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, February 16, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #1 - Buck Community Rec Center, Denver, Colo.

I found myself on a United flight to Denver after a particularly taxing three-month contract working for a massive health care system in Wisconsin. I had to pull an O.J. sprint through O'Hare to make my connection. By the time I got to the plane, I was soaked, out of breath and my shoulder felt like it was going to fall off.

I hadn't worked up a sweat in more than a year. When I went to switch into the transfer seat, I saw my gigantic belly flop out of my shirt before I could swing over. I've done this transfer hundreds of times and in the past the flight attendants always say something positive, like "Wow, looks like you've done this before!" or "Hey - that didn't take much!" 

But this time the flight attendant grabbed my arm and tried to help. The look on her face was one of grave concern. She thought I might dump on the floor. I've always been proud of myself as a rugged traveler, but now, for the first time, I felt like I was a liability. 

When the plane landed in Denver, I was met by my wheelchair which had been destroyed in transit. One of the baggage handlers tried to fold my non-folding chair and snapped one of the main support tubes. Now, instead of navigating Colorado by myself in my own chair, I was going to have to have my brother Bagus and sister-in-law Sissy push my fat ass around in a hospital chair. 

Sissy was at the arrivals curb and, being an occupational therapist, immediately saw something was wrong. We'd planned to hit the mountains, but instead I was going to spend the entire week trying to get my chair fixed. 

When I got to their house we had to do some wheelchair gymnastics, just to get me over the single stair that leads to the family room. Once inside, I transferred over to the couch where I spent the better part of three days trying, not only to get my chair welded, but also to get United to buy me a new chair. 

Somewhere in the middle of the week, Sissy walked into the room where Bagus and I were working up some funk tunes and asked if we wanted to go to the pool. The only pool I'd been in over the past decade was my friend Tony's in-ground 20 ft. long backyard pool.  In that pool, I just floated with a beer cozy next to me. 

I still had a long-standing hatred of swimming as well as self-loathing for having destroyed my shoulder. But the look from the flight attendant in Chicago haunted me. I knew I had to make a change. And I pretty much knew the only thing I could do was the thing that made me an athlete in the first place. I had to go back to the pool. 

That night Bagus, Sissy, their 10-year-old son Tucker and I hopped in the car and drove to  the Douglas H. Buck Community Rec Center Pool. The rec center had all sorts of gyms, free weights, workout machines and an indoor play pool with slides, fountains and rivers. 

It also had a five-lane 25-yard lap pool. Bagus, who still plays competitive water polo, had an extra suit to lend me. For the first time in 20 years, it occurred to me I didn't even own a swimming suit - let alone have five or six of them. I rolled over to the slowest lane in the pool; Bagus held the back of my newly-welded chair and I flopped in. 

From 1973 until 1996, the entire goal of my life was to enter the water making as little splash as possible. That bird had flown, or as it appeared, had been shot out of the air. I was now a fat old whale making a gigantic splash - right next to a 70-year-old woman who, in short time,  would be lapping me. 

At first I tried freestyle, but my shoulder wouldn't put up with it - especially on the breathing stroke. Next I tried breast stroke, but without the kick, I was almost going backwards. The range of motion in my shoulder was so restricted I only thought of doing back stroke - I never even gave it one cycle. 

I ended up doing 500 yards of elementary back stroke. It was the only thing my shoulder would put up with. Now I felt like I was in prison. I knew the only way I was ever going to get in shape was in the damn pool. And I was as feeble as a newborn. But I did notice I could lift my left arm above my shoulder...

Which brings us to Pool #2: The Osborne Aquatic Center Outdoor Pool - Corvallis, Ore. 

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