Live In Orlando – 2021!

If you haven't heard, WCI is live again this year in Orlando. Chances of cancellation
From the Dark Ages (1970s) comes a reminiscence of Chevy Chase glibly smirking into the camera -"Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" And, in a parallel construction, I image the slightly different  "Live in Orlando, its WCI 2021." Yes, the WCI leadership told us in 2020 that the nations' biggest workers' compensation conference would be postponed to 2021; and here we are. Michael Jackson, many years ago (1970) crooned "I'll reach out my hand to you, I'll have faith in all you do, Just call my name and I'll be there." That pretty much nails it for me: "I'll be there."
Why? Well, it is what we have been doing every year for as long as I've been in the workers' compensation community. My first WCI was 1992 (I think). It was at the Peabody in Orlando then, and you could not get a room there to save your life. I stayed several hotels down the road, in the moldiest building I ever recall walking into. The Monday entertainment was always in the breezeway, and the crowds were sometimes a bit wild. There was a party atmosphere to much of the event back then. Perhaps those days look better in retrospect?
Why? Well, it has evolved into the broadest selection of educational topics anywhere in workers' compensation. There is no program that even approaches the depth and breadth of these topics. There is medicine, law, safety, and more. The variety of subject-matter experts on this program is nothing short of astounding. What is somewhat surprising is that each year brings innovative speakers and imaginative topics. If you are looking for the premier speakers on workers' compensation topics, the WCI is where you want to be.
Susan Orlean is credited with saying "I'm happy to be reminded that an ordinary day full of nothing but nothingness can make you feel like you've won the lottery." That resonates for two reasons. 
First, I have no idea what it would feel like to win the lottery. Or as Mercy Me crooned "I can only imagine" (1999). What are the odds of winning the lottery? One in 13,983,816. So, that might mean that 1.5 people in the 21.48 million Floridians. Or, for each of us, that means we only have to play 14 million times and we are bound to win (the actuaries will say I'm wrong here). So, sometime in the next 269,000 years I am bound to win if I play consistently. The numbers folks would be quick to remind that my chances of actually winning are as good with the first ticket as with the last, which is also true. But, I digress.
Second, the Orlean quote is a reminder that there is a value in what we have become used to; a day without forms to complete; a day without phone calls to return. Perhaps a day that contributes to our knowledge base, reaffirms connections to our community, and allows us to interact with each other in a casual and relaxed setting? It is not "nothingness," but it is a familiarity and community that likewise makes "you feel like you've won the lottery." I'm committed; I'll be home (be)for(e) Christmas this December, will you?
Back in the day, we would receive a catalogue in the mail. The pre-Internet age had kids thumbing through hundreds of colorful pages of retail offerings in the days leading to Christmas. I was reminded of that as I scrolled the dozens of pages of programs slated for WCI this December, striving to pick the alternatives that will occupy my hours. It is a smorgasbord of amazing diversity and variety. Bottom line, if you cannot find topics in this catalogue, I am astounded. Speaking of diversity, there is a specific program on this topic also.
I sat in a board meeting in early August 2021. The College of Workers' Compensation Lawyers (CWCL) is planning its annual induction dinner at the WCI this December. Various board members had already lamented how hard the isolation of COVID has been. Several expressed positive feelings about getting back together in person. One, however, cautioned (essentially) "well, I just hope the WCI goes." I felt like telling them that the odds of the WCI going virtual in 2021 were longer than that one in fourteen million of the lottery, but I'm not the WCI. 
Days later, I had the chance to speak with Jim McConnaughhay, the General Chair of the WCI. I asked the innocuous question "is there any chance of going remote." His response embodied the commitment that is WCI. He explained first that there is value in a handshake, a greeting, and a presence. He waxed a bit nostalgic about our need to gather and be a community. "No," he assured me, the WCI is going to be live in December 2021. And, he has a lot of evidence on his side (I weigh evidence for a living). I'm still not the WCI, but I think this assurance is from the source. He says we will be live, and therefore: chance of "virtual" <0%.
Mr. McConnaughhay noted that the Marriott World Center (venue) is sold out again for WCI2021 (and was weeks ago). That is persuasive. The conference registrations are already over 1,500 of our fellow community members. That is persuasive. The "overflow" hotels are also doing as well with registrations, one of them has likewise sold out the reserved room block. The exhibitors are signing up; there will be pens, post-its, (likely) hand sanitizer, and more in ample supply. The community is exhibiting both commitment and excitement. In other words, to be clear, the WCI will be live in December 2021.
Another bit of evidence of which I reminded him is the annual charity golf tournament each year at WCI. This year, the tournament is being produced by and for Kids' Chance of Florida. I have been on many conference calls, and I am amazed that half of the player slots have been sold already. The Kids' Chance is fortunate to have people like Ken Eichler, Kimberly Helwig, Stacy Hosman, Jim McConnaughhay, Bill Rogner, Linda Vendette, and Bob Wilson working on a project like this. Conventional wisdom is that most golfers commit to such tournaments in the 30 days immediately prior. This tournament is almost four months away, and the player spots are going fast. People are planning to be in Orlando in December.  
In Transformers (2007), the protagonists (Sam and Mikaela) are surprised to find Sam's car is not only a robot, but an alien. The vehicle transforms back into Bumblebee the Camaro before their eyes, ending with the passenger door open. Sam turns to a reluctant Mikaela and asks "50 years from now, when you look back at your life, don't you want to say you had the guts to get in the car?" This whole discussion of our triumphant return to community in 2021 reminded me of that quote. 
In 50 years, will any of us still be around? Unlikely for us codgers, but perhaps some of you will be. For all of us, however, we will remember the challenges of 2020-21 and the "great pandemic" for the rest of our lives. We will recount stories of shortages, lock-downs, isolations, quarantines, tests, treatments, and yes the vaccinations. We will remember those who were ill, and tragically we may each remember some who passed. But, science has brought us a vaccine, and largely rejuvenated our confidence and participation. We will have stories to tell and memories to relive of the challenges, the losses, and yet also our survival. I hope to hear some in Orlando in a few months. 
When you look back on 2021, "don't you want to say" you made the trip? I am looking forward to it more than I can say. I have been very enthused by our return to in-person, We're Really Back (April 2021). I really enjoy seeing you, conversing, catching up. I appreciate your feedback about this system, our operations, and our personnel more than you know. The education, the community, and the feedback are all invaluable. I am planning my September vaccine booster, and I hope you are likewise minding the vaccine recommendations. Wear a mask if you wish. Socially distance if you wish. Vaccinated, masked, distanced or not, I look forward to seeing you in Orlando in December. 
By Judge David Langham
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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