MDA Ambassador Guest Blog: Finding Fulfillment in Retirement
By Mike Huddleston | Friday, January 19, 2024
5 Second Summary
MDA Ambassadors play an essential role in furthering MDA’s mission while representing and empowering the neuromuscular disease community. Quest Ambassador Guest Blog series provides a platform to share their personal stories, perspectives, and experience.
Mike Huddleston is 60 years old. He is originally from California and now lives in Severn, MD. Mike was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Type 3 at the age of 16. He started using a power wheelchair in 2015. He and his wife of over 40 years, Debbie, are both retired. Mike enjoys exercising, reading, watching movies and documentaries, listening to music, studying astronomy, and collecting vintage skateboards. Mike currently receives Spinraza treatment for SMA and was one of the first five adult patients in to begin this treatment in Maryland in 2018.
It’s the last Monday in November of 2022, the one after Thanksgiving that year. My eyes start to open, tentatively at first, then wider. I look at the clock and notice it’s almost 7 a.m. I think, “Wait a minute”, with my pulse increasing as I realize I’m going to be late for my normal work start time. Then a smile crosses my face, ever wider as the thought dawns on my caffeine-deprived mind: “This is the first day of my retirement!” I relax and let my head sink back into the pillow. After a seemingly quicker than expected 36 years in the IT field, I had retired, working the Friday after Thanksgiving so my team could spend the long holiday weekend with their families and traveling. I started working for GEICO the week of Thanksgiving in 1986 and watched it grow from fewer than 7000 employees to over 40,000 when I retired.
The question I often get asked is: “Since you retired at the relatively early age of 59, how do you spend your day?” I had a wonderful career and 29 of those 36 years were in IT, with over 20 of those in a supervisory capacity. I had 31 people on my team when I retired. We helped analyze, troubleshoot, develop, test, and implement changes and improvements to the company’s website. I felt very fortunate to do work that I enjoyed, with people I enjoyed working with, but I always wanted to be able to give back a little. My wife and I have been married for over 40 years and we decided early in our marriage not to have children. Although we didn’t have the family-related time commitments others may have had, between working 40 – 50 hours most weeks, commuting an additional two hours a day, and exercising every day, I had little down time. Over the last year and a half of my career, I also volunteered to co-chair the company’s Employee Resource Group for associates with disabilities. Although I believe I am an empathetic person, this position allowed me the opportunity to expand my understanding of the concerns, issues, and experiences of others. My role as a volunteer was valuable to myself and to others, and in my retirement, I have found meaning and fulfillment in continuing to volunteer for organizations that I am passionate about.
Being diagnosed with SMA Type 3 as a teenager did not create my worldview, but it certainly impacted it during my formative years. I wanted to be an example to others within the disability community of someone who could overcome physical challenges, have a loving marriage, get a good education, and have a wonderful and impactful career. Being retired now affords me the time and opportunity to give back and be that example. In addition to serving as an MDA Ambassador and volunteering with various MDA programs, I also volunteer with four other organizations within the disability community, ranging from accessible sailing, mentoring, and serving as a board member to help build and expand opportunities within the disability community.
With MDA, I participated in two 2023 Virtual Summer Camps and the Career Explorations and STEM programs in the Fall of 2023. The virtual camps were a wonderful experience as we had time each day with the attendees. Seeing them complete their projects, participate in the various activities, and the smiles on their faces warmed my heart. Although I didn’t attend MDA camps as a teenager, I have two older siblings who are also diagnosed with SMA and attended in person camps. They talked about camps for weeks after and looked forward to it every summer. Knowing how important and meaningful it was to both of my brothers made volunteering in this way very special to me. It reminded me of their joy and if I was able to positively impact the Summer 2023 virtual attendees, there was no better way I could have spent that time. For the Career Explorations and STEM programs, showing the participants that someone “like them” can achieve and overcome adversity was very important to me. Seeing their excitement and answering their questions helped me understand that I was indeed setting the example I strived for. They matter and helping them see that is so important in their life’s journey. MDA has had such a profound impact on my family and the desire to give back in some small way is fulfilled by my participation in these activities. I look forward to participating in these volunteer opportunities for years to come.
I’m not suggesting volunteering is the only way to spend your time after a long career, but for me, it’s rewarding beyond words. If I can show the young people within our community that they have a life of opportunities in front of them, I am hopeful it will help give them the confidence needed to pursue their dreams. Don’t let your disability define you; it’s only a part of you. Find what you love and if you can give back, embrace it.
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