This film is about my life as a mountain biker, a champion, a friend, a daughter, and a paraplegic. I hate that last word…but it’s the truth, and this is my life at this very moment.
It was around August 2009 when I started talking to Ricky James and David Bailey about racing the Ironman. Both of them are paraplegics and had finished the Ironman World Champs in Hawaii. David was actually one of the first para-athletes to finish the Ironman in Kona and to show people that it could in fact be done. I had been injured for about two years and in that time I hadn’t done much in the way of exercise. Sure, I had gone to physical therapy and worked hard while there, but not hard enough to work up a sweat - I hadn’t done anything that challenged me! This was a world I had never known because for as long as I can remember I was an athlete and this is how I defined myself.
Physical Therapy to help find the inner athlete again. Goal, the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii.
I had a really hard time mentally and emotionally just getting through my days. All I was focusing on was what I couldn’t do and not so much what I could do. I was feeling soo damn empty inside that I guess I figured if I could just push my body THAT hard then I would physically feel pain, and I wanted that. I also very much needed the validation that I could still compete in an event that would be insanely difficult, even for someone that wasn’t paralyzed. So for me to do it with only my upper body seemed…well, it sort of seemed impossible to me. That’s why I HAD to do it!
The race is a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride or hand cycle in my case, and a 26.2-mile run or for me a race chair push. The course was no different for me than it was for anybody else that qualified for it…meaning there was no special treatment! I had a coach and I had some good insight on what I needed to do to qualify from both David and Ricky.
To qualify for the Ironman World Champs in October 2010 I had to finish the Buffalo Springs half-Ironman in June and do it under the allotted time. It was late October early November 2009 when I started my training so I thought I had tons of time. I started swimming a little and I had been in my hand cycle nearly every day, but I couldn’t start pushing my race chair just yet because I didn’t have it.
Telluride Film Festival where Anne Keller displayed pics of me at Craig Hospital
I’d been training for about a month and was starting to ride longer and longer, but the longer I’d go the more problems I’d have. I was riding further, which meant I drank more, which ultimately leads to you having to find a bathroom, right? (Oh...and yes, I’m gonna go there. I know this stuff is personal, but it’s all part of what I’m going through.) Problem is…getting me out of my hand cycle wasn’t all that easy. Someone basically had to lift me up out of my hand cycle that was only inches to the ground, and carry me into the bathroom. My bladder was so small we were stopping every 30 minutes and I was dubbed "Tiny Tanks!" I’d come to the realization that if I wanted to do the Ironman I had to sort something out.
I started checking around and found out that a couple friends had gone to a doctor at USC and had a special surgery doubling the size of their bladder. Who knew you could even do that? I made an appointment with him to talk over exactly what the operation entailed and of course what the recovery time would be. He told me that I’d be back to training within a month, tops! After meeting with the doctor, researching the Internet and going over the procedure with friends, I felt like I had done my homework and it seemed like it was exactly what I needed to do, so I made an appointment, and booked a date for surgery. To be absolutely clear though, yes, this surgery was going to be extremely helpful in pursuing my Ironman goal, but it would also be a huge positive in my quality of life in general.
On January 7th, 2010, we drove to USC where I underwent the most heinous operation of my life…and that’s including when I broke my back! As they wheeled me out of the operating room I woke up in excruciating pain. I tried opening my eyes, but I couldn’t. It felt like they were glued shut. Before surgery I explained to the doctors that they had to put something under my knees so that it would take the pressure off my back. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if they didn’t the rods in my back would feel like they were snapping in half! Well, guess what? The doctors f#@^&!! up and I was paying the price! I had just had stomach surgery, but my back felt like it was breaking all over again! I was writhing in so much pain that at one point I was stupid enough to say to Elladee and my Mom just to "put me out of my misery!" Yeah...it was THAT bad!
I was only supposed to be in the hospital for 5 days tops, but I was there for ten. I was extremely nauseous from all the medication, I couldn’t eat, and had lost nearly 10lbs from all the vomiting. I felt like death and was in so much pain that I wasn’t going anywhere near a pool, a hand cycle, or race chair. By the time I felt halfway decent enough to begin training it was mid-March, and my dream of qualifying in June and making it to the Ironman was over.
So there you have it…my life during those months in a nutshell. That is what this teaser is all about, but there is more to this story. There is so much more! About a year and a half ago I met Aaron Larocque and that’s when we starting talking about making a film following my life and the lives of other athletes that have been affected by spinal cord injuries. My goal of course was to cross that finish line in Kona, but in the end I never made it because of the surgery that would have allowed me to actually compete in it. It’s crazy how life works isn’t it? Even though I didn’t compete, the process I had to go through will still be a huge part of the story. Maybe not the part that crossed the finish line in Kona, but a part of this journey I call my life.
Whistler Freeriding in 2007 - Sven Martin
First day in Whistler in 2009 - back on dirt, 4 wheels this time.
First day in Whistler - always trying to push things a little harder!