This weekend I rode a metric century including on a closed down freeway! It was amazing to get out with hundreds of other riders in the Central Valley of California.
Thanks to my college buddy, Ed Gonzalez, for riding with me out there!
I saw this interview the other day with RJ Mitte. RJ played the son of Walter White in the show Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad I had always heard of, but only finally binged watched it with my parents after coming home from the hospital. RJ has cerebral palsy and gave this interview:
It reminded me of an awareness I came to one Friday night:
After rehab I went live with my parents in Fresno for about 8 months. I was out to dinner with a friend on a Friday night before going to see a movie. We went to a hot spot in town that had a 45 minute wait (that was really only 20 minutes).
Just a tangent, because people who’ve spent a lot of time with me know I love my tangents: aside from places like Mama’s in San Francisco or certain restaurants like that, most 45 minute waits really are 20 minutes at most.
We were seated, we ordered drinks, we ordered food and I then looked around. This was about 4 or 5 months into being out of the hospital. What I noticed was zero other wheelchairs in this large restaurant. Then I thought to myself, ‘Have I seen a wheelchair in public since coming out of the hospital?’
The answer was 1. I met a really outgoing guy my first day at the gym who was in a wheelchair and stoked to see someone else in a chair. But this wasn’t the first time I’d been to dinner and a movie, working in a coffee shop, shopping for shoes I don’t need, or going to Trader Joes. Okay, there was this old dude at Trader Joes with a milk crate strapped to his lap with bungie cords. This was super ingenious because anything after 4 things in your lap is bound to fall off with the slightest bump. I’ll never strap a milk crate to my lap with bungie cords because that’s ridiculous-looking and me saying that is counter-intuitive to everything I’m about to say. But hey, we all have our limits and ? we’re working through. Maybe if I’m still in this wheelchair at 70+ I’ll cave. I digress.
So back to the point, that’s 2 people out there in 8 months.
I asked my friend at dinner, ‘Why is it that there aren’t more people in wheelchairs out and about? The world is pretty accessible and legally it has to be, right? I’ve yet to go to a restaurant or coffee shop where I can’t get in or pull up to a table. The movie theater has rows for me to sit in, even though I prefer to transfer into a normal seat anyway. Why don’t I see more people out there?’
‘Because they are ashamed to be out in public. They don’t like the stigma.’ she replied.
Kind of obvious. My friend is a Physical Therapist, so she knows firsthand what it is like. I wanted to revolt because I have this belief that stigma and judgement and funny looks and all that only have the power that you give them. I believe that people fall in line with how you see yourself. You are a leader. If you say, ‘I’ve had a crappy day and my life isn’t going the way I thought it would because I couldn’t get that hair appointment I wanted’ people will believe you and console you and cup your elbow and say, ‘Poor baby.’ And so goes your life.
But if you fall off your bike and end up in a wheelchair and say, ‘You know what. I’m going to do a triathlon, except as a paratriathlete.’ People will say, ‘Wow that’s amazing and super impressive! How can I help you?’
But I knew she was right. Not everyone has been exposed to that idea. And it’s kind of tragic that that is the case.
The other day I was in-between doctor appointments and craving BBQ from a favorite restaurant. I went through it. Counter to everything I just wrote, I didn’t want to hassle with getting my wheelchair in and out of my car, I didn’t want to miss my timing and fumble through opening the front door, I didn’t want to be a guy in a wheelchair in a busy restaurant right in the center of town with all the pretty people right at lunchtime, and I didn’t want to deal with people looking at me.
But then I did what I usually do. I said ‘fuck it.’ After all, I’m a pretty people too (less I forget).
I went to the restaurant. I fumbled through the door. I sat on the patio because it was a nice day, right on the sidewalk. Other pretty people walked by. They walked in and out of the restaurant right past my table. I asked the waitress to change the TV to Olympic Volleyball. I watched the US fall to Russia in the bronze medal match. I ate my Brisket salad. I flirted with a girl over text. I smiled at people who I made I contact with. I paid my bill. I took off for my doctor’s appointment, and life went on.
RJ Mitte is right. I hope a lot of disabled people see his message. When you want to do something, go to it. Don’t hide your disability. Don’t hide who you are or what you are. Show it to the world. Not by Snapchatting or posting it to Twitter, but getting out IRL. Go rock climbing or paddle boarding. Go to lunch and flirt with the girl. Go do things you want to do.
And that goes for you able-bodied people too. Take it from me, it could be snatched from you in an instant.
Now get on it while I Snap this and post it to Twitter.
A year ago around 11:45am I lost control of my bike on a descent through switchbacks. I suffered a broken collar bone, collapsed lung, fractured ribs, and L1 burst fracture in my lower spine that has put me in a #wheelchair. One year later I swam through duck ? infested lake water training for a #paratriathlon and then rewarding myself with chicken fried steak and a side of bacon. #HappyAnniversary.
I crossed the finish line 343 days after my bicycle crash that left me paraplegic at the moment. It was also a week before my birthday, a fact I hadn’t really thought about until after the race.
I’m not even sure how to explain how it felt. Honestly, it there were a lot of mixed emotions.
A year ago today I was having an amazing year. My birthday lasted nearly a week with a picnic, 55-mile Velo Vino ride, a Calistoga spa, an airstream trailer, Jack Daniels smoked tri-tip, a ton of great friends, and of course, lil Pink. Then about 2 weeks later, everything changed. I made a goal to compete in the Santa Cruz 70.3 Ironman this year and get back on the horse.
I expected to be walking by then.
And I’m not.
And it is a bummer. I’m not one to go down the rat hole, especially in public, because I know what’s down that hole. A lot of grief and misery. I certainly don’t bottle it, nor condone bottling it up. Instead finding constructive ways to release that energy. For me sometimes that’s a conversation with a close friend and sometimes looks like getting out on my handbike. Having that freedom again to see the scenery with the wind in my face is fantastic therapy.
So there’s that.
Then there’s all the little things that made this mission tough. My handbike and racing chair arrived a week before the race. That crazy racing wheelchair you saw me cross the finish line on – it was my 4th time on that thing. My bike chain was too long, limiting my ability to go faster.
I hate being a rookie again.
Last year I had been training for most of the year with Golden Gate Triathlon Club & Trimore Fitness and had come a long way. I was ready to rock a 1.2 mile swim, 52 mile bike ride, & 13.2 mile half-marathon with confidence. Now I’m a rookie again. Learning how to swim differently, learning how to race a handbike, and learning how to run again except on wheels. I feel unsure, unstable. I feel like every part is a struggle again. I hate being a rookie again.
And all of you are going to say, ‘Take it easy on yourself, buddy. You crossed the finish line. That was the goal….’
And all of you are right.
What I know is this determination I have is a double-edged sword. It can drive one to accomplish big things. It can also drive one into a hole of ‘never enough.’ Honestly, that’s where I’ve been hanging out mentally the past week or so. I already know what you’re going to say. It’s completely true:
I raised a shit-ton of money and support – more than I asked for.
I crossed that finish line, just like I said I would.
I overcame huge obstacles to do it, like being stuck in a wheelchair.
I actually did 2 legs of a triathlon 2 weeks prior at the Oakland Tri.
I made a statement.
I turned this tragedy into something positive.
I met some great people along the way.
I’ve inspired my friends, family, community, tribe.
I’ve inspired a bunch of people I don’t even know in ways I don’t even know.
There’s a lot of lessons to unpack in all this. I think they’ll come out as individual posts.
What I know is this: It didn’t look pretty, it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to happen. But my eyes were on the prize = crossing the finish line. Couldn’t get your stroke rhythm in the swim? Just fucking get back to shore. Bike shifting is off? Fuck it. Keep stroking, you’re riding the beautiful California coast, dude, with a lot of other amazing athletes busting ass too. 4th time on this handcycle on a 9% grade hill? 5 strokes & 3-feet at a time. Just keep going. Cuss and grit your teeth all you want. Just cross the finish line.
No one asks your time, they just know you completed a triathlon.
Kinda like no one asks your college GPA, they just know you graduated.
Not many people can say that. Not many believe they can. But I know a secret. Anyone can. Anyone can if they just keeping going and keep their eyes on the prize. That applies to everything in life, btw.
** Next race is Sat, Sept 18 @ The Nautica Malibu Triathlon in SoCal. If you’re around, I’d love to see you out there! Details about getting there and parking are on their website. We start somewhere around 7am and I finish somewhere around 9am **