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  • Transcriber: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

  • It seems we have been measured almost all of our lives,

  • when we are infants, with our height and our weight,

  • and as we grew it became our speed and our strength.

  • And even in school there are test scores

  • and today with our salaries and job performance.

  • It seems as if those personal averages are almost always used

  • to measure where we are in comparison to our peers.

  • And I think we should look at that a little differently.

  • That personal average is just that, it's something very personal

  • and it's for you,

  • and I think if you focus on that and work to build that,

  • you can really start to accomplish some really amazing things.

  • This idea started for me on a December evening in 2011.

  • I had just stepped outside to do our evening chores

  • to feed our horses.

  • I hopped into our tractor,

  • and a few minutes later,

  • a five foot tall, 700-pound bale of hay fell from the loader,

  • crushing me in the seat of the tractor

  • and in the process shattering my T5 and T6 vertebrae.

  • I didn't lose consciousness,

  • but I felt this buzz throughout my body, and I knew what had happened right away.

  • My hands were reaching for my legs,

  • but my legs didn't recognize anything touching them.

  • And in fact, I couldn't feel anything from the center of my chest down.

  • So there I was, about 100 feet from the house,

  • with my arms wrapped around the steering the wheel,

  • trying to hold myself up, waiting for help.

  • And unlike what you see in TV and the movies,

  • as much as I tried to get the dogs to go to the house and get help --

  • (Laughter)

  • they just stared at me.

  • Well, 45 minutes later, my wife came home,

  • and I heard her step out of the house

  • and, like, normal, if I needed help, "Hey, do you need help?"

  • And I said, "Yes."

  • And there was a brief pause and then I heard her yell,

  • "Do you need 9/11 help?"

  • And again I yelled, "Yes."

  • Well, not long after I was enjoying my very first helicopter ride

  • all the way to the hospital.

  • Now, the injury wasn't very dramatic or graphic.

  • I simply broke a bone or two.

  • And in the process, I was told I'd probably never walk again.

  • It became very normal for me to use a rope to sit up in bed,

  • because my abdominal muscles no longer work.

  • Or to use a board to slide out of bed into a wheelchair,

  • or to even wait for people to reach things for me.

  • Everything that I had learned and had known about my height

  • and my strength and my balance and my mobility was blown away.

  • My entire personal average had been reset.

  • Now you could be sure in those days I was being measured more than ever,

  • by the doctors and nurses for sure

  • but maybe more so in my own mind,

  • and I found myself comparing

  • what I thought I was going to be able to do going forward

  • with what I once was able to do.

  • And I became pretty frustrated.

  • It took some very consistent prodding from my wife, who kept saying,

  • "Get your eyes up," before I could get moving forward.

  • And I soon realized that I almost had to forget about the person I was before

  • and the things I was able to do before.

  • I almost had to pretend it was never me.

  • And I'm afraid if I had not made that realization,

  • my frustration would have turned into something much harder to recover from.

  • Now, luckily, a few weeks later,

  • I was transferred to a specialty spinal cord rehab hospital

  • about 10 hours from home, and wouldn't you know,

  • the first day of rehab and the first session

  • we had something called fit class,

  • and a group of us broke into teams

  • to see which team could do the most reps in the weight machine.

  • Now, we've all been there, haven't been to the gym in a year or two.

  • Neither had I.

  • And so what do you do?

  • You try to do what you did a couple of years ago,

  • and you do a couple of sets.

  • And then what do you do? A couple more.

  • And you're feeling even better, so you do more.

  • And the next two weeks you complain to your family about how sore you are.

  • (Laughter)

  • Well, my team went all out and we won, we won big,

  • and for the next three days I could not straighten my arms,

  • which isn't that big a deal except when you're in a wheelchair

  • and that's really what you have to use to get around.

  • And that proved to be a very important lesson for me.

  • It was one thing that I couldn't compare myself to myself,

  • but even around people in the same situation in that hospital,

  • I found that I couldn't try to keep pace or set pace with them as well,

  • and I was left with really only one choice

  • and that was to focus on who I was at that point in time

  • with where I needed to go and to get back to who I needed to be.

  • For the next six weeks, for seven to eight hours a day,

  • that's what I did.

  • I built little by little,

  • and, as you might expect,

  • when you're recovering from a spinal cord injury,

  • you're going to have a bad day.

  • You might have a few in a row.

  • What I found out is that good and bad really didn't have a lot of meaning

  • unless I had the context of knowing what my average was.

  • It was really up to me to decide if something was bad or good

  • based on where I was at that point in time,

  • and it was in my control to determine if it really was a bad day.

  • In fact, it was my decision on whether or not I could stop

  • a streak of bad days.

  • And what I found during that time away from home

  • is I never had a bad day, even with everything going on.

  • There were parts of my day that were certainly not as pleasant

  • as they could be,

  • but it was never an entirely bad day.

  • So I'm guessing that all of you have been through a meeting

  • that probably didn't go very well,

  • or a commute that wasn't as great as you would like it,

  • or even burned dinner at night.

  • Did those things really ruin your entire day?

  • What I found in those scenarios is the quicker you move on to what's next,

  • the quicker you can start attacking things.

  • And by moving on to next as fast as possible,

  • you shrink the time you spend in those bad scenarios

  • and it gives more time for the good.

  • And, as a result, the good outweighs the bad,

  • your average increases and that's just how the math works.

  • It didn't matter to me if I'd spent the morning

  • really struggling with my medication,

  • or at lunch my legs being very spastic,

  • or even if I had fallen out of my wheelchair.

  • Ask my wife. It happens quite often.

  • She's here.

  • They were just small parts of my day and small parts of my average.

  • And so, in the months and years that followed,

  • I continued to try to attack things in that way,

  • and before I knew it I was being presented with some pretty incredible challenges,

  • like completing a marathon in a wheelchair.

  • In early 2016, I met my physical therapist,

  • and after a few really grueling sessions, she must have sensed something,

  • because she pulled me aside and said, "You know, you should do a half marathon.

  • In your wheelchair. And, oh yeah, it's in 10 weeks."

  • And I thought in my mind, "You're crazy." I didn't have a workout plan.

  • I didn't have any way of knowing how fast I needed to go

  • or how far I was supposed to go.

  • But I simply got to work,

  • and I started tracking every workout, every day,

  • and I simply wanted to be as good as or as fast as I was the prior day.

  • And in the end I really created that average for myself

  • and I tried to build on that as much as I could.

  • Well, I finished that race right in time with what my average should have been,

  • and somewhere along the way

  • I kind of closed the door on who I once was.

  • That person who I was before

  • and all those things I thought I was able to do really didn't matter.

  • In fact, walking again really didn't matter.

  • It became much less of a goal for me in terms of where I was going to go.

  • And besides, like, you guys are so slow when you walk.

  • In crowds like this, it is so difficult.

  • I'm like, "Get out of the way. We're going places."

  • (Laughter)

  • And all I wanted to do was go fast.

  • And so I did what I thought I should do.

  • I started researching wheelchair racing.

  • And I went online and I found the best of the best,

  • I learned their technique, I learned about the equipment,

  • and I was lucky to have a coach that offered me a way to get started.

  • And after talking with him

  • and having him help me get those things underway,

  • as I was leaving, he says, "You know, you should do the 2017 Chicago Marathon."

  • And he's the coach, I can't tell him no.

  • So with that guidance, I went back home, and I got to work,

  • much like in the prior way.

  • And I continued researching, but I had learned my lesson.

  • I was really careful not to compare

  • with how accomplished those people on the internet were

  • and how fast they were,

  • because if I had, I probably never would have continued

  • going through with it.

  • Well, the weekend of the race arrived,

  • and it was just like going to college for the first time.

  • You're dumped off,

  • there's a whole bunch of people around you,

  • you don't really know very many of them,

  • somebody's got the cool stereo and the cool TV

  • and they're smart and they're pretty and they're cute and they're handsome

  • and you don't know if you really belong.

  • But then somebody says, "Hey, let's go get food."

  • And all of a sudden, that friend group happens

  • and you start to settle in.

  • Well, that weekend of the race,

  • we had a meeting called the Wheelers Meeting,

  • and there were 60 wheelchairs in that room the night before the race.

  • And wouldn't you know it,

  • all of the people that I had been researching were there,

  • the best in the world.

  • There must have been over 50 Paralympic medals in the room that day.

  • And I felt pretty small and I fell back into that trap of comparing myself.

  • I knew that my averages that I had been tracking during my workouts

  • were over 90 seconds slower per mile than theirs.

  • And the coach was the only one there that I knew,

  • and he reached out and noticed something, and I think he sensed my anxiety,

  • and he invited me to get food with his team.

  • And with that, everything settled down.

  • I realized really quick that they didn't care about my average, surely,

  • and I had forgotten about theirs.

  • Well that next day,

  • I finished the race about 45 minutes after the person that won it.

  • But as I was leaving, those new friends, who are very close today,

  • challenged me to stay involved

  • and to keep working through different races and competitions.

  • And so I did what I knew how. I went home, and I got busy.

  • Now, as you can imagine, being in a wheelchair,

  • let alone training for a marathon in a wheelchair,

  • is a pretty lonely thing.

  • I have an incredible group of friends

  • that will ride bikes with me and keep track of pace and help me out.

  • But in the end, it's still five to six days a week,

  • it's 50 to 60 miles of effort, and it's a lot of alone time.

  • And for the most part,

  • you really have nothing to rely on but yourself in those times.

  • It's my average, and I'm trying to get better little by little.

  • Well, this fall I was in Chicago for the third time.

  • It was my seventh marathon,

  • and just like going back to college for your junior year,

  • you're anticipating catching up with friends

  • and getting excited about rolling right back into things.

  • Well, I attended the same pre-race meeting and the same pre-race meal

  • and caught up with those friends.

  • And we lined up for the race,

  • and right at the start, my average kicked in,

  • and before long I caught up with some of those friends

  • and was able to keep pace with them and push together.

  • But it wasn't long before I faded.

  • It just happened, and I found myself all alone again

  • with really nothing to rely on other than what I had worked so hard to be at.

  • But we turned into the wind at the halfway point,

  • and my average became a strong advantage,

  • and it wasn't long before I caught some of those friends

  • and passed them all the way to the finish.

  • And while I didn't set a personal record that day,