The Strength To Carry You Forward

It took every ounce of who I am to tackle this training and quite frankly, I’m terrified. I don’t scare easy, I don’t baby myself, I don’t sugar coat reality, and I surely don’t quit.

Now home from Colorado, I’m reflecting on meeting my awesome Warriors to Summits teammates, exploring the beautiful landscape we were lucky enough to visit, and overcoming the struggles that at times convinced me I was crazy and certainly couldn’t tackle the day to come.

I couldn’t sleep (mostly because I couldn’t get out of my head), couldn’t eat (nausea overcame me most times), struggled to drink enough (hard to get used to, but I learned, the hard way of course), and was seemingly always behind everyone else.

I know I have work to do to get squared away with my physical challenges and knew this would be tough. However, the reasons I signed up for this formidable endeavor are slowly melding into a much different animal than what I had initially thought.

As a Veteran, an EMS provider, and former firefighter I feel a strong connection to memorialize what we lost on September 11th. Not just the 343 brothers and sisters in fire service that ran in when everyone else was running out, but all the casualties that day. Those with health complications who died as a result of their service and those that struggle to live today. To those who answered the call to protect our country from terrorism, and the men and women already willing and able to serve and protect at a moments notice. Long ago I packed up my combat boots and served without incident. EMS was my outlet to continue that service and it changed my life forever.

9/11 is symbolic and resonates deeply within me. I jumped at the chance to make a difference. I love adventure and the outdoors, as well as pushing myself as I feel like I always have something to prove. Prove to myself mostly. Prove that I’m not broken. I am the same. It’s still me. But I’m not who I was. I am different now. I can ignore it and compensate all I want, but it won’t change a damn thing.

I try to micromanage my needs; continue to have anxiety about what I can’t predict, and constantly analyze what I could’ve, should’ve done better. Again, it doesn’t seem to matter in the moment that I just need to do it. So how the hell do I change? Clearly what I thought was the monkey on my back is actually the elephant in the room everyone acknowledges but me. It seems the monkey (while missing a limb) is secondary only to the elephant (that constantly fills my head). Theoretically speaking, if I can eradicate the elephant; I wonder if the monkey could at least teach me to like bananas.

This past week a totally cool thing, ok well, LOTS of cool things, happened. But one really struck me for whatever reason. Me and my teammate Mark (who is also an amputee, a rock star of an AK I might add!) had a hard time scaling the steep pitch of slushy snow covering the first little “bump” of the mountain. Our expedition leaders recommended that everyone “kick-in” so-to-speak, and make footholds for us to utilize as we trekked upward.

It worked beautifully with much less effort required for both of us. Later on, I commented to another teammate (kind of sarcastically, because well, that’s who I am) that the footsteps reminded me of that Jesus footprint poem. The one that shows footprints in the sand and questions when one set of footprints disappears. In the poem, Jesus responds that the times when there is only one set of footprints is when he was the strength carrying you forward.

Now, I’m neither a deep nor a very religious person, but I do believe the universe speaks to us. I think back at that moment and damn skippy if each and every one of those teammates kicking steps in that snow was not carrying us both forward. Pretty freaking special if you ask me!

Throughout this first training, there were times that defined our team, and times that questioned it. Personally, I have no question now that we are a team and I’m extremely thankful for everyone’s help even when I lack invocation to ask for it (I will work on that).

Lastly, I met a fantastically amazeballs guy on this trip, who not only challenges life and conquers mountains blind (nickname aka “Super-Blind”, perhaps I will get him a cape), but happens to carry a bag of human feces down a mountain like nobody’s business, and he said “Think about alchemy and what it means to you, here, as a team.” I’d like him to know that while the process of transforming those little steps that helped two amputees climb a mountain may look like just steps in the snow to most, for me, it was so much more.

How’s that for Alchemy, boss?