Trial by Water

Paralysis comes in all shapes and sizes. Most able-bodied people, and I count my former self among them, need only see the shadow of a wheelchair before assigning a template–he is sick so he cannot walk– to the disabled. We are not trained to recognize the extraordinary diversity among those afflicted with spinal cord injuries, strokes, or any of the host of other paralyzing agents. A quadriplegic is a quadriplegic, right? Wrong. There are quads who can’t breathe, quads who can’t move, quads with no arm function whose legs work just fine, paraplegics who deal with the opposite, hemis who can use only one side of their bodies, ones who can move but not feel or feel but not move, and on and on and on. Oh and don’t forget about the underlying genetic diversity of the people themselves. Paralysis doles out his curses blindly, dusting some more profoundly than others.

But if there is anything that unites us, it is our yearning for independence. Possibly the greatest evil associated with spinal cord injury is the loss of independence. Sure, not being able to walk or run or swim sucks, but that is nothing compared to having to ask for a cup of water, or allowing someone to tie my shoes. It is in the countless mundane tasks that I notice anew my disability. I will be honest, I hate asking for help. But ask I do. I do what I have to do so that I may do what I want to.

Like waterskiing. Yep. That’s right. To your private lists of what seems impossible you may now add this: I went water skiing this past Saturday on Lake Allatoona in northern Georgia. Thanks to an adapted sitting waterski and the amazing generosity of the Shepherd Center volunteers, I spent ten minutes zooming along the water’s surface, the sharp wind whipping away my misgivings and fears. I had a blast. This was something I feared I would never do again, resurrected by adaptive equipment.

So what does adaptive equipment do in the arena of independence? On the surface, it seems to have suspended my disability long enough for me to enjoy a new activity. But I can never shake away a deep reservation regarding adaptive equipment. For me, using a sit ski or a splint or a lap desk comes with a curious blend of empowerment and belittlement. I appreciate its value even as I despise its need. Yet I still make the decision to use it—I still ask for help. So it appears that pride must sometimes be neglected in favor of inclusion. Perhaps everyone can benefit from this thought. I need to realize that asking for help is not the same as ignoring my own worth; to suppress one’s pride is to recognize that something larger than oneself is at play. Something that Paralysis may never get his hands on.


38 thoughts on “Trial by Water

  1. Jay…..

    Wow! What a blast !!!! Also you are such a talented writer!!! I love reading your every word! Keep it coming!! Cannot wait to see what sporting event is next!!!!! 100% inspiration!

  2. Oh, MY, Goodness Jay!
    That is amazing! How you put it all in perspective! And then to add the video – oh my!
    With your permission I will share this with others! Others who could use to look at things
    in a different perspective.

  3. That’s awesome Jay!! Just talked to your dad yesterday, and he never ceases to make me laugh. He also told me when you are coming back to Indy and I fully expect to see you at least once before you start at Duke! Great blog by the way and I can’t wait to hear more!

  4. Jay,
    YOU ARE AWESOME. You share with all of us your perspective…your honest vulnerability. But you bless us equally as you also share the FIGHTER and the PRIDE in you. The Wehlages are proud to know you and continue to pray for you. God truly is SHARED through you, Jay.

  5. Jay, that is so cool and amazing! I hope it was a blast! You made me feel like a wuss because I just passed on waterskiing the other day, thinking I did not want to deal with the soreness the next morning. Next time, I am definitely going! Glad you’re doing the blog, and, of course, your nerdy former English teacher loves that you haven’t lost your gift for writing.

  6. Jay, I couldn’t help but notice how perfectly the song in the video describes you. You truly are, “The Fighter”. I can’t wait to read more of your blog posts.

  7. Jay – congrats on the water skiing. We send our love and support from Seattle. Good luck at Duke in the fall. Looks like they yet again will have a top talent men’s hoop team. Go IU! 🙂

  8. One side of me wants to tell you that asking for assistance requires real courage. Some people never learn that. The other side of me says, “Give ’em hell, Jay,” for the music accompanying your waterskiing escapade is perfect.

  9. As the skiers returned from their morning ski, I was reading your email. I am inspired by your courage, your ability to write so well expressing your thoughts and as a quilter, the quilt squares by everyone’s name. Look forward to more.

  10. J.A.Y.
    Amazing. Inspiring. Awesome.
    We can’t wait for you to join us at Duke. Hurry up August!!

  11. Jay, I am so excited that you were able to experience this!! What beautiful and inspirational words you have the courage to share with us. Learning to ask for help is so difficult for all of us, and I can only imagine the profound level to which you have experienced this. You really hit it on the nose; we can all learn from this. I know I need to ask for help more often. We all do. Thank you so much for sharing your brilliant insight. Praying for you as always, Jay. I miss you!

  12. I am breathless and have tears in my eyes after reading your blog! Jay, you are an amazing young man! Brice is in survival training this week-I wish he could see this right now! You are an inspiration to so many-thank you!

  13. What a Rush! That experience must have been amazing!!! Thanks so much for sharing it!

    Anxious to read all that you write on your blog!

    Sara Koehler

  14. Jay: you are my hero. What an inspiration you are! That looked like so much fun! Keep up all you are doing. Your continuous prove meant never ceases to amaze me. God bless you!!!

  15. What a difference a year makes. “Victory is yours. Take it.” Jay, you rock like no other!

    Kathy Bannister

  16. so excited you are able to take advantage of the adapted devices and environments that are available. You are an inspiration by meeting the challenges of developing a “new normal”! Best wishes for you at Duke!

  17. My grandfather, Dick Cheesman, who was in bed with MS for decades, would never have dreamed waterskiing was possible. GO JAY! You inspire me!

  18. Jay,

    I’m Aric – the water ski coach who sat in the boat while you skied. Thank you for coming out and experiencing a sport that so many people enjoy. I learned to ski at a clinic sponsored by the Shephered Clinic many years ago and still share your exciment when I’m out on the water. The video is spectacular, and the blog speaks the truth for many people in different walks of life. I look forward to following your blog and best of luck to you at Duke. I hope to see you again at the clinic next summer.

  19. What a great video. Thanks to Shepherd Center for all you do! You are being the hands of Christ EVERY DAY! Jay- what an inspiration. Looking forward to your next entry! God Be With you ! Carol Stephens
    Eddie’s Mom

  20. Awesome stuff J Bird!!! The part about biting the pride for something better really hit home for me. I hope you the best of luck and keep the good blogs coming. Love ya bro !!!

  21. Jay,
    1) I hate being late to the party and you already have 617 followers on your blog. I can barely get 17 freshmen and sophomores to follow along in my class!! Anyway, glad to be part of the blog fan club;
    2) Thank you for the lesson plans. We are charging into blogging at the BCHS journalism program and I already have an incredible example for the kids to follow;
    3) I saw where someone already asked for a signed copy of your first book. May I have the next 10 copies?! I don’t care what it’s about – exquisite writing is a gift and you have the gift.
    4) Duke is so, so lucky to have you. You inspire me daily.
    Peace, prayers, blessings and more: Tracy Luke

  22. I’m Kathleen Broady’s sister – and have folliowed your progress through her. She read me your blog entries tonight and I was amazed and inspired. Truly gorgeous words and such an open and honest portral of your thoughts and feelings. Your writing is so beautiful it’s almost like listening to a song. Keep going Jay…you are gifted and you will inspire many! I plan to follow!

  23. Jaybird,
    Love the blog! You are a gifted writer. Your heartfelt words send powerful messages to all who read them. We will miss you at Shepherd, but know it is the right time for you as you transition into your new life at Duke. Many more exciting times await you! The water skiing video is fantastic! Much love to you and your family, Clare

  24. Jay – you are truly incredible. I love your statement “I need to realize that asking for help is not the same as ignoring my own worth; to suppress one’s pride is to recognize that something larger than oneself is at play.” Those who love you will always help you – and there seems to be plenty of those around!
    Keep posting – I’ll keep reading.
    Tom Meulbroek (Anna Marie’s dad)

  25. Jay, you continue to amaze me. I cannot express my admiration and enthusiasm for this recent achievement! I’m sure that it was an experience that truly touched your heart, which I can relate to on a certain level, because by reading your blog you seem to reach my, among others’, hearts. I wish you the best of luck at Duke and I hope to come visit you ASAP with Ratterman!!

  26. WOOOOOOOOHOOOO!!!! Jay, how amazing you experienced this! I can’t fathom how much this meant and what a monumental experience but I just sit here in awe of you! Always amazing me and inspiring all who know you…so incredibly proud of you!!! I look forward to seeing all your success at Duke and beyond. Keep fighting because you truly are a fighter. Love you so much my latte boy!

  27. Hi Jay, I’m a fellow Duke student who found your blog as I was browsing some Duke websites. That’s a great waterskiing video! You have such an inspiring story and an insightful perspective on life. I’ll be praying for your continual health improvement, and welcome [back] to Duke!

  28. Jay, i count myself amoung the fortunate to have come in contact with you and grown to love you while you were at Shepherd. This blog was amazing!! I look forward to following your journey at Duke, and be assured that I will be praying for you.

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