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Friday, August 16, 2013

No Barriers- what's within you, is stronger than what's in your way!

So, how's life after rehab. you may ask.  To be blunt, everything feels the same.  There should be a more definitive transition program.  I Say no to a lot of things.  It's like  an instinctual program for my mind, and I wish there was social rehabilitation.  Meeting new people, or seeing acquaintances can feel pretty awkward, especially because I forget that it's harder for me to speak clearly now, and when there is so much to take in, I forget to watch listeners faces, to discern if they're having trouble understanding me.  I always question my undeniable enthusiasm for new people, and new situations, the second I arrive.  Though, I'm always immediately reminded how generous, and thoughtful people can be.  I got on the bus, ate whatever I could find in my day pack for an on-the-go breakfast, and took in the splendour of the scenery going by.  I talked to the young couple behind me, mostly about where each of us was from.

After 45 minutes or so, we pulled into a rec. area, at what appeared to be a very small glacial 'lake'.  In Maine, we say pond, if you can see each edge of he body of water.  I was not about to go there though, as I didn't want to seem ungrateful, and so on, but initially, I was a bit disturbed by the lack of space, our group of 20-30 had on the water,  as a lot of it was clearly divided off for a dam.  Dam it!

I was pretty excited when I realized paddleboarding was a option.  It's really big in Burlington, and I've  never gotten around to checking it out.  Mostly because I know I could never paddle, while standing on a board on the open water.  My balance wasn't that good, before I had my injury. I tried surfing, fell off the board, got my feet, when the wave literally put the board in my mouth.  Funny, I never tried again.  I also had a I wind-surfing board, I liked to try to stand on, on the lake, I fell off that more often than I stood on it.  I will never know why people thought I was a cool college kid, I fell, and bruised myself so often, it's not so dis-similar from life now.  Guess I can't hide fom it, I'm a walking klutz, born, and bred.  

Needless to say, when I jumped at the chance to try paddleboarding.  These people who work in the adaptive field, realize how important it is to start off small, and work your way up.  My personality, is go big, or go home, in terms of outdoor activity.  It's not terribly unreasonable, but when, it just doesn't occur to me to work my way into things.  Which, I should realize, however, rarely do.  It was a genuine revelatation, when the guide suggested I try kneeling kneeling on the board.  Knew it may be able to Mage st anding for maybe 10 seconds, but if I tried to paddle, I'd  be in the drink.  When my balance is compromised, my body freezes, which actually causes me to fall, rather than not.  Therefore, I was all about kneeling on the board.  I loved every minute paddling around on hat pond-err, lake.  Although my Kees began to complain, and I needed to check out the kayaks.  We came in, and I immediately got into a kayak.  It was slightly frustrating that I had verbally state my prior paddling experience, mostly as it was windy, and I could tell they weren't hearing me.  I started to loose myself to my emotions, until, I just went and t in the boat, and paddled away from other people.  I went out to he do not cross line, paddled back a bit,took in the scenery, and began to reintegrate with the group.  I was so thankful for the space, as I'd really needed it.  Once I rejoined the group of paddlers, I was myself again, and met a few people, until we were all called in or lunch.  It was also pretty apparent a storm was rolling in.  It looked far off, but I was disappointed when it was decided we should call it a day.  We scarfed down brown bag lunces, and waited or the bus to return.  Eventually, we all ended up finding seats, in program vehicles.

That day, I'd dropped my phone in Kristen's car, and not realized.  I was upset, as I didn't know how to reach reach nyone I was staying with.  I tried to remind myself not to get upset, or panic, and amazingly enough, I didn't.  One of the staff at Telluride adaptive, kindly brought me to their office, and called the on site No Barriers 'office'.  We had to be creative in dealing with security measures in places.  I don't know what it is about smarty pants, on the other side of tht phone, but dealing ith her sent me right back into my angry place, and I shut down.  Somehow, contact was made, and I was able to meet up with Kristen and George, at the resort Starbucks. So grateful!

I went for decaf, as angry, nd hopped up on caffeine do not mix.  Met a few new people there, but I felt so relieved when Kristen, and George appeared.    I did find my phone, under the seat, later on.  Not my day, although dinner was fun, as I ran into so many people I'd met with different adaptive groups.  It took an hour to stand in line, and get food, but you hardly realized any time went by, as there was so much going on all around.  I was so excited to see Amy Purdy, as I'd met her, at my first trip to No Barriers, at Winter Park, 2 years before.  No Barriers is such a unique community, as once you start coming to these summits, the idea of not attending he next one, is not an option.  It was so incredible to see familiar faces everywhere.  That brightened up my evening.

As soon as we returned to the condo, I collapsed  onto my bed, and didn't rise again, until 6:30.  Before my alarm, it never happens.  I hit the shower,and was somehow ready to leave, an hour later.  We headed for the favoured breakfast spot, Maggies.  Amazing morning sunlight, delicious pastries, and great selection of fruit.  Yum!

That was Saturday, we headed to our meeting spots, although, I'd misplaced my schedule.  I felt like I'd lost my mind, on this trip.  For 6 years, I've learned to depend on others, to help me keep it together.  I felt as I'd been smacked in the face, and sent back to start.  Loosing my schedule meant that I confused when/where I was supposed to be.  I did rock climbing that morning.  When I'd signed up for ambulatory rock climbing, I missed just how ambulatory you needed to be.  I found myself looking up at a narrow switch back path, of what I'd describe as a mini rockslide.  It wasn't very far, but knew it'd be troublesome to walk up with help.   It ended up that 3 of us walked sideways up this path.  We all made it, by taking our time, and strategizing our complicated moves.  I was so thankful to them, for their assistance.

As I caught my breath from, the mini hike, I got my harness, and helmet on.  That was a slight production, because everyone wants to help.  I eventually, had my turn, on the wall, but as soon as I got on the wall, I snapped, and started refusing assistance.  It was really hard to get my giant sneakers on tiny holds, and look for new holds to move to, while climbing.  I felt as if I was taking hours to inch my way up the wall.  I loved climbing, before my injury, but the passion wasn't there for me that day.  It was my first time on actual rock, since college, and it felt great, but, I hadn't expected to have such a hard time strategizing my moves.  Then again, I forget, I have this injury, that makes everything physical, far more challenging than I think.  Especially now, that I've progressed in so many other areas.  

After the climbing expedition,  I remembered I'd signed up to go horseback riding, so I got on that bus. I was very excited to go for a ride.  By the time, I got on the horse, I ready to gallop off, over the hills.  Instead, I walked the horse in large rectangle, in a field, with the other riders. On every turn, someone made a comment, about how I must be a rider.  I was really surprised.  I am a rider, and I know what I'm doing, but I didn't expect my brain to be able to tell my muscles what to do, as it had been a year.

Riding is my biggest passion, I love horses.  Unfortunately, they're extremely expensive, and require many things I lost, such as transportation, and income, to keep around.  I wasn't able to get it together to ride in CB again, so I was happy to be on a horse at all.  I don't see them, in my day to day life now, so, I don't always think about what I miss about them.  I spent the first 17 years of my life, with them, and never reallize the hole they've left in my heart, until I'm around them again.

We plodded in a single file line, down the trail, and could hear thunder in the distance.  In that moment, I recollected my schedule.  I'd wanted to ride in the morning, because I learned last year that storms roll in, in the afternoon.  But, in that moment I was happy, it'd worked out that way, because Kristen wanted to skip Sundays activity, and I'd been signed up to ride Sunday morning.  We all began to turn around, to make way for the barn.  The forests were gorgeous, elegant, old trees, a winding path, crossing a stream, I wanted to last forever.  But alas, it ended, around the next turn, and we could see the barn.

When we returned to the ski resort, I got a message, I should take the gondola, down to town.  I had to ask several people to find it.  The view was amazing, but I felt weird, getting on alone, with 3 couple in the gondola.  They were tourists from all over, enjoying the scenery  Colorado has to offer.  It was a quick ride, they were all very nice.  But, now I had to find my way around a new town.  I'm not used to being alone, in new places anymore.  I kept asking people, as I walked.  It didn't take long to find people who knew where 'Old Gold', a bar, and expensive restaurant, was.  I eventually found them drinking, a tacky, red drink in martini glasses.  They insisted I try one, and in first said no, as I wanted to eat, before I drank.  They had appetizers, so I picked at then, while anxiously awaiting the food trucks, I had tickets for.  An hour passed, and I tried the devis kiss, drink.  It reminded me of sugar, and menthol.  Lovely, but, it filled my stomach, for a brief moment.  We made our way down the street, to the bar I'd originally gone to, to find them.  They have the same name.  Still, no food trucks.  I had some water to start, and soon moved on to another drink, as the intense hunger returned.  Why I never left, to go get food at a restaurant, I don't know.  I know that alcohol, and brain injuries don't mix.  That's why I don't exceed 1-2 drinks, and make sure I eat, and drink a lot of water.  It's not something I miss, so I don't usually fall off the wagon.  But, when that's all there is to fill my hungry stomach, that's how I filled my stomach.  I'm not ptoud of my choice, but it did help with gnawing hunger..
It, however, didn't help me be more sociable.  I just sat in the booth, and tried to respond, when spoken to.  I remember seeing this guy, I've had a riciculous crush on, since the mont I saw him, last year.  I didn't get up, and barely responded to his comments.  Not my finest moment.  When we finally headed back to the condo, I ate everything I could find, which wasn't much.  It was strange for me, I used to love to go out, meet people, party, and now I try to even like it, but, it's really scary to let go of mind, now, because I lost it, for so long.  I was so relieved, as I got to sleep, that night.

The next morning was Sunday, our last day.  We had closing ceremonies to attend, and a final activity to take part in.  However, it had been agreed, the final activity should be skipped, to allow us a more reasonable return time.  We enjoyed breakfast a bit too long, and then were in a mad tear to make closing ceremonies.  I got let out at the building, as I take more time to walk.  I found an open door, and fortunately walked tight into the full auditorium.  It took me a moment, but, I felt so relieved to see. A few open seats together.  As I turned in that direction, I saw Amy Purdy, a double amputee, from surviving Meningitis.  We met at the last summit, in 2011, and I'd really wanted an opportunity to catholic up, and hear more about her experiences.  She joined the US Paralympic snowboarding team, and is training for Socci next year.  She has come so far, and has this spectacular perspective, it felt likesuch an honor to get that time with her.

The speakers  were all enigmatic, and told inspiring tales, of courage, drive, and, of course enthusiasm.
Many people were recognized for their work within the organization, and others for truly impressive feats, of courage, and physical stamina.  For me the speaker I recall, most of the story about. ,and had  already been looking forward to seeing, was Kyle Maynard.  My aunt and I had met him, while grocery shopping, at the summit, in 2011.  He, and a friend, Billy, had a similar idea, and the conversation began.  I remember how impressed I was, that they'd approached us, as Kyle seemed to know everyone at the summit, that year.

Acquiring this disability, has really changed how I see myself, and the rest of the world.  From when I   realizedwhat I was facing, back in 2007, I knew it was now a solid, steady goal, to reform the connections I'd lost.  It has literally taken until now, to realize I will never be who I was, before this injury.  Though, I've learned, that this is who I am now, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Were all different' and unique, in our own ways.  Having the opportunity to participate in events like this, has shown me that the keys to happiness are in pursuing your passions, and maintaining a close group of family, and friend. it's such a beautiful perspective, one that I hope follows me thought life! 

Monday, August 12, 2013

No Barriers- what's within you, is stronger than what's in your way! (Getting there)

Where do I even begin?- The travel process

Flying out to Colorado has become a biannual event for me, in the past 2years anyways.  I love flying there as I pick up an extra  couple of hours.  It was a wicked early Wednesday morning flight to Chicago.  Actually the flight was at 740, but I woke up at 4, thinking I was beyond late, as my alarm hadn't gone off.  My roommate/ live in aide heard me crashing about, and just as I realized I was an hour ahead of schedule, Marc appears, keys in hand, and announces he's getting tithe car, and walks out the door.  I'm in the car before it occurs to me, I'll be sitting the tiny Burlington airport for 2.5 hrs, as I've been throgh it enough now, it takes less than an hour to go through security, and find the gate.  So, I sat in the terminal and watched the sunrise, and eagerly awaited the time the coffee cart opened.  An hour quickly passed on Facebook, and people watching, mostly Canadians, and trying to decipher their conversations from each rare word I could translate.

One of the 'perks' of a disability, is getting to board first, and not having to feel personally responsible for holding up other frustrated, intolerant passengers, and also the kind, forgiving ones too.  This trip I chose to travel with my hiking pack, from a different lifetime.  I can walk with it, although I can't recommend carrying a pack, and a cane.  People like airport personnel freaked out a bit.  I prefer to save a buck wherever I can, and really have little shame about what people will think, so, off I went, trekking about the airports.  My loss of peripheral vision is a real asset here, as I don't usually notice gawkers.  I have to say my mental vision of using my pack was stellar.  Though, I didn't account for the genuine concern, I'd bring upon myself.  I chose to use my pack for its vertsatility, comfort, and ease.  However, I did not consider that wearing my pack, and walking how I walk might set people off.  I didn't consider how offended people can become, when I decline their well intended, and generous offer for assistance.  I feel as if I'm rude for wanting to carry my own weight, and for wanting to challenge myself.  I checked my bag at the gate, and got it back, when we landed in Chicago.  My layover was extremely short, but they brought to a bus which dropped me off at my terminal.  This was a very strange experience, as being out of doors, and on he Tarmac just seemed unusual, though, it was very easy.  I must say, I was disappointed to have missed the opportunity for lunch.  We actually landed early, in Denver, however, only by minutes.  I had to set about finding assistance to get to the correct exit, to meet my friend, Kristen.  Someone from United, was kind enough escort me, and my pack over to baggage claim.  2 subway rides, and some trekking later, I finally met up with Kristen, a friend I'd made last year, doing an adaptive paddling trip.  Kristen was born with a condition called cerebral palsy, which I didn't know anything about.  I'd heard unimpressive stories about severe cases, but I lacked a general knowledge regarding cause and effect.  I learned that we are both survivors of oxygen deprivation.  The difference is how and when.  I learned that CP is created when the fetus loses Oxygen for a prolonged amount of time, during delivery.  Therefore causing brain injury.  Every case, as well as each injury, is different.  Kristen is an inspiration for me, in terms of having forged a path through the professional, and academic world.  I'm desperate to go back to school, but seem to lack the tenacity, and ability to formulate a roadmap for myself to do so, although, good new I just received medical documentation that I'm of sound mind, for academic purposes.  Next, is the GREs!  

Getting back on track, we grabbed a quick lunch at Arby's, a place I only know for its curly  fries, from the age of 7, or so.  Kristen dropped me off at her house, and returned to work for the afternoon.  I puttered around, ate my curly fries, and roast beast.  I quickly grew bored, sitting around, so I walked all around the neighbourhood.  Not much going on.  I knew I needed to be very careful, and vigilant of my surroundings, as there were no defining markers to be found.  I made 2 loops within the general complex, and decided not to push my luck.  I sat on the outside patio, stretching my travel weary muscles, until I heard the garage door open.  Kristen had returned, and we created a plan for the evening.  I was on kitchen duty, preparing road snacks, and baking treats.  After prep. For the trip, the plan was to catch 'Were the Millers' at a local cinema.  I haven't laughed so hard in the movies,, since 'the hangover'.  So funny!

The next morning we set off for the drive to Telluride. Picking up, another friend Kristen's, nearby.  George is a connection of Kristen's, through the paraolympic training facility, for cyclists.  He's blind, which meant I had to be extra contientous in my speaking abilities.  It's hard enough for sighted people who try to read my lips, to better understand my speech patterns.

It was a 6-8 hour drive to Telluride, where the summit was.  I was quite travel weary, when we arrived, around 5.  By the time we got there, I'd realized the quad cane I carry everywhere was missing.  Big oops! I had the great fortune of seeing Ellen Weinmeyer, whose a great family friend, as well as wife to one of the original founding members of No Barriers, Erik Wienmeyer.  Always kind, and thoughtful, she immediately noticed something was missing. She kindly offered to see what she could do to find me a stick to use for the duration of the summit.  As we parted ways, I sincerely hoped we'd find each other again.  I headed into 'innovation village', and immediately saw familiar faces, at the Push America tent.  It was great running into Kyle first off.  I figured I'd see him there, but I couldn't have had better luck running into him, as he volunteered to walk me over to registration.  Losing my cane wasn't much of a problem, when theres a handsome man offering you an arm to get around.  Yes, that was my plan all along...  Kyle helped find the dinner area, after I got my registration materials, and then headed back to his tent.  I found more exceeding helpful people, wanting to fix my dinner plate, and help me to a table.  As I looked for a place to sit, I heard a familiar voice call my name.  I looked to see who it was, and recognized Bob, a man who volunteered to asisst me while doing the summit hike 2 years ago.  It was great to reconnect with him, as I'd hoped to see him again.  If my memory serves me, Bob is a retired physical education teacher from California.  He's very sprye, and chipper, and was wonderful to sit, and catch up for some time.

After dinner, Ellie somehow found a trekking  stick I could use as a cane, for the duration of the summit.  I was so grateful, although, a bit concerned I may accidentally impale a stragner, weiding a sharp pointed stick around,  thankfully, that did not happen.   Opening ceremonies were held after dinner, and I was able to reconnect with Kristen and George there.  I've been so fortunate to get to know so many people from adaptive programs, it seemed a bit surreal, being recognized by so many different people.  I seem to recognize people auditorily, more than by sight.  Although I finally see well again, my memory doesn't hold onto visual images too well.  I literally need to meet most people 4 or 5 times, before I can easily recall  their names, and how I know them.  I've thought that was a detriment of my injury, as its been so difficult to remember so many new people, for so long.  Although, my mom wisely pointed out that I meet so many new people, everywhere I go, it'd be difficult for anyone to keep straight.  Whichever it is, I still feel exceptionally rude when I'm not able to recognize someone.

Opening ceremonies began, and I once again found Kristen, who'd gone back to the condo she'd rented in town, for a number of us to share.Kristen, George, myself, and a mother couple, of whom we saw very little.  Mark was retry sociable, although I only met his wife once in the 3 days we were there. I was tod we had great digs, and then eagerly focused on the introductions, and the incredible stories I heard from truly amazing, and thought provoking people.  I remember 3 speakers clearly, Dr. Hugh Herr, whose disability, I cannot recall, I want to say spinal cord,  from divi to shallow water, though I'm not certain.  I believe he's a very prominent physicist, from MIT.  There was a young woman, named Kate, who'd made a name for herself, as the first female collegiate football player.  She'd been raped by a teammate, her sophomore year at Colorado state, had a quite unsettling story of how her life had been derailed e from that horrific experience.  The speaker I was most stricken by, was Bob Woodruff, anews-reporter from ABC, who'd received a brain injury in the middle-east, while covering a war story. 

Every brain injury is different, as every brain is different, and so on.  Although, he was one of the only I've heard, with somewhat similar complications, from compromised vision, to limb spasticity.  I'd hoped for an opportunity to meet him, though he was only there that evening, and there was no real opportunity, sadly.

We headed into the Colorado night, bound for quiet, downtown Telluride.  Thankfully, it was a 10 minute trip.  The condo was modern, and quite spacious.  Quite a switch from the hotel room, at the resort, I'd planned to be in.  My bags were already in the room, when I walked in.  Amazing!  I was so thankful, as I was so tired.  I couldn't wait to get out for my paddling adventure, the next day.