Growing up with Spina bifida
I was born in July of 1978 with a birth defect called Spina Bifida. There wasn’t a lot known about it back then and one of the first things my parents had to hear was ” Your son will probably only live 3 months”. Of course, you can do the math and figure out I have handily beat those odds.
As they say, I am still kickin’ but not really haha. I was immediately rushed to Maine Medical Center after my parents got that news and Dr. Mehallic and a great team of people inserted what is called a shunt into my head in order to drain brain fluid. Spina Bifida comes along with something called Hydrocephalus about 15 to 25 percent of the time and lucky me I hit the jackpot haha. Hydrocephalus is when fluid builds up in the brain and has nowhere to go so the shunt relieves that pressure and allows it to drain into my abdominal cavity where it gets absorbed into my body. This was just the start of many surgeries, about 55 as far as I can remember, and a lot of life spent in hospitals.
The early years
In my early years of life after beating those odds and going home, I would get around by crawling. It wasn’t until I was 4 years old that I got my first wheelchair. At the age of 7, I started using reciprocating braces that allowed me to walk with crutches. Unfortunately, they mostly worked well inside buildings on even floors but weren’t well suited for walking outside. I used them until I was 13 and decided I was a lot more mobile in my wheelchair. I am sure some people might wonder if I regretted that decision but I actually have never thought I needed to walk. Of course, certain situations would be much easier if I had that ability but I can’t think of any moment that I wasn’t able to figure out a way to accomplish something without the use of my legs.
About the same time, I made the decision to forego using braces to walk I met the man that would influence the rest of my life. His name is Bob Dyer. He was my Phys. ed. teacher in junior high school. Unfortunately, he passed away from cancer years ago but to this day he still has an influence on my life. He was the person that said, ” Yes you can”. He coaxed me into trying things that I am not sure I would have ever done on my own. He took me skiing both downhill and cross country, got me involved in a wheelchair basketball team, made it possible for me to ride a 3 wheeled bike with the other kids, and made me participate in all the activities he introduced in our Phys. ed class. I even participated in soccer using my hands to carry the ball while another student pushed me at breakneck speed. It was always the highlight of the class for the person who got picked to push haha. It was after meeting him that my life became far more adventurous. I suddenly had a need to push my limits and challenge myself.
I started wheelchair racing at the age of 15 as part of this need to push myself. I would come home every day from school, as soon as the weather allowed, and push myself the 10 miles back to school. I would do this 20-mile round trip every day of the week if possible. There was a hill about 5 miles into the trip that was super long and steep. It would take me about 16 minutes to get to the top where it started to flatten out again. On the way back, however, it took me about a minute to get to the bottom. I bought a speedometer for my racing chair just to see how fast I could get going down that hill. My record was 56 miles per hour. It was a 25 zone so I passed 7 cars that day. I managed to do the Maine Marathon 3 times before going to college at 18. I never set any speed records but I always improved my personal best. At that time there weren’t many wheelchair racers so I would mostly be racing against myself.
college and beyond
After entering college my sporting life fizzled out but I still had the desire to push myself. It wasn’t until about 13 years later that I finally got back to skiing and pushing my limits again. I have been skiing with Maine Adaptive ever since and a few years after getting back to it I joined the race team. That is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being on the team has enabled me to improve my skiing immensely and has allowed me to travel to other places to ski. I have also had the opportunity to meet other people in similar situations in life and gain knowledge and friendships.
Another sport that I recently found is rock climbing. I have been doing this for about 4 years and it is one of the most challenging and limit pushing things I have ever experienced. I was inspired to try this sport after the passing of a childhood friend, Nick Hall. He lost his life on Mt. Rainier as a rescue ranger, performing a rescue. When I heard that news I went to his Facebook page and just looked through all the amazing photos he had of places he had climbed, including Rainier. I decided that day I was going to find a way up there to see what he had with my own eyes. I have yet to get there but have made great progress in the journey.
The journey started with finding Paradox Sports, an organization that makes it possible for people of all abilities to experience rock climbing and other human-powered sports. I signed up for their climbing event in “The Gunks” that fall and the rest is history. I had found the ultimate challenge and I was hooked. Since then I have climbed every year in “The Gunks”. I have also recently climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
So moving on to why I started this blog. As you can see in this image that is the fence I chose to go beyond in September of 2014. With the help of my friend Nate Mckenzie and others, I was able to be lowered a couple hundred feet down a rock wall and climb back out. He asked me why I wanted to do such a thing. I told him it was for the challenge but also the scenery is always better when you are a part of it. I truly believe that going beyond the fence and being part of the scenery is the best way of experiencing nature. Feeling what it’s like to see the rock up close, feel the textures of nature, letting it surround you is the ultimate way to allow the natural wonders of this world to affect you in a positive meaningful way.
My goal with this blog is to inspire people of all abilities to get out and try things. It doesn’t need to be a dream of climbing big walls in Yosemite National Park. It can be anything they truly want to experience in life. When you try, things will happen. It may not be what you intended to happen. Eventually though, when you keep trying you get to the goal you set for yourself. I want people who read this to try for their goals just like I am. You never know what you might experience until you try.