Posts Tagged wheelchair
Last month, I watched a Virginia basketball player step to the foul line with less than a second on the clock and his team down by two points in a national championship semi-final game. I was astonished to watch him coolly sink all three free throws to put his team permanently in the lead. That astonishment became complete amazement when I learned about the battle that the young man was fighting.
In the previous year, Kyle Guy played a key role in a season that culminated with his team in the NCAA tournament with a #1 seed. In the history of the tournament, no #1 seed had ever lost to a #16 seed, but that’s exactly what happened to Virginia. Fan outrage was intense, and Guy took the loss especially hard. Though he had battled anxiety privately for years, the loss and his ensuing emotions prompted him to take action. He met with a psychologist and began taking anti-anxiety medication.
The pressure on Division 1 athletes is intense. Not only do they face the academic challenges of a typical student, their athletic talents put them in the spotlight, where their performances are highly scrutinized. The more success that they and their teams experience, the higher the pressure. This is especially hard on male athletes who are expected to be “tough.” Unfortunately, struggling with anxiety and asking for help are not considered tough by some fans.
Not only did Guy admit that he needed help, he did so in a very public way on social media. Furthermore, he made public appearances in order to encourage others who might privately be waging similar battles. He didn’t need to expose himself to further scrutiny, but he did, and was better for the experience.
It’s not easy to ask for help or to expose your weaknesses. It’s even more difficult when you are battling anxiety. I might argue that what he did a year ago, when he sought help, was braver and more impressive than sinking those free throws as the world watched.
Many of us ask for help only as a last resort. While personal accountability is certainly laudable, most of us take it overboard, and we let pride keep us from getting the assistance we need to live life to its fullest.
Readers of this blog know that I’m one of those stubborn people who didn’t want to acknowledge my weaknesses, let alone ask others for help. Even as my physical abilities waned, I resisted opportunities to make life easier for myself. Instead of applying for a handicapped parking placard, I quit going to events that required a lot of walking. Instead of asking for an easier route into an unfamiliar building, I would send my family to celebrations and other occasions without me.
When long walks became virtually impossible, instead of taking a ride in a wheelchair. I simply stayed home. Only when my wife insisted that I quit letting pride limit my life did I finally break down and get the parking permit and then the wheelchair. I don’t have to imagine what I would have missed had I let my world continue to shrink. Because I admitted that I needed help, I was able to enjoy life in the way that it was meant to be enjoyed.
I have to wonder if Kyle Guy would have made those free throws if he still bore the weight of his anxiety without help. I suspect that he wouldn’t. Fortunately, he took action at a crucial juncture in his life, and now he is a national champion.
If you are struggling with something, whether it’s mental or physical, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if your stubbornness is part of the problem. Then, take a good look around you and notice those who would eagerly help. You might be surprised at how much your world can open.
He walked right up to me, shook my hand and welcomed me to the stadium. I was on a recruiting visit with my son at a large nationally ranked football program, and though we had never met him before, the record-setting starting quarterback was extremely friendly and generous with his pre-game time. A couple of his coaches and teammates also stopped by or waved my direction.
I’m sufficiently self-aware to recognize that my wheelchair, rather than my good looks, probably attracted the extra attention. I’m certain that I wasn’t mistaken as a recruit.
There was a time that I was ashamed to use my wheelchair – I can walk, after all – but using the chair has more than the obvious benefits, like moving comfortably and quickly to places that would otherwise be impossible. From that chair, I see incredible kindness in strangers – kindness that few people get to see, like that scene in the stadium.
People rush to open doors, to greet me and to ask if they can help in any way. Strangers have bought me drinks and insisted that I cut in line.
Despite the discord that captures headlines, using a wheelchair has shown me that most people genuinely care about others. Last month, I wrote about an awkward exchange with a stranger in a Las Vegas elevator, but that happens far less than the other side of the spectrum. More often, people go out of their way to be friendly and welcoming to me, and I truly appreciate that.
I’m still not completely comfortable in the chair, and only use it for longer distances or challenging terrain. On short walks, like into the gym or church, I walk unassisted. If it’s unfamiliar terrain, I use my “stick.” (I still can’t bring myself to call it a cane, and it really is a shooting stick that doubles as a walking stick.)
Physically though, I’m much more comfortable off my feet. When I’m on my feet and moving, my eyes focus on the ground in front of me, as I scan for slick spots or impediments that might knock me over. Because my attention is elsewhere, I can appear aloof and unapproachable when I’m walking, making it hard for me to notice strangers as much more than potential impediments. Most strangers react instinctively to my body language and give me space. The chair changes all of that.
Psychologically, I’m getting more comfortable using the chair when I have to, because I’ve learned that people are far less bothered by the chair than I am.
Ironically, I was more anxious in the chair in front of friends and family than in front of strangers. Walking around with a limp for nearly my entire life has numbed me to the stares of strangers. It was harder for me to succumb to the chair in the presence of people who have known me for years. It’s not like they didn’t know that I had a handicap, but it was important to me to show that I wasn’t that abnormal, especially to people who I have walked beside for years.. Hell, I hunted, skied, golfed and ran beside some of these people before the wear and tear of awkward movement made that impossible. I worried that somehow my relationships would change with the new limitations. Fortunately, using the chair has only improved my relationships.
For the last few years, I would skip games and other outings, because the walking they required made me uncomfortable during them and miserable afterward. I don’t have that problem in the chair, and my friends and family realize that and they are thankful that I was able to set my ego aside and ride. I have even relented and let some people push the chair. That was a big step for me, especially with my childhood friends with whom I used to compete for male dominance. None of have them have shown the discomfort I feared, and they all are eager to help.
Again, I’d much prefer a life without the occasional use of the chair, but that wasn’t the fate I was handed. Accepting that fate with a positive attitude has been rewarded with an enhanced feeling and appreciation of kindness that I otherwise wouldn’t have enjoyed.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to enjoy and spread kindness, but you might have to consciously participate. Just slow down and take the time to be kind and appreciate kindness. In short order, you’ll find that kindness requires little investment and pays huge dividends.
When I went hunting in Africa last year, I did something that I’d never done before: I requested wheelchair assistance when booking a flight. I’d always gutted out airport walking, and with my wife’s assistance, it wasn’t easy, but it was possible. My wife wasn’t going to be with me at the end of my 17-hour flight to South Africa, and I knew that my legs would be tight from sitting so long. The wheelchair worked perfectly. I sacrificed my ego to save my legs.
This month, I did it again – not the safari, but the wheelchair. And this time, I didn’t borrow it; I bought it.
I can’t remember a more gut-wrenching buying experience. It took me more than six months to hit the “Buy” button, because every time I saw a wheelchair on my computer screen, I recoiled. Guys like me aren’t supposed to be in wheelchairs. I might as well have been shopping for a coffin, because my mind wouldn’t let me see myself in either.
It wasn’t my mind making this decision. Within the last ten years, my legs decided they needed a wheelchair for long or slippery walks. I was just too stubborn to listen. Instead of swallowing my ego, I sat at home while my family went to church and sporting events in inclement weather without me. In Las Vegas recently, I sat in a hotel room and watched TV while Lynda and the kids went exploring. My world was shrinking, and while I can accept that some things are beyond my reach, I have to make sure that my ego doesn’t handicap me more than my legs do.
So I bought a wheelchair.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. More than thirty years ago, I sat in a doctor’s office and heard him tell me that I would likely need braces, crutches and even a wheelchair as I aged, and my joints began to show the effects of my awkward walking motion. At the time, I was running hills and bench-pressing nearly 300 pounds. I heard him, but convinced myself that my physical regimen and resolve would prevail. That was the hope I clung to as my joints stiffened.
Ironically, I’ve never been stronger or more muscular. That part, I could control. Stiff, aching joints are a completely different story. Like the doctors said, you can’t walk like I do and not damage your joints. With further irony, all that running and bike riding I did hoping to play high school football likely accelerated the damage that slows me down today.
So I bought a wheelchair.
Now, instead of worrying that it might snow during one of my son’s football games or my daughter’s basketball games, I know that I’ll be there enjoying these irreplaceable experiences that are passing way too quickly. Neither snow nor my ego will keep me from that.
It’s still not easy. Riding in a wheelchair is a humbling experience. You feel apart from the world of the walking. Very few strangers give you more than a glance. You wonder what others are thinking. Riding in a wheelchair tests your self-worth, and I’m finally at a point where my self-worth trumps my misplaced pride.
So I bought a wheelchair.