How many times have you said: “It is too difficult!” – right before giving up on something? I say it too much. But, I am recently home from two weeks of difficult, and have come to some conclusions.
My schedule before the 2010 Canadian Boccia Nationals in Moncton was a warm-up team tournament in London, ON, followed by a week of intense training in Ottawa with my teammate Dale Stevenson. I also arranged through the Esteem Team, (a program that connects Paralympic, Olympic, professional and national team athletes with schools for inspirational presentations) a series of talks in Ottawa. I had training sessions arranged for the evenings.
My schedule was hectic, but manageable. To top things off however, I decided to stay with my brother Mark, who lives on the third floor of a complex that is not wheelchair accessible. Mark had just been out to Vancouver, to visit Dalia and me during the Olympics, and we had a great time. I would park my electric wheelchair in the complex’s garage and climb up the stairs, with Mark’s assistance.
After winning second place at the London Cup with Team Vander Vies, I took a nine-hour train ride to Ottawa, and arrived at Mark’s place. I had a good conversation with Mark’s landlord’s partner – who works for the federal government’s Office of Disability Issues physical accessibility department, and co-owns a property that is not accessible. I then headed off to the downtown YMCA in my wheelchair, as a light snow tickled my face.
My training session with Ontario teammates Dale Stevenson and Kevin Shaw was great, and I headed home late at night as large, wet snowflakes soaked my wheelchair and me. As I drove through slush, and approached Mark’s house, I noticed my chair was sluggish. I met Mark in the driveway, and my chair stopped. I turned it off and on, drove a few centimetres forward and my chair stopped. And stopped.
I was mad – this is not the first time that my wheelchair has not lived up to my lifestyle. I often joke that wheelchair manufacturers design chairs for people to use in shopping malls and hospitals only. As my mind flashed to the 250+ elementary school kids counting on me to lead an inspirational assembly the next day, I realised that this was not a laughing matter.
Snow and slush and mud have gotten into my electronic connections before and caused my chair to stop working. Since it was around 11pm, I decided to let my chair dry out overnight, and see if it would work in the morning.
All night, I could have wrestled with the fear and anxiety of the unknown I would face in the morning. Instead, I mapped out possible actions in my head. If my chair did not work, my talk was in the afternoon, and I would have a few hours to figure out a solution. I would call a repair shop, have them come and have a look, and fix my chair. Mark agreed to go downstairs and check if it was working at 8:30am.
I slept soundly, woke up early, and the verdict was bad. My chair was still not working. I called a repair shop; they arrived two hours later, and had to take my chair to the shop.
At this point I could have said that it was too difficult, and cancelled my talk. The thought flashed in my mind, and uncertainty was threatening to overpower me. In the meantime though, I had called the fantastic manager of the Esteem Team, who had broken his leg a year ago, and purchased a manual chair. He agreed to pick me up, and push me in the manual chair to do the talk.
I would do my talk, and manage hundreds of students without my wheelchair for the first time. This meant that I would need to rely completely on others to help me, and I did.
I started the talk seated in the manual chair, pushed behind a table, and asked the students to imagine what life without arms and legs would be like. Would they be trapped in a wheelchair, have any friends, or be able to play sports? Then I jumped onto the table and yelled: “You don’t know what I can do!” I had the Fallingbrook Elementary students yell that sentence back at me, and then went on with my story from atop the table, and around the floor. Many of you saw the piece that CBC Ottawa did on the talk.
It felt great – but it felt better to know the adversity I had overcome to achieve another great talk. The next day, my electric wheelchair was still not ready, so I repeated the previous day’s adventures, and relied on cab drivers and students and teachers to push me from point to point, at 3 presentations.
I had 600 high school students at Cairine Wilson Secondary School on their feet cheering, and shouting how much they loved boccia! They shared goals, dreams and successes with the entire school and me; they made me an honorary Cairine Wilson Wildcat, and sent me on my way to St. Matthew’s Secondary School with a huge school cheer. There, I spoke to two classes and had a great time sharing my story and the excitement for the upcoming Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
My wheelchair was finally ready that evening, just in time for me to leave Ottawa. Mark and I had a great breakfast the next morning, and I headed to Moncton.
A few days later, I found myself in the call room before my match against Jonathan Poulin. He and I are equally matched, and because of an earlier loss, I was in a very scary situation. If I lost, I would finish 4th and likely not be selected to the national team. If I won, I would win silver. As I prepared, I remembered how I performed under pressure in Ottawa, and although I missed out on some boccia training when I did not have my chair, I did some great training in mental toughness while inspiring hundreds.
I performed under this extreme pressure in Moncton too, and beat Poulin 8 – 1, winning silver.
Next time I find myself saying:” this is too hard!” and wanting to quit, I will remember these two weeks and push harder and farther than I normally would be comfortable. Whatever the circumstance, the results are bound to surprise me.
Have you ever pushed on, when you wanted to give up? I would love to hear about it in the comments.