We’re on a ten lane freeway in California. The sun is shining through the window, hot on my face, Simone is driving and I am buzzing.
I just spent two and a half hours at Project Walk (www.projectwalk.org) trying to move sleeping muscles that have been under the grip of paralysis for months now. We’re not messing around with my upper body – it works after all – we’re just focusing on my paralysed legs, hips and gluts. Today I was lying on my back trying to cycle my legs in the air with the assistance of a trainer, doing assisted squats on a machine, cycling on a standard spin bike, with assistance, using my abs, hips and momentum to keep it going and standing on a vibrating plate with the help of parallel bars and a trainer.
Conventional wisdom suggests that I will not walk again. The script seems to read that I’ve been saved from death, stabilised in hospital and now I will remain in a wheelchair. But I’m not ready to let conventional wisdom determine my future.
Nobody can honestly predict what will happen, but I’m pretty sure that if I spend the rest of my life sitting in a wheelchair there will be little to no chance of me springing up one day and walking. I’ve got to get on my feet, which started in Dublin with my physiotherapist Amanda, and start trying to use the paralysed muscles that have been wasting away for so many months now.
At Project Walk I’m not constrained by conventional wisdom. Nor am I banking on any miracles here. The philosophy is simply to get out of the wheelchair, to work the nerves and muscles below the level of my injury and see what happens. It seems to make sense in principle doesn’t it?.
When I used to row I completed hundreds of thousands of repetitions of the rowing movement in boats, on machines and in the gym. When running with back packs in the Gobi desert we built up tens of thousands of steps with progressively heavier back packs. And when preparing for the South Pole we recreated the cross country skiing motion, day after day for months, dragging car tires on the beach, with weights and pulleys in the gym and on snow in Norway. I was never going to compete in rowing, desert running or polar expeditions by sitting on my ass or lying on my back. And my gut feeling is that I’m never going to stand or walk, even a few faltering steps, if I stay in bed or sit in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
Who knows what will happen and maybe I will never walk a step ever again. But I think it’s worth exploring the boundaries. Let me know what you think – Worth trying? Or a waste of time?