Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part V


O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?


                Answer.
That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.



The next day I drove from Flagstaff to Boulder, Colorado.  It’s a long drive – but at least there’s a lot to see on the way.  The picture above is from just outside Arches National Park.  It’s the place where the Road Runner cartoons got their topography.  Monument National Park was another beautiful place I passed by – as well as the mountain biking mecca of Moab, Utah. 

Entering Colorado was a bit of a relief.  I have visited Colorado many times in my life.  I have some family there – including an aunt and a cousin who I visited this time around.  Kendra and I were just here in August.  We stayed in Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, and Vail.  All unique places with their own vibe – and yet all much more familiar feeling than the moonscape I had been in the last few days.  There were trees here and proper rivers.
 
Things got a little interesting as I went over the Vail pass – at 10,662 feet it was the highest point I would reach on my trip.  It had started to snow just before I reached the pass.  I saw a bunch of traffic on the other side of the highway.  The grade of the highway is 7-8% coming down the other side of Vail pass.  My little Scion isn’t exactly made for those kinds of conditions.  I tuned into a radio station that was giving traffic updates.  I soon learned that they had closed down the highway going west bound at the Vail Pass because of a number of accidents.  Then came the news that they closed down the highway going east bound – about 10 miles up the road.

I ended up stopping in Frisco.  I made a plea on facebook for anybody who knew somebody in the area who might be able to help me out.  I checked out the Holiday Inn – they were charging $400 per night.  So I went to a restaurant to get something to eat and figure out what I was going to do.  I checked the highway report every 5-10 minutes.  Around three hours into the closing I was about to give up – but I decided to check it one last time.  The highway had opened back up.

The highway was rough going.  The first part was fine because cars had been stopped there for hours – so there wasn’t much snow on the ground.  But when we hit the other side of a tunnel there was about 3 inches of compact snow on the ground.  It was very slow.  Eventually though we got to a low enough elevation that the snow turned to slush and finally just wet pavement.  I had left Flagstaff at around 7:30am Pacific time – I got into Boulder around 11:30pm Mountain time.  It felt so good to be in a warm place with family.

I ended up staying in Boulder for four nights.  On Saturday I went to the USATF Cross Country Nationals.  Matt and Jordan’s teammate Amy ended up winning the entire race.  She beat Jenny Simpson – who won worlds in the 1500m a few years ago.  If you’re interested in learning more about these incredible athletes from Northern Arizona – here is a link to theirwebpage.  Here is a video of the beginning of the womens' race.
video
 

After chatting with a bunch of strangers – including famous ultra runner Scott Jurek – I hung out with my family for awhile.  We ended up going to dinner and then went to swing dancing (my aunt goes every week) – where I learned how little I actually know about swing dancing.

The next day I explored Boulder a little bit more.  Boulder is one of those places that you don’t want to fall in love with - -but you just can’t help it.  The restaurants, the mountains, the bookstores etc – it’s just a magical place.

My aunt ended up getting some free tickets for the International Film Festival that was in town that weekend.  We randomly picked a documentary that was playing at the local high school.  Little did I know that I was about to have one of the most inspirational nights of my life.  The name of the movie is "The Current."
As the website states - "‘The Current’ highlights individuals of all abilities overcoming limitations through adaptive sports such as surfing scuba diving / free-diving, and ocean kayaking alongside whales and dolphins in exotic locations, including Bimini, Bahamas, Cozumel, Mexico, and Kauai, Hawaii. Each individual cast member shares inspirational stories of perseverance and an unwillingness to be held back by limitations."

The best way to tell you what they’re talking about is to see a picture I took of the cast, who did a Q&A after the movie, and I’ll describe how each person became physically challenged.

 
The blonde girl in the green – in the wheel chair is Mallory Weggemann.  In 2008, at the age of 18, she had an epidural injection to treat back pain.  There were complications from the procedure that left her paralyzed from the waist down.  An avid swimmer before the accident – she eventually started swimming in the Paralympics.  She has eight world records and won the 50m freestyle at the London Paralympic games.

Behind her and to the left is Missy Franklin – another incredible swimmer.  Missy doesn’t have any physical challenges.  She was in the film as an “ambassador” (along with Jean-Michel Cousteau the son of Jacque Cousteau).  She is only eighteen years old – and yet her maturity and incredible zest for life comes through in the film and in person.

To the right of Mallory is Grant Korgan (he is seated with dark hair).  Grant fractured his L1 vertebrae during snowmobile accident in 2010.  He was paralyzed initially – but has gained back some of the use of his legs.  He had an incredible quote in the movie – which was “Life is about experiences, and choosing to see the good in all things that happen for us – not to us.”  Grant has done some incredible things – including pushing himself 80 miles under his own power to the South Pole.

The man in a blue shirt with his hand on Grant’s shoulder is Leo Morales.  In 2008 he was diagnosed with a soft tissue cancer and was given only six months to live.  In order to try to save his life his right leg was amputated at the hip.  Although he contemplated suicide – he eventually chose life.  He is a scuba instructor now in Cozumel.

Behind Missy is a man in blue on crutches.  He is Anthony Robles.  Anthony was born with only one leg.  He didn’t let it stop him from participating in athletics.  He became a great wrestler – and actually won the 2011 National Championship in his weight class for Arizona State.  Below is another picture of Anthony.  That smile is genuine.  That’s the one thing that you take away from this movie.  All of these people – regardless of what life has thrown at them – are incredibly and undeniably happy.  They have chosen life – when the alternative probably seemed like a more reasonable choice at times.
 

The most incredible part of the Q&A was how many children asked questions (you can see them gathered around Mallory in the photo above).  In fact, it was almost all children.  One boy I remember in particular.  He asked what at first seemed like a question that might be offensive.  He asked, “How do you get up in the morning?”  But, as I thought about it – the question probably came from a real place of struggle.  Maybe he had trouble getting up in the morning.  Maybe he was bullied – or had a difficult home life.  He needed to know from these folks who he knew had it worse than he did - how did they do it?

All of these people (and there were more – you should check out all of their stories) went through the struggle exemplified in Whitman’s poem.  And all of them have found a way to use their “disability” in a way which not only has contributed a verse to the play of life – but has a real possibility of changing lives – if not the entire world.

To be continued . . .

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