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.