humanity and humor that he brought to his harrowing story. He was a fun-loving Midwestern jock when he joined the armed forces; he left a wife and a newborn daughter at home. He was not yet 25 when his life changed forever.
The account of Mills’ accident, the extent of his injuries, and his long and painstaking recovery were obviously harrowing; his presentation was anything but. From the moment he stepped onstage, he tapped into a natural reserve of good humor to put his audience at ease. Sitting in the front of the ballroom, I was able to easily take the collective temperature of our delegates as they listened. I’ve rarely seen a group laugh so heartily one moment and well up with tears the next. Their immediate standing ovation was an appropriate response to a true American hero. (Check out his website for a full understanding of his ongoing extraordinary contributions to wounded war vets.)
The speaker roster was completed by four other engaging folk: artist Phil Hansen; photographer Josh Cogan; historian Steven Johnson; and Choir! Choir! Choir!, a puckish duo from Toronto who have turned the phenomenon of strangers singing together into an art form. Shared music can create a magical bond amid a disparate group, as they proved by leading Summitteers in a sing-along of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
A group singing “Sweet Caroline” with Choir! Choir! Choir!
It was a fitting and sweet finale to an event that fostered the kind of amiable camaraderie and thought-provoking ideas that we’ve always strived for. Dining, drinking, outdoor romps, and intellectual stimulation—all in the sweet San Antonio air of La Cantera Resort & Spa.