It’s early March and there is little sign that winter is even beginning to release its grip on Northern New York. We got 5” or 6” of snow yesterday and tomorrow the temperature is projected to be 15 degrees. April 1 my wife and I will be speaking to a group of therapeutic recreation majors at the State University of New York at Cortland. In preparing some remarks I began thinking about how my interaction with recreation has been impacted by my disability.
Much of my pre-accident free time was filled with outdoor pursuits often with my wife. When younger I ran almost every day. As I grew older I would go mountain biking or cross-country skiing on state land not far from where I taught. Hunting season, I was always in the woods. Canoeing and kayaking were always fun activities. Summers Marge and I would go backpacking, mountain climbing or for Rails to Trails bike trips.
Early during my rehabilitation I was traumatized by the idea those experiences were gone forever, especially interacting with nature by myself. Craig Hospital, where I did my rehab, only works with patients who have spinal cord injuries or brain trauma. They have a tremendous therapeutic recreation program, one of the major reasons we chose to go there. Of course, there are many on campus activities, but they also have a great variety of non-traditional off campus activities such as whitewater rafting, Hobie cat sailing and mountain climbing to mention just a few.
As with everything in my new quadriplegic life, my relationship with recreation has changed dramatically. Last year I got a letter from a 52 year old quadriplegic who stated what I’m trying to say so articulately I’m going to quote him:
“Before the accident, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors; camping, fishing, hunting. It’s where my heart lived. I never felt more alive than when I was out there and testing myself. I know you understand. It wasn’t just being out there. It was being out there the way I wanted to be out there — with me doing the work. Testing my skills and knowledge both with and against nature. I know you understand that part as well. Losing that part of me in the accident felt like losing a quintessential part of who I was. I tried going back into the woods, but it didn’t feel the same. I couldn’t recapture that ‘feeling.’”
While I have struggled over the years with similar feelings I have found through trial and error, persistence, refusing to accept most failures and being willing to make some compromises regaining much of what seems to have been taken away can be reclaimed. The activities will NEVER be the same, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable or be quality of life experiences.
Winter in the North Country is still the toughest time for me. Cabin fever is especially difficult this winter. Right now there is still over a foot of snow on the ground, below freezing temperatures, but my wife says you can feel the change in the angle of the sun. We must all learn to adjust to the changes life places on us whether the result of age, disease or disability. Remember the ability to adapt to challenges is in each and every one of us.