Keeping perspective, What a trip, words i live by

The Revolution Will Not Be Paralyzed

Last week’s trip to DC was our shortest yet, but we packed quite a bit into those four days in terms of advocacy, growth, and memories made. Being my third year at the ROCH, I wasn’t as awed by the idea that I was about to be rolling through House, Senate, and Capitol buildings. Granted, not being distracted by the chaos of broken wheelchairs and lost luggage like the previous years helped me retain a little more of the education I received the day prior, so I was ready to take The Hill with my paralyzed tribe on Tuesday morning.

We caught a curveball, however, when we rolled in to Congressman Denny Heck’s office for our first scheduled visit and saw the breaking news about the Supreme Court upholding President Trump’s ridiculous travel ban. It’s interesting (and slightly embarrassing) how the gravity of news seems to hold more weight when it’s happening while I am in town. Such was the case on the final day of last year’s Roll when a left-wing nut job opened fire on Republican Congress members during a baseball practice for a charity event, seriously wounding Louisiana Representative and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The whole ordeal cast a surreal shadow on the visit for me because it showed how idealism can easily be shattered by a senseless act, and here I was again watching history unfold, and feeling frustrated that there wasn’t much I could do about it.

The notion that that decision will somehow keep us safe is preposterous. Policies like this and the recent separating of refugees and their children give credence to those who say we are a country of xenophobic hypocrites who fail to recognize that a decent majority of our latest terrorist threats haven’t been of the vaguely browner people outside our borders, but a bunch of homegrown, crazy white dudes like the one who shot Scalise.

It definitely gave me a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as we kicked the day off, but I felt a little bit of relief as I bounced from office to office with my fellow advocates. Unlike the 36 years prior to my first participation on the hill, I could find solace in the fact that I was doing my part to affect a small amount of change in the areas I have experience. Since I’ve been going to DC, it has taken two years of collective advocacy to ensure Medicaid coverage of specialty medical equipment like the cushion that saved my life for power wheelchair users, and we were another year in to the fight for those in manual chairs while also trying to protect ADA rights and make our long-overdue case for accessible air travel.

As anticipated, it was awesome for Claire and me to be joined by Ian and Teena on our Hill visits. Because our stories and platforms are just different enough to counterbalance one another, we fell into a comfortable give-and-take right away. Having Teena and Claire’s perspectives as a mother of a quad and wife/OT practitioner, respectively, rounded out a robust representation of our local community’s issues. Add in a couple of heavy hitters in United Spinal board members Andy Hicks and Wendell Matas, and we had quite a formidable group of advocates.

In total, we made five visits on Tuesday, three together plus solo visits to our respective district representatives’ offices. The cool part for me was seeing familiar faces from Hill visits of ROCHs-past, which meant the dialogue had already been opened somewhat. I’m learning it’s all about fostering relationships with the people who can help affect change. For the most part we were preaching to the choir on each visit, which, on the one hand, is comforting to know you have allies, but it would’ve been nice to try and sway some of of those in opposition. All in all, it was a fantastic day with a lively group.

After a quick jaunt around the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, we reunited with the rest of our peers that evening at a Congressional award ceremony to highlight a few key players’ accomplishments from the past year.  First up was Gretchelle Dilan, an advocate from Puerto Rico who Claire and I had met last year and spent some time with doing a flash mob for inclusive dance just a few months before hurricanes Maria and Irma laid waste to her community. Proving that sometimes The Path finds you, she stepped up and worked endlessly to help people with disabilities on the island get the services and equipment they desperately needed. Her acceptance speech for the 2018 Outstanding Community Service Award was a fierce call to action for us all to constantly push for those who need help.

Next came Earle Powdrell, an aerospace engineer whose brain stem stroke in 2009 rendered him a locked-in quadriplegic, leaving him only the ability to blink and move his eyes. Despite that, he manages to use a computer with a TOBII eye-tracker to communicate, delivering brilliant speeches to encourage others to never give up hope. For their relentless efforts on the national stage since the ROCH began seven years ago, he and his spunky and dedicated wife of almost four decades, Kathy, received the 2018 Finn Bullers Advocates of the Year Award. Their acceptance speech was a reminder that we are only as paralyzed as we think, that our voices can be powerful agents of change.

After the ceremony, a large group of us made our way over to Union Station to grab dinner and chat. I’ve always enjoyed my Congressional visits, but the opportunity to connect with peers from all over has always been my favorite part of the event, and it’s the reason I keep coming back year after year. Getting to hear about all of the projects they are working on in their home states always gets me charged up with ideas for things to incorporate back home.

The evening ended with a two-mile haul back to our hotels which shouldn’t have been a problem for the brand-new batteries in my backup chair, but Life decided to make things interesting. We played a fascinating game of late night wheelchair Tetris inside the Metro elevators to expedite the trip, but it wasn’t enough to get me back under my own power, and Mama Dreads & The Mrs. graciously pushed me the last third of a mile up the hill Homewood Suites was perched on that Ian later dubbed Mount Muthaf*cka in their honor.

The next morning featured “coffee” with Sen. Patty Murray, which was more of a photo opportunity with 100 or so other Washingtonians with a pot of coffee in the corner. One perk was having all of her policy staff present when we each had the opportunity to share who we were, and why we were there. After all the introductions were made, her transportation specialist made a beeline toward me to talk more about my thoughts on air travel.

After that we headed back to the hotel to pack our bags and charge my batteries for a trip down through a couple of my favorite monuments. Claire and I made a late night mad dash through the Martin Luther King and Franklin D Roosevelt memorials a year ago, but I wanted to experience them to their fullest extent with Ian and Teena because he and his mom have played such a major role in my evolution as an advocate. Our friendship goes back six years to him calling me an idiot in the nicest way possible, and that exchange led to the formation of The Here and Now Project.

Both MLK and FDR before him were major cogs in a social justice machine that we are still pushing forward through our own efforts and being surrounded history helped to remind us of the bigger picture. As we cruised around snapping photos of our favorite quotes, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that our elected officials could benefit from a field trip through their own backyard to remind themselves of the ideals this country was founded on.

One of my favorite features at Roosevelt’s memorial is a bronze statue of him in his wheelchair with a quote from his wife Eleanor engraved on the wall behind it that says “Franklin’s illness…gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons – infinite patience and never ending persistence.” There’s a vein of that strength, courage, patience, and persistence in Ian, myself, and all our paralyzed peers, so we snapped a picture of us knee-to-knee with our paralyzed forefather to recognize the considerable impact one paralyzed person can have.

We made our way back to the airport without needing to push me, and it was all wrapping up to be a phenomenal trip… Until the after flight home, that is, when Ian’s chair came up from under the plane at SeaTac with considerable damage. Thankfully, it’s his backup chair and he was able to patch it together enough to limp home, but it could have easily been significantly worse. It’s another glaring example of what we put at risk to make the trip and advocate on that very issue. That is three chairs damaged in three consecutive trips to DC, which is unacceptable.

Fortunately, I’ve been down this road plenty of times now, and know that this is just the beginning of a fight we will continue having for years to come until we get where we need to be. It was a good reminder that not all revolutions take the form of tidal waves, but trickles that cut slowly through granite-like opposition, and that I will have to continue to channel FDR’s special blend of vigilance if I hope to carve out another bit of equal rights for myself and those like me. With people like Claire, Ian, Teena, Wendell, Andy and so many others by my side, there is reason to be optimistic for what the future holds.

my "tribe", What a trip

Spent.

The bottom line of my drive screen says it all. Another day on Capitol Hill with my tribe of  squeaky wheels. Too many connections to count and just enough hijinks to keep it weird. It all ended with a three-block push from Mama Dreadlocks & The Mrs. on brand-new batteries that couldn’t make it three miles on a single charge… Because, of course. Time to hit the rack for an early coffee with a senator and a late flight home for the crew.

More updates to come.

What a trip

When in Rome

Maybe it was the lack of chaos that made everything feel so simple or perhaps we’d soaked in just enough of the whole atmosphere over the last couple years by osmosis. Either way it was a little surprising how easily we seemed to slip into advocacy mode today.

The majority of the morning and afternoon were spent neck-deep in congressional policy ranging from complex rehab technology and Veterans Affairs to the various bills concerning air carrier accessibility. It was a little surreal to find myself on stage sharing my extensive experience about the latter in front of more than 100 advocates from all over the country before introducing a panel of experts to discuss the subject at length.

We spent the evening strolling down Embassy Row with Claire’s childhood friend and soccer teammate, Kirsten, and her friend Teddy. The pair are getting their masters in advanced international studies at Johns Hopkins University, so we got to pick their brains about their dissertations on post-Cold War conflicts over burgers and beers.

If you’d have told me this would be a normal day in my life even two years ago, I would’ve had to spend half a day at the library just to figure out what the hell it all meant. What a fun day. Off to the Capitol in the morning.

What a trip

Here We Go Again

It’s interesting, these paths The Universe chooses for you.

It was two years ago tonight that my first trip to the East Coast for United Spinal’s Roll on Capitol Hill went from disastrous to borderline absurd. What was supposed to be an epic vacation down the eastern seaboard to see the sights and advocate on behalf the disabled community turned into every wheelchair user’s nightmare when my chair got mangled by the airlines on my first real attempt to fly. The entire ordeal was a harrowing experience, but it showed me how resilient I am and left me hungry for more time in DC.

Having survived that debacle helped me see The Universe revealing a path when it happened all over again almost exactly a year later, this time on my way back from the 2017 ROCH. That hard-earned wisdom helped me get behind the curtain of the airline industry and gave me the opportunity to tell my story on the national stage. And we are another year later, back in Washington DC for yet another ROCH. It’s no coincidence one of this year’s major legislative focuses is accessible air travel. I know my experience is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to my community’s airline woes, but it feels really good to see my part the bigger picture.

What has me most excited about this trip however, is the opportunity to share the experience with one of my best friends and fellow advocates, Ian Mackay, whose personal platform of increased accessible trails throughout Washington and beyond (check out iansride.com!) is gaining traction ls well. Along with his incredible mother, Teena, this trip was sure to be an adventure we’d thoroughly enjoy.

 

Full disclosure, my first inclination for bringing him along on the same flight may have been a little more self-serving, thinking he could be the figurative first penguin I pushed off the iceberg to check for any signs of danger. As it turns out, my heavily dreadlocked friend might just be my lucky charm. We managed to make it all the way here without breaking either of our chairs OR losing my luggage. It’s got me strongly considering snipping off a chunk of his locks for future travels. He called it my lucky hippie’s foot.

Because no trip can begin without a little chaos, our efforts to rendezvous with friends were slightly derailed by confusion of hotels. Who puts Hotels on streets named Massachusetts and M streets? Thanks a lot Homewood suites! With that little detour behind us, we arrived at our final destination with barely enough time to get checked in at the event and see a few familiar faces before grabbing a bite to eat and heading to the hotel for some much-needed rest before a full day of seminars and education before we tackle Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Words can’t describe how excited I am to spend the next few days with one of my best buddies & my bride in the nation’s capital. Looking back on the wild, winding path it took to get to this point, I’m going to make sure to soak it all in as best I can. If I’ve learned nothing else from these last few years, I know I need to ride the good times as hard as the bad ones because this too, shall pass.

Wish us luck.

Down days, What a trip

The Airlines Broke My Legs… Again

Just wanted to thank everyone for the outpouring of support over the last 24 hours. It took about a million zip ties to put my chair into something passable for a seating system to get me home late last night. We were able to piece together the chair United broke last year so that I have something to drive until Alaska fixes my new one. They’ve been much better at communicating, but the results will speak for themselves. For the time being, I will have to settle for limited battery power and less safety features.

No matter what happens, this is just the beginning of a larger conversation about accessible travel that must be had. This makes TWO trashed chairs from TWO different airlines in the span of exactly one year. Because I’m paralyzed from the neck down, these chairs are more than just my legs, they are also my arms and extensions of my brain; they are how I control my telephone, access my home and run my business. In short, they are my life, and that should not be put at risk every time I want to travel and Do Life.

Everyone knows The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a seminal piece of civil rights legislation, but The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) predates it by four years and prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. The law is more than 30 years old and yet I still cannot sit in my own seat on an airplane today.

If you want to see that change, contact your elected officials and tell them to support the new Air Carrier Access Amendment Act (link), which was reintroduced just last week by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Ed Markey (D-MA).

If you have a similar story of an airline breaking your chair, tell them about it. If you don’t, tell them about BOTH of mine. Exhibit A & Exhibit B.

Keeping perspective, my "tribe", What a trip

Full Circle

There is a Kierkegaard quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” After taking a couple days to decompress from our travels, it’s time to take a look back at the last few days of this trip and see what I can learn. The first and most obvious lesson: What a difference a functioning wheelchair makes.

Having all three of my previous trips interrupted by malfunctioning and/or broken wheelchair parts, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Last year’s trip to Las Vegas to connect with fellow paralysis advocates from all over the country was cut short by a pair of broken motors. Of the three days we were in town, I was only able to catch the last hour and a half of the last day.

And granted, I did attend all the festivities for the Roll on Capitol Hill this summer, but you would be surprised how hard it is to focus when you can’t even control where you are going – let alone mingle and socialize with other attendees – which almost made it worse. It was like being stuck sitting at your desk while all the other kids were out playing at recess. I recognized a few faces from afar, but couldn’t play any of their reindeer games.

Thanks to the good folks at Alaska Airlines not mangling my only usable form of transportation, this conference was an infinitely more rewarding experience. I spent Thursday night at the welcome reception clumsily reconnecting faces with names whereas Saturday and Sunday were mostly devoted to a myriad of topics ranging from volunteer recruitment to fundraising to web layouts. And while I really enjoyed every one of the presentations, it was the people I could meet that was the most interesting.

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Listening to dozens of my peers speaking passionately about their various advocating efforts in their respective states, I could feel a constant buzz of inspiration simmering somewhere deep within me. Hearing about organizations that have been around for decades and others that are merely weeks into their formation was both motivating and relieving; despite my innermost fears, The Here and Now Project is on the right track, with plenty of resources I can call at a moments notice to ask for advice. Just this one picture above features representatives from Southern California, New York City, Hawaii and the good ol’ PNW.

After a brief lunch with the West Coast chapters on Sunday, the girls and I shot out to the suburbs to connect with Kevin Pine, my wrestling coach for the first half of my college career. We met his two daughters, Kennedy and Tatum, and got updates about his son Josh who is away at college, which doesn’t seem possible since it felt like only yesterday that one of my roommates and I babysat him as a toddler. Kevin whipped out a couple of photo albums from back in the day and we started retracing our time together when we stumbled upon a few photos from my very first trip to Las Vegas, triggering a few memories.

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It was the end of 1999, and I was a redshirt freshman on the CWU wrestling headed for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, one of the toughest tournaments in the country where hundreds of malnutritioned 18-25-year-olds with mangled ears descend on Sin City to compete the first weekend of December each year. I wasn’t even supposed to be on that trip because I was second line behind my former roommate and future two-time All-American, Shaine Jamie. But, as always, Life had other plans.

I vividly remember standing over a boiling pot of water with a box of mac & cheese in my hand about to pour the noodles in when the phone rang. It was Kevin, telling me that Shaine was out and they needed me to be on weight and in Vegas the next morning. Only fellow wrestlers can understand the depth of sadness I felt as I set that blue box of noodles down, knowing that I had a decent weight cut in front of me instead of that tasty meal.

I eventually made the weight, and the team made it to Vegas. With powerhouse Division I schools like Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Arizona State and many others in attendance, our guys took quite a few beatings in that tournament, especially me. I think I was outscored 32-2 in two technical falls at the hands of athletes from West Virginia and the Air Force Academy. It wasn’t pretty. But the tournament itself was not the main part of Kevin’s plan for us. No, the more important matches were the duals against fellow Division II rivals like Colorado School of Mines and Western State Colorado the night before. He wanted us to have exposure to people working and competing at our own level. He wanted us to grow.

I learned a lot on those trips to Las Vegas and other places like Southern Oregon, Eastern Colorado, South Dakota and West Virginia. I also took a lot of beatings along the way that are only starting to make sense right now. 17 years later, I can start see the correlation in all my recent road trips to connect with a new set of teammates with wheels. You’re going to have to take your lumps no matter where you go, but you’ll be better for it in the end.

Now it’s time to get back to the grind and keep pushing for a little more growth.

 

my "tribe", Uncategorized, What a trip

Consistently Inconsistent

Day five started off quite similar to its counterparts from previous road trips with the whole crew nursing a bit of a hangover. I suppose it is the expected outcome from a late-night out chasing drugs earlier in the week, only there were no hazy memories of wild times with which to partially justify the feeling.

Even sleeping in a bit later than usual could not stave off the road weariness of the previous couple days. Add a dash of antibiotic anxiety when we noticed a decent skin reaction to a drug I’ve taken multiple times, and you can imagine where team morale started off this morning. In an effort to turn things around I did what any decent boss would do, I threw the pair of them off the roof. Calm down helicopter moms. They had seatbelts, see?

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The sheer terror in Nikita’s squinted eyes and the likely permanent nail marks she left on Savannah thigh turned out to be the perfect antidote for all their woes. See? Inflicting fear and pain on others. Boss of the Year! As for me, I got a boost by connecting with Mark Race, a paralysis survivor of nearly 40 years from the Northeast who we caught in the lobby just before the girls took their fall. He joined me in sadistically snickering on the rooftop as my victims team disappeared over the edge. Chair or not, he’s obviously my people.

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We filled a few vacant hours before the official kickoff of United Spinal’s event by doing very touristy Las Vegas things like hanging by the pool with scantily clad middle-aged men, managing to get lost on The Strip despite having no real destination and, ultimately, hurriedly stuffing our faces with wildly overpriced yet undernutritioned food as we raced to catch the shuttle back to the hotel in time.

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And then, of course, just like everyone of my last few chaotic trips, we came careening into our destination with all of the grace of a radioactive wrecking ball and were welcomed with open arms by people who have somehow come to accept me into the fold despite being a hot mess every time I show up. Hey, I guess I’m nothing if not consistently inconsistent.

What a trip

We the People.

The view outside our hotel room here in Philadelphia looks out over the Christ Church Burial Ground, the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin who, besides helping draft the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is also known as one of the first  people to harness electricity. As I sat in my manual wheelchair, looking out over his grave site this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder if he ever could have envisioned a man being as dependent on that discovery as I am today. Probably, he was a pretty sharp guy.

I’m pretty sure, however, he may not have imagined me using his discovery to have digital conversations with one of the world’s most prominent travel conglomerates in 140 character snippets over something called the Internet. But in his defense, I never would’ve pictured going back and forth with United Airlines on Twitter either, but that’s how my morning started. I guess it’s time to admit that my life has gotten way more interesting since last Saturday.

After finishing off the most surreal communiqué of my life, the only other real order of business left was notifying Amtrak that I would be bringing not one, but two wheelchairs with me to the station for our trip to Washington DC tomorrow. That’s going to cost United another hundred bucks because the dead chair needs a ticket of its own. With all of that taken care of, Claire and I had the rest of the day to explore Historical Philadelphia. If we thought it was difficult to navigate New York City with three people tag teaming a hand control power chair, making my girlfriend push me through miles of old brick roads was even worse.

But as we made our way around through so many historical monuments, I could feel my discomfort and annoyance with my current predicament began to fade, lost in the background of a larger perspective. Visiting spots like the Constitution Hall, the Liberty Bell, and, particularly, The Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier — which served as a mass grave of thousands who lost their lives in the American Revolution — snapped me out of my funk rather quickly. It was a pretty stark reminder that pain is part of the process, and that maybe, just maybe, this little blip on the radar is just that last catalyst that galvanizes my commitment to advocating for people in my situation.

One of our last stops was at Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted. We caught the very last of their express tours before closing. The tour itself was short, we only got to see the Supreme Court room, central hall and the assembly room. It was in that last room of the abbreviated tour that the guide talked about how the founding fathers had the foresight that this country would evolve, which is why they programmed in an amendment process that gave way to the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement of the 60s, the ADA in the 90s, and the current battles for gay rights. The guide wrapped everything up by saying they is still plenty of work to do, which is exactly why we are headed to the capital tomorrow; to declare that my independence matters just as much as everyone else’s does; that I have the right to travel without putting myself in danger.

And it was one tiny act of kindness by a stranger right before the tour began that brought it all together for me. While waiting in line, a man named Pascual struck up a conversation with Claire and me. Because she was pushing my chair, I never really got to see his face. We chit chatted and learned he was from Virginia by way of San Jose. When we approached the ramp heading into the hall, he gently nudged Claire aside, offering to push me around for the next 20 minutes so she could have a break. It’s those little gestures by so many people this last week that have lightened the load on these paralyzed shoulders.

There’s Dorothy, the sweet Jewish lady we met on the New York Metro who told us of how she was smuggled out of Germany as a child to escape the wrath of the Third Reich and ultimately went on to work with United Nations, proving survivors can make a difference. There’s Ernie, the most charismatic service elevator operator on the planet that reminds me that we all have a job to do, so we might as well do it with passion. There’s George and everyone at the Axis Project serving as inspiration for what The Here and Now Project can and will become. There are the countless people sending messages, phone calls, texts and tweets reminding me that I’m not alone on this journey. There are the Bobbseys, who have graciously and sometimes begrudgingly stuck with me through three of these catastrophes and made these learning experiences possible.

And finally, there is this girl who didn’t let me turn back when my chair flickered “CONTROLLER FAULT” half a dozen times while we did the tourist thing on our final day in New York. And she didn’t complain once about pushing me over cobblestones and bricks in mid-80° weather today, proving that love really is the answer, that love will find a way.

I just realized that this is only halfway through our trip. Who knows what the second half will bring. Whatever it is, I know we’ll get through it together. Thanks for all the support so far.

What a trip

Stranger than Fiction

It only took a couple of seconds to recognize that the popping sounds coming from the bottom of my chair were sparks. What was supposed to be a throwaway travel day from NYC to Philadelphia after a few mild hiccups on the way to Penn Station turned into a mad dash to find somewhere, anywhere, to yank me out of my chair.

After that it was just another repeat of last Sunday, only this time I was offloaded onto a pew-like bench in a Philly train station instead of a claustrophobic family bathroom in the Newark airport. I spent the next few hours doing awkward pressure releases until my latest hero named Rick showed up and sweated his ass off for another couple hours piecing together a chair that wouldn’t light mine on fire. The next couple hours were focused on logistics as we try to get my new POS Express back to the hotel with whatever the hell this thing is now.

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At this point, all you can do is laugh. The plot is thickening faster than I can keep up, but now I know what kind of ride I’m in for from here on out. We got to the hotel a half an hour ago, where I’ve managed to force down half a 7/11 sandwich and a couple handfuls of almonds. We’ve been up too long again, and now I have to get back to bed to see if we didn’t just ruin all the healing progress I’ve made over the last few days.

On the bright side, we posted a little video on social media that seems to be bringing out many of the horror stories that others have endured while attempting air travel, so hopefully this is the start of something big. And to top it off, I’ve already made a ton of new friends in the city of brotherly love. Thanks Tony, Benny, Joe, Carl, and Rick for doing everything you could to get us to the hotel safe!

Wish us luck and stay tuned. It’s bound to get interesting.

What a trip

And then this happens.

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.

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I’ve always been fascinated by cities, and this is one that is easy to fall in love with. From me sheer scale and beauty of its architecture to the incredibly diverse culture, there is always something new to see or someone new to meet. So as we slowly made our way down St. Nicholas Avenue, picking out 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.

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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 certifiable genius of a physical therapist they have on staff, . Sergio also a phenomenal mouth stick painter, and gave us one of his originals as a souvenir.

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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.