Man, he really wants an arm workout.
When I’m riding on my handcycle on a given day and not competing, I sometimes wonder what people think I’m doing. I get all kinds of facial expressions. I have boiled it down to a few choice guesses as to what people might be thinking.
My favorite is this: the confused stare.
I think the confused stare is thinking, ‘Man, he really wants an arm workout.’
‘There’s a million ways to work out your arms. Maybe he just really wants a tan too.’
And then today of all days, it happened.
While I was taking a break on my ride, this older gentleman started up a conversation and asked if I do this to work out my arms.
I wanted to say yes and go with it. You know I would have done that with a completely straight face. But I didn’t. I explained that I’m paralyzed from the waist down, etc, etc.
My gopro just happened to capture it all:
3 Years Today
Today is the 3-year anniversary of my injury. No milkshake commemoration like year 2. No chicken fried steak commemoration like year 1. I’ve been off the wagon in both diet and workout since the last IRONMAN 70.3 flame out, so I’ve exhausted my appetite for gluttony.
I am about to embark on back to back to back weekend riding/racing for the rest of September including the Giants Race, Nautica Malibu Triathlon, and BORP Revolution Ride. So I’ve got a lot to focus on and that’s fine.
Last month I rode the hill I crashed on, as I plan to do every year, during the Marin Century ride and that sparked off a lot of introspect as to what was it that drove me to rebound so quickly back into my life and not spiral into the depths of despair like many do and many others expected me to do.
I believe it’s the fluidity of my perception of who I am. My identity.
I have actually spent a lot of my life thinking about my identity and taking a proactive, ownership role in who I believe I am. I spoke about it, in part, a year ago at an event for Filipino-American college students.
I say ‘in part’ because my mixed ethnicity is only one dimension of who I am. But it kicked off the awareness for me at a young age because I looked far more Filipino in grade school and was raised primarily by a single, white Mom. You can watch the speech I gave for more about that.
But that led to a lot of awareness and understanding of how others perceive me. Somewhere around the end of high school and the beginning of college, I realized I could shape that perception and began to experiment.
And that experimentation continued deep into my twenties.
I tried on corporate life, I tried on entrepreneurship, I tried on real estate investing, I tried on teaching, I tried on speaking, I tried on living in the big city, I tried on living in the big city on the East Coast, I tried on triathlon, I tried on open water swimming, I tried on dating women an earlier version of me would have shamed me for, I tried on dog ownership – the list goes on and on.
What I learned was that none of those things are my identity.
My identity is something far more core.
It’s composed of values and priorities.
It’s refined and discovered by me trying on the list of stuff above.
And Then, The Accident
And then, the shit hit the fan. I broke my back and added titanium rods and screws, wheelchair, rehab, transfers, constant neuropathic pain, catheters, bowel programs, erectile dysfunction, standing frames, hand controls for driving, being 4 feet tall and looking up at the world, amongst many other spinal cord injury-related things to the list I’ve tried on.
When my accident first happened, I was very quick to reconcile that this injury and the growing list of aforementioned atrocities do not change who I am.
… if I don’t let them.
I believe I have a choice. I get to decide who shows up in the ICU, in the rehab hospital, in the wheelchair, and in my life.
I wrote about my intentionally-crafted and battle-tested values and priorities awhile ago in another blog and you can read that at this link.
My point is that I have come to believe I get to decide what my identity is.
In many cases, people who suffer spinal cord injuries have a really hard time coping with their new circumstances. I understand why and I believe that’s perfectly okay to have happen.
I’ve seen that for many of those people, it’s a crisis of identity. They believe their identity is in the motorcycle they just crashed, in the arborist job that they had when they fell from that tree, in the club dancer they were before they were hit by a drunk driver, in the military uniform they wore before that IED went off.
The truth is, their identity is in their values. The value of riding free, wind in the hair; of working hard and making things beautiful and safe; in having a good time; in the being the warrior who is brave and willing to protect others.
And the application of that identity can be applied to anything.
It’s a matter of being willing to be adaptable and roll with the punches.
Spinal cord injury is a masterclass in being adaptable.
Yo Soy Un Lider
My accountability partner, Lili, and I have been in some form of holding each other to account since 2005. One mantra that’s come out of our partnership is this Spanish: ‘Yo soy un lider.’
I am a leader.
One interpretation of this mantra is this:
Based on how I lead my life, others will follow.
If all I ‘lead’ with is complaining about how hard it is to live in a wheelchair and lament all the atrocities I mentioned before (and side note to acknowledge: it IS difficult and real and painful) then people will follow and say, ‘I couldn’t imagine. It must be so hard. Poor baby.’
And so goes my life.
But if I lead with a smile – the same smile from before my accident. If I lead with the same values of challenge, endurance, and growth that I learned from triathlon and apply that to rehab, living with a disability, and now paratriathlon; then people have said, ‘Wow that’s amazing! Go get it. How can I support you?’
And so goes my life.
¿Eres un líder? // Are you a leader?
PS – I had to have something to eat to commemorate after I started writing about it. I ordered in Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls this year because I’m addicted…and they were nommed five paragraphs ago.
An Ask: support my ride for the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP)
One of the first things I was anxious to do, after getting out of rehab, was get back out on the road and cycling. I was pointed to BORP in Berkeley where I could ride their handcycles while mine was on order and being built. Their crew there and other riders were an immediate support group for the goal I had to do a triathlon before the one-year anniversary of my accident.
They allowed me to borrow a handcycle for 4-hour indoor ride and for my first triathlon in Oakland.
They enabled my goals and I could not have done it without their support. I’ve met countless others in the Bay Area who also benefit from there opportunities to participate in a variety of sports.
Will you support BORP? (imagine my doe eyes) I’m riding my handcycle with a team during their annual Revolution Ride on Sept 22. Every bit helps kids and adults have the opportunities I’ve had after a catastrophic life event.
Even better: come ride with us. If you’re a cyclist then join the team. I’d love to have as many people there as possible riding with me.
Here’s the link, do $25. Or $50. Every part gets me to my goal and gets people in my circumstances back into life.
BORP is a 501c3 non-profit, so contributions are tax-dedutible.