A New Take on a Hill
tom walsh


I was running a long run last week, coming from the town I work in back to the town I live in, about twelve miles, enjoying the 38-degree weather and thinking about all sorts of things, just kind of letting my mind settle.  I just needed to be out there, I thought, to stay in shape and to relieve some of the stress that has been a major part of my life for the last couple of months.  Little did I know that there was another reason that I was out there that day.

One of the hills that I face on the run home is almost a quarter of a mile long, and at least an 8 or 9% grade*.  It's a monster.  I love it because it challenges me, but the fact is that almost no one else likes it at all.  It's just one of those things that people avoid whenever they can if they're on foot or on a bike, unless they're going down.

But as I approached the hill this time, I saw a van parked at its base, the side doors open, and nobody around.  I was still about a quarter of a mile away, and I wondered why someone would have left their vehicle there, untended.  The I saw someone come down the hill in a wheelchair, stopping at the van.

It didn't take a genius to realize that if the guy was coming down the hill in a wheelchair, he had to have gone up the hill in that wheelchair.  

A hill like that, believe me, is no simple task for someone using only their arms to propel themselves uphill.

In just a few seconds, I caught up with him.  "Quite the hill, isn't it?" I asked.  "Yes, it is," he replied.  I stopped and introduced myself, and he set the brakes on his chair and stopped for a chat.

It turned out that he had been paralyzed in a logging accident, and that he comes to that hill on purpose, three or four times a week, to do the hill three times to keep himself strong.  He doesn't want to be a burden on anyone, and he doesn't want to use his paralysis as an excuse for not being able to do things that he feels he should be able to do, paralyzed or not.

He isn't bitter about his physical condition, but quite realistic about it.  He knows what he can and can't do, and he knows that there are some things that he'll be able to do better if he works at them.  That's why he was at the hill--he knows that building his arm strength is important not just for moving around in his wheelchair, but also for doing other things around his home without losing his strength.

One of the things that seems to pain him the most is the way that people who aren't paralyzed don't seem to appreciate the gift of their bodies, the way that so many people abuse their bodies by not using them, not keeping them in the kind of shape that will keep them functioning properly.  He knows what he's lost, and it makes him sad to see people who haven't lost their ability to move around not appreciate it at all.

I'd love to share his name, but I didn't ask permission to do so.  One thing I do know is that I'll be in touch with him again, as it truly is inspiring to be around someone who has lost so much, but who looks at his glass as more than half full.  He's a great balance for all the people who have so much that they don't appreciate, and who always see their glasses as far less than half full.

I hope that if I ever have to deal with a disability of the sort that he's dealing with, that I'm able to do so with even half the spirit and energy that he devotes to keeping himself fit and happy.  If such a thing ever did happen to me, I'd like to think that I'd be right there with him, racing him up that hill in my own wheelchair.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*An 8% grade gains or loses eight feet for every hundred feet of distance covered; a 9% grade gains nine feet, etc.


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