As you may have already guessed being a 16 year old and getting access and permission to use a power wheelchair opened up all sorts of interesting scenarios. For example, there was the time my brothers and I came across an old water ski rope in the garage. We thought about the rope, thought about the manual wheelchair that I used as a backup, and put two and two together. Minutes later I was sitting in my power chair in the middle of our street with one end of the ski rope tied to the back of my chair, and the other end firmly grasped by my brother Brandon. He was sitting in the manual chair about 10-15 yards behind me. He said, “Hit it!” and we were off. I floored my power chair as he “skied” behind me. You can imagine the look on my mother’s face as she pulled into her subdivision with me driving as fast as I could down the street and my brother weaving back and forth from sidewalk to sidewalk.
It was after some such shenanigan that my mother took me aside and reminded me that my $15,000 power chair was not a toy and should not be treated as such. She warned me of the dangers that can come from “messing around” with such an expensive piece of equipment. She continued, and reinforced the fact that the chair was my responsibility and asked me if I understood. I told her I did and that I would be more careful in the future.
When I was in high school I was always very involved in student government. At my school, that meant that fourth period was spent in leadership class. This class wasn’t so much a place to learn about leadership as much as it was time for us to complete the tasks that needed to be accomplished in our respective offices. It was time to schedule DJs for dances, make sure service projects were planned, prepare for upcoming pep rallies and so forth.
However, if all of your assignments were fulfilled, then it was time that could be filled in any way we could imagine. We would simply check-in with the teacher over student government, give him our report, and we were off.
On one such day during my junior year, some of the senior officers and I began to talk about how “funny” a Funny Car was. For those of you out of the know, the funny car is one of those racecars that has big wheels in the back and small wheels in the front. When it takes off it does so with so much horsepower but the front wheels fly off the asphalt and into the air. They stay like that for a few seconds as the car races down the track when they eventually come back down to the ground.
During this discussion, we noticed that my wheelchair also had big wheels in the back and small wheels in the front. We began to wonder. What would happen if we lined up in the hallway and used every bit of horsepower the chair could muster while someone simultaneously pulled back as hard as they could on the back of my chair?
The first try was a success. I threw the joystick forward it as hard and fast as I could, my friend pulled back as hard and fast as he could and for a few feet I rode a “wheelie” down the hall. It was beautiful. Just like the Funny Cars we’d spoken about.
We knew that if we could go a few feet on our first try a little more power and a little more pull could take us farther. Again and again we tried. Each time going a little farther than the time before. The hour was about over and lunchtime was about to arrive. We felt like we had one more shot. We decided to go all the way to the end of the hall and see if I could ride the back wheels the entire length of the hallway. Such a length could not be achieved using our normal configuration. We figured that the only way to keep the front wheels up long enough was to double the weight on the back of my chair.
At the very end of the hallway we prepared for our run. Two of my friends were on the back of the chair ready to pull with my hand poised on the joystick ready to give her all that she had. “One, two, three, go!” we exclaimed. The chair flew forward as my friends pulled back and just as the front wheels began to leave the ground we heard a deafening snap.
All that force going in opposite directions had caused the back of my wheelchair to break off completely. The chair continued to move forward for a few feet and as it did my back hit the ground and I slid completely out of the chair. Laying on the ground with a bump on my head I realized that my backpack had split open and I was surrounded with my books, notepads, and papers.
Just then the bell went off for lunch. Hundreds of kids began to fill the halls stepping on, over, and around me as best they could. My friends were shocked to say the least. After a half emptied, they helped to put me back in my backless wheelchair, and kept me sitting straight up as we slowly move down the hall trying to come up with a solution. Eventually we made our way to the welding teachers workspace where he helped us weld together the back of my chair as best he could. The job was good enough to get me home, but not good enough to fool my mother, or good enough to make it so the chair didn’t have to be repaired.
As I lay on the floor, my mom’s words of caution rang in my ears. Through the rest of the day and into the night I thought about how much easier my day would have been if I had just listened. Just listening would have saved me a lot of grief, a lot of pain, and a lot of money.
Every day everyone gets little pieces of counsel. Sometimes they come from a loved one, sometimes from a mentor, sometimes from a peer, and sometimes from our own conscience. Whether they come as words of advice or impressions to our heart, our lives end up so much easier and better if we would just listen.
So the next time you get a word of warning or impression to change, just listen and you’ll keep things intact instead of broken in the middle of the hall getting stepped on by every passerby.