National MS Society

Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Back

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 12 Comments

Do you remember where you were, two years ago?

I remember it vividly.

On February 27, 2011, my wife Pam and I went to Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills to do some skiing. It was one of those crisp, bright winter mornings.

Although it was the perfect day to be out on the slopes, somehow it didn’t feel that way. When we walked into the small building of the adaptive snow sports program, we were welcomed by helper dogs. A couple of guys in technical mountain wear were climbing out of their wheelchairs and were being strapped onto a mono- or bi-ski.

A year or so ago, some of these young men had been riding their motorcycles. They had experienced the ultimate sense of freedom, until an accident left them paralyzed from the waist down. After that, they stopped living life in the fast lane. On this cold morning, it would take them an hour, just to be fitted to the equipment before someone could carry them onto a ski lift.

I looked at my wife. She had a sense of what was coming.


As a child she never skied. There was plenty of snow in Upstate New York, but no money to join the ski club. Only in her forties she learned how to ski, and she turned out to be a natural. On our second date she took me to Blue Mountain. “If anything serious were to happen between you and me,” she said with a smile, “you better learn how to navigate the Pennsylvania slopes!” And so I did.

Just as I was beginning to feel more secure on my skis, strange things began to happen to Pam. She’d always been physically fit and well-balanced. Now she became increasingly vertiginous and unstable.

In a matter of months she lost a lot of strength and her energy level went way down. Sometimes we would go to the slopes hoping she’d have a good day, only to return after one short run. Sometimes we would turn around before we even reached the skiing area. Something was seriously wrong, and we eventually found out what it was:

Multiple Sclerosis.

It’s one of those autoimmune diseases where the brain tries to tell the body what to do, but some lines of communication are broken. Messages reach the wrong parts or never even arrive because the body is attacking itself. Some doctors believe MS isn’t one disease, but a collection of symptoms that varies from patient to patient and from day-to-day.

Nobody knows exactly how MS begins, and nobody knows how to end it.

Imagine that, when your doctor tells you: “You have MS.”


When my wife’s first symptoms began, she was eight years old and few had heard of Multiple Sclerosis, and certainly not pediatric MS.  Even today it is notoriously difficult to diagnose. An estimated  2.1 million people are affected by it worldwide. Experts think there are currently 400,000 people in the United States with MS. (This is thought to be a very low estimate, as it is based on those who have been in touch with National MS Society) Approximately 200 new cases are diagnosed every week. That’s one new case for every hour of the day.

Those aren’t just numbers. Behind the statistics are lives that are fundamentally changed, jobs that are lost due to disability, relationships that are tested, families that cannot cope, the end of independence, the beginnings of depression, countless visits to medical offices, endless insurance paperwork, and waking up dead tired before the day has even begun.

Oh, and did I mention the ridicule of neighbors who think you’re drunk because on some days you can’t set one foot in front of the other, or who believe you are faking it to rake in the “big disability bucks”?

When life as you know it falls apart and you’re struggling to wrap your brain around what’s happening… at that time your body decides to treat you to a dose of cognitive dysfunction, one of the many nasty symptoms of MS.

On the sit-ski

My wife wasn’t raised to feel sorry for herself. She’s a fighter. She needed to know what was going on and wanted to be actively involved in her treatment plan. Unfortunately, her body didn’t respond too well to the standard injectable disease-modifying medications. In fact, she felt worse and had to start using a cane. Then came the wheelchair followed by a scooter. Who knows what would be next.

As they tightly strapped her into the bucket seat of the bi-ski, the crew at Belleayre taught me how to best assist her as her able-bodied ski buddy. I would basically hold her on a leash while skiing behind her, as I set the course and speed. I don’t think my wife looked at it that way, though. She probably thought she was holding the reins. Come to think of it: isn’t that the case in most intimate relationships?


You’ve probably seen the saying: “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” On my wife’s desk there’s a small sign that says:

“Behind every successful woman is…. HERSELF.”

Asking for help is often the hardest for those who are so used to helping others. Having to depend on other people is a humbling experience. Some even feel it is humiliating.

On these white, snow-sculpted slopes, my wife was forced to be dragged down by a Dutchman who wasn’t exactly an expert skier. Only a few years ago, this same guy had had a forceful encounter with a pine tree because he didn’t know how to stop coming down the hill at full speed.

With the help of a Belleayre crew of knowledgeable, caring instructors and after some serious husband-and-wife team building, we had an okay day in the mountains. For my wife, being on a bi-ski didn’t really feel like skiing. It felt more like sledding because she had no control over where she went. She couldn’t help asking:

“Is this the way it’s going to be from now on? Will I ever be able to ski on my own feet again?”

Little did she know that two years later she would return to the same mountain under very different circumstances.


At Walk MS 2012There is no typical MS patient. That’s typical for the disease. Scientists have identified different types of Multiple Sclerosis, some more “benign” than others. My wife has Relapsing Remitting MS which is most common. It’s characterized by sudden, unpredictable attacks when symptoms worsen, followed by a full or partial recovery that may take days, weeks or months.

September 26, 2010 was an encouraging day for the MS community. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved fingolimod, the very first oral treatment for relapsing forms of MS. It was developed by Novartis and it’s marketed as Gilenya™.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Gilenya™ does not cure MS. What it can do is reduce the number of relapses, thus slowing down the physical problems caused by this disease. As with all drugs, results are not guaranteed and vary from patient to patient.


Within weeks after taking one pill a day, my wife started feeling better. She gradually regained strength and started working out again. While I was spending my days sitting in a recording studio, she was running on treadmills, lifting weights and doing yoga. A year later, her scooter, wheelchair and cane were collecting dust. But it gets even better.

Last summer Pam climbed all 465 steps of the highest tower in The Netherlands, and she rode 50 miles on a tandem bike with Phil Keoghan’s NOW and Novartis for MS team of professional cyclists.

On September 29th, 2012, she joined 7500 participants for the Bike MS City to Shore event, riding her own bike and finishing ahead of most of her able-bodied team members. She has yet to have a relapse.

Pam at BelleayreBACK ON TOP

Recently, our family returned to Belleayre on one of those crisp, bright winter mornings. This time we went straight to the main lodge, we put on our gear and hit the slopes. It seemed amazingly normal, but silently, we were celebrating.

My wife’s recovery cannot completely be attributed to some “magic pill”. Pam has to pace herself, avoid stimulus overload and make sure to follow a healthy diet and stay active. A positive mindset is a big plus. She stresses that she’s not some kind of superhero. Some days are definitely better than others. A cure has yet to be found.

The National MS Society (NMSS) supports and funds research activities with three goals in mind:

  • Stopping the disease
  • Restoring what’s been lost
  • Ending MS forever



I know this blog is read and enjoyed by many of you. That’s one of the reasons I take a day out of my week to write and respond. If you feel you have benefited from my articles, ideas and suggestions in the past year and would like to show your support and appreciation, please consider this.

Make a donation to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society today.

We still have a few mountains to climb, but every donation gets us closer to a cure.

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Spending a year with me

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 15 Comments

2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this: 

Your generosity.

Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!

When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.

Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career. 

As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.

When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.


As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.

A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year. 

In collaboration with, I put the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone to the test; the amazingly affordable and brilliant CAD E100S mic, as well as a shock mount for the 21st century, the Rycote InVision™ system.

I presented seven reasons to hate home studios, and most recently, I had a chance to review Jonathan Tilley’s new eBook “Voice Over Garden.” 


Let’s remember that 2012 was also the year my website got a major facelift. It gave me a chance to write about why your website stinks, how analyzing web traffic can help you craft content, and how you can use social media to spread your message (as long as you don’t step into the filter bubble). 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well. 

When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.

Over time you’ll notice that there are at least 10 things clients don’t care about, and that there are many things your clients won’t tell you that you absolutely need to know before you hit the record button. This year, I finally revealed my personal marketing strategy and the four keys to winning clients over.

Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.

Nethervoice studio

Nethervoice studio


On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments. 

First you got to see how I have outfitted my voice-over booth, followed by a review of the equipment I use to make my clients happy.

I also wrote about certain aspects of (voice) acting. In “Are You a Cliché” I dealt with the downside of doing impersonations. “Why you suck and what to do about it” is all about breathing and how to get rid of those nasty clicks and other mouth noises that can ruin a recording. “Are you playing by the rules” tells you what it takes to maintain a good relationship with your agent. 


In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.

I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees. 

One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article. 


Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.  

After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.


All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change. 

It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.

It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment. 

I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you: 

I’m not done yet!

In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013. 

Do you think you can handle that? 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 13 Comments

Phil Keoghan ©Paul Strikwerda

What would you do if you knew that your time on earth was about to come to an end?

Would you go back to work and pretend nothing happened?

Would you go on a cruise around the world?

Would you visit as many friends and family members as possible?

Or would you stay inside, close the blinds and curl up with a pint of your favorite ice cream?

Phil Keoghan, host of “The Amazing Race,” was 19 when he almost lost his life. On one of his first TV shoots under water, he got trapped in an upturned interior cabin of a sunken cruise liner and couldn’t find his way out. With very little air left in his tank, he panicked, realizing that his next breath could be his last.

After what seemed an eternity, the support crew on the surface sent a rescue diver to find him. In the nick of time, Phil was pulled to the surface and he survived. The next day, he went back to repeat the dive that nearly killed him.

That was not all.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Drunk and Lazy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 7 Comments

The rumors started a few years ago.

It all began when they had seen her struggle to get to the car.

It was not a pretty sight.

Swaying from one side to the other, Jennifer stopped to take a breath and regain her balance. Her brain was telling her body to walk upright, with that strong, steady gait she had always been so proud of. But somehow, that message didn’t reach her muscles because she kept on waddling like a duck.

As she looked down, she realized how uneven the sidewalk was. Every tile that was sticking out turned it into an obstacle course.

She stopped again and looked at her neighbor’s porch. A shadow quickly moved away from the front window.

When she finally reached the car, she had to hold on to it, to stay on her feet. Jennifer opened the door and swung herself into the driver’s seat. When she drove away, she already felt exhausted, and the day had barely begun. She wondered how well she would do at the audition.


The people next door were old school. They didn’t say much, and when they did, it was usually behind her back. Much of the world was a mystery to them, and yet, they acted as if they knew everything.

For one, they thought that Jennifer was lazy, because she hardly ever left for work in the morning. They had no idea that Jennifer had a state of the art voice-over home studio equipped with ISDN and SourceConnect.

Secondly, they were pretty sure that Jennifer was faking a handicap. One day, they had seen her walking with a cane. The next day, she seemed to be totally fine. Besides, she looked great. Sick people usually don’t look that good.

Perhaps Jennifer was feigning disability to get money from the government. How else could she afford the mortgage? After all, she had no job and people abuse the system all the time.

The neighbors also knew something else: Jennifer liked a drink or two. That would explain the swaying and the stumbling on the sidewalk. In short: Jennifer was a jobless, lazy drunk who shouldn’t even be driving. She should be ashamed of herself!


This week is MS Awareness week, and like many other people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, Jennifer was gearing up for the annual Walk MS event in May. She needed sponsors for the walk and she decided to stay close to home. Jennifer loved to bake and had an idea: she would go door-to-door with her delicious home-made cookies and raise funds for the event.

As the oven was heating up, she thought back to the last meeting of her support group. That night, they had discussed the many misconceptions surrounding MS.

Larry, the facilitator, warned everybody:

“When it comes to a chronic illness like MS, if it’s not visible, it does not exist. In other words: as long as you’re not in a wheelchair, people tend to think that you must be doing alright.

Some folks think that MS is the result of a poor diet or negative thinking. In other words: you’re basically doing it to yourself. Eating healthy and an optimistic attitude alone could solve the problem. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

As you know, many MS symptoms are silent. Different people have different symptoms and some of them come and go. There’s poor coordination, fatigue, vertigo, visual disturbances, tremors, spasticity, weakness, slurred speech, unstable walking, sensitivity to heat… do I need to go on?”


“When they surveyed people in the UK about MS last year, almost half of the respondents couldn’t name a single symptom. Others believed that MS was contagious or inherited and almost always fatal. None of that is true. Mind you, the people that were interviewed were from a cross-section of the population. They weren’t exactly uneducated.

So, on top of suffering from a nearly invisible autoimmune disease, people with MS also suffer from these myths and misconceptions.”

At that point, Carlos interjected. He had been a flight attendant for many years, until MS had him grounded.

“I always tell people: Even though I have this disease, it’s not who I am. I’m still the same person. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your understanding.”


Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have MS? Singer-songwriter Kristie Salerno Kent was officially diagnosed in November 1999. She made a short film about living with MS. Please take a few moments to watch it. I think you’ll like her approach. Depending on your computer, you might have to turn the volume up a little:


Let’s pick up Jennifer’s story where we left off. Her scrumptious chocolate chip cookies were ready and wrapped with an orange ribbon. Within the hour, she had sold almost her entire batch to the people on her block, and there was only one house left: the neighbors. On her last legs, she rang the doorbell.

“What’s up with you?” asked the neighbor. “It looks like you were hit by a truck.”

“Oh well,” said Jennifer. “It’s the fatigue. I’ve been going door-to-door to sell these cookies for the MS Walk…”

“I know exactly what you mean,” interrupted the neighbor. I get tired too. We all do. Just get some rest and you’ll be okay. Why are you selling cookies? Did you join the Girl Scouts?”

“It’s for people who want to sponsor my team for the MS Walk in May. You get three for a dollar,” said Jennifer.

“MS… that’s what Michael J. Fox has, right?” asked the neighbor. “He looks fine to me. Saw him on the Olympics a few weeks ago. Once an actor, always an actor.”

“I believe he has Parkinson’s,” said Jennifer. “I raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said the neighbor. “I just gave money to those poor people in Haiti, and I’m sure you’ll make someone else happy with these cookies for Multiple… whatever it is. Right now, my pizzas have arrived.”

As Jennifer walked back to her house, the guy from Domino’s made his delivery.

“Sir, that’ll be $18.98”.

“Here’s twenty five,” said the neighbor. “Keep the change.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.

Approximately 400,000 Americans have MS, and every hour someone is newly diagnosed. Worldwide, MS affects about 2.1 million people. Even though there is no cure, there are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to “modify” or slow down the underlying course of MS. In addition, many therapeutic and technological advances are helping people manage symptoms.

The National MS Society is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States supporting research for the treatment, prevention and cure of multiple sclerosis. Approximately 83% of Society income is devoted to research and service programs that enhance the lives of people with MS and their families.

Every spring nearly 300,000 people unite across the country to participate in Walk MS. All walks have an accessible route so people of all abilities can participate. Funds raised support the Society’s research and services programs. 

*Source: National MS Society

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