After breaking my collar bone while mountain biking on Porcupine Rim Trail, Moab, Utah
I thought I’d tell you about my first visit to the House of Pain, or the hospital, as it is commonly known.
I was two years old. My parents had taken me out to dinner. When I got home, I was so ecstatic from our special event that I danced and spun in the living room and split my eyebrow open on the corner of the coffee table.
My parents rushed me straight to the hospital where I got my first set of stitches. Now, many years older than that wide-eyed little girl, I have limped or been wheeled down countless hospital corridors. Sometimes I have felt that the hospital, that “heartbreak hotel,” is my home away from home.
One time I came out of there looking like a pirate wearing an eye patch because our cat had gouged my eyeball. I’ve hobbled out of there on crutches after a couple of knee operations, the most recent one a Total Knee Replacement last September. I’ve left a set of perfectly good tonsils and a thyroidal cyst at the House of Pain. After a motorcycle crash on the streets of San Francisco, the ER staff pinned my elbow back together. Several years ago, while driving down Fairmount Avenue in my Easter-egg purple VW bug, a man who should have been wearing his glasses pulled out right in front of me. When we crashed, my lower teeth went right through my chin. A doctor by the name of Goodhead stitched me up that time. I’ve had one or two mountain-bike crashes that left their marks, including a broken wrist. And once I fell off a 500-foot cliff, coming to a landing 30 feet below where I fell off. After that one, I knew I was blessed to be alive.
I could use my visits to the House of Pain as excuses to feel sorry for myself. But there’s something my dad always used to say: A man complained he had no shoes and then he met a man who had no legs.
Let’s take a look at someone who set the world land speed record of 152 mph on a bicycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1986. My long-time friend and hero, John Howard, is a three-time Olympian and Ironman who has raced bicycles most of his 48 years. He has suffered a few crashes. Once he was transported by Life Flight to the House of Pain where he was stitched back up and his jaw was reconstructed. Even after this, as soon as he had recuperated, he got back on the horse, so to speak, and came back with a vengeance.
We all know of a man who once was able to leap off buildings in a single bound, who could move faster than a speeding bullet: Superman. Christopher Reeve. One day back in 1995 he was riding his horse in a sporting event in Virginia, galloping at high speed toward a jump with which he was familiar and confident. With his mind set to go the distance, his horse came to a sudden stop, and Reeve was thrown off the horse.
Five days later, he awoke in a hospital in full body traction. His spinal cord severed at C2, he had lost all movement from the lower neck on down. And initially, he was unable to speak. At first, thinking he would be a burden to his family, he wanted to die.
Reeve’s injury came about doing something he loved: sports. He was a skier, ice-skater and vigorous tennis-player. His version of a wrap party after filming the first Superman was to skipper a sailboat from Connecticut to Bermuda. For years, he often flew a turboprop solo across the Atlantic. Once he was injured in a parasailing accident off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. He always pushed himself -- and sometimes others -- to squeeze the maximum human experiences out of life.
That same indomitable human spirit propelled his quest to restore movement. In public appearances after his accident, Reeve expressed appreciation for all that he had. Instead of complaining about his bad luck, he continued to celebrate the mystery and preciousness of life. With all that he lost, his was the legacy of a “rich” man who gave by sharing his story with all of us.
Some people have never hurt themselves, never paid a visit to the House of Pain. But I’d rather continue adventuring and pushing my limits with a risk of injury than confining myself to a safe and boring life.
I want to thank John Howard, the late Christopher Reeve and all the others who have fallen and gracefully risen to face their adversities. Their exuberance for life continues to inspire and heal me. And their brave spirits are always with me whenever I climb back on my horse.