If the events of the first three days weren’t enough to bring four people to the brink of insanity, I don’t know what else could have done it. Despite a short reprieve from the chaos Tuesday night when we took a trip to the top of Rockefeller Center and were treated with a breathtaking view and a chance run-in with the most chipper service elevator operator on the planet, we still woke up yesterday morning a little road weary. Thankfully, the travel gods decided to bless us with an incredible Wednesday.
Our exploration with mass transit was remarkably more successful than the previous day. After hailing a slightly cramped accessible cab we made a successful, albeit pothole-jumping trip to the Bronx for a Yankees game we’d gotten tickets for through a United Spinal friend in Portland. I was able to set aside my resentment towards The Bombers (for eliminating the Mariners from the playoffs 15 years ago) just long enough to enjoy what turned out to be one hell of a game, complete with a grand slam, a couple comebacks and a walk off victory. After that it was time to test our luck on the bus.
It only took us one false start boarding the wrong bus followed by a quick hop from the Bronx to Manhattan where we caught the M3 line heading south to Harlem. Even with the 37-point turn around we needed to get and the POS Express into proper position inside the bus, this was our most painless transportation yet. And this is where it finally started to feel a bit like a vacation instead of a four-letter word (T-R-I-P) it’s felt like since we first landed in Newark.
I’ve always been fascinated by cities, and this is one that is easy to fall in love with. From the sheer scale and beauty of its architecture to the incredibly diverse culture, there is always something new to see or someone new to meet. As we slowly made our way down St. Nicholas Avenue, picking up passengers from all walks of life and passing countless corner shops and brownstones, I could feel my spirits begin to lift.
We arrived in Harlem late in the afternoon, with just enough time to wander around a bit before we were scheduled to meet up with George Gallegos, another United Spinal contact who runs an outfit called Axis Project. Not knowing much about the Project other than what I’d seen in a quick Google search a few weeks before we left, I had little idea of what I would find in the little alcove at 1325 Fifth Avenue.
We rolled in about 6:45 and were met by George, a former Paralympian with big muscles and a broad smile. He introduced us to his business partner, Alex, and took us back to the main gym where we found roughly 30 people in wheelchairs listening to a presentation. We hung towards the back and George explained the holistic approach the Axis Project uses to help nearly 600 members living with disabilities in the New York area; handcycle spin classes, boxing, circuit training, a certifiable genius of a physical therapist on staff, and a multitude of classes and seminars for self-improvement. The talk we were watching was folks from Bank of America teaching people how to properly invest their money, which feeds into the main goal of the Axis Project, empowering others to live more independently.
George said 40% of their members are either people they have helped transitioned from nursing homes, or those at risk of being sent to nursing homes that they have placed in more suitable apartments with proper home care. He also introduced me to a couple of high-level quads like myself, Jonathan and Sergio. I got to talk with Jonathan about his travels to the Dominican Republic in a manual wheelchair (insane!) and Sergei showed me some exercises he uses to help stabilize his core with the help Lawrence, the incredibly knowledgeable physical therapist they have on staff. Sergio is also a phenomenal mouth stick painter and gave us one of his originals as a souvenir.
We left both humbled and inspired after seeing so many people taking charge of their own lives and Doing Life to the fullest extent of their capabilities. This is what this trip was supposed to be about from the get-go, so it’s hard not to be a little frustrated that it took this long to get to where we are. But if it had happened any other way, we probably wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much. That, and it probably would’ve made for pretty lame reading. That was the running joke before we left, I’m just here to entertain you people. So yeah. You’re welcome.
After sleeping a little this morning, Claire went for a run in Central Park. Oh, and guess who just got his legs back? This guy. Time to go have some fun. Catch you guys later.