For 10 1/2 years after Rick Marion was partially paralyzed in a 20-foot fall from a ladder, he vacillated between feeling sorry for himself and drinking and smoking — a lot. When he was diagnosed as a borderline diabetic, Jeannie Mueller, a physician's assistant at Surface Creek Family Practice, asked him if he had anything to live for.
Marion was close to tears as he thought about his only daughter who was seven months pregnant. "Yes, I want to be around for my grandson."
That day he went home and drank the last beer in his refrigerator. The date was May 28, 2010. A week later he ran out of cigarettes and he was done with them, too.
Marion was injured in February 2000 when he fell from a 20-foot ladder at West Slope Ag Center in Olathe. He blames the accident on himself — he didn't tell his boss he was climbing the ladder to retrieve the auger from a soy mill bin. When his boss maneuvered a Bobcat into position to accomplish the same task, the bucket knocked Rick off the ladder. His boss blames OSHA, which required the railing that hid Rick from his view.
After the accident, Rick was transported to Montrose Memorial Hospital, then airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital. He had broken his back, damaging his T8, 9, 10 and 12. He had a titanium rod in his back for a year before the surgeon removed it, and a closed head injury still causes occasional lapses in his memory.
Rick spent months in outpatient rehab in Montrose Memorial Hospital, until his insurance finally ran out. "In most cases they say you're going to get back what you're going to get back in a year," he said. "But that really isn't the case because since I quit drinking and smoking and started going to the rec center four days a week, I am able to stand longer than I used to."
Rick describes himself as an "incomplete paraplegic," which in his case means partial use of his legs. "I lost sensation from the knees down, and my feet are cold, tingly and numb," he explains. He can stand up, but he needs something to hold on to. He can't walk without assistance.
"For a long, long time it was why me? Then I finally realized, why not me?" Since joining a spinal injury support group at St. Mary's Hospital, he's come to realize he's more fortunate than many other accident victims.
"I get around pretty good," he says. When he's at home in his ground-floor apartment he sits in a wheelchair because it's easier on his back. Normally, though, he gets by with leg braces and a four-wheel walker. His pickup has hand controls and he can bike to the rec center on his three-wheel tricycle. He builds his strength with the weight machines, takes classes to improve his balance, and plays ping pong.
"When he first came to the rec center, Rick was barely able to come in even with his walker," says Gary West, fitness/aquatics coordinator at Bill Heddles Recreation Center.
"He now bikes, walks from weight machine to machine, plays table tennis and was part of an adventure team! He continues to strengthen his body and mind with a great attitude. Rick is an inspiration to many BHRC members!"
Rick's personal mantra, "You are stronger than that!" reflects his drive to overcome his handicap and to live every day as fully as possible.
Asked if there's anything he can't do, Rick responds, "There's a lot of things that I used to think I couldn't do. Now I know there are things I just haven't done yet."
In May, Rick took part in an Adventure TEAM Challenge near Fruita. Created by World TEAM Sports board member and blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, the challenge brings together experienced adventure athletes, wounded warriors from our nation's military, corporate fitness enthusiasts and individuals with disabilities, including paraplegics and quadriplegics. Each team consists of five members including two athletes with disabilities, one being a wheelchair user. Rick's team was one of 14 pushed to their limits rafting through sandstone canyons, mountain biking along rocky desert tracks and trekking the beautiful red landscape.
Cori McDermott, World TEAM Sports event organizer, said, "Rick showed tremendous heart and soul. He did a terrific job holding his own on some very challenging terrain."
Teams competed mostly against the clock — to finish all stages is an accomplishment in itself — but also to claim the title as the Adventure TEAM Challenge champion. Along the way, teams were challenged both physically and mentally, and learned that innovation and teamwork are the keys to success.
Having a taste of that success has whetted Rick's appetite for putting together a solid team for competition next year. Years ago, he was on a bowling team and he rode his bike occasionally; now he's started snow skiing and biking, in addition to going to the rec center several times a week.
At first, he didn't even want to associate with people in wheelchairs. "I didn't want to be one of them," he says. Now members of the Black Canyon Posse have got him excited about trying wheelchair tennis and basketball.
"I should have got into sports 12 years ago!" he says.
Adaptive sports equipment is key to getting Rick out and about, but it can be expensive. Right now he's got his eye on a three-wheel mountain bike which is custom built for the disabled. He had a chance to try out the model he prefers, the Bomber by Reactive Adaptations, at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte.
The Bomber is described as an offroad handcycle that will carry athletes over the hardest and least accessible single track and double track trail systems anywhere. With financial aid from the Kelly Brush Foundation, St. Mary's, Big O Tire and West Slope Ag Center, Rick has raised nearly 90 percent of the $7,000 he needs to place his order. Since the bike will be adapted to his needs, he can also have it custom painted. Blue and orange are the colors he has in mind for the bike he's already dubbed the "Bronco Bomber." Moab Mania and the Off Road Ruckus in Crested Butte are two events Rick would love to be part of once he gets his bike.
If you'd like to help Rick realize his dream, give him a call at 874-8885.
Jacob Visoky, World TEAM Sports, provided some of the content used in this feature.blog comments powered by Disqus