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, April 6, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool # 14: Escamphof Indoor Swimming Pool, Den Haag Holland

Possibly the greatest thing about taking long plane trips is the complete contrast of environments from departure to arrival. It never ceases to amaze me even when I know what's coming ahead of time. The transition on this trip was a stunner.

Although my time in Kathmandu was as revelatory and inspiring as any four-month stretch I've ever experienced, it was also extremely difficult. When I lived in Dharamsala, I was in a small village nestled in the Himalayas, but everything was close by and semi-accessible. Most stores were on the ground floor and if I was keen for working out, I could get almost anything. There were some daunting obstacles (23 steps to my job!), but the roads were smooth and I didn't want for much. If I needed to go down to the extensive Kotwali market for electronics or medical supplies, there was a fleet of taxis, any of which would ferry me down and back for a pittance. 

But Kathmandu is a big city and I had a more complex job. While my neighborhood was easy enough to navigate, getting into town was expensive and cumbersome. Able-bodied people could easily hop a city bus into town for a quarter, but none of those buses would pick up somebody in a wheelchair. I had to reserve a cab and pay up to 40 times the price. I don't mind haggling for a guitar or a car, but haggling over a ride into town is obnoxious - and then after this confrontational episode, you have to sit for an hour in a car with the guy you just argued with. 

Electricity in Dharamsala was intermittent, but it was there most days. In Kathmandu, electricity is a luxury, and it was off for several hours every day. Seeing as my job required charging cameras, computers and phones, I spent all my waking hours making sure my devices had power. As soon as I saw the lights come on, I dove for my bag and plugged in everything I had (up to six devices charging at once). As soon as a device was charged, I pulled it off because I have lost two expensive laptops due to power surges on the subcontinent. Basically my entire existence consisted of monitoring my equipment. By the end, the stress was wearing me thin. 

On top of that, the absolute filth of Kathmandu put me in a foul mood on a daily basis. I was breathing in black clouds and rolling by gutters filled with every species of garbage imaginable. The people I met and worked with were incredible, but I was at my limits. Dharamsala was challenging, but I spent most days in a state of spiritual marvel. Kathmandu was a heavy drain and I spent most days wanting to leave. 

When I finally took off for Holland it felt like a bag of oppression had been lifted off me. In spite of all the technical obstacles, I'd completed more than 30 short films and had made friends in the Nepali disability that I will keep the rest of my life. As we soared above the pollution haze, I could finally see the Himalayas in their soaring, sharp, pristine-white glory. The negatives of Nepal were quickly fading and being replaced by a heavy feeling of accomplishment - much like having completed college finals. It wasn't fun doing the work, but man was I glad I did it. 

Nearly a full day later, having crossed some of the most dangerous regions on Earth (went right over ISIS!), I landed in Amsterdam. All three airports (Kathmandu, Istanbul, Amsterdam) lost my chair along the way so I wasn't completely rid of my Nepal angst. Eventually I was able to collect my bags and hop two accessible trains to Den Haag to stay with my sister-from-another-mister, Maaike Leeuenburgh. 

When I woke the next morning the first thing I wanted to do was find a grocery store and buy food. I hadn't been in a grocery store since leaving America (there was one in Suryabinayak, but it was four floors up with no elevator) nor had I cooked anything (the kitchen in my home was on the second floor). I ended up buying two bags of food just because I could. I cooked up a rice and chicken dinner and fed Maaike, her mom and her son. It wasn't my best dish ever, but just the fact I could do it made me ecstatic. 

The next morning I wanted to find a pool and go swimming. Stunned by the constant stream of electricity and Internet access, I went on line and discovered a public pool just two blocks away. I checked the schedule, found my suit and goggles and headed over to the Escamphof Indoor Swimming pool. 

Seeing as the pools I'd been swimming in Nepal were getting filthier and filthier as the weeks went on, I was looking forward to hopping in a warm, clean pool. I rolled up to the entrance only to discover there were 10 steps to the entrance and it appeared to be closed. There was a tennis ball sitting at the bottom of the steps, so I began tossing it gently against the door until a janitor popped his head out. I asked him if there was an elevator somewhere and he, struggling to find the words in English, just said, "Sorry, sir, de pool ist closte." 

I'd pushed my ecstasy on returning to the West one step too far and was stymied by a budget cut in the City of Den Haag's recreational department. Unfortunately, Pool #13 will have to go down as a complete failure. Except for one thing - it forced me to adventure further into Maaike's neighborhood until I came upon the freaking Atlantic Ocean. 

It was 80 degrees out; the winds were howling and kite surfers were rode waves in and out of the distant horizons. I rolled off the beachhead and settled into a surfing pub that was showing videos of surfing and football (it was the day of the EuroCup Final!). I ordered a Jortag Gan (my favorite Dutch beer!) and sat on an outdoor patio blocking the howling winds. Just 48 hours earlier I was choking on the hideous traffic of Kathmandu and now I took in delicious gulps of the cleanest air I'd breathed in months. I also noticed that my shoulder put up with rolling several miles - something it refused to do when I first jumped in Pool #1 in Denver. 

Pool #13 may have been a bust, but the fact that the number of pools continued to rise lead to incredible results. And Pool #14, Aqualac, Aix les Baines, France ended up being the greatest pool of them all. 

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