My buddy came over with a pizza so that we could have a conversation and mastication. We talked about many things, including how my wheelchair life had begun a few weeks earlier. I was deeply discouraged and disheartened at my new station in life, so this was the focus of our colloquy. I allowed my intensely irrational imagination to run wild on how my existence in a wheelchair would look. My profoundly creative brain showed me a purgatory on earth. This perdition would have roads made of gravel and friends and family on a sandy beach that I could not traverse.
3.6 million people in the world over the age of 15 use wheelchairs to assist in their mobility. However, the idea of being stuck in this seated contraption permanently unsettled me to the core. It made me more nervous than boot camp for the Marine Corps. I lived alone in a house that was built in the early 1950s, and it was not remotely wheelchair accessible. I did not have the mandatory moving money to make my residence better. I could see that this new wheelchair life would be a constant uphill battle deeply embedded with my blood, sweat, and tears.
I still did not have a way to get in and out of my house using this new wheeled mechanism. My friend happened to know the right person at his church to ask for help with this radically ramping riddle. There were some minor back and forth conversations, trying to figure out exactly what was needed for the requirements of my house. More importantly, we had to wait for winter to end before they could begin construction on my new elevation inclination. Building this big beautiful bridge took four gentlemen an entire weekend to construct.
My friend, who had been in the Air Force, realized that the best thing that he could do for me was to challenge me. He told me that if I did a 5k race in my chair that he would walk with me, and together we would conquer this beast. This new goal of mine had me searching for a 5k race in Columbus that would fit my needs. This monster had to have a few things like a first aid lodge, bathrooms, and a place at the halfway point to stop and eat lunch. Apparently, for a 3.1-mile race, they do not include those amenities, so I settled for a first aid tent and banana at the end of the race.
Once my new elevated entry was complete, it was time to start training for this complex competition. I knew that I needed a way to track my distance without using a paper map and a ruler. Then I learned the true meaning behind “there is an app for that” as I found a plethora of distance tracking apps. Once the user presses the start button on their smartphone, several things happen. The phone uses GPS and tracks to within twenty-five feet of its fixed location. I found an app that I liked, then I downloaded and set up an account to tally my trip totals.
On the first distance trip, I planned on conquering the world or at least traversing a few miles. Sadly it did not take me long to realize that I did not yet have the muscles that a race like this demanded. On day one, I completed an excruciatingly exhausting 0.2 miles. I now understood that this training would take more time than I thought and there were now only four months until race day.
Every day I wheeled around my neighborhood and watched my distance grow regularly. I met some perfectly pleasant people, and I explained my 5k goal. While I trekked around the community, I celebrated every milestone that I achieved. I saw several people frequently as some walked dogs, and others walked part of my practice trip alongside me. My circuitous route took me around a school several times and all through my neighborhood. I watched as nearly every day and more quickly than I expected my distance crept higher and higher.
The night before the 5k, my friend again brought pizza to palaver and discuss the next day’s procedures. He reminded me to get plenty of sleep that night and to eat somethingin the morning not too heavy. We talked about when he would pick me up and what I would wear for this 3.1-mile marathon.
Four months after starting this dynamic distance drill was game day, it was time to put up or shut up. Now was when I needed to put my big boy pants on and show the world, or at least those that showed up, what I could do. My nerves were shaking more than a guitar string playing heavy metal music.
I spoke with the correct person and requested to start the race early. I was in a wheelchair and move slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, so I wanted to get an early launch. I was hoping for an hour head start but was allowed to leave just after the kids and ten minutes before the runners.
The race was excessively, excruciatingly, exhaustingly long at 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles to be exact. Of all of the wheelchair users that day I came in first place and got my picture in the newspaper. So after exactly four months and one day of training and starting with 0.2 miles, I completed 4.11 miles that day.
When you are told that you can’t, do it and prove that you can.