Stuck and Freezing

October 28, 2008
The 1989 Borah High School Rowdies

The 1989 Borah High School Rowdies

When I returned home from the hospital and tried to find a way to stay involved the way I wanted to at my high school as a quadriplegic. My biggest obstacle was going to be sports. I knew that although 6’2” almost 300 pounds would look good on the stat sheet, 6’2” almost 300 pounds and paralyzed from the chest down wouldn’t have the same pop on the field.

Unable to participate in the sports I loved so well, a few friends and I began a spirit club called, “The Rowdies.” This allowed me to cheer on my former teammates while still being involved on my own.  We did the whole nine yards. We had T-shirts printed up, put on pep rallies, and painted our faces at the games.

After the games we’d all meet at a local pizza place and do all the crazy things high school students do at restaurants after 10 PM, until either the place closed or we were “invited” to leave.

One night, after the game was over and we were finished at the pizza place, I headed home and pulled in my driveway. As I did, I noticed that my parents had parked one car in the garage and another on the driveway. This was a problem. I was supposed to park in the garage. This gave me plenty of room for the automatic doors to open, the lift to come down, and provided easy access to the elevator in our home.

It was a little after 12:30 AM. Because it was late, I decided that I’d maneuver my van in the driveway the best I could and find a place to park without waking my parents up (my being late for curfew may have also had some bearing on that decision). As I opened the door to put out the lift, I remember feeling an incredible chill in the air. It was the middle of basketball season and a particularly cold late December night.

The lift folded out of my van, and I rolled my wheelchair onto the platform. It was freezing and I couldn’t wait to get inside a nice warm house. Still just wearing my short sleeved “Rowdies” T-shirt, I lowered the lift to the ground. What I didn’t know was the concrete underneath my lowered lift was just a little uneven. With the weight of my wheelchair on the lift, the platform was flush against the ground. However, as my front wheels came off the lift there is no longer enough weight to keep the lift even on the uneven driveway.

The lift rose up just enough that it high centered my wheelchair. The front wheels were on the ground but the back wheels weren’t touching a thing. Unfortunately, my chair was only rear wheel drive. As I move the joystick back and forth the wheels simply spun in the air. I was stuck.

For the first 15 minutes I did everything I could to see if I could reach back and use the controls on the lift to put the platform down and give my wheels a chance at some traction. It didn’t take long to realize that regardless of my best efforts this was not going to be a winning proposition. And so, I moved on.

I thought if I could call out loud enough, I could wake up my parents and they could help me off the lift. I quietly called out for them, “Mom… Dad.” I was hoping I could get their attention without waking the whole neighborhood. After 15-30 minutes of that I began to raise my voice, with the same results-still nothing.

As the temperature dropped so to did my concern for the other people in my neighborhood. I began to yell, “Mom… Dad.” I was sure that I was loud enough to wake up my parents and maybe the people across the street. Unfortunately, although my volume increased my results did not–still nothing.

Now I was cold, freezing cold, and so at the top of my voice I screamed, “Mom… Dad.” Twenty to thirty minutes of that without any result convinced me that World War III could begin in my front yard and my parents would sleep straight through it. Giving up on my mom and dad I began to yell and scream and names of our neighbors. “Mr. Nielsen… Mrs. Bishop,” I called with everything I had. Although the names for different, the result was the same–nothing.

It was almost three in the morning, and I was running out of options. It was then that I came up with an idea that couldn’t fail. At the top of my lungs I screamed, “Rape, Fire, Murder.” Twenty minutes later I realized that this idea would fail when it yielded me the same result–nothing, absolutely nothing.

I had one option left. In my hand was a tiny metal rod that held the keys to my van. I thought that if I could throw them hard enough, I could break our front window, the alarm would go off and I would be saved. Knowing this was my last resort, I took a few practice throws. This was going to work, I was sure of it. I aimed carefully, pull back my arm and let the keys fly.

It was a beautiful throw, perfectly on target. As I turned my head in preparation for the shrill of the alarm, like a boomerang, the metal rod turned to the left and fell silently on the ground. It was well past three and I was out of ideas. I tucked my arms inside my T-shirt, strapped myself in and prepared for what I was sure was going to be a long winter’s nap.

Just then, I had one last idea. In my mind I heard the words, “Did you pray?” I remember thinking that I had not and that at best it might help me and at worst it couldn’t hurt.

As I said, “Amen,” my mom walked out the door. She looked at me and said, “Do you need some help?” I remember laughing in my heart thinking, “No Mom, I’m good. Just wanted you to know I’m freezing to death. Please go back in to your nice warm bed.” Not wanting to tempt fate with my smart aleck remarks, I told her I did need her help to which she replied, “I’ll get your father.”

By the time I got to my bed I was so cold that the only way we could warm up my body was for my mom to sleep with me in my bed and try and raise my body temperature with hers. The next day we looked in the paper and saw that the temperatures had become low enough that with my body’s poor circulation I most likely would not have survived the night.

Stuck on the lift I did everything I could do on my own, to no avail.  I tried any idea anyone could’ve come up with. On paper, there was nothing else left for me to do. But just like that night there are times in our lives when every conceivable physical option won’t be enough, and we have to turn to the spiritual. Regardless of what God you worship or spirituality you call your own, the things of the Spirit must find their way into our lives if we want to find our way to success.

So, next time you find yourself freezing and stuck, don’t forget to pray.


“Take a Knee”

October 3, 2008

Some of the happiest memories of my youth come in some way or another from football.  It didn’t matter if I was watching it on television, playing it at recess, or throwing the ball around with my brother Clint, I loved the game. You can imagine then how excited I was when I finally was old enough to play competitively.

I ate it up, all of it. The “two a days” when you worked so hard you are sure you had nothing left to give, game day, the thrilling victories and the agonizing defeats. To this day, crisp autumn Saturday mornings that have just a tinge of winters bite in them bring a smile to my face and remind me of the sport I love so much.

As I remember those practices I recall that regardless of the team I played for, whenever a time came that the coach wanted to talk to the team, he would ask everyone to gather around him and, “Take a knee.”

“Taking a knee” meant many different things. Sometimes, it meant a little encouragement, sometimes more information. The coach might have some advice or instruction to share with the team, or maybe he wanted to make it clear that we weren’t doing things as well as we should be and changes needed to be made.  No matter what the coach had to say, “taking a knee” meant that it was time to take a break from  whatever we were doing and listen carefully.  For, when we did the work was easier and the games more fun.

On July 13, 1986  at about one in the afternoon, I broke my neck. Less than four hours later I was lying in an emergency room in Grand Junction, Colorado and had a doctor tell me something that I will never forget. He came next to my bed, looked me in the eye and said, “Jason, you’ve broken your neck and you will never walk again.”

Some may say that my worst fears were realized, but this little nugget of information was so far out in left field that I had never even considered it let alone feared it. There I was,15 years old trying to digest what he’d said. My game began to look pretty bleak.

Needing coaching then more than I ever had before, I followed my football training and “took a knee.” I went to my God, the best coach I have ever had, hoping for some encouragement or instruction. True to form, on my spiritual knees, I received everything I needed to make it through that harrowing day.

No matter the day, good or bad, easy or hard, things always go better when I “take a knee.” I believe the same is true for everyone. No matter what God you believe in, or how you choose to worship, our lives will be better when we take a break from whatever were doing and listen carefully.

So, when the winds blow and the waters rise, when the darkness comes and you yearn for the light, when the adversities of life conspire to chase hope from your heart, take a moment and “take a knee.” It won’t rid your life of difficulty, but it will make the work easier and the game of life more fun. I know that it has mine.