I hung-up the phone with a client and began scribbling down a note in my calendar when I noticed the date: Friday, January 23, 2015.
I sat back in the chair, in my nice quiet office on the third floor, and looked out the window at the Wet Mountains to the west. I took a deep breath, and in a flash, I was gone.
My vision is foggy. I can only faintly see the wood ceiling high above.
“Muck…Muck…Talk to me…”
My head is cold from laying on the ice. I weeeez a breath out and quickly realize I can’t feel my legs. I panic but can’t move because I’m strapped into the stretcher. Which makes me panic even more. I finally take a deep breath and slowly, after a few seconds, my toes wiggle.
On Sunday morning, January 23rd, 2000, a very large high school hockey player skated at full speed and slammed into me from behind, launching me headfirst into the boards, crumpling my spine. Darkness.
After the stretcher and ambulance ride and xrays and hospital bed the doctor came in and exclaimed:
“Well, it’s your lucky day. Another 2 or 3 millimeters and you wouldn’t be walking again.”
Two or three millimeters. The fracture in my T4 vertebrae came within…<<calculating>>…1/8th of an inch of cutting my spinal cord.
People sometimes look at me blankly/shocked/horrified when I answer their question “You’re a runner? What’s the farthest you’ve ran…?” And I don’t always have a decent, stock answer to the inevitable follow-up of “Why?!”
There are a lot of reasons I started running long. The Silence. Clarity. Sweat and effort. The wind at the top of the mountain. The feeling of flying on the way down. Pain. Rest. I love it all. But when I sat back in my chair this morning at work, something bubbled-up from the subconscious. I run because…I can. Because for 7 or 8 seconds, when there was only a void in my legs and feet, an alternate storyline began unfolding.
The story didn’t include hockey anymore.
No more driving.
No college (at least not right away).
No more golf with Andrew, Matt, Dad, Grandpa.
No Colorado. No Alamosa.
Whether we choose to think about it or not, each moment, however insignificant-seeming; each decision or non-decision; each action or reaction—each moment effects the rest of our life and in a broader sense, everyone else’s life too. Each moment is as significant as the last, and the next. But some definitely stick out more than others.
Each time I recall what happened 15 years ago I get a small but sharp pain in between my shoulder blades. It’s happening right now as I type. It helps me remember.
It’s natural, right? Wondering what life might have been like had my vertebrae cracked just a bit more. 2 or 3 millimeters…that ain’t much. The positive side of me believes that, regardless of what the storyline might have been, I could and would have been just as happy and satisfied as I am now. The alternate universe would have been just as hilarious/painful/awkward/joyful/fulfilled as this one. I’d still have been supported by an amazing family, and still would have been a part of the most privileged/spoiled demographic in history. Yeah…things would have been fine.
Remembering events like this feels important. I know that everything can and does change in an instant. Every instant. The story continues to unfold, but never the way you expect. Ever.
Which simply brings me back to the present moment and the only life I’ve known. My god it’s been a great one. I am so damn lucky. If the sun explodes tomorrow, I got nothing to regret or wish I woulda done or said or tried or…
The mountains have a thin white covering after yesterday’s snowstorm.
I wonder how long it’ll take (my legs) to summit St. Charles Peak on Sunday.
I am grateful.