I ride as if I know I can
The Ballerina & Real Normal
I’ll never be a ballerina. I don’t have the right “parts,” the right body, the right mind, or the right temperament to be a ballerina. I will not be a garbage hauler, a police officer, a soldier, or carpenter because I have Spina Bifida, and my body could not withstand the constant physical pounding required for the job. I was never going to become a professional baseball, soccer, or football player. The list goes on, but the point is to help motivate you to use your time exploring the possible.
Spina Bifida – Crippler, or Motivator?
I have a birth defect called Spina Bifida. At the time I was born (1971) a lot of us who were born with Spina Bifida died. Most of us who lived were assured to never be able to walk. There are three basic levels of Spina Bifida – occulta, meningocele, and the third and most severe level, myelomeningocele. I have Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele. The warnings came down to my parents after I was born in a manner of what must’ve felt like a flood. “He may not live to tomorrow.” “He may be in the hospital a long time.” “He most likely will not walk, and he will have many medical problems.”
I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. My mom didn’t see or touch her newborn for a full week because I was rushed from a small hospital to a major city hospital where the doctors were equipped for my needs. Turned out that that big city hospital employed one of the foremost experts of Spina Bifida in the world at that time. Even then, many of us died, or lived crippled. I didn’t. I walked … I ran. I was slower than most, but I ran. My young parents took their small child and taught him to explore the possible.
Can’t Wait For Perfect – Just Go
My life is sometimes rife and sometimes blessed with medical situations of varied kinds. I’ve undergone 15 surgeries, countless appointments, years of physical therapy, and mental health therapy. But I’m also privileged to have been cared for by some of the best medical professionals in the world. I call what’s happened to me, miraculous. But my body is not in normal condition as you understand “normal”.
I don’t have much for calf muscles. My right foot is almost completely numb, and my right foot is basically fused. My left foot is turning outward. I have painful spasms from my spine to my feet, and I am missing the spinal processes from L-3 1/2 down. I was born with a hole in my back, and my spinal column never closed. My knees are shot, and I’m missing a hamstring in my right leg. I have Chiari (Kee-are-ee) Malformation, which means a bit of my brain tissue extends into my spinal canal. In other words, Chiari Malformation means my skull forced my brain downward past my skull. I’ve endured a learning disability, a severe Spina Bifida-related concentration issue, and memory issues. I experience persistent headaches. I’ve learned to overcome.
I can’t wait for perfect. I simply have to go. I’ve learned to overcome. Why? How? Well, I was taught to explore the possible. I have a big story, and I haven’t always been grateful to live my story well. Because of my deficiencies, I learned to manipulate my environment so as not to compromise me. It was dishonest at best, and that skill did not help me tend well to my situation, my family, my friends, my spouse, or my daughter. So I practice living my situation well, and honestly. I practice. I don’t always succeed, but I still practice. I practice, and explore the possible.
What Was Possible?
What was possible for me? I played baseball all the way to my league’s all-star game (where I consequently stunk, but I played!). I played soccer, dodge ball, basketball, racquetball (I had a mean serve so I didn’t have to run as much! :)) and flag football. I climbed the tallest cathedral in Germany (Ulm Cathedral), and walked and rode my way through Alaska. I climbed mountains, and this brutal mountain walk called the “Incline” just outside of Manitou Springs, Colorado. I hiked to the heights of the cliffs, sat their edges, and marveled. I’ve ridden my bicycle thousands of miles. And I’ve learned how to ride a motorcycle. We’ve found a great life on top of a motorcycle.
I struggled as a college student. College officials booted me out the first time. My learning disability, depression, and alcohol were culprits. Yet I admit that I was also significantly irresponsible.
I did what I had to so that I could be accepted back into the college 4 years later. I succeeded with flying colors the second time. I had gotten married, and I dare say my bride positively influenced my academic success. Since then I’ve also gained two master’s degrees, one in Family Life Education, and the other in Marriage and Family Therapy. I am one of few people with Spina Bifida to have gained a graduate degree of any kind. I explored my possible and a world I couldn’t imagine opened up, and I was charged to live well in it.
What Could I Do?
So I won’t win a marathon or a sprint. Thinking I could is what I call living in pretend normal. Those aren’t in my bucket of possibilities. I first asked “what could I do that isn’t on my feet?” You can ask yourself similar questions that fit you. Your answer is the wonderment of living in your real normal. Well, the first answers to my question was “Bicycles” and “Motorcycles!”
I know my limitations–I’m not great on my feet, but I’m way better when I’m off my feet. I know my limitations–my calf muscles are small and insignificant, so in order to ride well I need to develop my hamstrings, quads, and my thighs. I know my limitations, I know my boundaries, and I can figure out how to do everything I can within them. I need a car that sits a little higher and that has excellent back support–or I need a motorcycle. Sounds weird, right? Think outside the box.
What did that mean for me? I bought a bike with a back rest. I also lean forward into the bike. My back really has no obvious support but it’s allowed to stretch and move relatively freely. My hands on the handle bars provides my body support. It’s amazing, but it does. And I don’t have to lift myself out of a motorcycle in the same way that I do out of a car. And, with a little adjustment of the shifter, I can adjust the bike to fit the lack of movement in my right foot.
I always asked myself what more I could do. I learned there was much I could also do on my imperfect feet. Always explore.
Determination fit my personality, and pushed me to aspire
My parents encouraged my determination. Determination fit my personality, and pushed me to aspire.
Long ago I sought to encourage others to do what they didn’t know was possible for them. My wife and counseling partner, Monique, and I sought our entire marriage to accomplish things that others did not think was possible for me, or us, and we didn’t exactly know was possible for us. But we explored my possible – and our possible.
I used a walker weeks after my spinal cord surgery in 2006. One day I said, “Monique, let’s do RAGBRAI next summer!” RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, is a nearly 500-mile event occurs each summer throughout Iowa. The day we talked was a little less than 9 months before RAGBRAI. Her uncle Eddy had one leg. He lost one to cancer, and eventual cancer took his life. But not before he became an excellent cyclist. We rode in his honor, but for us, we explored our possible and found RAGBRAI. We’ve done two of them together.
Monique cried one training day when we rode 3.4 miles. She thought, “This is impossible!” Only a couple months later, she did an 87-mile day, and two years later she capped her longest day at 107.6 miles of riding in one day. She explored the possible and found triumph. You can too.
I learned to overcome. I was taught to explore the possible. I have a big story, and I haven’t always been grateful to live my story well. Because of my deficiencies, I learned to manipulate my environment so as not to compromise me. It was dishonest at best, and that skill did not help me tend well to my situation, my family, my friends, my spouse, or my daughter. So I practice living my situation well, and honestly. I practice. I don’t always succeed, but I still practice. I practice, and explore the possible.
The Box And The Ballerina Moment
I can’t see myself stuck in the ballerina’s music box of what I, and others, think a disabled person can’t do, or should be. I’m going to ride my bicycle 500 miles in one week again some day. I may ride tomorrow, who knows? What’s so cool about a Spina Bifida guy on a bicycle? Everything and nothing. I ride as if I know I can. Therein lies all the difference. And I ride because God gave me legs. You’re amazed, and I’m just doing what I know I can. I’m doing my possible. What would be thinking outside the ‘box’ for you?
Explore the possible. What’s possible for you? What you do depends upon the tenacity of your imagination. But sometimes you just know what is out there. There’s something out there that you know about, and have thought about, but have not done because you’re just not sure you can.
Well, is this your “ballerina moment”? Or is this your “explore the possible” moment that becomes a game changer for the rest of your days? Explore the possible. Remember, trying is not practice.
Monique couldn’t have ridden nearly 108 miles without practice. Just know that what is actually possible for you is a much longer list than you’ve ever dreamed. Turn the corner of your hesitance, and take a risk. Get out there and find the possible. We’ve given many along our path hope, simply by our exploration of the possible. So get on up, get goin’ and explore the possible! We can help you learn how. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get to work.