Do I belong here???

Just when I think I am not going to have anything to blog about, something new occurs.  A bright light has been shined upon someone’s ignorance, imbecility, and inanity.  This terrible behavior makes my faith in humanity sadly slip southward and question humankind.  This belief backslide was caused by the indifferent, insensitive attitude of one individual.  Thankfully, as I have gotten older, I learned how to avoid confrontation with a person like that.  

There are three rooms for changing aside from the two locker rooms at the fitness center where I swim. These changing rooms are available for families or the disabled to use for pool preparation privacy.  In all actuality, anyone can use these rooms as there is no bouncer at the door to keep out the riff-raff.  Medical or not, various reasons create a need for private spaces such as these for the public in general.  All gyms should, and most do, have these private rooms.

I sat patiently waiting for the room I needed while I ate a protein bar and talked with a friend.  A woman and her daughter came out of the dressing room, and they slowly gathered their belongings.  She looked at the two empty rooms and then asked me if this was the only room I could use?

This woman had a terse tone to her query as she nodded towards the room they just left.  I said yes and then nicely explained how the other two rooms do not work for my physical needs.  She had an inflection that almost sounded accusatory like she owned the place and set the rules.  It felt like she was shaming me like I was not supposed to be in this public space and should stay at home out of sight. 

The confrontation flummoxed me, and I was speechless at her bitter interrogation.  Thankfully, my friend I was talking with spoke up as he could see the look of consternation on my face.  He explained the men’s locker room is not set up correctly for the needs of the disabled.  They went round and round as he tried to be clear, concise, and kind in his explanation.  This woman said everything she wanted and completed the information clarification conversation. With her feathers ruffled and unhappy, she swiftly departed.

I often want to ask all the antagonists in my life one straightforward and simple question.  How does MY situation that you know nothing about impact YOUR life?

Side note: Let us forget about the disabled for a minute and focus specifically on the family changing room’s original purpose.  The initial reasoning was to help parents who had children of the opposite sex in the locker rooms.  These rooms were highly beneficial to moms with sons or dads with daughters.  That means that since she had only her granddaughter, then by her logic, she should have been using the women’s locker room. However, did I point this out to her?  No, because my life is not impacted by her being there. Also, I am a nice guy, and it is none of my business.

There was one time when another woman saw me in the passenger seat in an accessible parking space.  My friends’ handicapped placard was sitting on the driver’s side dash as he ran inside.  She spoke into the open car window and complained that the placard was not hanging correctly on the mirror.   I tried to explain there are two options hanging on the mirror OR the driver-side dash.  She just harrumphed and walked away, not accepting or acknowledging she was wrong.

I understand she did not honestly know the law and should have said nothing.  Sadly people like her often feel entitled to say something even though they do not know the facts.  I again pose my query: How does MY situation impact YOUR life? 

I believe some people in America feel entitled to speak up when they should not.  They seem to want to involve themselves in matters that do not concern them and do not understand.  Those who want to be sensitive and helpful to those who are treated poorly challenged say or do something.  Stand up for a stranger who is being disrespected, degraded, or devalued because no one deserves that treatment.  However, say nothing if you know nothing.

Wise men speak because they have something to say, while fools speak because they have to say something.

Dying a slow death…

When I was younger, I made fun of the elders who made statements of how life used to be.  They might say something to the effect of “when I was your age” or “back in my day” or even “when I was a kid.”  Now I am more mature and find myself making those same comments quite frequently.  So if you are an older person, you can laugh at this essay, and if you are a younger individual, you can roll your eyes just as I did back in my day.

I was taught as a young boy the importance and value of a good handshake.  A handshake holds significance because it is a person’s word, they said.  My instructors told me to have a firm but not crushing grasp while making direct eye contact and smiling appropriately.  These mentors reminded me how a pleasant expression and smile comes across and translates into integrity.  The unwritten consensus told me a proper handshake is at least one up and down movement of the clasped hands.  Sadly, an individual’s handshake does not have the same meaning of trust and honesty it once had.

As I have become older, I have seen the handshake significance seriously slip in society.  I am disappointingly aware its importance has been lost, and the meaning has been debased and devalued.  In most cases, a simple fist bump or even a basic head nod has disturbingly replaced the handshake.  NOTE: I understand the necessity of the fist bump during cold and flu season.  I am not a insensitive.

When I meet someone the first time, I reach out with an outstretched hand to signify the proper etiquette of a bygone era.  Individuals who do not know me many times have given me the fingertip handshake.  This practice annoyed me a little in the beginning because of my feelings towards proper protocol procedures.  I soon realized people who do not know me fear the unknown and think I might share my illness like passing poison ivy.  These individuals do not know what they do not know, and it feels like they fear a handshake with my wheeled brethren and me.

A friend recently introduced me to someone, and I felt it did not go as a first handshake should go.  She took my outstretched hand quickly did a half shake in the downward motion, eagerly wanting to let it go.  It felt as if it turned into a cross between a half handshake and a let go, man, I do not want to catch your cooties!  Did she honestly feel that way?  Probably not, and now you know why I said it felt like it.

Your word is your bond, and the handshake seals the deal, I was told so many years ago.  Now it seems your word and handshake no longer have trust, honesty, and faith to stand behind them.  The phrase my handshake is my bond is now the punchline of a joke bringing comedy, not conviction.  I do not feel this loss is limited to wheelchair users as this etiquette of yesteryear dies a slow death.  

RIP: Handshake. You stood strong for so long.


My buddy came over with a pizza so we could have a conversation and mastication.  We talked about many things, including how my wheelchair life had begun a few weeks prior.  I was dreadfully discouraged and disheartened at my new station in life, so this was the focus of our in-depth discussion.  I allowed my intense imagination to run wild on how my existence in a wheelchair would look. The fantastic imagery in my head showed me a purgatory full of roads made of gravel and sand I could not traverse to get to friends and family. 

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 when I was eighteen years old.  I lived alone in a house built in the early 1950s, and it was not even close to wheelchair friendly.  I did not have the mandatory moving money or even to make my residence more livable. I could see my new wheelchair life would be a constant uphill battle deeply drenched with my blood, sweat, and tears.

I still did not even 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 I needed for my house requirements.  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 the best thing he could do for me was to challenge me.  He told me if I did a 5k race in my chair, he would walk with me, and together we would conquer this beast.  The new goal of mine was 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 any of those amenities. I settled for a first-aid table 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 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 I liked, downloaded, and set up an account to tally my trip totals.

On the first distance trip, I planned to conquer the world or to traverse a few miles.  Sadly it did not take me long to realize I did not yet have the muscles a race like this demanded.  On day one, I completed an excruciatingly exhausting 0.2 miles, and I needed a significant rest that night and the next day.  My arms felt like I ran a mile while doing a handstand meaning my arms felt like jelly the rest of the day.  I now understood this training would take more time than I thought, and there were now only four months until race day.

Every other day I wheeled around my neighborhood and watched my distance grow regularly.  For the first month, I needed the next day for total respite as every trip seriously challenged me as it was exhausting.  While I trekked around the community, I celebrated every milestone that I achieved.  As I got stronger, my circuitous route took me around a school several times and throughout my neighborhood.  During the second month of determined pushing, my trips became long daily muscle building excursions.  I also rested and recovered rapidly every night.  I watched as nearly every day and more quickly than I expected, my daily distance crept higher and higher.

The night before the 5k, my friend brought pizza to palaver and discussed the morning procedures.  He reminded me to get plenty of sleep and eat something in 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. I was quite nervous about the 5k, so my buddy reminded me there was no doubt in his mind I did the training and was ready for it.

Four months after starting this dynamic distance drill was game day, meaning 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, which made me wonder if it was too late to back out?

I spoke with the correct person and requested to start the race early.  I was in a wheelchair and moved 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.  Those ten minutes lasted fifteen minutes as the runners caught up and passed me so very quickly.

The race was excessively, excruciatingly, exhaustingly long at 5 kilometers or 3.107 miles, to be exact.  Of all of the wheelchair users that day, I was first to cross the finish line and got my picture in the newspaper.  After exactly four months and one day of training and starting with 0.2 miles, I completed 4.11 miles that day.

When told you cannot do something, do it and prove you can.