Episode 31: Fletcher Cleaves…From Tragedy to Triumph

In Episode 31, I talk to Fletcher Cleaves. He has an incredible story – his life was going perfectly, until a horrible accident changed his life forever. His story is one of tragedy, but also one of hope and empowerment, and he’s on a mission to share it with the world one trip at a time.

Highlights from this episode:

[03:11] Fletcher’s travel history.

Fletcher’s early travel was mainly family reunion road trips to St. Louis, Minnesota, New Orleans, and Chicago. He currently travels much more extensively for his YouTube channel and motivational talks.

[04:50] Fletcher’s story.

In early 2009, Fletcher graduated high school and received a football scholarship for Lambuth University. After training for several months, on September 10th of 2009, he was involved in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, and this left him paralyzed from the chest down.

After a year and a half of rehabilitation, Fletcher enrolled at the University of Memphis and graduated with a degree in Computer Science.

5 years after his accident, Fletcher started traveling to various destinations with his close friends, and eventually took his first international trip to Rome, France, and London. Since then, he hasn’t stopped traveling.

[12:25] Coming to terms with his disability.

Prior to his accident, Fletcher was independent.

After his accident, he had to rely on someone for every need.

Thanks to his incredible support system, he was empowered to face his challenges head-on and reach his goals with confidence.

“If there’s something you have your mind set on, just figure out the steps you need to accomplish those goals.”

[16:11] Fletcher’s support system.

Fletcher’s incredible friend group have been with him since the third grade. After his accident, they took it upon themselves to do what needed to be done for him to be able to experience life with them on their trips.

Where he is today is 90% because of his family and friends support system, and 10% because of his own mindset.

[18:37] You can do it.

When traveling, there are some things you try to sort out ahead of time – making sure the hotel is handicap accessible and arranging suitable transport.

Other things can be unpredictable, so Fletcher’s mindset is always “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” Just because there is that element of unpredictability doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel.

The hardest part of traveling is starting, so just do it.

[22:11] Getting through the airport.

In the US, it’s typically not too complicated to get through security the airport – he has to be patted down instead of going through the metal detector. To avoid confusion, he gets on the flight first and gets off the flight last.

International flights are more tedious because the compliance and laws are sometimes different to the US. They once even lost his wheelchair on a flight to Paris.

[28:00] Fletcher’s top goal.

Known as the Wheelchair Nomad, Fletcher’s top goal is to visit every World Wonder, and to document each one of them on his social media, and to give reviews of accessibility points of each place that he visits. So far, he’s been to 2 – the Colosseum in Rome, and Chichen Itza in Mexico. His next World Wonder could be the Pyramids of Giza – keep an eye on his YouTube channel for those travel updates!

[39:59] Ask for pictures.

Fletcher’s experiences traveling around the world has allowed him to stay in many hotels. He aims to use those experiences to help other handicapped travellers make the right decisions about were to stay on their travels.

He’s experienced rooms that had a step to get into it, old European elevator chairs, and other misunderstandings regarding accessibility. He now always asks for pictures of the hotel accessibility options before making a booking.

[49:48] Fletcher’s inspirational quotes.

“How can you say the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon?”

“The man that says he can and the man that says he can’t are both right.”

“A smart man knows his limits. A wise man knows he has none.”

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Check out the links to some of the things mentioned in this episode:

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