It all started with Tom. He was the recreation therapist at the rehabilitation facility I was living at. He was also a complete C5-6 quadriplegic and roughly 20 years older than me. I was 19 when I knew him, which put him around 39 years old, and despite nearing 40, Tom by far was the most independent and strongest quadriplegic I had ever met.
And when I say the most independent, I mean he didn’t require any PCA care for starters. He did all of his cares on his own, crazy, and he shrugged it off whenever anybody was impressed. To sum him up, he wasn’t about to let his daily life routine alter more than it already had, but he is by far one of the most stubborn quadriplegics I have ever met (including myself and that is saying something).
On top of not needing any caregivers, Tom also pushed himself in a manual wheelchair, and this was long before the push-assist technology came on the scene. He was a beast. Huge shoulder muscles and biceps. Keep in mind, he also cannot move any triceps in his arms, which means all of the feats he was accomplishing were blowing my mind (especially since I had tried many of the tasks he was before when I was in rehab and failed miserably).
Probably one of the most impressive things Tom did was drive an old-school Monte Carlo, which he transferred himself into without any problems morning and night for years. He’d use his upper body and pull himself into the car with sheer brute force. He also was married and had kids on top of all this physical feats for his level of spinal cord injury.
But as inspiring as Tom was, he also made me doubt myself. I’m always wondering, no, doubting if I could be doing more in terms of my daily life, and gosh darn it he was the living embodiment of this. He tried to show me how to transfer using his own method, but since my torso is so long and I don’t have any muscle control, his tips really weren’t possible in my world.
But I’ll never forgot him and all the things he could do, and all of these years later, I still haven’t met someone as strong as he is for his level of injury. I do know that since I’m a female, by my very nature I do not have the same amount of strength in my arms and shoulders, which is why most men are stronger than women at the same level of injury. This isn’t always the case though. Some men do not become as strong as they could..
Don’t think however this will stop me from trying. I think with the right amount of hard work, a woman can be nearly as strong as a man, especially when they both have a spinal cord injury. It just takes a lot of strength training. I will warn many of you out there though – make sure you are careful with your shoulders. Even though Tom is a certifiable “Super Quad,” in order to accomplish many of the things he was able to he had to put a large of strain on the shoulders.
I learned a valuable lesson from meeting him however – it’s never a good idea to compare yourself to other quadriplegics. You must judge everything with it’s risk and reward, and by your own abilities. Each of us are on our own journey. Just remember, remind yourself that even though you may feel yourself competing with other wheelchair-users, rein it in. You are on your own path so embrace it.
Do you ever feel intimidated by the Super Quads of the world?
Photo courtesy of Flickr