Posted on August 29, 2017
This could turn into a Novel
The Most Important Week of my Life
This past week, I took on the challenge of one of the biggest things I’ve been holding off which has been visiting my Uncle and getting in the right state of mind. It was emotional, but moreover, it has been a spiritual and phycological journey that has empowered me to take on my passion of being a coach for my career. The coaching means so much more to me now than simply getting one faster or stronger on the bike. It is my mission to impact someones life, improve their mindset, and motivate them to accomplish anything. The greatest dreams are reached with a lot of patience and hard work. One of my biggest dreams was taken on with my Uncle, riding from Florida to Alaska and back. There were many times I wanted to give up on that trip but pushed on until the end, with no regrets. Without Danny, one of my biggest influencers, this dream would have never happened. And everything I have accomplished up until this point, may not have happened either. I did not have a coach that came up with this goal for me. However, I did have my Uncle who was 100% behind me in supporting my goal, which leads me to my Coaching philosophy of letting the athlete go after anything they want to accomplish in life. For some, this may have nothing to do with winning a bike race. Now, almost one year after my Uncle’s paralyzing accident, I am in a spot to coach my Uncle into keeping his mind strong and focused on strengthening his body with the dream of one day being able to use his legs again.
A Land of Hope of Dreams
Pittsburgh has always been the land of hopes and dreams for me. Since I was a child when I wanted to become a Pittsburgh Steeler. Then into my running dreams and ultimately the goal to ride to Alaska and back with my Uncle. I have come to Pittsburgh almost every single summer since I was 15 years old and spent countless hours training and sometimes I didn’t even know what for. 9 years ago the dream was born and naturally the bicycle came into my life. I had always looked up to greatness from the Pittsburgh Steelers then to my Uncle, two time Race Across America winner. He had always been strong, always the one to push me and take my goals to the next level. Slowly, my mental capacity began to grow and no goal or mile ridden across the country seemed unreachable.
Never would I have imagined I would be here, coaching my Uncle in rehab after his paralyzing accident. Up until this point, I was still on the road to coming to acceptance with the fact that my Uncle had become paralyzed from the chest down. It is a haunting and unimaginable reality I am finally coming to acceptance with. I was hesitant on coming up here to visit him, but I slowly began to realize that this would be the biggest challenges I would have to face and as much as I broke down at times, I turned to my deep spiritual and phycological self to push me through this and make right with what was wrong. I am determined to make a powerful impact as a coach and help my Uncle on his road to recovery and getting him as strong as possible, with or without getting his legs back. Still, we never lose hope of the dream of getting his legs back. This will be one of the hardest dreams to triumph. However, we are up for the challenge and will keep doing whatever it takes on his new journey back to life.
Given that I just graduated from college this past semester, meant come this August, I knew I would have to take on the challenge of taking steps towards Manhood. Coming to acceptance with my Uncle’s accident was number one. Next is taking my coaching career to the next level and dropping bad habits I’ve had and making positive changes in my life. Cycling is now becoming a more spiritual journey to me than chasing prize money and race wins. I still want to be competitive but realize that competition is just a small part of my existence as a cyclist. I started to think what is it that I really want out of cycling. Seeing my Uncle in this paralyzed condition was like a god-sent blessing, reassuring me that taking on my career as a coach is what I want to pursue. For my Uncle, this will be the hardest coaching program anyone would have to go through. Starting from ground zero. No working legs, no abdominal strength, just arms and some chest. Diminished lung capacity. Danny more than ever, needed me at this moment. I began to make up short term and long term goals for Danny. For anyone who has every had a dream, I encourage them to never back down from that dream. When I think back to the days in high school, I remember the slow waiting process and the entire final years of high school as I waited for the graduation to arrive. I was anxious and footloose. I turned my anxiousness into short term goals and began training myself to ride to Alaska upon graduation. I remind myself how fortunate I was to be able to push onto that dream being a fully able bodied person. I told Danny to never lose hope and that there is a long term dream of getting his legs back. This will be a harder challenge than any bike trip than we have done, but Danny is in for the long haul. For now, we must set up short term goals and continue to better his body each day. Danny is starting from scratch now and he can only get stronger for here onward.
Technology these days is only progressing and there is still hope. Hope is never gone. So while the long term goal is in his mind, comes the short term goals to reach that long term goal. I told Danny to take it day by day. Life is now not about cycling, nor solely about hand-cycle motions. Start to look at what upper body muscles we need to work on, to help improve daily tasks of living. To strengthen these muscles and start to train his body to become more efficient. Take any help from technology when needed. This does not mean using an electric wheel chair. This means putting in the hard work while letting technology make training smarter so he can solely focus on rehab and getting strength back where it counts. Don't be bold headed and stubborn. Find creative ways to overcome small obstacles such as the height difference from wheel chair to bed is one of many ways to make life just a little bit easier. Danny now has to learn a lifestyle foreign to him and realize that there is more to life than just a bicycle.
THE MIND IS POWERFUL
Finding the right mindset is the most important part of this entire situation. Taking the mind on a spiritual journey to overcome the hardest time of life. The best thing to realize, is we can only improve our future. The past is done. The accident is over. Since Danny’s legs are no longer working, the mind has to take over as a stronger power. One of the most powerful things my Uncle and I think about whenever we are struggling in life, is how much worse the situation can be. First off I ask myself “Is this better than my worst day?” Most of the time the answer will be yes. Next, I remind myself how much worse off someone can be compared with what I am going through. Danny tells himself, that the first month after breaking his neck, was the absolute worst time of his life. Danny went from knowing his legs and the strongest thing that powers his body to the fate of having legs that meant nothing. During the first month came thoughts of suicide. He had pneumonia and severe breathing problems. Since then, Danny’s mind has powered him through his hardest times, reminding himself that the worst part is behind him. He can only move forward and baby steps have progressed towards getting stronger. The complications are still much worse than I imagined. Uncontrollable bladder, diapers, catheters being changed every 3 hours, and simple tasks of getting from wheel chair to bed and wheel chair to hand-cycle are huge procedures every single day even almost a year after his accident. Knowing that the worst is behind only motivates Danny more know to continue to get stronger. The goal is to make these tasks of daily living easier, get his upper body stronger, and most of all keep his mind strong and realize whats important in life.
While taking care of Danny’s body and relearning to use only his arms and chest muscles is very important, there is even a more powerful part of Danny’s life: The power of his friends and supporters. We found out on our cross-country trips what a power the kindness of strangers can be. People really pull together when the passion and motivation is there. Now more than ever, we are both realizing that quality time and friendships are the most important thing in life. Mileage and money do not matter anymore. What matters is being extremely thankful of how many great friends and people support him. The community pulled together in such a big way, that it made Danny’s mind stronger and appreciation for friendships even greater. Danny’s paralyzation and friends that supported him made Danny realize taking care of his body shouldn’t be on a penny pinching budget.
Everything I have accomplished up until this point and with Danny have been the qualities inspired by him: never giving up, having great patience, remaining calm, not caring what others think, simplifying life, and pushing toward’s a goal until accomplished. While these are the good qualities I have learned, focusing on the bad ones are just as important. This has inspired me to really start treating all friends and people better with respect. Investing time in quality friendships over quantity and keeping these people around for life is what is most important. The people who really care about you will tell you the good and bad. I have learned the good and bad with Danny and together we look to keep our friendships stronger than ever before. I am glad I now have the ability to aid in rubbing off on Danny in a positive light as a coach. And realize, in furthering my career as a coach, that it is a never ending learning experience.
Resolution and Appreciation of Life
Safety and balancing risks and rewards in cycling should come before all else from now on. Still we should never back down from any journey or challenge we want to take, just do so with great appreciation of life in mind. Slow down and realize that the road is a silent battlefield; on a bicycle or in a car. For us cyclists there are loaded guns all around us, with cars and obstacles there on silent. Be on the defense at all times. Traffic accidents are the number one cause of spinal cord injuries and neck breaks. Focus on the task of driving or riding, use bright flashing lights, wear your helmet, and remain calm when under pressure. WE NEED TO BE PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE.
We will never lose hope and always appreciate all the great people on this planet. This hurdle of Danny’s paralyzation has really put life into perspective and anytime there are any struggles in life, I think of how much harder it is for Danny which makes me appreciate life and health. I am determined to make a powerful impact on peoples lives as a coach. For Danny, the road to recovery and building strength will be a long one, but ultimately, if this dream is accomplished, it will be the greatest coaching program that has ever existed.
Thank You Cory Morton for the powerful photos capturing this moment