Now this is what I call a real man’s leg!
I keep calling it the Challenged Athletes Triathlon, but technically it’s called the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. There were plenty of “able bodied” folks competing right along side the many “challenged athletes.” We spent the day down at La Jolla Cove where all the action was taking place. There were so many vendors. Lots to see and do. We met so many amazing people. The vibe was just incredible.
My favorite new friend we met was a dude who reminded me so much of Nick it was scary. He’s a bilateral below knee amputee from a freak accident involving an 80 fall. Like Nick he wasn’t just an amputee. Instead of a spinal cord injury, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost sight in one eye. He was so open and friendly with us and had a personality that made us feel at home. He was handsome, and when I stood back I thought the two of them could easily be brothers. We spent a lot of time talking prosthetics, duh, and Nick and I got some great info from him. His legs fit him perfectly and you could really tell by the way he stood and walked so naturally, further inspiration to get Nick into a different prostheses system.
Not only was the actual triathlon taking place all day, there was a separate 5K race, a special kids run, and a huge stage with a couple hundred spin bikes and hand cycles set up for a FOUR HOUR ride!
Nick took this valuable opportunity to meet and pick the brains of the myriad prosthetic vendors at the event. Everybody was eager to share their knowledge and opinions with Nick to assist him in making the best decisions possible in the near future when he changes up his legs again.
We also ran into a friend.
After about two hours, Nick desperately needed to lay down, and wanted to get out of the crowds. So we made our way to a grassy area on the far side of the action and relaxed for a bit. There was a very interesting fellow there playing with the pigeons. He trained them to fly circles and land on his fingers. He gave us some sunflower seeds and showed us how. I was surprised by their weight and the warmth of their feet. Very cool experience!
And we also got to play with my beautiful cousin Kim, her rockstar hubster Chris, and their adorable kids. Hanging with them made my day.
We’re down in the La Jolla area this weekend for the Challenged Athletes Triathlon and other awesome related events.
Today, one of the largest prosthetic foot manufacturers, Ossur, hosted an amputee running clinic. Our idea was to spectate, socialize, meet other amputees, and gain knowledge. But how peculiar that Nick ran for the first time in therapy yesterday and then found himself at a running clinic today. So, of course, he had to participate.
He did a few trips back and forth down the lane before throwing in the towel from exhaustion and hopping back in his chair. Watching his first attempt at running this morning brought me to tears. It was more of a fast walk than a run, but there were a few steps where Nick launched a little bit off his hind leg. It was amazing!
Dozens of inspiring amputees were learning and improving their gait with the help of volunteer therapists and trainers. Children and adults from all walks of life were pushing their limits, and the kids were particularly cute and awesome.
I spent time chatting with a single amputee Paralympic volleyball player who played in London this year. I watched a double amputee, three-time Paralympic medalist train people how to take off sprinting from a starting block. And I got inspiration from a woman who was the first woman amputee to complete the Kona Iron Man triathlon.
We met a kid who lost his legs above the knee eleven months ago who is learning to run on running blades. Seeing him run and get around on his springy legs made Nick say, “Dang, I need to get my shit together.” Well, I think Fener is doing pretty awesome considering he’s battling a spinal cord injury as well. Like we’ve said before, he’d probably be competing in the triathlon tomorrow if he didn’t shatter his lower vertebrae.
The vibe at the running clinic was nothing but pure hope, excitement, and unity. Everyone was cheering for everybody else’s accomplishments. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I took lots of video and will share it soon. Tomorrow we’re off to watch the main event: the 1 mile swim, 44 mile bike ride, and 10 mile run. Yikes! I couldn’t do that right now, and I have both my legs. They will also have a kids race, a stationary bike race for those not able to ride the street course, and wheelchair races.
We bumped into a friend from Project Walk while at the Tri Registration event at the Challenged Athletes Foundation headquarters. He’s been training for five weeks to hand cycle the bike course as an individual event. So inspiring!
Here’s Nick after the running clinic: asleep as his head hit the bed. Didn’t even make it onto a pillow!
Have you guys seen this yet? Have you seen this shit? Oh my god! Nick Fener just surprised the hell out of me today. He surprised himself.
Check out this video of Nick running for the first time since his accident. On the eve of the 17 month accident-versary, he pushes himself harder than he ever thought possible and runs at 6 MPH. He is strapped into a hanging harness and holding on with a vulcan death grip to the handrail, but he’s FREAKING RUNNING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Nick is deeply honored to be a part of a very special event happening next weekend at Project Walk.
It’s the 8th Annual Steps to Recovery Event, and Nick will be walking down a red carpet, showcasing his progress, along with many of his friends at Project Walk.
The event is open to friends and family, there will be food and beer and lots of happy hearts and dedicated souls. The event is to raise funds, raise awareness, and most importantly raise spirits. All are welcome.
They are also broadcasting the event live on this website: http://www.livestream.com/steps2recovery
This is Nicks first stretch of the day, just about every day. I took this shot this morning right as he got into this position.
It’s taken him a year to finally get his knees fully straight first thing in the morning. At first he couldn’t get them straight. And then once he could, it would take a lot of time to get there each day.
Now, at almost 17 months, he can finally stretch his legs straight straight away.
I just love seeing the signs of his slow and steady improvement.
I spent time with my 79 year old Dad today talking about the various misfortunes in his lifetime. This was the third or fourth conversation of its kind this year. These conversations are brand new to me. Never before has he felt this comfortable with me to discuss his life with such candor. Nick and I are loving it.
But tonight I am left with a haunting recurring thought.
What must it feel like to be in the winter of your life?
At 31, if I’m to have a long life like my Dad, I am merely in the spring, still blooming. If I’m to have a long life, I have plenty of time to fulfill my dreams and make my contributions to this world.
But what if I’m in the winter or fall of my life and I don’t know it? What would it feel like to find myself at the end and still not be satisfied? Whether with a life cut too short, or one dragged out, drenched with mediocrity, and drowned in remorse for dreams unrealized.
I develop a headache whenever I try to prioritize the ways I’d like to invest my time to make the world a better place. I suffer from analysis paralysis.
Unlike me, Nick doesn’t have the overwhelming primal longing to leave a legacy and create something that will make a positive impact on our world. I can’t shake it, and not knowing how much time I have to figure it out is a scary, scary thought.
Your thoughts? How do you handle these morbid emotions?
What a whirlwind life can be. We all have our ups and downs though, don’t we? And when you’re strapped in tight, it’s hard to feel anything but the nausea of your own ride.
We only spent 10 hours at the ER on Tuesday. We didn’t beat our personal best of 8 hours, but came close enough for some level of satisfaction. Being in the ER is exhausting. Beeping, crying, puking. The smells, the grime.
We left with no definitive answer to Nick’s problem. Could be the flu. Could be anything. Elevated white blood cell count (duh) and symptoms that could point to a myriad of illnesses.
I originally feared meningitis. That was the primary motivation for hopping out of bed at 3:30AM and driving 30 minutes in the dark to our beloved Riverside County Regional Medical Center (our own little slice of Cheers!). Although his neck was sore and a little bit stiff, it wasn’t “stiff enough” to point directly to meningitis. The doctor suggested doing a spinal tap on Nick to test his spinal fluid for the bacteria anyway though. She was very ambiguous about the test, leaving it completely up to us. We eventually declined the “uncomfortable” test when Nick began responding well to anti-nauseal medicines, fluids, pain meds, and IV antibiotics.
Yesterday he was still in a bad way all day, spending most of it in bed, faithfully taking Tylenol every few hours to control the fever and painful eyes.
Today is a completely different story though. No more fever and only a slight headache in the temple and eyes. He’s really foggy though. Mentally he isn’t quite right. He’s slow and visibly strained, having what he calls “flashes” of hallucination. His dizziness has subsided though, so we haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of therapy at Project Walk tomorrow.
I really hate living like this now. I know, everyone gets sick. The flu is “going around.” I get it. But what used to be a rare minor inconvenience is now cause for alarm for No Spleen Nick.
At 3:30 AM Nick had a fever of 103.7. By 4:00 AM we were in the car heading toward the ER at county hospital.
Totally awesome adventure 2012.
Nicks spleen was removed the night of his accident to save his life. People without spleens are at a greater risk of sepsis when their immune system is compromised.
With a sudden onset of fever, intense headache, and out of control heart rate, with no other flu-like symptoms, we couldn’t risk waiting until morning.
You’d think the ER would be a ghost town on a random Tuesday at 4AM. Nope. Wrong. We’ve been here two hours, there are nine people ahead of us and they’ve only called back one person so far.
Nick was getting so dizzy he thought he was going to fall out of his wheelchair, so he’s now laying in the back seat of the car waiting. I get to hang with all the coughing, sneezing, crying, puking Sickies to be sure we don’t miss his name being called.
Life is so weird.
The ugly, painful side of Nick’s spinal cord injury has been bothering him lately. Even though he’s battled through a lot of his paralysis to learn to walk again, he still deals with the invisible complications on a daily basis. Nobody ever thinks about the miracle of their intestinal system until it isn’t working properly anymore.
Nicks intestines do not work. A normal person experiences peristalsis, the contraction of muscles that pushes food through the digestive track. Not Nick, the nerve damage from his spinal cord injury causes his body to stop pushing food and waste along once it gets past his stomach. That’s a lovely mental picture, isn’t it?
Apparently we don’t have it all figured out either. In the last year he’s been to the hospital three times with intestinal blockage. And now twice in the last week, he has been up all night with severe abdominal pain and nausea. He was up all night last night, spending most of the time with his head hanging over the bed into a trashcan. We discussed many times whether to suck it up and go to the ER, but there were signs that he is not completely blocked, just backed up. After pushing on his tender belly for several hours, the pain slipped away as the sun began to rise.
I’m sharing this out of frustration more than anything. When it’s 5 am and you’re still awake, dealing with a fucked up complication that will NEVER go away, because an incident outside of Nick’s control occurred during a split-second of time almost a year and a half ago… dot, dot, DOT!
You catch my drift? Maybe I should still be sleeping like Nick is. Someone is grumpy over here.
We had great friends in town this weekend. When they left this evening, Nick said to me, “I fucking love Doug and Kim. They’re fucking awesome. Those are some goooooooood friends.” Can’t you just hear his voice when you read that? I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The occasion was an annual 4-day skydiving party called Chicks Rock Boogie at Skydive Elsinore. We joined them for a few hours on Friday afternoon and a few hours on Saturday afternoon. That’s about all Nick could take. What an amazing time seeing old friends from all over. Nick was warmly welcomed. Similar to the Feet for Fener party last year, Nick was constantly surrounded by friends wanting to catch up. He said it felt so good to be so loved.
Being at the dropzone, socializing and having fun for two consecutive days was such a wonderful change of pace for us. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow our new schedule of doctors appointments and therapy, errands and required rest, daily tasks of our new, more complicated life and navigating the details of Nick’s injuries. Despite our commitment to having a good attitude and trying to live a happy life in the face of a world turned upside down, we find ourselves no longer prioritizing fun the way we used to.
Life is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, make what you’re doing fun. That’s how I’ve always done it. But this accident has really challenged that ideal for me. For both of us. Somehow, having fun has become a luxury we only allow ourselves once in a while. It’s a privilege. I want to change this. I’ve been told by several friends that they’re surprised we don’t spend more time at the dropzone. I’m not. I’ve got many more “important” things to do.
But how come having fun can’t be important again? It can be. And eventually, it will be.