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.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I rolled into my parent’s house in Milwaukee and, after some hugs and breakfast, I plopped onto the couch and fell soundly asleep with ESPN on and the remote in my right hand pointed vaguely in the direction of their new flat screen. I stayed that way for the next 48 hours until my friend Toys, who would be joining me for the next two weeks, reminded me that I had a marathon to do in ten days.

With the help of Toys brother, Ox, I managed to get my tire replaced and have his mechanic check the alignment on the van which had become sketchy since the Bambi incident. When the mechanic looked under the car he experienced a massive gag reflex, popped his head up and said, "Yup, that's deer alright!"

I also had to run all over Milwaukee trying to find the specific tire to fit my handcycle's front wheel. I way short on training runs and didn't want to rest anymore before we headed out to D.C. In the midst of all this was brother Dan in Charlottesville telling me the Tibetans checked out my credentials and were more than happy to have me come. What started out to be a 40-60 chance of me being in India by Christmas was looking closer to 70-30. And if it were to go down, it would require me to create and knock down a monumental check list, all while in Charlottesville, a city I spent two days in 18 years ago.

A week in Milwaukee not only means hanging out with my parents, sisters, brothers-in-laws, two nieces and a nephew, it also requires several jam sessions with the extended members of The Khampas, a latently immature bunch of musicians who unfortunately got good at playing their instruments way too late in life. Had we gotten as good as we are now in our early 20’s we’d probably be junkies in L.A. by now. Instead most are responsible parents who do their damndest to squeeze out a day a week for rehearsals.

Toys’ house is the epicenter of this action since he’s a sound engineer with more gear in his crib than five bands need. His basement is a recording studio that can handle anything from a full horn section to a 10-piece guitar band with drums. The best day of the Wisconsin stint was a 12-hour session in his living room. Any number of fools both young and old (my nephew Tim even sat in with us) plugged in various instruments and played every single tune any of us had ever learned – with the exception of the gazillion Grateful Dead covers that most of us know. It’s not that we don’t still love that material, it’s just that it’s all we used to play and we really needed to move on. I’m sure that stuff won’t stay in the closet long, but it was nice to put it away for this trip. Ox looked at me after about seven hours sans Dead and said, “When did you guys start playing music people like?”

But the sobering fact was that I DID have a big race ahead so I needed to put in some miles. I managed to get in two nice long rides in Milwaukee before it just got too damn cold. One was a 30-miler up and down what used to be glorious Lake Drive hugging the shores of Lake Michigan. Budget cuts and time have made what was once my favorite training route into a road that could be substituted by the junk I would encounter in Old Delhi. The following day I humped it out to Ox’s house in the Northwest suburbs of Milwaukee along roads even more pock-marked than that. It reminded me of how lucky I’ve been to train in towns like Pullman, Portland and Corvallis. Nothing but wide smooth road shoulders along gorgeous stretches of the planet out there.

The Milwaukee stretch offered some really great R&R and, after the horrible disappointment in Portland, I was feeling good about D.C. But, alas there was plenty more road calling so I was off to Michigan. And no, my Mom was NOT pleased with the thought of me in India.

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