COEUR d'ALENE - Retired Coeur d'Alene police officer Mike Kralicek has plenty of stories to share.
And he tells most of them with a joke and a smile.
Even the harrowing one from 2004, when the officer was shot in the face in the line of duty, and the long road to recover since then.
But even on that one Kralicek can crack a quip.
"Today's a good day, you know why?" he said Friday evening before the Human Rights Education Institute's quarterly social gathering. "Because every day someone's not shooting at me is a good day."
Behind that humor is Kralicek's true message: Always work toward a better tomorrow, regardless of what the odds are, regardless of how difficult it is.
After the shooting, Kralicek was told he wouldn't be able to breathe on his own. The married father with three kids has far exceeded expectations, traveling the country as a motivational speaker. Having become a fixture of the community, he said moving forward from tragedy doesn't leave time for dwelling on the 'what if.'
"What's a ride without the dips?" he said. "You can't appreciate joy without sorrow. You have to have something to compare it too. You have to have pain."
But Kralicek has other stories, too.
He knows what it's like to be on the short end of stereotypes, even discrimination, whether from his days as a logger seen as the working poor, or from his days in the military or as an officer or now, being disabled.
"Once I got out of the hospital and tried to re-enter society, with my new, disabled body, he said, "I was discriminated against because I was no longer an abled-body person."
An unknown, limbo zone, he called it, where people treated him differently.
"I was an outcast," he said. "It shows you how easy people can cast you aside.
"They don't realize how hurtful their words are," he added.
For his work spreading his anti-discrimination message, and his triumph overcoming adversity, Kralicek was awarded the first Tony Stewart Human Rights Education Award on Friday.
"Mike's out there," HREI Director Tom Carter said of Kralicek, calling the former officer's message one that encourages people to view other people "only as human beings and nothing else."
"He has a huge heart and he's someone I call my friend," Carter said.
Kralicek said he was honored for the award. His motto is simple. Discrimination shouldn't be tolerated. If you see someone facing it, "stick up for them."
"You don't tolerate people for their differences," he said. "You accept who they are."
And as much as the community rallied around Kralicek as he was fighting for recovery, the community too should rally around the HREI nonprofit and its mission to combat hate.
"This community showed tremendous support at that time. They saw a need for help," he said of his recovery. "This center is in need of help also. So right now, the center's in need of your support."
And sharing his stories Friday, he had jokes to go with them.
He scribbled some notes for his speech, he said, but "I can't read my writing."
He has trouble moving his neck, he told the 50 or so people in attendance, so if someone in the audience felt like he was looking at them too long, "raise your hand and let me know."
He paused at one point during the speech, too.
"It kind of sounds like I'm on my soapbox now," he said.
But at the heart of his message was the fact that everyone should be treated equally, and everyone should work together for a better future, regardless of the odds.
"It's inspiration," said Darrell Raver, of Coeur d'Alene, who attended the event to hear Kralicek speak. "It's amazing. He seems like a very positive, happy guy."