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The Greatest Day of My Life.

February 25th, 2014 marks the Ninth Anniversary of an accident that changed my life. I was skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado when I clipped a tree. I sustained a spinal cord injury at T7, broke my scapula, and whacked my head. Flight for Life took me to Swedish Hospital where I spend the next 17 days before I was transferred to Craig Hospital where I rehabbed for the next 3 ½ months. I was very fortunate that the time I was at Craig, I met Marco, A-Jay, Curtis, Daniel, all of whom remain my friends today. We managed to feed off each other in order to progress through our injuries and learn to build momentum towards living our lives again. We lived in the hospital like it was a frathouse. We played cards all night long, messed with the nurses, techs, and staff, played tricks on each other, and learned our new lives together. When one of us would have a bad day, we were able to talk to each other about it and work through it as a team. This is when I learned the importance of peer to peer support in the rehabilitation process.


Since I was a skiing accident, the recreation department managed to convince Matt Feeney from Adaptive Adventures to come in a talk to me. He spoke at a lifestyles class about how sports and recreation has changed his life and provided him with a huge psychological boost. He showed me Handcycling, Monoskiing, Waterskiing and Mountain Biking. He told me that you can still live a pretty incredible life despite being in a wheelchair.


I also got the benefit of meeting Drew Wills. He was also a skiing accident that happened a few months prior to mine. When I got into Craig, he was just getting ready to be released. I was able to see all that he was accomplishing nearing the end of his stay at Craig and I thought to myself, I can do that much too.


It may seem bizarre to call this the greatest day of my life, but I reflect on all that this “tragedy” has provided me, and I would not change it for the world.


The first gift I was provided was Perspective. This should not be a surprise because perspective is easily realized when something important is taken away from you. It is much easier to determine what is important and what is not. I no longer fret when I get poor customer service because I recognize the fact that I do not know the life of person that is serving me. They may have their own challenges that are life changing and significant. How can I be certain that my obvious challenges are more significant or important than theirs?


Humility would be the second gift. The simple fact that you have no control over half of your body and that includes all of the functions related to the bathroom. It can be quite humbling to be out in public and have a bowel or bladder accident. There really is no covering it up and fixing the issue. Equally humiliating is unexpected flatulence. There really is no controlling it and all you can do is pardon yourself, make a joke about Taco Bell, and laugh (I guess praying for only air is always part of this situation).


Another lesson I have learned is Serenity and Patience. I have acquired an inner peace since my accident. There is nothing quick about being in a wheelchair. Everything in the world can be done faster by someone who is not in a wheelchair. I have learned to better plan my day in order accommodate the extra time that is needed to accomplish a task. I have learned that getting up early gives you much more time to do things that I would have previously slept through. I am still a night person, however. I just sleep less. I am also hyper punctual so I tend to be early to every event that I attend. Being in my car happens to be one of the most comfortable places in the world for me. When I show up early for an event, I tend to sit in my car and just zone out and reflect on all of the blessing that I have been awarded, like my Friends and Family, whom happen to be my next gift.


I know that I would not be in the position I am right now without the help from my parents. They have been way more supportive than they should have been. They have provided me with the opportunity to volunteer with many different organizations, speak with thousands of people, and help advocate a happier and healthier lifestyle for people with disabilities. They have helped me start SportsAbilities even though it seemed impractical let alone impossible at the time. My parents have seen me at my worst and have pushed me to be my best. They have promoted my actions even when they neither understood them, nor agreed with them. Who could ever ask for better parents than that?


Considering my entire family lives 1000 miles away, I try to follow their actions as closely as possible.Their activities continue to motivate me to be a better person. My daughter, Shelby, is paving her path along an uncharted trail. She is growing up to be a strong and independent woman who makes me very proud.


Most of my closest friends, I did not have 9 years ago. I have certain friends that are considered LIFERS. They all know who they are so I am not going to name names. This is what I will say about them as a group. They are always available whenever I need them. They support me even when I am being an ass which is most of the time. They accept my flaws and like me anyway. They know that they can call me up anytime of the day and I will be there to help them with anything they need. I can talk to them about anything and they will give me their opinion but not judge me if I go a different direction.  They provide me with the strength and courage to be myself. I could go on and on about my friends and family.


Before I got hurt, I do not think I had a direction in my life. I went to work, I had fun with my friends, and I went home. There was no real Direction or Purpose. Since my accident, I have volunteered hundreds of hours to different charities, schools, and hospitals. I have started one of the largest social media networks to promote health and recreation to people with disabilities. I have provided resources for people all over the country that were previously obscure. I have shared stories and experiences to thousands of people in order to instill hope. People all over the country have tried something for the first time or accomplished an amazing feat due to the messages I have helped provide. Nine years ago, I would have never guessed that I would be doing what I am and right now, I could never hope to do anything else.


My last gift is Time. I was so very close to dying on that mountain that day. It would have been very easy for one little change to happen and my life have a sudden end. The biggest benefit to having a near death experience is that you appreciate the bonus time you are given. You know you had better “do it now” because tomorrow may never come and why would you want to miss the opportunity. I don’t ever want to be the person who says “I really wish I…”I am sure that I will get a phone call from my mom today wishing me a Happy Anniversary. I will refer to today as Tuesday, the 25th of February, 2014. Just another sequel to the Greatest Day of my Life, version 3287.


Living Life to the Fullest.

John Vcelka

Director of Vital Information

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