What It Takes to Be a Happy Paraplegic – The Most Important Virtue

Cosmo wearing sunglasses with his arms spread like Tony Stark from Iron Man 1 with Australian views in the background

Reading time: 5 minutes

No matter how you define happiness, I can tell you what it never is. It’s not doing little. It’s not living a secluded life. It’s not doing what’s easy. It’s not bathing in sulk everyday and feeling pity for yourself.

I’ve heard horror stories, all too common occurrences, of people getting injured – paralyzed of any kind – and then they recluse. They go home and stay inside, depressed and lame. Sure, you have “reasons,” but those usually follow actions and thoughts rather than precede. You’re biased. (don’t make excuses).

I can’t act like I’m an average guy. I remember meeting someone in a wheelchair and they asked how many years it’s been for me, and in fact it hadn’t even been 1. It was like 7 months, and they thought it had been many years.
I went on an airplane just a few weeks after rehab, and right after rehab I came back to uni to live in my same apartment with my mates and survived a greatly cold and snowy winter. I then went to Germany for spring break and somehow was able to shower in bathrooms that were more art than a place to be comfortably naked.

I wasn’t able to do any of it without the relentless support of my friends and family. But they wouldn’t have an opportunity to help me if I weren’t the type to do crazy things.

Essentially, one month after rehab I had skills people are lucky to gain 2 or 3 years after rehab. Flying internationally, going up and down stairs, getting in and out of houses (inaccessible), crazy bathtubs, trains, planes, and a Mercedes van (parked 2 feet from the curb). And I still don’t like green eggs and ham.

It goes without saying, and largely with observation, that a very large factor is the physical ability I have. As a bodybuilder, I already had the strength. After my injury, I only can’t move my legs (everything else is perfect).

With all this in mind, I want to tell you that the most important virtue anyone in a wheelchair can have is courage.

Forget for a moment all the things that were in my favor. I mentioned them so you have all the facts, but none of them matter if I didn’t have courage. I’m not sure where I got it, or how you can get some.

All I know is that it begins with courage.

When I wake up at 5am and head out to the gym in 0F weather, angry winds, and terminal snow. Not only do the wheelchair wheels leave a path, but my feet as well. It’s deep snow, covering my feet at points. I get stuck in the parking lot at least 2 times getting to my car and 3 getting into the gym (and I park right next to the door).

How many people in a wheelchair would do this? How many would just go later?

Yes, it takes more than just courage to do all that. But it begins with courage.

Have the courage to try. Have the courage to brave conditions that any normal person would avoid. Have the courage to learn. Have the courage to stop caring what other people think. Courage to love yourself. Courage to begin again. Courage to initiate. The courage to leave the house. The courage to go outside. The courage to ask for help. The courage to look silly. The courage to risk momentary embarrassment for eternal triumph. The courage to believe that you can do it, you will figure it out. Courage to leave your comfort zone. To push yourself beyond what others expect of you. Courage to persist through hardship. The courage to never give up. The courage. to try.

Have the courage, my friend.

And it shouldn’t be everything I do, but it must be all that you are capable of. Then, you will be happy knowing you’ve lived a life worth living.

Immediate actionable items: Really think about this quote by Churchill, “if you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Summary: To be happy, you need to live. Everyone is met with pronounced adversity. Moving beyond those obstacles, displaying strengths and virtues, having the courage to keep going. That is what it takes to be happy. Not doing what’s easy.

Overdeliver:  I’ve noticed that all it takes is the courage to try and the world will help. People can’t help you out of a hole by getting in with you, but when you get close to the edge, when your hand rises above and shouts, “here I am!” that’s when you’ll feel the warmth and firm grip of a friend to help.

I was never fully comfortable doing the things I’ve done. My first flight was about 2 weeks after rehab, and I was alone. Personally, I truly enjoy being out of my comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely calm on the inside. I have the unbreakable belief that I can figure anything out and achieve anything. Having that belief takes courage in oneself.

The reason I talked about myself so much is that I don’t know how to tell you what to do to gain courage, the type of courage that enlightens your life. However, I can inspire you by telling some of what I accomplished with courage.

Paraplegic Gear/Tools of the Month: Hands-Free Phone Calls

For this month, the problem we face is what to do when getting a phone call. True, you can hold your phone up to your ear, but then it gets difficult to move around.

You most likely have Bluetooth earbuds or headphones, but if you don’t, that’s what I recommend you get.

I use Jabra earbuds whenever I’m in a phone call or in the gym, and my hands are free to move around.

You can also get Apple earbuds, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, or anything else you find online. There are plenty of options.

Wheelchair Modifications: Sliding Feet Solution

Reading time: 1 minute

This will be quick

The footplate on your wheelchair, the metal plate that your feet rest on, can get slippery.

If your shoes slide off, or feet slide off, you can add grip tape to your foot plate.

Be aware that this is basically sticky sand paper and could damage your feet, or make them super smooth.

Check this out: cool grip tape (you’ll have to cut it to size)

Methods for Paraplegics to Get Groceries

Reading time: 2 minutes

When it comes to getting groceries, especially a lot, it can be harder for people in wheelchairs.

Here are a few ways I’ve gotten groceries:

  1. Order pickup from a grocery store through their website/app – I use this method all the time. I can order as much as I want, avoid lines, avoid checking out, avoid having to traverse the isles with the potential of not being able to reach an item, and it all gets put in my car for me. Once I get home, I’ll use my laundry basket to put all the groceries in and then bring it into my flat. This makes it a one trip, super fast, and very accessible way of getting groceries.
  2. Go into the store and ask for help – One time I went into the store and knew that my list was long. I went up to the front and asked if there’s someone who can push a cart with me to shop. Doing that does put them in a position where it’s hard to say ‘no.’ In my case, they said yes and they even brought it out to my car with me. This might be a rare occurrence but you can always invite a friend and buy them a pack of fruit snacks as a thank you.
  3. Shop alone and buy little – when I lived abroad for a few months, I would go to the store with my 31L backpack and only buy what I could carry. This is very possible if you’re single and buying food for one person. I also have a simple diet, so maybe it’s just me.

The first takeaway is that you can find a way to get groceries on your own. The third is that using a laundry basket to bring in food from the car is an amazing idea for literally anyone! The second takeaway is for you to think for yourself 😉

Immediate action: Buy me some doughnuts

Overdeliver: My friend just introduced me to “Tony’s Creole,” it’s a pretty cool seasoning, if you’re into getting on a next level seasoning game.

Summary: when getting groceries, I have three methods: online ordering and picking it up, getting help within the store, or only buying what I could carry.

How to Ski for Paraplegics

Reading time: 2 minutes

Let’s not waste time.

You want to ski, you’re wheelchair bound, and you don’t know where to start.

First step, take inventory of yourself. How much money are you willing to spend? Are you able to take an airline (physically and financially)? How far are you willing to drive? Where do you live? (close to a big ski town?)

If you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll use a sit-ski. Sit-skis are expensive.

Anyone could get a decent pair of skis for about $400, but that won’t get you anywhere if you’re looking to buy a sitski.
Along with owning your own sit-ski comes with moving it around and maintenance, which is only worth it if you live in the alps and ski everyday.

A sit-ski will be similar to a wheelchair, but with no wheels, a ski underneath, and you’ll be using outriggers (poles with skis on the bottom).

The first official step, after answering those questions above, is to find where the popular ski hills are around you. For me, in the USA, I looked at states such as Colorado. It’s important that you find a prestigious ski hill, because along with the popularity comes money, and with money comes the funding for an adaptive program.

In your search, it will be best to search a string of words like so: “adaptive ski program” + “city” or “state” + “ski hill (if you know one)”

The adaptive programs are able to teach you how to ski, let you rent a sit-ski, and have instructors to help you.

No matter what you can or can’t do, you can ski.

There are sit-skis with a single ski and double. You can control the outriggers or have the, attached similar to how training wheels on a bike would be attached. This is a great thing, really. Because if you don’t have enough core control to keep yourself stable, then you have have these outriggers attached and just enjoy the ride.

What do you bring with you?

  • Many layers.
  • Look at this post about pants
  • Then look at base layers
  • Get snowpants
  • Get good winter boots
  • Have a good jacket (or some base layers and a hoodie)
  • You’ll need good gloves
  • And wool socks.

Once you get to the hill, the people helping you should have enough experience to guide you through the rest.

Overdeliver: Here are links to get you started, if you’re in the USA:

How to Date a Paraplegic

Or someone in a wheelchair

Reading time: 2 minutes

People in wheelchairs are just that – people (mostly sitting down).

Think of someone you love, as a friend or otherwise, that isn’t in a wheelchair. Imagine them sitting down. Same thing. This is similar to what I wrote here.

This logic doesn’t apply to everyone in a wheelchair, but for myself, that’s how I think of it.

The largest caveat is that someone in a wheelchair will need more physical. The amount of help will vary to each person’s physical and mental limitations.

To date someone in a wheelchair is not so different from someone not in a wheelchair. There is an added level of complexity when it comes to things such as traveling, sex, going for long walks on the beach, living in a house, and most actions in the physical world (none are impossible).

Beyond that, if you’re able to help with that and laugh at some awkward moments together, then the relationship will be much like any other – loving and supportive.

Immediate actionable items: Nothing, just continue breathing.

Summary: Dating someone in a wheelchair, paraplegic or anything else, is not so different from any other relationship. When it comes to love, it becomes more about the person and less about a little limitation.

Overdeliver:  This can actually be a hard perspective for some people in wheelchairs. It’s harder to avoid an inferiority complex if you’ve been in a wheelchair your whole life or if the person is generally pessimistic. Because I’ve had nearly all my life and experiences out of a wheelchair, it’s easier to have this perspective.

Paraplegic Gear/Tools of the Month: Winterize Your Car

Reading time: 1 minute

For this month, the problem we face is getting into the car after going through snow or rain. No matter which way you put your wheelchair in the car, the wet wheels can be a mess.

Not ideal if you have a nice car or like to keep your car nice.

The solution is not entirely cheap, but wholly worth it.

WeatherTech All-Weather floor mats. These are what I have in my car and I never think twice about putting the cinder covered wheels in my car.


As an overdeliver, I also advise having a rag you don’t care about getting mighty dirty. For when you go to a mates house, you can wipe off your wheels and not get their whole house a mess.

A Big Issue: Allow People to Be Impressed

Reading time: 2 minutes

Then, they asked me if I drove here. A question I have come to expect, or something like it, in all first conversations.

I tell the truth, that I did drive here, and that I can drive. The response is some form of praise.

I was once in a facebook group of people in wheelchairs, which could be useful for you, and most people in the group are optimistic. A few times when going through posts, I would see people complaining about others being easily impressed with them.

If you’re reading this and get irritated by heaps of compliments for mundane tasks, keep reading.

I can understand the perspective, which is getting irritated that people assume so little of those in wheelchairs that the slightest show of independence is a phenomenon.

That’s wrong. It could be an accurate description of the spectator’s perspective, that they assume little, and actions like opening a door are impressive. Getting insulted by that is a true lack of wisdom, thinking beyond the ego, or basic empathy – pick one.

The truth, or closer to it, is that the person who is impressed is, first, expressing their respect and admiration, which should be reciprocated with gratitude.

Second, it’s not necessarily that people’s premonition is that you can’t drive on your own, but they don’t suspect they could. It’s also possible that they know someone in a wheelchair who sulks and does literally nothing, which would have you opening a door seem revolutionary.

It’s all about being capable of understanding other’s perspective. It’s not easy to do, and if you can’t or don’t care to do it, at least don’t get mad about a compliment (and then complain online for me to see).

Immediate actionable items: Go give three genuine compliments.

Summary: I’ve read complaints from people in wheelchairs about getting complimented on being able to do little things. I understand why they get frustrated, but it’s not right because they’re only considering their own perspective.

Overdeliver:  To better understand other’s perspective, which is empathy, read some books about psychology. I’m sure there’s a book about perspectives somewhere.

How to Find an Accessible Company for Paraplegics

Or anyone in a wheelchair or with a disability

Reading time: 1 minute

Finding a job is said to be hard. I don’t think that’s entirely true.

However, when it comes to finding a job that can properly employ someone with a disability, more specifically someone in a wheelchair, then finding a job can be difficult.

I’ve mentioned before [insert link to blog] that the people and culture are very important. No less important is the actual accommodation.

Here, from an organization I am quite involved with, is a list of ranked companies for accessibility.

Introducing Disability IN and their Disability Equality Index

This is just a screenshot of half of the 100%. There is also a 90% and 80% category.

Note that this doesn’t mean a company is inaccessible if it’s not on the list, but that the ones on this list here do very well.

Also, this only concerns the United States of America, which is arguably the most accessible country on Earth. Some of the mentioned companies are global, so look for whichever ones are around you.

Immediate actionable items: If accessibility is a criterion, research these companies and see which ones you could potentially work at.

Summary: Disability IN is an organization with a lot of resources, including the Disability Equality Index (DEI) that will show you how accessible companies are.

Overdeliver: If you’re in college or a recent graduate and within the STEM field, look into the NextGen Leaders program.

The Unfair Advantage of Being in a Wheelchair

Reading time: 3 minutes

This is off the top of my head while I’m taking a break from my studies.

I thought we could brainstorm, well, I’ll be doing all the work, but brainstorm about what there is to do if you’re in a wheelchair.

I’m the type of person who, with curiosity and ambition, wants to endeavor on any opportunity I see fit for me. There are many, and I’ve practiced saying no to a lot of things. 

In the world of business, when starting out, it’s advised to start small. Start very niche. As Seth Godin has said, be a meaningful specific instead of a wandering generality. Do it different, do it fresh, give value.

In other words, we’re in a world full of people. So many people that the greatest human desire – to be remembered – has become one of the most difficult achievements. Being in a wheelchair, or having any respectable adversity, becomes leverage for greatness.

So, what is there to do? 

As you should know, I’m a bodybuilder. A real bodybuilder – competing like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I wasn’t going to be a pro, but I did win all competitions but one.

As a 21 year old, there are enough guys my age that are better than me in every bodybuilding aspect that I would surely lose.
However, there are not many guys my age who are also in a wheelchair that I would compete against who would be better than me. And so, in becoming more niche, I have reduced the competition and increased my probability of winning, which is what matters in a competition. 

With that as an example and keeping “niche” in the forefront of your beautiful mind while reading this, here are some avenues to pursue if you’re in a wheelchair.

These may spark an idea within you, I hope they do.

•  Motivational speaker 

•  Write books about adversity (your experience, lessons, actionable knowledge)

•  Be an advocate for disability and inclusion (D&I) 

•  Work at a company for D&I 

•  Go into politics for D&I

•  Start a blog

•  Start a YouTube channel 

•  Become an engineer to invent tools for D&I 

•  Compete in any sport – think about the Paralympics, where there is less competition relative to the Olympics

•  (If you’re attractive enough) become a D&I model for clothing or products 

•  Start a nonprofit for a disability related cause 

•  Work as a consultant for companies to improve D&I (clothing companies, therapists, corporations, public buildings, etc.)

•  Make a world record as the first person in a wheelchair to do ____ (likely with a sport) 

The list can continue in you beautiful and limitless imagination.

No matter what it is that you’re interested in, you can do something about it. If you want to be an actor, that may not happen, but you could be a playwright. Think broad, find crossroads, then narrow dig deep.

Immediate actionable items: I just read this today when I grabbed a book off my shelf and went to a random page: advice from Warren Buffet – write down 25+ things you want to do, circle your top 5 and focus on those. Completely ignore the rest.

(Book is Grit by Duckworth)

Summary: There are more opportunities that arise from being in a wheelchair than not. Specifically, think in terms of competition. The probability to be the best at what you do has increased because there are less people in the pool of competition when you get more niche.

Overdeliver:  Like mentioned in the actionable items, it is also relevant what Steve Jobs has said, that focusing is about saying no to a lot of things.

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