Whether on the fencing piste or in the office, attorney and national fencer with brain aneurysms stresses that approach is key.
Darryl A. Weiss, Esq. faced what most would consider an insurmountable setback: in November of 2005 he awoke trouble balancing, slightly slurred speech, and little control of his right side. It was determined shortly thereafter that he has two basilar aneurysms, and since that time he has had about four strokes. After two surgeries, Darryl has had to learn how to speak and walk again twice, and he currently uses a cane or walker. Yet despite these setbacks, Darryl has won his bouts with his disability and continues to be both a nationally competitve fencer and general counsel for a successful corporation.
Darryl, who attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, is the General Counsel for Telgian Corporation in San Diego, CA, a firm that provides fire and life safety solutions for organizations. He advises the corporation’s board, reviews and negotiates contracts, and handles litigation, stock, employee relations and intellectual property for the corporation. He also served as Chair for the Association of Corporate Counsel’s International Legal Committee and Co-Chair of the San Diego Bar Association’s International Law Committee. For accommodations, the company allows him to take time off as needed and provides him with a flexible schedule. In his free time, he provides pro bono work to the United States Fencing Association’s Wheelchair Division and the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation.
Before the aneurysms, Darryl was a Division I basketball player at the University of Minnesota and later took up fencing. Due to his mobility impairments, he now participates in wheelchair fencing (see: http://www.wheelchairfencer.org/), and competes at the national and international level. Darryl explains that a key to his success on the fencing piste is how he approaches his opponent. “They say fencing is chess at 70 mph,” he remarked, “so when you come up to someone, you only have fractions of a second to see how the person carries him or herself, where they have their weight shifted, and how they position their extremities. Therefore, in your approach, you need to make sure you read your opponent carefully and accurately.”
The same applies for Darryl when he is at work. “You have to realize how to ‘play the game’ while working within a corporation,” he stated, “When you need to complete a task or interact with a certain board member, for example, the manner in which you approach the situation is critical. Knowing the culture of the organization and your organization’s industry before you even look up a case will earn you the respect of your peers and get you quite far.”
At the same, Darryl wants to make sure others approach him properly. Due to the aneurysms,seizures, and strokes, he sometimes has slurred speech. Yet the sharpness of his legal mind has not been impacted. Therefore, when people meet Darryl, they assume that his slurred speech means he has an intellectual disability as well; it is an unfortunate misperception. “I have a background in human resources,” he said, “so I know how employers, and society at large, can approach someone who has an apparent disability. It is frustrating that often people assume that because you have a disability—any disability—that you are automatically disqualified to accomplish anything. Instead, I would tell these people to just give us a chance without any assumptions, and our true talents will shine through. And for the disabled person: never give up.”