Opportunities: Why We Matter

Here at PEMBA, we’ve been examining opportunities for #OIBIZ these past few months. We started with our challenge to get more women outdoors, and we’ve heard how we can get more kids outside as well. The truth is that there are many, many communities that we can engage in order to get more people involved with recreating outside. In doing so, we can do more than just grow #OIBIZ; we can change lives. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our guest post today. Our friend Malcolm Daly of Paradox Sports tells us what it’s like to wake up one day with your world suddenly changed, and how that doesn’t change who you are. In fact, if anything it makes you focus on what’s important to you. Check it out…

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Frank was riding his bike home on a frozen winter night when his wheels went out from under him as he crossed a set of railroad tracks. His head hit the pavement and he was knocked out—right in front of an on-coming train. He’s now missing his right leg and the front of his left foot

Christa was volunteering for a literacy program in Haiti when the earthquake hit. The building collapsed on her foot and it had to be amputated.

Robb went to the hospital with a severe pain in his left foot. He woke up three weeks later with both feet amputated and the necrotizing fasciitis eating away at his hands.

Kate had osteosarcoma when she was 13 and they had to take her knee. In the US, they chop it off and give you a mechanical knee and foot. In Canada, Kate’s home, they perform a rotation-plasty surgery where they amputate above the knee and below the knee. Then they sew your shin bone to your thigh bone, backwards, and what was your ankle is now your knee. It looks kind of funny but Kate is as mobile as you and I are.

Mike fell down the Snake Coulior on Mt. Sneffels, slammed into the rock at the bottom and broke his back. The doctors told him he’ll never walk again.

Chad had an IED go off under his Humvee in Iraq, blowing the 3-inch thick steel blast plate upward with enough force to crush his foot from the bottom up.  Nine months and 17 surgeries later it was easy to make the decision to amputate: He knew he wanted to climb again and he knew he could do it as an amputee but not as a cripple.

Quinn was avalanched off a mountain in China and ended up with frostbite so severe they amputated both feet and all 10 digits. The doctors split the paddles that were what was left of his hands into lobster-claws so he could dress himself, train his horses and swing an ice axe.

Beth broke her neck in a car wreck when she was 18. She’s got no feeling or function from her stomach down. Then she got married and had three kids. Then she got divorced and raised those kids on her own. While all that was going on, she qualified for the US Paralympic Team in Nordic Skiing. Imagine that!

These are the stories of just some of the amazing people who call themselves Team Paradox. We come from all walks of life, from all parts of the country and from any country. We’re your bus drivers, graphic artists, dentists, food servers and park rangers. We’re all around, but we’re not a very big group. Hell, if we all got together and outfitted ourselves at a large specialty store we’d hardly blip the monthly sales, so why are we important?

Human Powered Outdoor Sports: Our Choice

Paradox Sports sprung from a burning desire to engage the world in a challenging, communal and meaningful way. When a paraplegic scaled the 3,000-foot walls of El Capitan and a blind man climbed to the top of Mount Everest we were all forced to recalibrate our perception of the possible. In the process of reexamination we discovered something: what we consider normal—climbing, surfing, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, and kayaking—was actually thought of by many as risky, daredevil behavior, and an impossible activity for the “disabled”. We respectfully disagree. These are the sports that define us and get us out of bed in the morning.

Participation in these human powered outdoor sports is self-motivated, committed to personal achievement, and accepting of all the consequences. We engage in these sports independently but with the unconditional support of our community. Finish lines are personally determined, the clock never ticks, and scores are not kept. These sports focus our attention, challenge us physically, mentally and spiritually, and offer opportunities for self-expression. Being outdoors grounds us in a world far removed from cell-phones, email, and traffic jams. It allows us to succeed and fail—again and again—with no repercussions other than knowing that each time we get further along in our pursuit of normal.

We are in this for the same reasons you are

You—presumably a normal—undoubtedly hear the ring of familiarity in the above words. The same things that inspire, engage, challenge and draw you in are the same things that bring us in. That burning desire is really just us wanting to be normal: we want to do the things we did before our trauma, with the people we did them with, when we want to do them. Is that the new normal? I don’t know, but getting to normal is our biggest challenge.

How to talk to a gimp

Imagine that a girl rolls into your store in a wheelchair. What are you going to do about it? First, I’d suggest that you approach her as you would any customer. Whatever is the customary greeting in your store, use it. She’s not so different for you. She just can’t get up. Oh yeah, she can’t get up. That means she probably can’t see over the rounders and fixtures that so nicely display your goodies. Ask if you can help her find anything. If your store is crowded, like most specialty stores, she might not be able to get her wheelchair between the fixtures. Offer to bring something out to her. Curious about what happened to her? Rather than say, “what happened to you?”, ask her how she gets around in that canoe she’s looking at. Pretty soon you’ll get the whole story. And, just like any normal, if she wants to be left alone, she’ll tell you that she’s just looking.

How about that kid with the prosthetic leg? First of all, respect the code. It used to be that all of the prosthetics looked like mannequin legs: you know, covered in that orange rubbery, horrible, hospital-looking stuff. Nowadays you’re more likely to see carbonfiber, titanium and shock-absorbers than pink/orange rubber. If the prosthetic is exo-skeletal and on display, more than likely the wearer doesn’t mind talking about it. Ask him something mundane like, “how did you lose your leg?” or get clever and say, “Ouch. That looks like it hurts. What happened to the other guy?”

If, on the other hand, the prosthetic is all dressed up like a mannequin, it’s best to stay silent. They probably don’t want to talk about it. (This is much more common in older people.)

Funny story

When people accidentally step on my real foot, I’m lucky if I get a perfunctory “Opps, sorry”. When they step on my prosthetic foot however, the one that is all carbon-fiber and titanium, all hell breaks loose. “OH MY GOD! they’ll shout, I’m so sorry. Here… can I get you anything? Sit down. OhMyGOD! I can’t believe I did that. I’m sooooo sorry.”

And the nonsense continues.

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Malcolm Daly is an out-of-shape, middle-aged, post-cardiac, multiple amputee with a brain injury. Aside from that, he started rock climbing in 1968 during a summer trip to the Tetons and started out on a path to a career in the climbing world. He got his first job in the outdoor industry in 1975 when he got his first job in a climbing shop while attending Colorado State University (BS, 1978). He has worked as a sales representative, shop manager, forest fire fighter, climbing guide, waiter, cook and marketing director for a large backpack manufacturer. In 1991 he founded Great Trango Holdings to manufacture innovative climbing gear and women’s activewear. Malcolm is a founding board member of the Access Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and served on its board for 13 years. He is also one of the founding board members of Paradox Sports which provides inspiration, opportunities and adaptive equipment to the disabled community, empowering their pursuit of a life of excellence through human-powered outdoor sports. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Paradox Sports. He can be reached at mdaly@paradoxsports.org, or at 303/909-6067

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