Category Archives: adaptive sports

Work and Play

I won’t go into a pattern of apologizing at the beginning of each long-spaced entry for the hiatus. That gets pretty tiresome to read. Instead, I’ll get better at making time for writing instead of making time for my phone.

So, with that out of the way, I have a lot to catch up on. First, I found the perfect antidote to working long days. I’ve been focusing on finishing up my projects. So after 12 hours in lab I feel broken: my legs ache, there are tons of tiny muscle twitches, and goosebumps run up and down. I come home like that and can’t sleep and am too stiff to stand. So, first, I got a walker in lab and added a right knee block and now I’m standing throughout the day. That helps a huge amount. Second, I invested in a spin bike. Now I just hoist myself onto my extra padded seat and move my legs until they feel normal. It takes about 30 min. And it works so well! It was a perfect investment. I’m really happy I figured this out. I’m also proud of being able to get on the bike by myself. It isn’t easy when the seat is higher than your butt and you can only stand on one leg and need your arms to balance. My living room is 30% PT equipment by volume, now.

Second, I am also balancing all that work with a growing love and commitment to surfing. I borrowed a wave ski from High Fives and Ben bought his own board. We’re splashing around in the beginner spots, learning to read the water together. In some ways, I’m jealous watching him start: he can get a board for nothing at Costco and run holding it into the water. If it weren’t for the High Fives Foundation I wouldn’t be surfing. I wouldn’t have access to a board. I wouldn’t have the confidence to think that I could. I wouldn’t feel like I belong in the line up. I wouldn’t know how to ask Ben for the help I need. It takes a community to overcome all these barriers. It takes dedicated people and significant resources. Sometimes the enormous size of the task makes me feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it makes me feel grateful.

The magic of adaptive sports is both the difficulty and the feeling of surreptitious triumph when it works and the many pieces come together.

I just spent four days surfing in Ventura, again with the High Fives crew. I entered my first surf competition and ended up buying my own wave ski. I’m really happy that came together. The one I was borrowing was too big for me and well past retirement age. It was a good board for starting. But to get a new one was cost prohibitive and also, there is something like a two year wait list. But Tyler, who makes them, brought several for people to use during the competition. I tried a tiny teal one and loved it. So I bought it, used. It still needs some modification (seat is too large) but I’m so happy with the change. And Tyler is happy it finally found a home. I’m looking forward to more surfing. I wonder how far south I have to drive for the water to get noticeably warmer… Ventura felt perfect (68F). Pacifica right now is 56 degrees. Brrr.

More writing to come!

Teton Totality

Our eclipse road trip exceeded my expectations. I worked long days, somewhat cleared my schedule, and Ben and I started driving Friday morning towards Utah. My summer had felt busy… busy but somehow not productive. And, as always, time passed too quickly. I needed a vacation but still had deadlines lurking. I waffled but made the final decision to go a few days before.

My professor defines working every day on your “vacation” as “being an adult.” I’m not convinced quite yet.

After a day in Salt Lake City we headed up to the Tetons to meet friends of friends and join a large group of eclipse watchers inside a massive migration of eclipse watchers. As usual I thought everything would be fine: traffic, access, gas, parking, accomodations. As usual, Ben did the worrying for the both of us. This took the shape of an unplanned detour to buy a gas canister, fill it up, and strap it to the roof of the Element before we hit Jackson Hole. Rumors of Jackson running out of gas filtered down to us. It made me excited to see a somewhat post-apocalyptic scene in the ski town. Ben was worried about traffic.

Driving through Jackson was uneventful. We waited a bit at one light for one left turn… but that was the extent of the chaos. The streets were, indeed, completely full of tourists. But the gas stations were working as normal and we filled up again.

Once we were in the Tetons the scene was calmer, more majestic. It was my first time there and I was completely distracted by the rock and the views. I felt some regret about never making it out there as a climber and missing my chance to explore those mountains. We successfully found a spot in the group camp site we were sharing and then went for a bike ride. I was really happy that the park had long bike trails that were perfect for soaking in the views. I’m learning how to visit places like the Tetons and keep busy, do the things I can do, not grieve too much for the things I can’t, and enjoy as much beauty as my frame can hold.

The next morning felt like a real treat: we slept in (rarely happens), our new friends made us pancakes (the best kind of friends to have!) and then we made our way to the beach where we would be watching the eclipse. Though seeing the moon take little bites of the sun through the dark glasses was interesting and we enjoyed noting how the temperature dropped and the shadows darkened, I wasn’t too impressed until totality. I also wasn’t prepared for how new, how stunning, how surreal that sight turned out. It made me want more minutes of that pseudo darkness. Photos don’t capture the beaming of the corona, the sunset colors on the horizon, the experience of being in a landscape of subtracted light. Right before totality we saw bands of darkness move across the scene. Clear patterns of wave peaks and troughs. Sunlight unraveling into constituent parts. Sunlight acting like a beam coming from a single source. These are called ‘shadow bands’ and are wonderfully mysterious. The eclipse reminded us of our universe. It changed something so fundamental to reality that you had to stop taking it for granted. What does it mean to have a sun? I can go on and on.

Afterward, we took a walk and stayed long enough in the park to avoid traffic coming home. The eclipse trip was a success! And nothing bad happened except we accidentally forgot the full canister of gas at one of the gas stations.

The rest of the “vacation” was allocated for physical therapy and for some paragliding with Project Airtime. I was pretty thrilled to try flying. I have the opposite of a fear of heights. Views from above always fill me with joy. I’m excited about this new way of chasing them down.

The view at Top of the Mountain Flight Park

Paragliding is very weather dependent so our schedule revolved around texts to Chris, the person taking us flying, and his take on the winds. On days we couldn’t go we went biking up in Park City. Jeff at National Abilities Center, one of the amazing humans I feel incredibly fortunate to meet through my injury, hooked me up with a fun mountain bike despite very short notice.

Riding an off road hand cycle by Reactive Adaptations.

I’ve written a lot already. I won’t say much about Paragliding. Except to say it was just a taste — I hope to do more, later. It made me curious. The feeling is unreal and more gentle float than I expected. I love leaning a new world, feeling it open up. Leaning to navigate in three dimensions is a mind-altering experience.

Here is a video of my first flight with Project Airtime:


Becoming even more Californian

Surfing! Letting the water pick you up and carry you really quickly to the beach. That blast of speed is addictive. At first I was too scared to look back as I paddled: the wave looks so big right behind you. I just listened for the rumble and did my best to figure out the timing. And then turning? To somehow remembering to put the paddle in your hands into the water and steer. The first day I just let the boat wash straight towards shore while feeling speed. Once that started being predictable, I started to try and take control.

I think my favorite part about surfing, so far, is the contrast between the wipeout and the consequences. I had big, dramatic tumbles. At one point, while trying to go over a wave, my boat was thrown straight up: I saw my legs rise up into the sky and I slowly flipped backwards. Well, it felt slow. I won’t forget that sight for a long time. And after all that drama, I landed into the soft water, unbuckled the seat belt, and swam to the surface. I didn’t even get water up my nose. So far, falling in surfing has been fun. If you manage to stay away from the beach, that enormous force can’t do much to you. (Of course I also haven’t surfed big waves…)

The surfing also felt like a culmination of all my scuba diving and swimming. I’ve invested in turning myself into a water athlete and this is another payoff. I can’t imagine my old self being able to do this. I was so happy to wipe out. I was so content to be dunked under water again. In surfing you constantly make a choice about where to put your body in relationship to the wave. You can surf scared of the water, scared to tumble. Or you can put all that at the back of your mind, which makes it easier to catch a wave and make the right choices.

But, philosophy aside, this post is about surfing with High Fives. I got to meet adaptive athletes from all across the country. Eight of us surfed — a mixture of veterans and complete beginners. We represented every level of spinal cord injury: from surfers who were able to stand up to those surfing prone. To surf I used a waveski, which is somewhere between a tiny kayak and a large surfboard. You sit on it and use a paddle to steer. It has a divot for your butt and two for your feet. A belt at your waist keeps you in place. It was really fun to use!

I loved watching the other athletes learn. Each of us had to figure out how to make it to the water with our boards and how to move in the surf. I watched the machinery come together: a system of watermen and surfers with a role for each. It wasn’t planned. It happened through the knowledge, the good intentions, and the careful attention of all involved. I find this process very rewarding. We figured it out! We fit together. We ended each day grateful and tired and fulfilled. This experience is a level above pure athletics. A trip like this reminds us all how good people are, how much better we are together, and how rewarding it can be to give and receive.

So, thank you. Thank you to High Fives for throwing us together. Thank you to all the athletes who loved being out there. Thank you to the volunteers who gave so much. And thank you to my awesome teacher, Rob, who was somehow my perfect match in attitude and approach. I am so grateful I met him. Luckily enough, he lives an hour from me in Santa Cruz. He is holding onto a waveski for High Fives and invited me to surf with him any time. I already made one trip out. I’ll be going again in July.

[photo credit: Chris Bartkowsk]