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If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
BY YIANNI THALLAS · CONSULTING ENGINEER · UNITED STATES
I fell in love with computer networking in 1999 during a half-day introduction session at Lorain County Joint Vocational School — where I was introduced to the Cisco Networking Academy.
I remember hooking up a console to a router and typing enable. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was hooked, and after I graduated in 2000, I got a place at Lorain County community college studying what I loved.
In the summer of 2002, I got a job as a network administrator at Athens Aegean College in Greece. I was about to move to be with my family when my life suddenly changed forever.
Four days before my flight, I enjoyed a late-night swim at a friend’s pool in Amherst, Ohio. I decided to dive off a small roof into the pool — something I had done many times before.
When I hit the water, I could not move. I was face down, drowning until someone realized I wasn’t playing around and turned me over.
My friend’s uncle was sleeping, and we didn’t want to wake him up, so my friends lifted me out of the pool and drove me to the local ER. My father was called. As soon as he arrived, I was airlifted to MetroHealth Hospital in Cleveland, where I underwent many tests and surgery to try to fuse my vertebrae.
What had seemed like an easy dive left me with an injured c5/c6 vertebrae, and caused me to be paralyzed from the chest down. I don’t have full function in my arms, only my biceps and shoulders, with no real use of my triceps, forearms or fingers.
Many people with spinal cord injuries, or any type of disability — especially those that happen later in life — think that it’s the end. It is not.
Although your life may have changed significantly, life does go on. There is still a lot of life left to experience.
The biggest challenge is in mindset — it’s not an easy journey. It takes work and persistence. With the help of my friends and family, I have been able to accomplish things I never thought possible after my accident.
Six years after my accident, I finally went back to college. I acquired two associate degrees, one in computer networking hardware, which included Cisco, and one in computer networking software.
I continued my education achieving a bachelors in computer networking from Akron University, Ohio, this was the first time I would be living alone since my accident.
Ohio gets a lot of snow! Rolling through the snow was not an easy task; one year it was so bad that I got stuck in the snow with my wheelchair and with frozen hands, it was impossible to roll myself back to my dorm, so I had to ask for help.
I finished college, graduating with a 4.0 GPA — a personal goal. I went on to get a job as a network engineer at a small wireless company shortly after joining, the company announced that it was closing.
I started applying to Cisco, as that’s where I always aspired to work. It took me about a year to land a position, but in 2014 I was finally able to get my dream job at Cisco doing what I have always wanted.
Since joining Cisco, I have gained two CCIE’s: One in routing and switching and one in service provider. Cisco allows time and a half to complete the exam, which is extremely helpful, especially since I can only type with a pencil and my index finger, and I use a trackball. I am currently preparing for my CCDE, which I plan to take in October.
Cisco supports my disability by providing a caregiver when I need to travel. I can now visit my customers, attend training, and team events. Without this support, I would not be able to travel alone.
Most recently, this benefit allowed me to participate in the Disability Matters conference in Florida, where I represented Cisco's Connected Disability Awareness Network (CDAN) employee resource organization.
One of the other benefits that Cisco offers is being able to work remotely. Remote work is advantageous for me, as it’s quite an ordeal having to get my wheelchair in and out of my car. Wheeling myself around such a large campus is also quite exhausting and puts extra pressure on my joints, especially my shoulders.
Despite the ordeal of getting my wheelchair in the car, I love to drive. It makes me feel free. When I’m not working, one of my passions is taking my car down the drag strip and trying to beat my fastest time.
I have learned through my experience that no matter what life throws at you, you have to keep going.
If I can do it, you can do it. There's no reason to give up, but there is always a reason to carry on.
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