#10: coaching my sons’ baseball teams
Starting with Max and continuing with Jackson, I’ve now coached youth baseball from tee ball through sixth grade through most of the last decade. When I started with them back in kindergarten, we had to spend the first three practices of the season reviewing what a prosthesis is and why I’m wearing one or else no one would take batting practice. Today, those same kids take it for granted, much as I do. They don’t have an amputee coaching them; they have a coach who’s an amputee. Cool transformation.
When I was a kid, I waterskied every summer at my grandfather’s cottage on a lake in Maine. I don’t have lots of sepia-toned, awash-in-nostalgia memories from my childhood, but the month we spent in Harrison every July-August qualifies.
Almost 20 years after last doing it, I tried waterskiing again with some friends in Massachusetts. After a few failed attempts, I successfully got up and even cut across the wake a few times.
I couldn’t come close to replicating what I did with two legs, but just feeling that pull out of the water and hearing the hiss of spray underneath me brought me back to those summers where all I did was pester my grandfather to take me out for another run.
#8: refusing to get a handicapped car tag
At least once a month when I can’t find parking, I mutter under my breath, “That handicapped tag would come in handy right about now.” But I don’t really mean it.
In my mind, it’s a badge establishing the user’s limitations. (What do you think when you get stuck in traffic behind a slow-moving car with a handicapped license plate?) My kids stopped asking long ago why I don’t claim this parking advantage. They know better.
#7: completing the CAF 10-miler
I’ve run farther. I’ve run faster. But I’ve never finished anything like the 10-mile course that the Challenged Athletes’ Foundation inflicts upon its participants in La Jolla, California.
The highlight, if you can call it that, is the ascent from the ocean to the clouds. As you wonder about the availability of supplemental oxygen, altitude sickness, and getting hit by an airplane, this Mother of All Hills just keeps going. And going. And going.
#6: learning how to redefine success
It took me 15 years as an amputee to figure out that the measure of success when I run isn’t the time on my stopwatch, but the checkmark on the calendar confirming that I ran at all. Coming from a guy so competitive that I tried to cheat my grandmother out of a win in the card game War when I was 5, this qualifies as a revelation.
I’d whip myself into some semblance of shape every third year after losing my leg, only to scrap the undertaking after competing in yet another race where a 57-year-old endomorph blew past me in the final quarter-mile. And then, finally, I let it go. I ran because I wanted to stay healthy.
And I ran farther and faster than I ever had since losing my leg.
5: the rock wall ascent
I’d watched other parents do it for years at kids’ birthday parties. But finally, goaded by Jackson, I let the staff at the indoor rock climbing place throw a harness on me.
My technique, I’m sure, stunk. My arms shook spastically less than halfway up. But I made it. As I looked down at my wife and kids before belaying back down the 30 foot sheer face I had conquered, I could feel the adrenaline and pride surging through me.
4: 13.3 on marathon day
A few years ago, I took off on a run the same day as the New York City Marathon. It was one of those perfect November days – crisp and cool, with no clouds in the sky.
I meant to do 6 miles. I felt great, so kept on going for another 3. Still felt good and decided to try to get to 12. Got to 12, felt like garbage, but convinced myself that I’d never run 13+ again if I didn’t gut through it right then. The last 1.5 felt like a lesson in how to break apart my body, piece by piece.
But on the same day that thousands in New York finished 26 miles, I clocked in at 13.3. Great day.
3: starting less is more
I hadn’t done any “fun” writing in years. But as I returned from the Amputee Coalition’s 2010 National Conference in California, years of disparate ideas that had floated unused around my brain suddenly coalesced into the concept that became this blog.
I wrote the first two posts on the early morning plane ride back to New York, and have, for the most part, continued finding something to write about every week since then. The fact that even one person finds my ravings worth reading still amazes me, but I do love it.
2: climbing a real mountain
When my friend and fellow employee, Linda, told me I had to climb a mountain in Scottsdale, I stupidly accepted. I had visions of a long, boring walk up a somewhat steep hill.
I got a long, somewhat terrifying climb up a trail covered in shifting rocks, with steep cliffs on either side that reminded me how a misstep could lead Very Bad Things. My legs were rubber by the time I reached the summit, and then we had to come back down, which I learned added a new degree of terror to the venture. I felt like a car with no brakes on the descent.
Wouldn’t trade it for anything.
1: rehabbing from my accident
You can’t capture in words how otherworldly it is to wake up in a bed missing part of your body and then trying to figure out how you’re going to get through the rest of your life as an amputee. I had never met an amputee before my accident. I knew nothing – nothing – about prosthetics. I had never even used crutches or had stitches before my accident. Ever.
I ultimately discovered, upon returning to work and my “normal” life, that everything I really thought was important – work, career, professional success – wasn’t, and everything that I gave lip service to – family and friends – mattered most.
Ironically, once I came to that realization, my career took off and I became more successful professionally. But, with a few bumps along the way, I’ve managed to keep ahold of that perspective, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Whether you’re an amputee or not, take the time to make this list for yourself. It has a way of putting things in perspective.