INDIANAPOLIS — Step inside an auctioneer’s world, a world of fast-talking, high-speed transactions. You rely on your voice to do the heavy lifting at the office.
Step inside a successful auctioneer’s world. You sell some of the world’s rarest classic cars for Barrett-Jackson and tens of thousands of dollars in motorcycles, automobiles and even construction equipment for a host of other clients. Your cadence is your craft.
Step inside the world of auctioneer TJ Freije. Or, more precisely, his world Aug. 6 last summer at the Indiana State Fair when something went terribly awry. The now 38-year-old thought he was having a stroke. Doctors would later tell him it was something else, something that threatened to end his career: Bell’s palsy.
Bell’s palsy is a viral infection that causes damage to the seventh cranial nerve. The facial nerves on one side of the face become temporarily paralyzed. Side effects include an inability to close the eyelids, the drooping of the mouth and problems enunciating.
“I thought my days as a competitive auctioneer were over,” said Freije, a resident of Clayton in Hendricks County.
Scientists and doctors have yet to figure out exactly what causes Bell’s palsy. About 40,000 Americans are afflicted with it each year. Seventy percent of people with complete paralysis recover within six months, and 94 percent of those with partial paralysis also recover within that time frame, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Most people afflicted with Bell’s Palsy recover, but in rare cases it does not disappear.
Freije stumbled into his career as an auctioneer. Although he was raised by an auctioneer father and his late grandfather also was an auctioneer, Freije was resistant to follow in their footsteps.
“When I got out of high school, I didn’t really want to,” Freije said. “I went to college, and I didn’t want to be in the family business. I wanted to be a high school football coach.”
After coming home from college in the summer of 1998, Freije’s father, Tom, took his son to his first automobile auction at Auto Dealers Exchange in Indianapolis. The experience, Freije recalled, was “fast, fun and exciting.”
He changed his career path. He attended Midway Auction School in Mooresville, where he graduated in 1999. He later completed the Certified Auctioneers Institute program in 2013 and tried to get his foot in the door in the world of contract auctioneering.
He found great success. His professional credits now span state lines from Indiana to California. Aside from the family business, Freije & Freije Auctions & Marketing, he is auctioneering for Indianapolis Car Exchange, ADESA, Auto Dealers Exchange, Barrett-Jackson, National Powersport Auctions, Martin & Martin Auctioneers and Caterpillar Auction Services.
Joseph Mast, owner of Mast Auctioneers and lead auctioneer at Barrett-Jackson, met Freije about a decade ago doing auctions through the National Auctioneers Association.
“TJ has a very good cadence,” Mast said. “He’s energetic, enthusiastic, and he really knows how to work a crowd and put them at ease while making them have lots of fun at the same time.”
But no career comes without its challenges.
For Freije that challenge came last August after the incident at the State Fair.
With no improvements in the first few weeks after his Bell’s palsy diagnosis, panic started to set in. Freije wrestled with the idea that permanent damage could be a possibility.
For an auctioneer, the side effects can pose a serious threat in a profession that relies heavily on vocal performance.
Freije also lost the ability to close his right eye and had to tape it shut at night to sleep. The right side of his mouth began drooping. Taking a sip of water or a bite of food without it falling out of his mouth became a daily challenge.
Freije’s wife, Jodi, works as a physician’s assistant and was familiar with the symptoms of Bell’s palsy. She assumed her husband’s symptoms would subside within a week or so.
“You’re stressed because you’re worried that he can’t do what he loves to do,” Jodi said. “You’re also worried about your finances, the dreams that he has set for himself. To raise a family in the auction business, it just becomes really stressful. At first I wasn’t real concerned, but then after about a week when he was not improving, then that’s when you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?'”
The next few months took Freije through a series of treatments and doctor’s visits including steroid therapy, acupuncture, facial massages, antiviral medication and electric muscle stimulation.
“I purchased an electrical stimulus unit,” Freije said. “I would stand in front of the mirror and try to make my face move.”
He returned to work. Selling turned out to be more difficult as he had to put in more effort to get his voice to make the auction chants that had come so easy before. He also had to hold his eye closed while selling. He made video recordings of his auction chants, which he would play back to critique his progress.
It took four months before he saw improvement. His treatments have since helped heal most of the effects. Freije has some permanent damage, but it’s only noticeable to those closest to him.
Freije credits those closest to him for his turnaround.
“Without my faith, family and friends, I am not sure if I would’ve had the strength to improve,” Freije said.
Freije said that his wife played a large part in the healing process, though she said that she “didn’t do anything special.”
She points to her husband and her husband’s faith as making the largest difference.
“He is very motivated, and I think just by leaving it in God’s hands and just having faith that he would still be able to do it,” Jodi said. “He was able to handle it probably better than a lot of people would.”
Nearly a year after he first learned of his Bell’s palsy, Freije took on another career challenge. In July he headed to the International Auctioneers Championship put on by the National Auctioneers Association in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he faced off against 73 other male competitors.
Freije took home the men’s title of the 29th International Auctioneers Champion, becoming the first Indiana man to do so.
Standing on that stage in Michigan after being announced as the winner, a long list of prestigious names raced through his head.
“I was thinking about the other names, the other men that have won and how well thought of they are in the industry, so it was a really humbling to think of those guys,” Freije said. “And then I was thinking about everybody that had helped me get there from my wife Jodi to my parents and all of my auction family that helped lift me up.”
Source: The Indianapolis Times, http://indy.st/2bJ6Zgi
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The Indianapolis Star.