Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Free Willin'

The next stop along the journey was in Ann Arbor, Michigan where my brother Andy lives with wife Brigit, high school senior Molly and 5th grader, Will. Andy and I do a lot of work together because he just happens to be one of the top spinal cord doctors in the world. I gave him all sorts of credibility by breaking my back, creating our little horse and pony show. How’s that for brotherly love!

We started an organization about a decade back called the International Rehabilitation Forum. It’s a consortium of doctors, institutions and do-gooders from all over the world who are trying to advance the concept of rehabilitation medicine in developing nations. It sounds like Doctors without Borders, but those guys usually go into a country, do surgeries and leave. It’s incredible and necessary work, but it also leaves very little for post-surgical care or long time rehabilitation plans. That’s where these docs come in. They are either doctors from developing regions or Western docs who operate clinics in developing regions. Their work is as, if not more, important than the surgeons – just not as sexy, thus harder to get funding.

In June Andy, Will and I went to Turkey and along with the IRF’s Executive Director Sierra Loar, pulled off the first World Conference on Rehabilitation in Developing Nations. It was an unforgettable three days in the Cappadocia region in Central Turkey. (For a write up on the medical part of the conference click here. For the travel side of it click on the June and August posts in this blog).

I had a huge list of website updates to code from the conference, but I was getting stuck on several of them and we needed a team meeting - thus the side trip to Ann Arbor which isn’t exactly a bee-line from Brewtown to Charlottesville.

But the coolest part of the trip was that Will had become stable enough on a bike so he could bust out some training runs with me. Although a hand cycle is more efficient than a regular wheelchair, you’re still using arm power which means an average road cyclist can put me to shame. But with Will cruising on his mountain bike and me putting in some good hard miles we matched up almost perfectly. For three days we owned the Huron River Drive and he helped me get right back into peak form.

Oddly enough Andy lives near ‘Delhi’ park (pronounced DEL-high???) and we used their quarter mile double looped parking lot for drag races. I really didn’t have a place in Corvallis to practice sprints so the lot provided me with a perfectly-timed and long-neglected part of my training. After you’ve done all the mileage you really need to do some speed work. I was announcing the races in French, which Will thought sounded as ridiculous as goose-squak. I always got the early lead, but he crushed me on the curves then waited for me at the finish line with a fresh batch of trash talk. One time I called a fast start and got a nice lead, but come turn 4, he leaned on his two wheels, easily passed me and made me look like a fool. We laughed and laughed and in the end I was in great shape to take on the D.C. Marathon.

The thing that really sucked in Ann Arbor was that the baseball playoffs were in full swing and Will and I just love hanging out watching baseball. Although he hates the Brewers and I hate the Tigers, we are in complete agreement over one thing: The greatest player over the past 20 years has been Pudge Rodriguez. However many runs Bonds created in his bogus heyday, Pudge shut down three times as many. He’s got by far the best throw out ratio in baseball history and if that doesn’t impress you – well then you just don’t know squat about baseball. But the annoying thing was that if you’re a kid living in the Eastern Time Zone you don’t get to see more than an inning or two before going to bed. How the hell does that serve baseball? The sport is dying out among young people but they put their biggest games on when most of the young people in the country are sawing z’s. And the reason for this? Prime Time Ratings?? WTF? Sell a few cars and some beer and lose the entire younger generation. Nice job MLB – maybe you can up the royalty rate on Major League team names on Little League uniforms (yeah – they do actually charge Little League for using their team names).

The IRF meetings went great too as we put the finishing touches on the website, fulfilling some promises we’d made to the doctors in Kayseri. We even had dinner one night with a bunch of visiting scholars from Ghana, Andy’s main country of interest. Ghana had just won the World U-21 Soccer Championship – the country’s first international title EVER! No previous gold medals – even in track where Africans usually break in. Needless to say they were in a giddy mood and nobody laughs harder than a Ghanaian when they’re having fun!

Oh yeah – Dan called. India just slid up to an 85% chance…

No comments:

Post a Comment