I will never forget my first Upward Unlimited Awards Night presentation. It was March 1st, and my wife Lisa and I had just gotten married the day before, on Leap Year Day, February 29th, 2004. On what should have been our honeymoon, we drove several hours north from Alabama to McKenzie, TN to perform at a Baptist Church there where some acquaintances of mine were Upward Unlimited Coordinators and Upward Sports Directors who had asked me to perform. I had performed for a number of church youth groups and large youth events before, but never an Upward Awards program where I was the entertainer and featured speaker, the main focus of the event. I don’t know what was more difficult – making it through our wedding vows the day before or the Upward Awards Night program the next day!
On our drive up to Tennessee, I rehearsed my program with my wife, we prayed over the program and the audience, and went over last minute details of set-up, sound, lights, and other details. We finally arrived at the church. The anticipation was high, and by the time the Upward program started, the sanctuary was packed with over 500 kids and their relatives eagerly waiting my show.
Before the show started, I waited “back-stage” in the pastor’s office, praying that things would go well, that lives would be touched, that God would be glorified, that the performance would go safely, …and that I would survive without killing myself. Oh, I forgot to mention that I perform as one of the last of the world’s true sword swallowers, and that I literally put my life on the line each and every time I perform…
I started my show with my normal fire-eating act that I had performed for over 20 years. The kids’ faces lit up with the glow of my torches as I moved around the front of the room, transferring flames from the torch to my tongue, and gently blowing a small flame upward to light the next torch. So far, so good.
Then came the Human Blockhead – a comedic sideshow stunt where I nail 5 inch spike nails, ice picks and carpenter’s awls into my nose to the shock and amazement of the audience. The kids loved it, squirmed and giggled in glee, while the parents squirmed and covered their eyes. At one point, I glanced over at the pastor in the front row, and saw him burying his face in his hands as if to say, “What have we brought into our church?” I looked straight at him, smiled and said, “I bet you’ve never had this happen here at your church before, have you?” He nodded in dispair, while the audience howled.
Then came the main part, the most fun and most memorable part of my show by most reports – Sword Swallowing. I began by asking if the audience believed sword swallowing was real… a show of hands revealed that most did not. Then I proceeded to start with a few fake swords, gimmicks where the sword either curled up or telescoped up into the handle. By this time, the audience was starting to believe my act was a scam. Good! My plan was working. I make it a point to take the audience to a common starting point of disbelief in sword swallowing first, so that I can then take them on a journey from unbelief to belief, both mentally and spiritually. Then I moved on by swallowing a very real small sword. The audience wasn’t sure what to believe at this point. I moved on to longer swords.
Somewhere along the line, something went wrong. The entire program was a blur, but at one point, as I was attempting to swallow a sword and make a profound point, I heard a huge “BOOM” and felt the building shake. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the large screen behind me balanced precariously on a wobbly stand had toppled over backwards! Thank God it had not toppled over on top of me while I had the sword down my throat! No time to stop and worry about it now.
I continued on, swallowing longer and longer swords, taking the audience with me on this adventure in doing the impossible. The audience was amazed. Finally, I invited a volunteer, an audience member, one of the coaches or a father of one of the kids, up onstage to remove a 30 inch sword from my throat. After a bit of instruction and teasing to relax him, as well as to reassure myself that he would not kill me, I swallowed the sword, bowed to the audience and the snap of cell-phone cameras, and turned to the volunteer to remove the sword. He grabbed the hilt, and carefully removed the blade as I slowly backed away, my throat still intact.
I glanced over at the pastor, and with a smile on his face, he gave me a quick thumbs up, as if to say, “What a relief to know you really ARE a Christian with a serious message!”.
Before I knew it, the show was over. The barrage of compliments from kids and parents alike, and requests for autographs on sports jerseys, basketballs and scraps of paper reassured me that both my show and message had gotten through to the audience. I had survived my first of many Upward programs.
Upward Unlimited is faith-based sports program based on the concept that “Every Child is a Winner”. The Upward program is designed to hire a flashy entertainer to perform for the final awards night show, to entertain not only the kids who participate in the Upward sports programs, but also to attract the parents, grandparents, friends and relatives, many of whom might not otherwise set foot in a church, and to end with a faith-based message to reach the kids and adults in the audience.
This was my first Upward Awards Night program, the first of hundreds of such programs, each of them similar in concept, yet each of them unique in the lives they touch. Over the years, I remember different churches, unique situations, stories, names and faces from each one. But that first program, the one on my honeymoon when the 20 foot screen toppled over, was an Upward program I will NEVER forget!
Dan Meyer is one of the last of the true sword swallowers, a multiple Guinness World Record holder, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not known for swallowing swords underwater in a tank of sharks, the sword swallower seen on America’s Got Talent, 2007 Ig Nobel Laureate in Medicine at Harvard, an award-winning author, inspirational speaker, science/medical lecturer, corporate entertainer, and leading authority on the ancient art of sword swallowing as the President of the Sword Swallowers Association International. But above all, Meyer is a seasoned Upward Unlimited Awards Night Speaker who loves inspiring others to do the impossible in their lives by sharing his unique talent and gifts with churches, youth groups, conventions and Upward Awards Night Shows around the world.
For more information on Upward Unlimited visit www.upward.org For more information on Upward Unlimited speaker Dan Meyer and his Upward Unlimited Awards Night programs, visit http://www.blue-n-gold.com/halfdan/upward.htmCheck Dan’s availability for your Upward Awards Night program.