I met my most cherished role model while falling off a pair of uneven parallel bars. We both fell at the same time, landing with a loud, sickening thud on the thick protective floor mats beneath us. If I think about it for too long, I can easily remember the shooting pain down my right arm as I used it to brace my fall. I'd like to say that I recovered faster and just jumped back up on the bars, but that wouldn't be true. Chuck did, and he did it with a smile.
Chuck and I are not athletes and I can safely say that we never will be. We met at the University of Miami rehab facility for patients with spinal cord injuries. Chuck and I had both suffered nerve damage from separate car accidents within a few days of each other. Although we had never met before, we became roommates at the facility and friends for life.
Chucks's damage was far more serious than mine and he knew from day one that he faced an uphill struggle. While he had several vertebrate still intact, he was facing extensive physical therapy to regain even partial use of his legs. His days as an avid tennis player and teenage heartthrob were over, at least for awhile. His parents were heartbroken and didn't know how they would be able to pay for his extended care. But to meet Chuck and not know his prognosis, you'd be convinced he was just facing a few days of simple exercises.
My reaction to my injury was very different. I was a feisty, 16-year-old daredevil who had managed to total my car and my left leg trying to drive in an ice storm. My parents had pleaded with me not to drive that night, but I insisted I'd have no trouble handling the car for the scant three miles between my job and home. It's amazing how wrong I was. Fortunately, fate spared me from permanent damage, but not from excrutiating pain. I broke four bones in my left leg and needed extensive surgery to repair them. I also needed physical therapy to rebuild the lost muscle and damaged tendons. It was doable, I just needed to concentrate and focus on getting better.
I don't know why I was so incredibly angry. I wasn't going to die or lose my leg, but I was still filled with incredible rage that this was happening to me. I had always been a successful person and very responsible. I could handle anything. When I put my mind to accomplish something, I could do it better, faster and more creatively than anyone else. Now I couldn't even go...