The best of times
It was the best of times. I was a healthy 31 year old police officer. I was a competitive triathlete, and I loved challenging myself in triathlons, biathlons, road races, and other endurance events that allowed me to test my physical limits. For many years I skied in the winter, took Spin classes and played basketball at the gym, and lived a fairly carefree life. I loved my job, I had great friends and family, and I shared my condo with my beloved yellow Lab, Shamu. I can’t think of much I would have changed about those days.
The bicycle ride that changed my life
On May 26, 1998, I went for a bicycle ride that changed my life. I was training for an upcoming AIDS-Ride, a three-day, 300+ mile ride that raised money for people living with AIDS in the Washington, D.C. area. As I pedaled along under the hot afternoon sun, I was hit from behind by a motor vehicle, and in addition to a traumatic brain injury and a laundry list of broken bones, I sustained a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed at the chest. It was without a doubt the very worst of times. With no recollection of the accident or how I’d ended up in the hospital, my friends and family delivered the news. It is an understatement to say we were living in uncertain times. Would I walk again? Drive a car? Work? Laugh? Where would I live? How would I deal with the neuropathic pain that was far more debilitating than any soreness I’d ever experienced after a triathlon? Could I live on my own? How much quality of life would I enjoy? People told me I was lucky I’d survived the accident. I wasn’t so sure. Nothing about my situation felt “lucky”.
I’m lucky I survived that accident
As I sit here now, approaching the 18th anniversary of the accident AND my 50th birthday, I can say that things have turned out okay. There is nothing fun about having a spinal cord injury, and I certainly miss many aspects of my old life. But I have more good days than bad. I’ve discovered new hobbies that bring me pleasure. I have a job that allows me to live comfortably. I’ve retained a number of very close friends from my pre-injury days, and I’ve made many new ones, too. I continue to feel fortunate to have been born into the family I was, and although I mourned deeply when I lost Shamu in September 2003, I have since October 2004 shared my days and nights with another Labrador retriever, this one a male named Ocho. I’m lucky I survived that accident.
My love for traveling
I have always loved to travel. When my brothers and I were young, our parents and grandparents took us to many of the beaches along the east coast of the United States - the Florida Keys; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Nags Head, North Carolina; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; and all the way north to the frigid but clear waters of Wells, Maine, where we could sit on a raft and watch sand crabs crawl along the ocean floor below us. As an adult, I have grown particularly fond of tropical beaches, and from my home in northern Virginia it is easy to reach a number of Caribbean islands. This summer I am going to the west coast of Puerto Rico with my mom, who has become my best friend and greatest travel buddy in the years since my accident, and my brother Rick and his 14 year old son Roger. Mom and I will meet Rick and Roger in San Juan, and after spending two nights there, we’ll rent a car and drive over to the surf town of Rincon for a few days of scuba diving.
Either you choose to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out into the ocean
My hero Christopher Reeve once said, “Either you choose to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out into the ocean.” I learned the first time I went scuba diving (Acapulco, 2005) that going out into the ocean is a lot more fun than staying in the shallow end of the pool.