I was listening to the radio on my way to work the other day. I was sorta’ lost in thought, singing along absentmindedly when I suddenly realized I was about half way through Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”. I had always liked the song but never really “listened” to it. A strange feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. Suddenly each word began to come alive with a strange power behind it. I was struck with a memory of sitting around with old friends one day talking about the good old days, thinking back to when we were the happiest and life was perfect. Then a huge smile spread across my face as a thought occurred to me. These…these are the days I will be talking about. Now is that time for me, not when I was a teenager. Not when I was younger, stronger and faster. Not when I was carefree and everything seemed fresh and new. It will be “now”. Now is my time.
Flash back with me to 24 years ago. I was finally back on my feet again after “the train incident” and my thoughts were beginning to shift from relearning basic walking skills, which I was feeling confident about, to the idea of pursing other physical activities and sports that I had once enjoyed so much. I had decided the first of these would be learning to ride my bike again with my new body. I stood there in the parking lot of my apartment building next to my bike. It was leaning casually on it’s kickstand as if it were completely oblivious to the turbulent swirl of emotions that threatened to send me back to the safety of my apartment instead of out onto the road leading to the SVCC campus for my first day of classes. My hands reached down and gripped the handlebars and I felt my heart race a bit as I looked up to the campus, about a mile or so down the road and thought of the lessons waiting there for me. They were meant to help me find a new path, a new direction for my new life but first I had to get there.
I raised the kickstand and swung my prosthesis across the bike. It felt heavy and clunky as I placed my foot on the pedal. I felt a mixture of fear and excitement as I pushed forward with my left leg, setting the bike in motion as I placed my left foot on the other pedal. It felt uncomfortable and a little painful as I began the familiar motion. I gritted my teeth and continued out to the road and turned right, heading toward the school and my future. Each pedal rotation brought with it a little pain and my new foot would nearly bounce off it’s pedal with each slight bump I encountered. It was disheartening. As I reached the top of the hill where the campus sat and the bike racks outside the building where my first class would be, I was in despair. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I couldn’t picture how it would ever get better. I had a sinking feeling it would never be as good as it once was.
Now flash forward to this past weekend. I stood up from the trailside stone bench where I had been catching my breath and drinking a bit of water. I took a deep breath as I swung my prosthesis deftly over my bike. I looked down as I felt the now familiar click of my shoe clipping into my new pedals. I thought about how comfortable, how organic and natural it felt now and a smile spread across my face as I pushed off with my left foot and then lifted it to click into its respective pedal. I looked up into the bright blue Arizona sky as I began the final mile and a half downhill run back to the parking area. A huge smile spread across my face as I thought of what was about to happen. Then, it was all business as I poured my very soul into those pedals and raced down the mountain with wild abandon, nearly flying right off the trail as I rounded some of the turns. My heart thundered as the warm breeze kicked up into a wind that seemed to challenge me as I tore through it.
Then, suddenly, I rounded the last turn and found myself locking up my brakes and screeching to a stop next to my car. I dismounted and began to remove my helmet. I stopped and stood there for a moment, looking into the distance and back to that day 24 years ago. I thought about how scared that guy was. I thought about how full of doubt and worry he was. I thought about how disheartened he was that day. Then I thought how very happy I was that he didn’t stop in the face of it all. He kept going. He had faith and he had hope. He led me here. Because he didn’t give up, I found my way home.
You hear people say things like “someday your ship will come in” and “when you discover your purpose” or the most cliché’ of all “when you find yourself”. I always thought these to be platitudes. Comforting but childishly optimistic wishful thinking. Well it seems it just took me 45 years, 25 of those as an amputee, to find myself discovering my purpose as my ship came in but WOW was it ever worth it! Never stop. You don’t know what amazing thing is waiting just around the next turn.
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