Robert and Nicole Forto

For those that know me, this week marks a very difficult time in my life. I am proud to say that I overcame and beat all of the odd but that does not diminish things that I can not change.

My friends and family also know that music is a huge part of my life. In fact, music is life in many cases and the song Walk by the Foo Fighters resonates with me on many levels. Its lyrics share my story and what I have gone through and how I have pulled myself up by the bootstraps and kicked life in the ass.

Take a listen and then we will dive a little deeper:

In the initial verse, Grohl admits that he has drifted several times from his path and is actually getting used to his new beginnings. He begins to accept his shortcomings and start his journey back. 

This is very similar to my story. In the late 1990s I was a wreck. I was busy gambling and chasing after addiction and it finally caught up to me. I too accepted my shortcomings and started on my own journey that would eventually become Dreamchaser Leadership, our businesses, sled dogs, and our little life.

Grohl could probably be referring to the process of learning something new, healing from an illness or an addiction because he expresses gratitude in the bridge over the fact that he is not dead. In fact, he seems to have found a reason to stay alive and stresses not wanting to die anymore.

For me, I could not have been in a worse place. I was facing a very long time in prison for my ill deeds and I needed to find a reason to stay in the fight.

My reason was my wife Michele and three kids, Nicole, Tyler, and Kyle. Every single day I fought to make sure I could one day be a dad and husband to them.

Grohl reveals in many interviews that he wrote the verse about going through a trial after he helped his daughter, Violet to learn how to walk and she was later able to walk by herself.

The lyrics go on:

learning to walk again
I believe I’ve waited long enough
Where do I begin?
Learning to talk again
Can’t you see I’ve waited long enough?
Where do I begin?

When I finally accepted my fate I knew I had to not only make amends to those who I hurt so badly but also had to find a way to start over. It took years of hard work from my wife and I to make reparations for my misdeeds but we finally did and I was given another chance.

The most powerful verses in the song is:

Do you remember the days?
We built these paper mountains
Then sat and watched them burn
I think I found my place
Can’t you feel it growing stronger
Little conquerors

During this time of incarceration, Michele and I would sit for hours in visiting rooms working out plans for the future. While this is nothing new for prisoners and something that all of them do to not only try to hold on to the past but also promises for the future.

In those visits together Michele and I built our own paper mountains and those little scraps of paper would eventually become the workings of the business that we run today. It started off as Denver Dog Works and we sat there and drew out the business plan and even the logo.

Over time, those little conquers of ours were put into motion that would eventually carve out who I am today. I was on a series on Animal Planet, I taught prisoners how to become dog trainers, facilitated classes, and helped start a service dog program inside.

For the very first time
Don’t you pay no mind
Set me free, again
To keep alive, a moment at a time
That’s still inside, a whisper to a riot
The sacrifice, the knowledge to survive
The first decline, another state of mind
I’m on my knees, I’m praying for a sign
Forever, whenever, I never wanna die

This is powerful. When you live in a nightmare every day and that nightmare is real life, you hear those whispers, those riots, those cries. It breaks you mentally and physically. That is what it is meant to do. Many find their way in reverting gangs and crime on the inside. Others find religion only to toss it over their shoulder at the front gate. Others find classes and groups or programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

The point is, at some point, it breaks you down and you have to make a choice…forever, whenever…you will survive.

My time came on October 16, 2006, after a very long journey.

Immediately after that date, I walked into a dog training company, American School of Dog Training in Denver, Colorado. I had a stack of papers and was ready to shine.

This grizzled, old-school dog trainer and owner of the place, Bob said, “I don’t care about your fancy degrees and certificates. I want you to go out back and pull a dog out of the kennel and bring it out here and show me what you got.”

I did and was hired on the spot on October 18th.

Shortly thereafter the old guy asked me if I wanted to lease the place and we did. By January Michele started working at the place part-time and we started Denver Dog Works.

In time I hired two of the guys that I taught how to be trainers and one of them, I am proud to say is still working as a professional trainer today. Way to go Russ!

Michlele and I bought our first house in Aurora, Colorado, and eventually moved our family to Alaska and started Alaska Dog Works.

There have been many, many, trials and tribulations over the years and many more nightmares about my past. But each day Michele and I find our place and feel it growing stronger each and every day.

I am proud of what we have become.

In short, you can learn to WALK again.

There is so much to this story and maybe one day I will sit down and write a book.

Oh, and a quick side note. Do you remember that little girl Violet that Dave taught to walk? Well, she is now a backup singer in his band–arguably the biggest band in the world. And do you know what? That little girl Nicole, my daughter in the picture above, is all grown up and a partner in our family business.

Listen to the song again…

If you like what you have read or if you have a similar story to share, let me know in the comments below and follow me on Twitter.