Justin Donald Leader

Benefits Professional
  • Life Lessons Learned from a Llama

    May 28, 2015

by Justin Leader


I was adopted and raised by my Grandfather in the small town of Bedford, Pennsylvania.  It is not a big town.  If you have ever been through Bedford aside from the town itself you will see that it is mostly farmland.  The renovated Bedford Springs Resort has also brought a lot of tourists to the area.  It is a beautiful resort if you get a chance to stay.  Aside from playing outside, most of my childhood was spent with my Grandfather better known as “Pap”.  Much of that time spent with him was when he was a Pitt Crew member working on a dirt track late model race car when I was around 10-11 years old.

The Owner and Driver of the race car had his garage located on a small farm just south of Bedford towards Cumberland, MD.  If there is one thing that I can say about my Pap, he always taught me to work hard pushing me to many jobs early on.  During his time spent working on the race car he encouraged me to help out either on the body work of the car itself or around the farm doing chores.  The chores included bailing hay, mowing the grass, cleaning horse pens, gathering chicken eggs etc.  This farm also had a huge pot belly pig, a mischievous goat and 2 Llamas.  One day as I was cleaning out a large area containing the two Llamas, one by the name of Buttercup, slowly approached me. I was an awkward looking kid, short as well as husky and these Llamas stood tall compared to me so you can imagine that it was intimidating. I have a Polaroid picture of the Llama and I, however, I don’t think the world is ready  for it. Seeing the Llama continuing to approach from afar in a pattern similar to that of the Shark in the movie Jaws I became more anxious.  I was always taught to be cognizant of the animal while continuing to do the work, so I did not stop cleaning.  Eventually the Llama was standing beside me slightly nudging up against me with its stinky hot breath falling upon me.  I backed away keeping the Llama in the corner of my eye, very aware of where it was moving at any given moment.  Once again after a few seconds I found the Llama nudging up against me.  To my dismay I had a panicked moment.  I believe to this day that animals can smell fear.

I made a huge mistake.  I turned my back on the Llama.  Most of you reading this story more or less thought that I was going to get spit on.  That is not the case.  As I turned around, I felt the weight of the Llama’s hooves on my and shoulders pushing me down to the ground followed by a thumping into my low back with the sound of grunting noises in the background.  If you google it, yes you can find a video of that awful sound.  It’s a little scary.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALwtA9Eer5k

As I fell screaming in horror my Pap, who would sometimes supervise me around larger animals, could be heard in the distance howling with laughter.  I proceeded to tear myself away from the grasp of the Llama and sprint to a nearby fence that I leaped over as I came to a hard landing on my side.  I sat there, tears in my eyes and a soaking wet back.  Eventually I picked myself up of the ground from my defeat and soon after Pap was able to stand up and catch his breath.  The ride home was quite amusing.  The experience had taught me 2 things at that age; 1. I do not like Llamas and 2. The birds and the bees.

Fast forward to 2008 when I became a pharmaceutical sales rep.  Much of my territory encompassed Central Pennsylvania which as most will know, is comprised of farm land.  I was a fresh rookie in the field who found himself in an office in Carlisle, chatting with a group of Nurses over lunch.  Someone happened to mention Llamas thus causing me to have an immediate flashback to my childhood.  I wish it was a more pleasant memory however I could not contain myself and proceeded to tell the office staff why I dislike the long necked creatures.  Although I was serious they thought it was funny and up until that point, I guess had not had that perspective.

The distance between Carlisle and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania is about 30 miles.  That is a lot of ground.  In a matter of two months this story had spread from Drug Rep to Drug Rep, from Doctors Office to Doctors office down the 81 highway to an office in Chambersburg.  This wasn’t just any office, this was the office of one of the most hard to see Doctors in the territory who frankly didn’t care for many reps nor did he see many.   I was in that portion of my territory doing a ride along one day.  For those that don’t know what a ride along is, it is when your first line manager rides with you to observe first-hand how you inform doctors of your product.  Call it a stroke of luck or perhaps not, that day, the doctor was willing to see me.  As I shuffled my way back the narrow hallway past patients with my Manager in tow, I see the Doctor walking down the hall.  This was my moment.  This was my time to shine.  I dusted off the “detail” piece and got ready to tell this hard to see Doc everything about my drug I had been dying to tell him for months!  As I started my discussion regarding the blood pressure medication I was promoting at the time the Doctor stopped me mid-sentence.  “You are Justin, right?”  My reply nervously at this point was a soft and barely audible “yes.”  With a stone cold look in his eye he reply’s “Did you really get humped by a Llama?”   I believe his words were more vulgar however without missing a beat I stated proudly “Why yes I did but that is not why I am here today, Doc” as I quickly hopped back into my 60 second presentation.  I made a friend that day.  Funny enough, “Llama boy” was the nickname given to me by this gentleman and a few others in the territory soon after.  It made for some very interesting holidays as I received a stuffed Llama as well as a few bottles of Funky Llama wine during my time with the company.

This series of events taught me a few things about life, relationships and business.  The biggest being that you can never take yourself too seriously.  Sometimes self-deprecating humor is one way to do just that.  It breaks down walls quickly.  In all honesty a very embarrassing and scaring part of my life ended up boosting my self-confidence while allowing others to see that I am a human just like them.  The 2nd lesson I learned was that it’s ok to screw up.  I wanted to put my foot in my mouth after I spoke with that first office where I shared the story.  I thought I had made a huge blunder.  As it turns out it wasn’t as big of a deal as I made it out to be.  It was quite the opposite.  Lastly, I learned to have fun.  If people see you having fun while delivering quality content they are going to want to talk with you and hopefully work with you.  At the very least they will like you.  While I would have liked to learn these lessons in another fashion, I am sure that many others have experienced their own Llama trauma.  The silver lining to the story is that a few years later that Llama escaped its pen only to find itself face to face with a Peterbilt 18-Wheeler traveling at a high rate of speed on Route 220.

Rest in peace Buttercup.