In the 2006 movie, “Facing the Giants”, Grant Taylor is a high school coach with a mediocre record who is facing “giants” in his personal life: his car is breaking down, he is being replaced as head coach, and the players father’s are trying to get him fired. He learns that he and his wife cannot have children. In order to find a solution to his problems, Taylor prays for help. He decides to praise God after each game, whether they win or lose. He encourages his players to do the same.
The idea of facing giants is based on the biblical story of the young shepherd boy, David, who killed the giant, Goliath, and later became king. Taylor’s problems are the “giants” in his life, which he overcame through prayer and a positive attitude.
Law enforcement officers deal with various giants in their careers and personal lives, including: injury, health issues, financial problems, politics, false allegations, lawsuits, marriage problems, depression, substance abuse, loneliness, and feelings of guilt and isolation. For Deputy First Class Ozell Powell, his giant is in the form of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Born with the heart and the soul to wear the badge, Deputy Powell dreamed of being a police officer all his life. After graduating from high school, Powell enlisted in the Army. He fought in the Gulf War and served with distinction. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, Deputy Powell attended basic recruit training and he was hired at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in Pensacola, Florida. Deputy Powell thoroughly enjoyed being a patrol deputy and helping others.
After 7 years on patrol, Powell began to experience dizziness. A CAT scan revealed a massive cyst on the right side of his brain. He underwent treatment to drain the cyst, and returned to patrol. However, the symptoms worsened. In addition to the dizzy spells, he also experienced weakness both legs; but the doctor insisted there was nothing wrong.
Powell decided to get a second opinion when he and other deputies became involved in a critical incident. A friend and colleague asked him afterwards, “Are you able to get out of your patrol car quick enough if someone shot at you?”
The incident made him realized that he could not quickly escape a potentially life threatening situation. He received the proper diagnosis from a neurologist of MS, an inflammatory disease in which the myelin sheath around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged. The cyst that had been removed had been a result of MS. If left untreated, the disease can cause blindness, slurred speech, immobility, and, ultimately death.
Fearing that MS could possibly endanger himself and other deputies, Powell made the difficult decision to share his diagnosis with the administration, not knowing what to expect. “The Sheriff’s Department has been very supportive and accommodating,” he stated. “They have allowed me to maintain my dignity. I never once felt that my job was threatened.”
Powell has stated that so far, he has managed the MS, with medication, exercise and diet. The MS can be delayed, but not cured. Powell has stated that the early days of his diagnosis were difficult. “I missed patrol. I missed interacting with the community. I missed the camaraderie that I shared with my colleagues on my shift. People are assigned to desk duty while they are recuperating from injuries, but they get to look forward to rejoining their shift once they are medically cleared. It was disheartening sometimes, knowing I would not be able to return to patrol. ”
“There is a stigma associated with desk duty. There were times when I did not feel like a ‘real’ cop. However, I chose not to dwell on the negative, because my situation could have been much worse. I began to view this not as a ‘lesser position’, but as a chance to serve in a different capacity. I realized that though I am not able to serve the people on regular patrol, I have been able to bring my patrol experience to the front desk. Opportunities began to materialize. I have been able to work closely with domestic violence victims, and I organized a specialized unit. I have realized opportunities that may not have been available to me had I remained on patrol. There is a need here, and I have been given the opportunity to fulfill that need.”
Powell credits his faith, prayer, meditation, and a strong support network for sustaining him throughout his ordeal. Like Coach Grant Taylor, he has chosen to be thankful, regardless of his circumstances. “I am truly blessed to have the support of my wife, my family, my administration, and the whole department,’” he said, flashing his easy smile. He is also writing his autobiography.
Powell concluded with some words of wisdom. First, he advised that one should always get a second opinion when diagnosed with an ailment. “I sometimes wonder if I had not waited so long before getting a second opinion, and if I had this diagnosed and treated sooner, maybe the MS would not have progressed to this stage. Since I trusted the first medical professional that I went to, I will never really know the answer to that question.”
Second, Powell said, “Remember that no matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone who has it worse than you. When I found out that I have MS, I was angry, frustrated, and disappointed, but now I realize that I am abundantly blessed. There are people with MS that cannot speak, walk, or even care for themselves. I may not have the physical abilities that I used to, but I am still able to walk, to get out of bed each morning, and to come to work. I still have my job, which I enjoy.”
Finally, Powell said: “When I took I was sworn in, I believed that I would work twenty-five or thirty years and then retire. All I had ever wanted to be is a police officer. So don’t limit yourself. Always have an alternate plan. Life is constantly changing, and nothing is guaranteed. One should always be prepared for life-altering situations.”
With his positive attitude, faith, courage, and strength of character, Deputy Powell has managed to defeat the “giant” of multiple sclerosis. He is an inspiration to his family, to the people he serves, and to the entire law enforcement community.