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.

Foot care every paraplegic needs to know

Reading time: 4 minutes

This is a textual expansion on from my YouTube video.

For most people in a wheelchair, feet become something ignored and a vulnerable point for injury.

There are a few things that sum to make foot care so important.

Sitting down and not walking means that the feet don’t move much and get poor circulation, if you can’t move your feet, then it’s even worse. And to add to that, if you can’t feel temperature and you’re out in the cold, you could get frostbite without knowing.

Here are some of my experiences and quick tips concerning foot health.

Stinky feet – as a guy, I just let the shower water wash my feet, but once I was in a wheelchair, I noticed that I was getting runners foot or whatever it’s called. Tennis toes? Basically, they were getting ugly and bad. I found out that the solution was to wash my feet, scrub hard and get the dead skin off and always wash between the toes. This vastly improved the hygiene health of my feet.

Toe nails – with my Greek feet, my toe nails grow out kind of weird, and with not being able to feel exactly how each of my toes are doing, I could have a nail too long and that could get messed up in a shoe, or I could get an ingrown toenail and be hurting without knowing it. I make sure to keep my toenails at a rather short length.

Pressure sores – it’s very possible to get a pressure sore or something like that in between your toes! When I first came home from rehab, I slept on my side, always my left side and this in turn had my left foot with some weight on it and pushed my pinky toe into the toe next to it. On that toe is now a purple spot, which to me seems like I just need to drain some blood out of it and less of a pressure sore. Anyway, if your shoes are too tight or you don’t sleep with padded boots on, then be very aware of your foot position. If this does happen or anything alike, you can buy toe spacers and put those on. The only thing is to make sure you let your toes breathe and that the toe spacers don’t give you a pressure sore.

Toasty toes – What I’ve found to be true is that my legs, and mostly my feet, just don’t keep warm. I have the warmest boots and the warmest socks, but really, they’re not active. A jacket is not warm, a good jacket is just a good insulator – it keeps your body heat from escaping and from the cold air getting in. It doesn’t matter how good Ugg boots or Smartwool socks are. To be effective, my feet still have to produce the heat. As it is right now, I can be in a 70F (21C) and my feet will be cold.

What’s good is that if I’m out in the cold, I at least know that my feet won’t get colder than normal because the boot’s insulation keeps the cold out.

There are a few ways I warm up my feet, and some caveats that ensue.

  • Hair dryer – this is a good way to blow some warm air on your feet. It takes a little while to warm up more than just the surface. Make sure it’s not too hot! Keep a good distance and always, always make sure your METAL footplate doesn’t get too hot. Once when I was doing this, I got a heat blister on my toe from the metal getting hot.

  • Warm water – make sure this is only warm and not above 105F (40C). You can do this in the shower or put warm water in a bag and put it on your feet. You could also take a little bucket of warm water and dip your feet into it while on the couch.

  • Lie down – when I lay down, my circulation improves, and raising my feet up helps as well. Adding a blanket or some thick fuzzy socks will help. Using your hands to move your feet around can help – movement always helps.

  • Warm towel – this is a trick I adopted when learning massage therapy. Take a wet rag that isn’t dripping and put it in the microwave. Now, it’s a warm rag. Put it up against the inside of your wrist (a sensitive skin area) to check if the temperature is too hot. Use the necessary judgement to determine if your feet will be okay and then wrap the towel around your feet/foot.

  • Move – move to norther Australia if you want it to always be warm and then you should be mostly fine for keeping hot.

As briefly mentioned above, massage therapy can be good not only for your feet but for all of you.

The final footcare advice is to just be generally aware of what you’re doing. If you have a lack of feeling in your feet, then you need to be aware of where your feet are. Because of the design of the wheelchair I use, the footplate has gotten very sharp on one of the corners and I have cut my ankle many times. Luckily, I’ve healed fast.

The final thing I have to say is an all-enveloping disclaimer that this is just good intentioned advice, and I don’t allow you to sue me for anything. The actions you take are your own. I say this because you could burn yourself with hot water. Make sure you’re being safe.

Immediate actionable items: Optimize yourself for being warm, take care of yourself, and don’t forget to be present in the moment.

Summary: Many things to consider when it comes to footcare. Clip your toenails, keep your feet warm, wash your feet, and a few more things.

Overdeliver:  If you’re in a wheelchair, don’t be naïve. There are people who will sexualize your feet. Nothing against fetishes, to each their own, but don’t get me involved – as the saying goes.

Insight for a physical disability

Reading time: 1 minute

I just finished reading Barack Obama’s new book, A Promised Land, which came out on the 17th of this month.

In this book, audiobook, I started to tear up when he talked about his grandmother passing away. (3/4 through Chapter 9).

Not a great thing while in the gym, but then he said something that stopped me.

He (his grandmother) put an innate understanding that I’ve had into words. One of those rare moments when a string of words becomes much more than that.

While at his grandmothers’ side during her last hours, he thought back to something she once told him, (and I’m paraphrasing) the thing about getting old is that you’re trapped in this contraption that falls apart – but it’s still you.

You’re stuck in this contraption that’s falling apart, but it’s still you – it always has been and will be.

My understanding of this came mostly from the likes of psycho-cybernetics and books similar. The understanding that who we are can be independent of who we look like we are, and both are a result of the conscious and unconscious decisions we make.

The insight here is that similar to getting old, having a physical disability is just you stuck inside this contraption that broke or doesn’t properly work – but it’s still you.

This could be true for any disability and not exclusive of only physical. I don’t have experience with much else, and so, I reserve myself.

When I tell people I’ve never been depressed from my injury, or when they see how much I did within just a year after my injury, I often get asked how I was able to do it.
I’m not sure I can decode it entirely, but I do recognize that a majority of people don’t dust themselves off as quickly as I had. Having this type of wisdom –  in words or feelings – the understanding that you haven’t changed can help a lot.

Immediate actionable items: Think about this. If you journal (I highly recommend you do), it’s a good practice to just open the flood gates and write out your thoughts. Write out your understanding of this and “think on paper” as I call it.

Summary: The insight gained from a recent read, that who you are can be independent of your body. Getting old or acquiring a physical disability, your body may be breaking, but you’re still you.

Overdeliver:  A quote from Hunter S. Thompson
“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow, what a ride!’ ”

PS, happy birthday mom!

Four Traits of a Great Rehab Therapist

Reading time: 4 minutes

Note: the type of therapists I’m referring to are physical and occupational, the main type that I worked with when I was in rehab. I’ll just say therapist for the rest of this article.

Disclaimer: I’m not a physical or occupational therapist, these are my views through my experience and preference. This will say more about me and what I value, and may not be universal, but I do believe that I’ve learned enough in a multidisciplinary way that these traits will be common among great therapists that create a great experience (which I’ve had)

Trait 1: The Unaffected State

“State,” meaning the emotional state. The state you’re in.
Basically, this comes down to being in a good mood and having come from within and not letting it be affected from without. When in rehab I had already had good state control, and because of this people enjoyed being around me because I was an anchor for good emotions.
For a therapist to be in a good mood is very important. There will undoubtedly be people in rehab who take the pessimistic view of their circumstance and drag down anyone around them. A therapist who doesn’t get dragged down will eventually bring up the person who is unhappy.
A therapist will be more helpful to whoever they work with because if that person has a bad day or moment, they will need that anchor or a hand to pull them back to.
You can imagine going into a room full of therapists and all of them being cheerful, even if a few of the patients aren’t. This is obviously the type of environment you would want.

Trait 2: Lighthearted

Lighthearted, also known as being playful and not taking things so seriously. Being able to make a few jokes and have some fun is essential.
When I was in rehab, there was a point I got to where I would go out into the city with a therapist and we would just do whatever. We went around to random stores, got some Starbucks, got a doughnut, and had a fun little excursion.
There are times to be serious in rehab, but I can’t think of any. Why not have some fun in everything you’re doing. Banter and joke.

Trait 3: Tough Love

This one I think is most important, especially for making progress.
I had and always have expectations of myself higher than anyone else will, so I pushed myself beyond what the therapists were pushing me, but they soon picked up on it. When I did boxing, I would intentionally push my trainer’s buttons so that he would make me do extra pushups.
When putting tough love into action, it looks like setting big goals, trying things almost certain to fail, and really pushing. I seldom wanted help, I wanted to either succeed or fall on the ground and then learn how to get back up (maybe with some help).
I remember once in rehab I had gotten too much help and went away feeling like I could’ve done more if I didn’t get so much help.
So, I think it’s crucial to always push, especially in rehab. People don’t want pity, they want someone who pushes them higher.
Not everyone will progress as rapidly as I had in 4 weeks of rehab, but I’m willing to bet everyone can do more than they initially think.

At Shirley Ryan, where I went for rehab in Chicago, the main goal is called Mod-I, for modified independence. Mod-I means that by the end of rehab, the person will, at least, be able to live alone. In the first session I had with a therapist, I told them I wanted to be at Mod-I in 3 days.
That is the philosophy I think is important to adopt in rehab or anything. I wanted to set big goals, and if I failed, then I would still be further along than if I set a smaller goal and achieved it.
In rehab, it was set up such that there would be 1-hour blocks of therapy where I work on a new skill. There were only two things that took me more than 1 session to get to a 90% mastery (being able to do it on my own). Being pushed and given the proper tough love from all the nurses and therapists who always expected more of me is what helped me to achieve so much.

Trait 4: Adventure

Along with having some fun, how about trying something a little crazy?
I tried out a mountain bike while at rehab and took it up a set of stairs. When I was practicing walking and connected to a harness that was then attached to a rail system on the ceiling, I had them elevate me off the ground and I did some gliding around.
For therapists, encouraging people to do something outside of their comfort zone or trying something a little whacky will always make for a good story and experience. Safety first because of legal restrictions, but the truth is I wish I fell over once or twice because in the real world people fall over and get hurt. I’d rather take a risk when I’m with a therapist and already in rehab rather than leave and have to come back just as I was adjusting.

The final line of this article is to remind you that my Instagram documents my entire rehab progress, you can see and read everything I did to get an idea of what a great rehab experience is. My therapists, doctors, and nurses were the best. I’ve tried to categorize what I think made them amazing and in turn, made me amazing.

Immediate actionable items: Send someone a thank you letter today or tomorrow for helping you in some way

Summary: When it comes to being a great therapist (as all mine were/are) the essential traits are to have good emotions, a mindset geared towards tough love and having fun(banter and adventure), and not taking any of it too seriously.

Overdeliver: To all those who have worked with me, I still remember everything, and you’re appreciated.

Disability Leadership by Default

Reading time: 2 minutes

I’ve mentioned this before, but like many things, it takes repetition of many forms to understand something. Thinking about it from many angles and using different words or analogies.

When it comes to leadership, it can be found in many little ways. You may not be a leader, and that’s alright, not everyone is meant to be a leader. But, there will be times when people look to you.

Specifically, my experience is with using a wheelchair and going out to do something. When I go over to a house full of who I call my adopted family, they have to lift me up about 8-10 steps to get to the front door.

In a situation like that, where people have to lift you up some stairs, who do you reckon they look to?

You have to be ready, with confidence, to tell people what needs to be done. There is no “maybe do this,” there is only a definitive.

If you’re truly unsure, then you have to tell them that you’re thinking out loud, have them try a few things as you think through what would work best, but after enough experience, you should be able to tell people exactly how to do it. They get their confidence through you.

Don’t make the people helping think hard about how to help. They’re likely nervous and possibly a bit uncomfortable with so much responsibility if you fall. Tell them what to do.

People around you will take their cues from you. This goes from helping to knowing if it’s appropriate to make a few jokes. When it comes to jokes, I’ve never been serious about using a wheelchair and I’ve never been offended.

Something I hear a lot is, “I’m okay with it if you’re okay with it.” That’s what inspired me to write this. The realization that people, when saying that, are really saying that they’re taking cues from me, my confidence will give them confidence to help and try something.

Immediate actionable items: If you’re in a wheelchair, create a mental database of things you commonly need help with (getting up stairs maybe) and have a few ways that work so you know how to get help.

Summary: Imagine you’re getting in your car, you’re in a wheelchair and a bloke comes up and asks if you need help. You say yes. That person won’t know what to do next, you need to also tell them how they can help. That’s a type of leadership.

Overdeliver: If you want to do adventurous things, be comfortable with getting help, have confidence in directing help, be willing to take on new challenges, and then remember to take a few pictures.

%d bloggers like this: