Fear and the Flying Leg

Some of the stories that I tell here on this blog page are stories that I have told and retold over the years.  The stories may be less true than they once were because as I get older the need to make myself into the hero seems more important to me.  The backlash effect of that of course is that I am falling into the “Glory Days Syndrome” also known as the “I Used to be Great Syndrome” or by the lesser known “If I Hadn’t Gotten Injured I Would’ve Gone Pro Syndrome”.  This story is not about my one time or enduring greatness, this is a story about experiencing someone’s weakness that ended up displaying my weakness.

I spent many of my summers during and after college working at Christian camps in Wyoming and New Mexico.  I served as an archery instructor, mountain bike instructor, rappelling instructor, and rifle range instructor (I would say riflery but my auto correct keeps telling me that is not a word).  My very last summer working at the camp in Wyoming saw me spending up to 6 hours a day above any sort of shade teaching people, children and youth specifically, how to rappel.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, I taught people how to walk backwards off a 30 foot wooden cliff.

This particular day my associate and me had been up on the tower in the morning and had to go back up for an afternoon session.  Jeremy and I had moved past the point in the summer where we appreciated all the sunshine we were getting and were now to the point of trying to get people up and down as quickly as possible.  Into our lives came a boy that I will call “Mike”.  I would like to say that I changed the name to protect the innocent, but honestly I either forgot or blocked his name out of my memory because I might still be a little angry with him.

In order to go down the tower you have to go up the tower, which requires that each person climb a 30 foot cargo net.  Mike showed some apprehension at this point, but so do many of the kids that go up the tower.  In other words, Mike did not display any sort of abnormal apprehension at this point so we encouraged him that he was safe and he proceeded clumsily up the cargo net.

Jeremy and I then proceeded through our normal spiel which was a devotion about trusting the rope and not your brain that was telling you that this was not safe and how that was analogous to trusting in God and not leaning on your own understanding.  Following the devotion we would show people how to put their gear on and then how they were going to get down.  This is when things started to get interesting because I remember Mike slowly working his way to the back of the tower.  He was doing what most people do when they feel danger.  They distance themselves as much as they can from the thing that threatens them.

Mike had watched a few people go over when we asked him to get on rope.  I walked him through the various instructions, made sure his gear was safe and then I asked Mike to turn around and face me.  This was not something that Mike was prepared to do.  He did not want to turn his back to the thing that threatened him, the wooden ledge.  At this point things started to unravel rather quickly.

Wait, you might have taken that to mean that the rope unraveled quickly, it did not, it fact the rope did not go anywhere at this point because Mike was not going anywhere.

Mike had a panic attack, he told me that he was going to puke, then he told me he couldn’t do it, then he tried to run to the back of the tower to sit down (still on rope mind you), then he told me he was going to, well, defecate right there on the tower.  Mike was not ready to rappel that day.  So we move to phase two which is to have the other instructor walk backward with Mike to the ledge and start down with him.  Normally if we can get people over the edge, they go the rest of the way pretty well.  It is the first step, that transition from vertical to horizontal, that puts most people into some form of panic.

Phase two did not work and more promises of things coming out of Mike’s body were made.  So we moved on to phase three which is to ask Mike to go sit down while we get the rest of the kids down the tower.  Even during this phase Mike was freaking out, which did not help get the rest of the kids down.  Phase three is to scrap our desire to help Mike through his fears and get him down the tower.  So 2 hours after Mike came up the tower, we asked Mike to climb down the cargo net.  This was not amendable to Mike, so we tried to get him to rappel again, which was also not amendable to Mike.  Mike had one proposal to make, which was not amendable to anyone else, and that was to make the tower his permanent home.

Three hours into this stand off we were finally able to get Mike off the tower.  Jeremy and I were hot, both physically and emotionally.  Mike’s fears and what they had manifested had taken every bit of our patience and love.  We packed up our gear, walked away from the tower, and headed back for our bunk.  Halfway back I dropped my harness on accident and in my anger I kicked it with my fake leg.

My leg flew off and hit the bunk house.  All I could do after I had landed on my butt outside the door was to lay there and laugh, what else was left.  Fear can debilitate and exhaust every one of our resources and the resources of people around us.  I wish I had more patience with Mike that day to help him figure out how we could help him conquer his fear, that really was the point of why we did rappelling at that camp in the first place.  Faith to overcome fear.

How Does a One-Legged Man Shower?

The answer: Very carefully.

About twenty years ago I was staying at a friends house on a weekend trip away from college.  His parents seemed to love having me stay at their house, the even dubbed the room I stayed in as “Bart’s Room”.  It was an honorary title I am sure, I think they let other people stay in there.  They certainly didn’t ask me if other people could stay in my room.

This bedroom had its own bathroom with a bathtub.  For those of you that have two legs, this is not the greatest scenario for a one-legged person.  I used to hop out if there was good traction, but if the traction was not good, I would support myself by holding on to the shower door.

Fun Fact:  Shower doors are not supposed to hold a persons body weight.

I managed to put the handle back in place after I had almost broke it.  I cannot honestly remember if I told them about it or not.  I might not have because I would usually get pretty embarrassed anytime I did something that would show me to be a one-legged person (I think they might have figured it out though).

Since then I have had a few shower slips that are mostly pretty painful, I refuse to sit down.  Well I did until I was forty, then I found a shower chair on Craigslist and decided it was time to be comfortable when I was taking up all the hot water.

I broke it.

So now I am back to standing in the shower, which is not a big deal unless you have just arrived back at your house after a 12 mile bike ride.  Usually I would get in and stand under the hot water.  Occasionally I bike enough that standing up on a leg that has been doing roughly 80% of the bike work is just not an option.  I had made the decision before I even went downstairs to take a shower (upstairs, perilous bath tub; downstairs, nice big shower stall) that I was going to just sit on the floor of the shower and soak for awhile.  So I did, and it was great except for the fact that it is hard to reach anything when you are sitting on the floor of the shower.

Sometimes I don’t care about the difference between me and two-legged people.  Many times that moment is preceded by an event that has fatigued me to the point that my pride says”okay, I get it”.  Even though I have been an amputee for 25 years now (is that the silver anniversary?)  I still compare my accomplishments to people that have two legs.  If I wasn’t able to keep up on the bike ride, it was because I was fat or out or shape or sick.  The people on the ride still say that they admire me for what I can do, and I usually try to tell them that I would be able to keep up if I was in shape.  That may or may not be true, but at least if I am out of shape I still maintain that there is a version of me, that is possible to attain, that can keep up with you.

I estimate that in the next five years I will have squelched that voice because my body won’t allow me to listen to it anymore.

Twisted and Short-Sighted

OBLIQUES - FACET JOINT DISLOCATION RIGHT

So about 30 years ago when I lost my leg I also lost my right latisimus dorsi (lat) and my right abdominus rectus (think 3 pack instead of 6).  I also lost some skin off my thighs and a couple veins out of my left calf.  Most people only see the scar on the back side of my left leg.  Funny story:  my wife’s best friend knew about my leg before I met her so when she actually met me she said “your leg!”  to which I said “Yeah, I lost it in a motorcycle accident”.  To which she replied “I knew that, I was talking about your other leg; its huge”.

The point is, as I have stated before in regards to the title of my blog is that I am severely lopsided.  Which is why a few years ago I jumped at the opportunity for a friend of mine to give me some chiropractic adjustments.  Thankfully I have a very large bone structure (He’s just big boned) so a don’t have to worry about getting out-of-whack as much as some.  But since I know lots of people that have had back surgery that did not have as many pre-existing issues as me, I felt like I should take this issue seriously.

The cynical part of me always wondered if chiropractic care was just a matter of making sure that the person could get your body to “pop”.  Then you would feel as though they had done something, and they could insure that they accomplished a result and you would come back.  I gotta tell you though that it feels really good when my body crackles and then it feels even better when I start walking around and feel my body move a little easier.

Something tells me that I am going to be a pretty crippled up when I get older but I am not choosing to think about that much right now.  How many of you have ever though about the long term implications of the actions of your youth?  A couple years ago when I went flying about 20 feet over my handle bars of my mountain bike my only thought was…well it was not a  clean word.  I definitely did not see my life flash before my eyes. That sentiment is a lie, in my opinion unless you are falling far enough that you have run out of other choice words.  I am more cautious than I was when I was younger, but I think that is because I am fatter and my reaction time is slower.

Thinking about long-term implications, I think, is a learned trait rather than an inherent trait.  Usually it comes when there is something to lose, in this case I am supposed to come home to my wife and kids.  What is the horizon that you look over?  Is it just your next personal or professional goal?  Is it the legacy that you leave before you die?  Or is it the path that you will take into eternity?  Some don’t believe in thinking beyond what happens here on earth.  For me, that is the only long-range planning that I have really nailed down.  My body isn’t taking me much farther, every joint from my hips down to my toes pops before 9 am and I am only 41.

I Love to Change Other People

IMG_0984     So I am getting my morning mountain bike ride in this morning and I realized something about myself. I love change as long as it is change that I like, and it changes other people.

About 3 to 4 times a week I am able to go for a mountain bike ride before my day gets started. This, to me, is a luxury of the highest order. When I was in college I thought that the perfect place to live would be a place with mountain biking right outside my door.  Since I am missing my leg, biking is a great form of low impact exercise for me and I fell in love with mountain biking when I was in college. So when I found a trail 5 minutes from my house I was more than excited. We moved two years ago and I thought that I would never find something that close again. I can go biking and be back home in less than 45 minutes, its great.

Something else you should know about me is that I am terribly out of shape, so my idea of a workout is a little more limited than some. This bike ride of mine is an end to end hill climb. I am in first gear almost from the beginning of the ride. So the first few times I did it I thought that it was taking 20 or more minutes to get to the top, which was fine by me because by the time I had reach the ridges summit I was ready to give a food offering to the trail (I felt like I was going to… never mind, you probably understand what I was trying to say). Then I took my sports watch and realized that this difficult ride was only taking me 12 minutes. So the answer to the question “how long does it take to wind Bart?” is “12 minutes”. Which may explain why I am having a hard time keeping up with my friends when we mountain bike on Saturday’s.

Back to the reason for this blog, THEY CHANGED MY TRAIL!! Anyone that has worked with me or been married to me knows that I love change. I love to be in a stream that is flowing not one that is dammed. I love to be in environments that are asking the hard questions of whether what we are doing it effective, and if not, what do we need to do to make it effective. But dang it, don’t change my trail! I was having a weird morning anyway, I got a late start and I had some chest congestion that was giving me fits. I noticed that over the weekend they had added some gravel to the bottom of the trail which was nice. Then I noticed that they had cut up some downed trees, which was good. Then I got to the dreaded curve that usually dumps me. It is a combination of a tight right hand turn, roots that flow every which way, and nettles on either side. And I nailed it! for the first time in two weeks I made the turn without spinning my front tire around and pitching me into the nettles.

So now comes the part that upset me, after defeating the dreaded curve I felt pretty good until I ran into a detour that had been cut into the trail. Obviously they were trying to change the way the trail takes you up a very steep ridge. So after being initially shocked I thought that maybe this would be a good detour. Then I realized that not only was the ground not packed down, but the trail was not done. For someone that wants to get his work out in, and get down the mountain this was very distracting.

All the way up the trail and back down again I was thinking about how much I didn’t like this change and then something else odd happened, there was someone else on the trail. This trail is great for me because it is close and very unknown and at 7:45 in the morning I am not expecting to see ANYONE. That is why I take my dog Spendy with me (quick aside, herd dogs take some training when you are flying down hill on a bike. They will still try to herd you, this has caused more than its fair share of accidents. I usually end up saying the phrase “Back Spin” about 10 times on the way down. Backspin, that’s funny).

What I was really upset about was that I had set in my mind, based on prior experience, how my ride was supposed to go. I had even timed it so that I would be home at a specific time. On my way home I was trying to figure out why they had to change my trail. Then it occurred to me that they were trying to improve it, and I had just come at the wrong time. Then it occurred to me that I would probably like what they did eventually as soon as I could “routine” it. Meaning as soon as it becomes part of my morning process, I will be okay with it. Then, and this is the crazy part, I asked the question “I wonder if I could help them get this finished so that I can go back to riding uninterrupted.”  And if this sounds noble at all I will leave you with what my final thought was. “I wonder if I need to go riding earlier so that I don’t run into anyone?” Isn’t that a great thing for a pastor to think about? Avoiding people.

BTW, The picture was just to get you attention, cute huh?

That’s Not What Their Looking At!

For those of you looking for an intelligent quasi-political commentary like yesterday this may not be it.  So I went to the YMCA yesterday with my family so that my kids could complete their swimming lessons.  During that time I went to the treadmill to run.    I have become keenly aware over the years that when I get on a treadmill I am not just another person that is running on the treadmill.  I am “did you see that one-legged guy running on the treadmill!”

When I first lost my leg I had all sorts of insecurities but the biggest one of all (and please remember that I was 16) was sex appeal.  I was truly afraid that I would no longer be attractive by the opposite sex.  Honestly as a 16 year old boy I believed that this would have a very adverse effect on any sort of sex life.  Later on in life my insecurities about what people thought waned.  When I was in college I stripped off all the cosmetic stuff of my leg because it wasn’t fooling anyone.  It just delayed people’s awareness that I had one leg.  Getting married to my beautiful wife was a tremendous boost in confidence because it was such a concern for me.

So back to the Y.  After I ran on the treadmill for awhile I went to sit in the hot tub with my wife.  Since I was a swimmer in high school I stopped being so self conscious about taking my leg off to get in the pool.  But back when I was a swimmer I was a skinny guy with one leg.  Here is the funny part of the story.  In my twisted mind, because I am getting old and out of shape, I somehow thought people were looking at my gut.  That is when this one-legged, scarred up from surgery, prosthesis resting on the wall, guy realized that maybe my gut was the last thing that was on people’s mind when they looked at me.  That, I was okay with because I have been getting stared at because of that for years.