By John Leaf Special to Published Jul 09, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Or, as the kids today are fond of sayin, THIS nickname story is "totally legit."

When I began the nickname project almost three years ago, I had a sneaking suspicion that I would run across a few nickname stories that would be real show stoppers. And, I was right. As a lover of irony, and having collected literally hundreds of nickname stories, the one I'm sharing here is frankly, second to none. Whenever people ask me to share with them one of the more memorable nickname stories I've ever heard, this one is always right there.

Here it is:

"My nickname is 'Wheels.' acquired in my senior year of high school when I was 17, in 1969, because I was the first in my group to have a car. Someone yelled out one day in school, 'Hey, Jim, do you have your wheels?' And it stuck, especially since I was an adventurous driver in my formative years.
Through my 20s and 30s a lot of people only knew me by my nickname, and my good friends like Duck, Babushka and Hollywood, not to mention Skinny Johnny, referred to me that way regularly.

So here's the ironic part: In 1995, September 11th to be exact, I was a 43 year old working on my old house in Wauwatosa, hoping to get an afternoon of house painting in before the onset of cold weather. Unfortunately, I was on a ladder up to the second floor when the ladder gave way beneath me, causing me to fall, landing on my butt on a concrete sidewalk and crushing a vertebra. This led to complete paralysis from the navel down, and, of course, confinement to a wheelchair.

I still have the nickname of 'Wheels,' but it's not used as much anymore. But when it is, I chuckle inside and consider how now it has some real, although totally different, meaning. Because without my wheels, 'Wheels' isn't going anywhere."

When I met Jim at his home in Wauwatosa, and we took the photograph, there was no bitterness in his story at all; none whatsoever. His wife was as charming as he is.

The powerful irony of his nickname 'Wheels' is never lost on anyone. This story has actually brought more than few people to tears.
Perhaps as the famous quote states, "The wheels of justice (do) turn exceedingly slow."

And what about Jim? He said he "chuckles inside" when he ponders the irony, even while confined to a wheelchair.

I don't know about you, but his story really crumbled me. I hope and trust you are grateful for the "wheels" you likely have to keep you rolling, until a more perfect version of humility comes along.

John Leaf Special to

John Leaf was born in western Illinois, a mile east of the Mississippi. College in Chicago. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Leaf was goalie on the soccer team and captain of the golf team in college. He cut class to ride the "L" to see Cubs games, hung out for hours at the Art Institute and bent the brain doing graduate school in Theology.

He spent three mind-blowing summers in coastal British Columbia, as a resort photographer. He worked and lived in Minneapolis. He did hard time at a bank on LaSalle Street in Chicago and learned about PR, working at big firm a block off Michigan Avenue, while living in Evanston.

Now Leaf is just living the dream, under the radar, in Cedarburg. He's passionate about nicknames and launched his website three years ago.

He dabbles in yoga and cycling. Fishtailing as always, and taking a whack at life, like everyone else.