When I run (or bike), I have the chance to observe many people. I see all sorts of people, doing all sorts of activities: parents and children, joggers and runners, inline-skaters and ski-skaters, husbands and wives, dog-walkers (don’t get me started on their dogs–bloodhounds, chihuahuas, labradoodles…) and read-a-book-while-walking walkers, teenagers and elderly folks, commuter cyclists and recumbent bikers. If you want to see diversity, join me on a Saturday morning jog. One character, however, is extraordinary in my mind.
He is a man in a wheelchair. Actually, he appears rather ordinary: he is lower-middle-aged, has brown hair, and wears jeans, a sweatshirt (or a t-shirt, when the weather is warm), and tape (to protect his forefingers). He is not the fastest or fittest on the trail. When I see him, as I often do, he is steadfastly propelling himself down the wide concrete pathway.
What compels him to do this? As far as I can tell, he is not training for a wheelchair event (I’ve never seen him in a racing chair). Maybe he is commuting to work, but he never carries a bag. Even if his intent is to attend some commitment, surely there would be an easier way than pushing himself down the trail? Or, perhaps, he wants exercise, or fresh air. Maybe…
I cannot judge his motivations from the little I know of this man. Really, I know nothing. I’ve never met him, or even spoken to him (aside from the biker’s obligatory “on your left”). To me, he’s just “the man in the wheelchair with tape on his fingers who I seen on the trail”. I don’t know his name, his history, anything about him. Honestly, I doubt I would recognize him as a regular trail-user if not for his wheelchair. It’s terrible to label people that way (“Once you label me, you negate me.” ~Søren Kierkegaard), but sometimes it is hard to avoid. Regardless, why is this man so extraordinary, dare I say: inspiring?
Because he bothers to be on the trail at all. Obviously, ambulation is a challenge. Moving forward takes infinitely more effort for him than it does for me. (Interestingly, I’ve encountered him on almost the whole expanse of the approximately eleven mile trail. That’s a long ways to run, much less push oneself in a wheelchair.) He could choose to shut himself into his home and never emerge. Granted, that’s extreme; but even in a more moderate situation, he might not choose to roll down the trail. He makes the conscious choice to participate. He perseveres.
There are days when I simply don’t feel like going for a run. I wish I could say I thought of this man on those days. If anyone has an excuse to give up, it’s him, not me. But he doesn’t. He takes what he has, and he uses it. He lives life.