Just Something to Share

As I’m getting older the follies of the younger generation become more and more irritating and no doubt that my parents felt the same as us kids grew into adulthood. However, once in a great while you read a story or see a video of some the young adult that understands the bigger world around them. In sports this is all too often forgotten,there are only WINNERS and second place is only the first place loser. I played several sports in high school and always considered myself athletic, but I too was only concerned with victories.

Please take a look at the amazing selflessness of a 12/13-year-old wrestler (I started wrestling at the age of nine) and I dare you not to feel some emotions. “You Can Do Anything You Want” will remind us all that there is more to athletics than just winning and losing.

Spring is just around the corner, my wheels are itching for green grass!

Looking for a Heat Wave?

Now that the heart of winter has descended upon us, a few days of relaxation on a cruise ship in the Caribbean sure sounds nice. Although, I have never been on a large cruise ship, I reached out to my friends on wheels that have to get their advice. Parsing what I learned from them and what I have found in my research, here are a few tips that may help you make it through the winter blahs.

  1. begin by doing a little research at least six months ahead of time of the various cruise vessels.
  2. also, do a little checking with the travel agencies in your area (AAA is always helpful or AARP).
  3. It is extremely important that you are up front about any special needs you may have!(remember this is supposed to be enjoyable)
  4. be aware that not all port calls are wheelchair accessible.
  5. And lastly, a little flexibility can go a long way in making your trip enjoyable.

Most of the people I’ve spoken with use Galveston Texas as their port of deportation, however, all passenger ports should be accessible. Once you have selected your cruise, it is important find the type of cabin that will fit your needs. Doing a little checking on cabin layouts can make your voyage all the more fun. However, keep in mind space is limited.

I will update this post after I have traveled the beautiful blue seas, but would like to hear your response if you have travel or vacation on a cruise ship.

As cold as it may be, it is still important to get out of the house to help maintain your sanity.

Not Just for Show

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. The video produced by Daily Dakotan was released on 13 December with an article to follow a few days later. As you can imagine, my phone rang incessantly and several messages arrived in my e-mail. Several acquaintances that are not familiar with my body of work asked me, “am I really this adventurous/outgoing or was it just for the video.” I can assure you, none of the video was staged.

If you have not been able to see the video Thrillseeker from North Dakota. There are many other great videos highlighting individuals that make much more of a difference than myself on the  Daily Dakotan YouTube channel.

As the calendar turns to 2013, I look forward to seeing what other mischief or adventurous I can get myself into. Until then, keep the shiny side up

Monday Morning Press

Sometime later this month or the beginning of December there will be a YouTube video produced by Creative Treatments for the Daily Dakotan. The Daily Dakotan is an, “… Innovative video series that profiles different North Dakota residents and their unique contributions to their community.” I will be interested to see how they are able to condense all of the video and stills into a short video. If you are interested in watching last year’s episodes, it is relatively easy:

  1. Click on this link Daily Dakotan or
  2. open your web browser and type in YouTube for your search
  3. after selecting YouTube search for Daily Dakotan
  4. there you can select play all or watch individually.

For those of you that may be reading this and not from North Dakota, it may help you understand why we like to call North Dakota home.

Extra Extra Read All about It!!

There has been some exciting activity the last few days. There will be a new post by the end of the week, as well as information about an upcoming YouTube video.

As always, live life to the fullest and with no regrets! John

Ready Aim Fire

I was never raised in a hunting family, but from early on I can always remember going fishing on North Dakota opener. It would always be cold, and in true child fashion, I was constantly fidgeting around and not really fishing but spending time with the men is something I always remembered. So what would this story be without a good fish story. There we were at lake Ashtabula, I was six years old, I was given an old fishing pole just to keep me occupied, and if memory serves me correct earlier in the morning I managed to catch the boat motor. After untangling my line, the guys figured it was time for breakfast – coffee and donuts. As I was sitting in the back of the boat, tapping my rod against the side, all of a sudden the line went tight. The look on my dad and his buddy’s face said it all – I was in trouble! After the better part of an hour, sure enough we landed a very large northern pike! (Now here’s the fish story) Standing on shore at the age of six the northern came to just under my armpit and now I’m in my 30s the northern still comes to my armpit– ha ha. In reality, it was 12 pounds and 36 inches long and one of the only fish we caught all weekend other than bullheads(a relative of the catfish). After that weekend, I would always be drawn to fishing, however as I would get older I wish I had learned to hunt as well.

It is scary to think about, but I did not take the hunter safety course until long after taking the oath of service in the United States Army. I didn’t have very many opportunities to go hunting prior to my accident, but still dreamt of someday tagging a deer. As fate would have it, one day I was approached by an individual that belongs to a group catering to special needs hunters. We kept in contact through the winter and spring, and as summer slowly waned I could feel hunting season was right around the corner. We worked together several nights and weekends trying to design a crossbow that would be accessible. After many sleepless nights and countless redesigns we had a contraption.

Hunting season had finally arrived and there were approximately 15 hunters with various types of disabilities waiting to test their skills against mother nature and her bounty. Early Saturday morning we headed to our location filled with excitement and anticipation, however, we would be outsmarted and sent back to camp empty-handed. Later in the day on Saturday, the weather turned cold and rainy – I was looking less forward to going out Sunday morning.

After sitting in the rain and drizzle for nearly 3 hours, we heard the sounds of rustling near the river bottom, but did not see anything. Literally out of nowhere a doe walked straight out of the river bottom! Unfortunately she was walking straight at me and I was waiting for her to turn broadside, and just as she did she bolted quickly away! I couldn’t believe it – the only deer I saw all weekend, and I couldn’t get a shot off. Oh well, the weekend was not a complete waste, I was able to see many people with various disabilities overcome adversity.

I have been fortunate to have hunted a couple of times since that first weekend, but minimize my opportunities to focus on school. However, the thrill of conquering mother nature will always be there. I hope to someday get out to Montana and do some elk hunting.

Hunting and fishing is not always about the trophy you bring home, it is more about the memories and camaraderie.

Keep your hooks sharp in your crosshairs focused.

Getting the Finger

Most Grizzly Now that I have your attention, I would like to take this opportunity to write about prostate cancer. Throughout the month of February men were encouraged to put down all facial hair accoutrements to bring awareness to prostate cancer and prostate exams. Now you might be wondering how this relates to disabilities or adventures and the answer is quite simple – if you ever had a prostate exam it can be quite the adventure. However, all joking aside, if you are like me many of the telltale signs will go unnoticed until it is too late.

Because I’m a quadriplegic,I have a neurogenic bladder or the inability to urinate without a catheter. Also, because this is a chronic condition I had a procedure done that allows the catheter to enter through my lower abdomen directly into the bladder – also known as a suprapubic. Now with that said it is easier to understand why I would miss the most telling sign of an enlarged prostate – difficulty urinating, incomplete emptying of the bladder, or a weak stream.

Grizzly Adams & Brauny

According to the American Cancer Society, over 240,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and about 28,000 will die (www.cancer.org). If you think those numbers are high, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death only behind lung cancer in men. Although there has been little research with respect to people with disabilities and prostate cancer, there are certain issues related to the prostate which are higher in men that use a wheelchair. According to an article published in Urology (an internationally peer-reviewed journal), statistically there was little difference in the frequency of occurrence between disabled men and able-bodied men, however disabled men were more likely to have a more advanced stage of prostate cancer(Urology Vol.63 Issue 3 pp 509-512). Another prostate related issue that occur more often in disabled men is prostatitis – inflammation of the prostate(extremely painful!). Even though it is easily treated with antibiotic, but because I’m unable to directly feel I am limited to using process of elimination to identify what is causing discomfort.As serious as the issue is, it is reassuring to know that if diagnosed early enough it may easily be treated. Even though the average age of diagnosis with prostate cancer is 67, it is never a bad idea to establish a baseline much earlier. Also, if you have a family history of prostate cancer it would also be a good idea to have an initial screening at a younger age.

So if you have seen a neatly trimmed Bro-stache or a grizzly ol’ beard, remember it’s for a good cause.

Hopefully ‘getting the finger’ will save the life of you or a loved one.

PS feel free to ask any questions you may have. I hope to get a few pictures up.

Back to School

Skiing and scuba diving was extremely fun, but soon the thrill of rushing down the mountain and the freedom of scuba diving soon wore off. There I was, sitting in my apartment watching reruns of “All in the Family” for the umpteenth time, when I really started to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. As my family can attest to, I absolutely hated school, but I knew it was a necessary evil. Somewhat fortuitous, my senior year I enrolled in anatomy and physiology, I really enjoyed it and did pretty well. Also, as with most seniors I had chosen to take the ACT exam and scored 21 out of 36– not too bad for a perennial underachiever. However, just prior to beginning my senior year of high school I enlisted in the United States Army Reserves as a combat engineer. This meant that college would have to wait at least one semester while I finished basic training and AIT (advanced individual training). Unlike some, I did enroll for the spring semester – and saying it didn’t go well would be an understatement. Now let’s fast-forward 6 1/2 years.

The same university that I failed out of previously, excepted me on an academic probation period of one year. Unlike most freshmen in college I was 1) not 18 anymore and 2) in a wheelchair with a whole lot of prove. Although I really enjoyed studying biology and the human body, which has served me well since my accident, seeking a degree in it was out of the question. Political Science seemed to be a natural choice. The world had dramatically changed since my accident and I was interested in the political landscape. As to say my first semester was a success, would be stating it mildly. I managed to make the Dean’s list and had my probation dropped. This was quite an accomplishment, and I was really hoping I didn’t set the bar too high.

After completing nearly all my course requirements in two years, my advisor informed me I also need to choose a minor. As luck would have it, Criminal Justice became an accredited standalone field of study. To me this combination made complete sense – policies are in place to define criminal behavior, and policies determine the punishment. It didn’t take long to figure out that a minor in Criminal Justice was not going to be sufficient, and that I would take on the arduous task of completing a double major – Political Science and Criminal Justice.

What started out in the fall of 2002 as an opportunity ended in success at the end of the fall 2006 semester. I was able to earn two Bachelor of Science degrees from a mid-major institution in nine semesters(4 1/2 years). I also managed to make the Dean’s list three times. And like every professional student I am currently working on my Masters in Criminal Justice.

If you always measure your future by your past, you will always fall short.

Look Out Below!

I am often asked, “have you always been a daredevil or thrillseeker” and I would have to respond by saying yes. If you’ve ever been to a small town during the summer you may have heard about Little Britches Rodeo – well there I was in Zealand North Dakota and I found myself on the back of the young bull. To my amazement I ended up winning five dollars! That was a lot of money to a six-year-old and hence the seed of thrillseeking began.

I had always lived life to the fullest, always seeking adventure of the mundane, so when my life changed course, it just meant a whole new avenue of adventures opened to me. I always enjoyed skiing and snowboarding, even though I didn’t do it very often (Eastern North Dakota is not exactly the place you would find an avid skier), I jumped at the first opportunity to try skiing as a quadriplegic. As I posted earlier, my first adventure in skiing was at Snowmass Colorado. As anyone from the plains of North Dakota can appreciate, I was awestruck by what I laid my eyes on – a summit peak of over 12,000 feet!

As I was sitting at the base of the mountain reflecting back, it was hard to imagine that just nine months prior I was laying in a hospital with a severed spinal cord. As you can imagine my excitement, I did not sleep much the night before. Thinking about how they are going to get me into the Mountain Man (a skiing device used for quadriplegics), and all the other what if’s. So it was finally my turn, too late to turn back – besides that’s not my style. Several volunteers began prepping me for the transfer into the Mountain Man, and before I knew it I was out of my wheelchair and onto my skis. After all of the straps and duct tape were secured, we had a few hundred feet to go before reaching the chair lift.

The only thing going through my mind, was how exactly are we going to get into the chair lift. I am by no means a small person, and it is all dead weight. Well, I didn’t have much time to ponder as the line was short, and before I knew it we were standing on the pickup line. As the chair lift came to a sudden crawl, my ski instructors, one on each side, quickly lifted me the 6 inches or so and next thing you know we had reached our destination – 11,750 feet! What a nearly perfect day for skiing, bright sunshiny day not much wind and temperatures in the low 20s. After going over the instructions one more time, my instructor extended the tether line and we were off and skiing.

What an unbelievable experience it was. A feeling of freedom and independence – however brief it may have been is an experience I will never forget.

You Can Do That?

It’s hard to believe that it has already been nearly 11 years since my paralyzing accident, but thanks to the great mentors and staff where I did my rehab I managed to maintain my sense of adventure. Just a little over nine months post injury I attended the winter ski clinic at Snowmass Colorado, where besides skiing I also went scuba diving. Learning how to ski as a quadriplegic was fun and exciting, but scuba diving as a quadriplegic!?!

With the help of the volunteers I was removed from my wheelchair and set at the side of the pool. After several minutes of trying to position all of the equipment and go over a few signs (which is a little bit more difficult when you are unable to use your arms) we were ready to enter the water. In typical scuba fashion, I rolled off the edge of the pool headfirst into the water. After a few quick tests of the equipment and we were ready to hang out near the bottom of the pool – around 8 feet. It is difficult to explain the feelings and emotions.

Because of the near zero gravity effect, for the first time in over nine months I was able to watch my arms move as I wanted them to! Even the simplest of task of touching my face was an amazing experience. The next adventure was to see my hands actually work. Although I am unable to use my fingers, we played with the weighted water rings for nearly an hour. My scuba instructor would drop him and I was able to see my hand eye coordination as I would catch them as they were sinking. Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end and my time was up.

As my instructor and volunteers were removing all of my scuba gear, my instructor asked how long I had been paralyzed and if I have been scuba diving before. What I was about to tell him nearly made him fall back into the water. I told him I had only been paralyzed a little over nine months and that I was a near drowning victim. The expression on his face was priceless. It was hard for him to believe I was able to get back in the water such a short time after water nearly took my life and do so effortlessly. Part of his reasoning for his amazement is that I use very little of my air tank which apparently is unusual for quadriplegics let alone someone who nearly drowned.

I have always loved water. From the time I can remember I would beg my sisters to take me to the pool, and as I got older I would find myself spending sometimes nearly 7 hours a day in the summer at the pool. Someday I hope to scuba dive in the Mediterranean, but I will never forget my first scuba diving experience at Snowmass Colorado.