Riding motorcycles was my passion, Ducatis in particular. For 25 years I rode with enthusiasm and unbridled joy. Motorcycling was my primary avocation. As some men travel to hunt or snow ski in certain regions of the country, my brother and I would travel to the Rockies in Colorado and Utah or the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas to ride certain canyon roads. The more twists and turns, the more technical the better.
On May 31, 2002 my wife Donna and I were motorcycling with my brother Walter through the Ozark mountains in northern Arkansas. I was doing what I loved with my two favorite people. Life was good. I leaned hard into a tight turn as I had thousands of times before only this time I hit some gravel and the bike slid out from under me. Donna and I went sailing through the air. Fortunately she rolled off into a meadow suffering little more than a skinned knee. Unfortunately I sailed into a tree, not unlike Sonny Bono. I suffered a T4/T5 spinal cord injury (SCI), a punctured lung, two broken ribs, a broken collar bone and a broken scapula. The result is I’m a paraplegic, paralyzed from just below my chest.
All my plans, my dreams, my expectations were ruthlessly altered by this stunning turn of events. The attached photograph was the first and last I took on this misadventure. Months after my injury I found a roll of film and had it processed. That’s when I discovered this celluloid remembrance of the day that forever changed my life.
For the first time in my life I suffered a permanent, life altering tragic injury. You know, the kind of thing that always happens to someone else. Up until this point all the other misadventures I’d been party to were repairable. If I fell behind in a college course, drop it. Take it again next semester. Bad marriage, get a divorce and try again later. Career stagnating, dust off your resume and start fresh elsewhere. But this time was different. There were no mulligans. No do overs. One of the most difficult aspects of adjusting to a SCI is getting one’s head around its permanence. There are those famous five steps to process grief but for me that was too complicated. My sister Kathy distilled it down for me in the simplest of terms. Terms I could relate to. Grief is the adaptation to loss. And what they say about time cures a lot of ills was never more true than when accepting my spinal cord injury.
The best advice I got I’ll gladly pass along: “We can’t control the cards life deals us, but we can control how we play them.” My employer at the time, John F. Lutjen couldn’t have been more supportive. When I returned to work he stopped by my desk and said, “FDR fought a war from a wheelchair, you ought to be able to do this job!” That was brilliant.