Sunday, 17 September 2017

Broad Shoulders

Once again, I'm finding it hard to find the time to clear my mind and write. My list doesn't seem to ever get any smaller. I try to knock a few things off, but it's hard to say no...so the list just gets longer.

It's been a beautiful month, but also a crazy one - Bone density (in Toronto), botox (in Owen Sound), IPM (almost here), theforwardmovement.ca (just getting going), Greg's ride (awesome shirts Ella), building my website (thanks Michele), Accessibility Advisory Committee (no comment), cycling strategy (riding along), Adapted Car Show (a Parkwood reunion), physio (when I get there), Invictus Games (watching swimming), preparing to speak (as an RH Ambassador), Cowbell (food+), friends (to walk, roll and bike), kids (back to routine), relationship (getting back on track), family (all going to Greg's ride), writing for the Citizen and writing a book (just getting started). All this is not in any particular order, but as I write I realize that the things that get written on the calendar are the things that are most likely to happen. The others, well they just get squeezed in wherever they happen to fit, and only if energy is available.

Steve and I have been trying to find the perfect time to get out on our bikes together again. He was/is my tri training friend; he's training, I'm hoping. We spent many early mornings sweating on the trainers or lapping up the pool. We finally made yesterday work for a ride.

It was my first time back on the county roads and it happened to be just around the corner from where this journey all began. In the spring the County decided to repave a section of road from Benmiller to Saltford, and as they were already doing the paving, they also paved the shoulder. This was a decision made with the urging of the cycling community - and it is a great first step to providing safer cycling in our county. It's a stretch of about 6km from the top of the hill in Benmiller to the top of the hill at Saltford. We parked so that we wouldn't have to do either of those hills - I'm not ready for them yet.

The wide shoulder makes me feel safe. And the cars all passed with so much space I hardly gave them a second thought. My new vest lights up and Steve has a super bright and large light on the back of his bike - pretty hard to not see us.

The best part was the speed. Theo and I talked about this the other day - how much we like the speed of being on a bike. Yesterday I got up to 31 km/hr which felt awesome. Slow is slow though, I'm sure Steve could have walked along beside me and still been faster. We call that "granny gear". I learned too that I can't ride alone; my chain came off the bottom ring twice - I'm still learning about the gears - and it's out of my reach. I  rely on my riding partner to fix it. I need to spend some time with someone like Rob Buren. He is the first Canadian paraplegic to complete an Ironman. I'm sure he fixes his own chain.

On the drive back to Blyth I couldn't believe how skinny the road felt. Riding a paved shoulder was a whole new experience for me, one that made me question (again) why we pay taxes for gravel that gets dug out of the ground and then plowed into the ditch every winter. Surely that does not make sense? We need to think big picture and long range - the short sightedness of "wait until after the election" has got to change. Make decisions now, ones that make sense so we can all feel a little safer.

I didn't start out to rant about municipal politics (even though it has been on my mind as of late). I wanted to record the feeling of being back on the road. Although I felt so free and fast it reminded me of what I've lost. I've got to find it. Independance. We so take it for granted.


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Nothing to be concerned about; just don't look at the sun!

Just when I thought (again) that I had things figured out, I learn (again) that I don't. But that's okay, because now I have yet another experience to look back on and think "remember when that happened?" Of course it was the first day of our summer vacation and I had a medical "event" unlike any other. It turned out to be just another UTI and the Dr said the symptoms were nothing to be concerned about. Wow. All ended up fine, but it snuck up on me unlike any other. We carried on, this time cottaging not so far away, and it was lovely. I read two whole books (more on that later), Theo played guitar, kids ate all the ice cream they could possibly stomach and most of all we relaxed.

We had a campfire and Theo & kids played on the beach. We visited the cheese factory and museum (well, some of us did).


I loved being able to ride out the driveway and along the flat quiet streets of Point Clark. We went for miles. Getting on and off my bike requires significant help - my knees and feet do not go where they are supposed to and the seat height is quite challenging - but we did it. I also rode up a hill that I thought might actually not be possible. I got to the bottom and actually said to Theo “I’m not sure I will be able to do this!” (which is not my usual thought process). If you know Concession 2 down into Point Clark, then you know the hill. This is the sign at the top of the hill...pictures of hills never do them justice, I thought this was a better image.

I wanted to get on my bike as much as I could in preparation for Greg's Ride - Share the Road's ride for safe cycling advocacy. Team Julie will be there again this year; if you would like to join us it is in Hamilton on September 24th. It's not a competitive ride; there are three distances to choose from. Just click on the link (above) and use the discount code 20TeamJulie17 to be a part of my team. Then send me a message and let me know your t-shirt size. This year Ella created the design!







We were at the cottage when we “watched” the eclipse. I bet no one else had a viewing box made from a catheter box. Theo is very resourceful.

The kids loved go-carting so much that we all went the second day and even I got into the car. They were very helpful there at the Family FunLand and I went screaming (literally) around the track with Theo at the wheel (even though I was trying to steer!). Super fun - but see my ankle? Below the bandage is my first skin issue - I couldn’t feel my ankle bone rubbing against the inside of the car. Pretty minor when I hear about my fellow SCIs with pressure sores on their hips from their wheelchair cushions!


We spent Saturday with Erin at the Listowel Rifle and Revolver Club for “Erin’s shoot” - the big fundraiser to support her biathlon career. The kids and I shot the biathlon targets from 50 meters. I was lucky enough to get to use Erin’s actual biathlon rifle - a sleek and well sighted rifle. I shot clean and had the highest score (Gold medal!) of all participants (novice and club members!) and have been “recruited” to join the club. I suppose it could be my next sport?
What can I say but AWESOME. 

Me and "my girls" Erin Yungblut and Michele Studhalter.
Erin is a biathlete and Michele an Ironman!
Oliver learned some new yo-yo tricks
from our friend Mark. 

Shooting "pron" with the best rifle on the line. 
Being away from home I realized how “use to” I have become to the accommodations we have made to our old farm house. Little things really make a difference, like the placement of bars in the bathroom and smooth floors. The cottage was “accessible” - I could get in and out the doors, but reaching the taps and rolling over carpet - not easy. I have high standards but I guess I need to lower my expectations?

So that is summer! Kids went to camp, Theo worked on the shed, I shopped at all the local farmers' markets and went to physio. I also spent my time writing - for the local paper “The Citizen” (about accessibility in and around the county) and for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO). The SCIO project is rather large, and I’ll give more details when I know them, but I think that it is the beginnings of my first book :)

I was recently reminded that I have not given much of an update of what’s been going on at physio, so check out my recent YouTube video using the RedCord. Standing with my arms!


P.S. With Michele's help I am making some changes to how I post and I will also have my own website www.juliesawchuk.ca - so stay tuned.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Drag lift

This was how I started my morning today. Back to our old ways with just a few bits of equipment added into the mix. Melissa and I used to get up, in the stupid o'clock hours of the morning, and go for a run. I'd meet her in town and we'd head out into the darkness - snow, rain, fog - no matter the weather. Today we re-started that tradition and it was so very satisfying. Even though we met at 7:30 instead of 5:30, it still felt early. I've been needing so much more rest these days that getting up at 7 is early. The other obvious difference was the speed we were travelling. Going downhill Melissa can't keep up with me; going up hill she could crabwalk backwards and still keep up.

My equipment add-ons help. I have my freewheel attached to the front, take off my backpack (too heavy) and my armrests (they get in the way) and add in my ski poles with road tips. I can steer (while pushing) using the poles, but I still have to slow down using my hands on the push rims. It was a good workout for me, and we learned as we went which roads in Blyth need new pavement!

So I was all pumped up when I got home. I'm on my own for the day and was set to drink my coffee, eat breakfast and get some writing done. I've not been particularly happy working at the kitchen table so I decided that first I needed to rearrange some furniture. I wanted to be able to look out the window; I can't sit outside on account of the mosquitoes.

Perhaps you know what is coming? On my own, moving furniture, left my phone on the kitchen table, sliding this table down the ramp into the family room, all on my own? Right. Fell backwards out of my chair. This time I didn't hit my head - hooray for that. It really is amazing how much of a problem solver you become when you are sitting on your bony bum 22" from the seat of your wheelchair.

After a dozen different attempts at lifting myself up I made it back up onto my plynth (with some ingenuity and many little naps in between). I then napped for half an hour and got back into my chair. Yes, I should have had my phone. Yes, I could have gotten to it by sliding up the ramp into the kitchen. Yes, I could have reached the landline by sliding across the carpet (and loosing my pants in the process). But I knew I could do it, and I wanted to try. I think I have some bruises from dragging my hips up onto the plynth but otherwise am no worse for wear. Now that it's noon, and having had my second workout, I can start my day.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Flashback

I found myself in a bit of a time warp yesterday. It was a Parkwood physio day so I was walking in the Exoskeleton around the gym. A woman in the tilt-bed (helps retrain the circulatory system) caught my eye. I had not remembered seeing her before - I pay attention to things like that - she was obviously an inpatient. I have a presence in that gym when I am up and walking. People stop and look, often in wonder, and have a "wow" type of reaction.

After a while I stopped for a water break right where she was sitting in her wheelchair, waiting to go back up to her room. She asked me if it was my first time using the Exo, so I explained that I had been walking in it for just about two years. She asked me how my accident happened and as I proceeded to tell her, her eyes got bigger and she whispered "same as me".

I'll call her Joy. Joy was hit by a car while she was riding her bike. Her's was a much more traumatic collision than mine though, more damage to her body, higher injury level, paralyzed one side of her vocal cords and it all happened while she was in the U.S., on her dream holiday, post retirement. Why does life have to suck like that?

I asked Joy if she would like me to come upstairs and have lunch with her and she said that would be nice. Then she told me what room number she was in. It was my old room, my old bed. So I prepared myself, in my head, about what it would be like to go up there and see that space again. It hadn't changed. She, like me, was the youngest in the room. That's hard because it is so helpful to have someone to talk to, someone who is in the same situation as you.

So we ate our lunches together and shared our stories. "It get's better" I told her. Because it does, but I remember very well the three months that I spent in that room, in that bed, looking out the window. Time just crawling by. I excused myself when her daughter came to visit.

Remember, Joy, it only gets better.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

It's a pity you are handicapped.

It's not hard to recognize certain facial expressions. One of those is pity. I was at the market in Goderich yesterday morning (somehow managed to get there between bouts of pouring down rain) and was just heading back to my car - lap full of goods - when it started to rain again. When I left the house on my own this morning I knew full well that I might get wet - but so what? It's just water, and aside from a wasted bit of blow drying, what was the big deal? I wouldn't get cold and eventually I would get dry. I had arranged my produce (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, beets and cantaloupe) overtop of the three loaves of bread (yes, a full load) so they would not get wet and had one more stop to make that was right where I had parked. I was counting on the last vendor to just put my two cauliflowers and tomatoes right into the car - it's nice to know the farmers.

As I was making my way to the car, I caught a look. I did not know her, but being that this was Goderich, it was possible that she knew me. However, we had never met before. Although it was just a glance, I am sure that it was pity. And I am not interested in it. Say hello, give a wave and a smile, make a comment "here it comes again" or "haven't we had enough?" I was not complaining about the rain, in fact I boldly had left my raincoat in the car! It is not possible to wheel and hold an umbrella, but I left the house knowing full well that I would likely get wet. I made that choice, to challenge to myself - get to market, shop, load the car (ingenious use of my slider board here) and get on to the next thing - all on my own. And so I did, just a bit damp, no pity required.

So what then, was the word? Handicapped. Used by a man whose own father had a disability. Please, let us just let this word go. It is offensive when used as an adjective. People with disabilities who fought to control their own destiny also fought to use the word disability - rendering the word handicapped obsolete. So let's stop using it. You have to decide to make that change, just like you choose to stop swearing in front of your kids when then started saying things back to you that you didn't like to hear. The apple never falls far from the tree - ask any teacher this after parent-teacher interviews. Kids learn ignorance at home.

Language changes, there are many examples I could give, but just remember people first. I am a person who uses a wheelchair. I am not "in a chair", I use a chair. In implies that I never get out. I do; often. I sleep in a bed, drive my car, stand and swim. All without my chair. I am not disabled, I have a disability. I use a wheelchair parking pass and accessible bathrooms.

I ride a hand bike.

And I paddle a kayak.


Go ahead and apply a handicap to your golf game or your next horse race. But don't apply it to me. And save your pity, no one needs it anyway.



Saturday, 8 July 2017

Sesquicentennial Celebrations

Not only are we celebrating 150 years since confederation, we are also in the 100th year since women "gained" the vote in Canada. Lisa Thompson, Huron-Bruce MPP, invited 150 women from the region to celebrate these two events at the Assembly of Remarkable Women in Huron County.
Lisa Thompson, Huron-Bruce MPP;
co-host of the dinner
Karri-Anne Cameron - Community Activist,
Chair of the Building Bridges Campaign

Debbie Green - Educator,
Principal F.E. Madill

Marion Studhalter - Role Model;
Current Queen of the Furrow - note the crown!
150 women were recognized as Mentors, Community Activists, Educators, Politicians, Authors & Publishers. I had dinner with many of my friends from education, sat across the table from the first female chair of the IMP and met a woman who herself was turning 100. It was wonderful to see so many of the "movers and shakers" from Huron in attendance, but by no means were they all there. How could you possibly find all the women in this area who have done so much for their community? Many "fly under the radar" doing good for those who don't even realize it. 

I was recognized as a community activist, but really, I am just getting started. I see making more change in my future.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

A different perspective

23 months ago a man, driving a car, caused a collision. It was just after 9am, he was returning home from dropping off a couple of videos in town and had stopped to get coffee and a sandwich. As he drove along the straight stretch of road that he had driven a thousand times before he felt and heard, more than he saw, something hit his car. He thought, at first, that a deer had come out of the ditch and ran into the side of his car. As he looked into his rearview mirror, instead of a deer what he saw was the blur of colours, a person, flying into the ditch.

He pulled over as quickly as he could and went back to see if this person was okay. As he got to her he saw she had a helmet on, still attached to her head. He looked and saw a bike, white, about 20 feet ahead. She was conscious and trying to get up, she was asking for his help. He said, "Oh my God. I'm so sorry. I didn't see you". She kept trying to get up, pushing with her arms. Blood on her face. He did his best to sooth her and told her to just lay still. Another man arrived and said he had called 911. An ambulance was on it's way. Someone else stopped and offered first-aid. Thank God.

In what seemed like an eternity, an OPP officer arrived. The ambulance came and put the lady on a stretcher, loaded her into the back of the truck and drove away with lights and siren. Now, all the attention was on him. He felt like he was going to be sick. What had happened? What did he do? What did he remember? No, he did not have his phone. Yes, he was alone. They looked at his car. There was a white streak and scratch on the front right panel and the passenger side mirror was smashed. There was a hot coffee in the cup-holder and a half-eaten sandwich on the passenger seat. No, he had not been drinking the coffee - it was too hot. Yes, he had been eating the sandwich.

He sat in the back of the cruiser while the officer spoke to him. What had just happened? How could this be? How could he have not seen this person, a woman, on a bike? He had not seen her.

After that it was all a blur. He doesn't remember how he got home, or what he told his wife and kids. Everything would be different now. He could not look people in the eye. Could not even look at himself in the mirror. He had caused irreparable harm; damage that could not be undone. He would remember this for the rest of his life. Every day he wished he had the courage to look her in the eyes and say he was sorry; longing to be forgiven.

He had not seen her.

-------

You are forgiven.