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Q&A: What do you do for fun socially?
Social Life After a Spinal Cord Injury
Every June 17th, the anniversary of his accident or his living, we do something to celebrate. And, one year we went to see Zappa plays Zappa at the Chicago Auditorium, this past summer it was a Cubs-White Soxs cross-town classic at Wrigley, and two years in between that we were in Europe. We left for Europe on June 17th, and went to Berlin, and Prague, and Paris, and Brussels and London, and, you know, still did trips that we didn't realize we could still do.
Me, honestly, I haven't stopped being the person I was before. I still go out; I still stay out late. And we go to the movies; we go to the mall; we play Rock Band there at my house; we go to concerts. There's not really a lot you can do there in Laredo, but what you can do, we do.
The stuff that I did before is the same as the stuff I do now, just differently. It doesn’t matter if it’s, “Hey, we’re going to have a cookout.”—Or, “Hey, we’re going to have a couple beers.”—Or, “Let’s go fishing or whatever.” It’s the same, but it’s different. You know, everyone’s more than accommodating, so, yeah, it really hasn’t changed that much. I mean, you know, you got access issues maybe to houses, and stuff like that, like, “We’re having a birthday party,” or something. I’ve got the ramp that I keep in my van, we pop it in there, off we go. So it’s different, but not that much different.
I’d be outside. I got some buddies that we work on stuff together. I just, socially really right now is baseball with my son coming up, and just any activities with either one of my children, that’s our social life. And just like going to the lake, and hanging out with my buddies and we have people come over and cook out. We don’t go out on the town, never have; we live in the rural area, I guess.
I don’t think that’s really changed very much. We go out to dinner with friends; we go to the movies, we just bought bowling balls. She swims. She wanted to try horseback riding and I put my foot down. She couldn’t find facilities that could accommodate her, and if she could’ve, I wouldn’t let her anyway. Because that would’ve been insane in her situation. She doesn’t understand limitations.
I love sports, so I watch a lot of sports. I like going to live sports as well. I watched a lot of live sports at Stanford. Other than that, hang out, watch movies. My friends and I, now that we’re 21, can go out to bars or go out downtown, stuff like that, that’s been fun. So, I studied in Chile in South America for three months. I lived in Santiago with a Chilean family, and lived in their house and it was great. I think one of the bigger risks I’ve taken, but one of the best things I’ve ever done. I went to Argentina, I went to Patagonia, and I went all over. And that was a really different experience because it required me to give up some of my independence, because South America is not remotely accessible. I needed help with a lot more things than I would have at school. And that wasn’t something that I was used to and I wasn’t used to asking my friends for help. And asking for help was a challenge, but at some points you have to know—it’s a give and take. You have to know when to give up a little independence to get a really cool opportunity, and when you don’t want to do that.
Now we go to a racetrack together, we can do that. And then we have a friend that owns a cottage, so we go up there fishing. And Johnny fishes, we have a good time—drink more beer than we do fishing, but that’s all right, that’s a once-a-year thing. And, we play cards, Johnny has a card game at his house, we all go over there. And we have dinners, and just get-togethers, cookouts, stuff like that. So, nothing much has changed as far as that’s concerned, you know, he still gets the fishing in; the only thing, he can’t hunt. But, the fishing he can still do, the card games he can still do, and the get-togethers are still good. Family dinners are always great.
Socially, I watch a lot games, so football, baseball, basketball. I go with my parents, I go with my friends. I go out to dinners, lunches, so I’m big with the food. I go to the bars, I socialize. Dating, it’s just on and off, it’s nothing crazy for me, but that’s more of a personal thing that anything else.
We do a lot of dinner parties because I love to cook, my husband loves to cook. And, cooking is something that's very creative, I think, but at the same time, you get to share something with people that you love and to me, that's a win-win for both parties. And we travel a lot, me and my husband, and that's been very good for me too because it's something that I have always wanted to do. I travel little bit differently, but it's probably better if not, you know. So, it's been exciting thing for me to do that I’ve never done before. So, in some ways, it’s been very satisfying.
I play basketball with them all the time actually. In a community center in the town I live in there's an open basketball court all day so we go there at least two-three times a week and play basketball games, horse or just shoot around or something. I'm in my chair, of course, and they usually don't guard-me-guard-me, like block my shoots or anything, but they know that, like, I don't want a handicap in the game. So they will steal the ball from me if I'm dribbling it and stuff. It's a real game so, you know, they're not like, "Oh he's got the ball, be careful," it's not like that at all. We play full force, and it's a lot of fun.
Right now, I just love spending time with my daughter when I’m not at work. I just love spending time with my family—we go to the zoo, and we walk and roll. We just really do everything we used to do but we probably do more, to be honest with you. We really are more active now; we’ve gotten involved in different groups. I watch Andre play sports and it’s just fun.
What do I do for fun socially?—just about any thing and every thing. Theater, opera, film, those are my, and dance, of course, those are my biggies. And, I like to be outdoors and in nature. So, any time that I have a chance to travel, and either go to the west, in the US, or travel abroad, which has been phenomenal. I've been to Africa on safari; I've been to Indonesia; I have been to Europe a number of times; I've taken a cruise to Alaska and to the, I took my kids on a cruise to the Mediterranean, where they had to haul me up 900,000-steps in Santorini. But, it's something I've never said, "No." If the opportunity, either I create the opportunity, or the opportunity is presented to me, I just say, "Let's go."
We go out with friends, go to dinner, movies. We pretty much do the same things able-bodied people would do, we really do. It took a while to have the courage to do those things, and sometimes it’s very comforting to stay in your own home, not go out. That can be very counterproductive, especially on your psyche. I think we’re pretty social, we get involved in things: family, friends, and parties.
One of my big passions and things I like to do in life is travel. Traveling with a disability is a very big undertaking, and it is a big challenge. You’ve got to have incredibly strong advocacy skills to advocate to make sure the airlines do everything possible to protect your mobility equipment. You’ve got to be a very keen researcher to research everything: the hotels, the attractions. And, then just also realize if you’re going to travel internationally, the American with Disabilities Act does not apply to other countries.
Any sports activities, we do any sports activities together for fun. We love to go out to the zoo, our family are big zoo people, we love going to museums, and we really love taking family vacations. One highlight last year was going to Disneyland and we absolutely loved that.
Our biggest thing is that we have season tickets to football games, so we go up to Clemson football. And that was a big change, but we enjoy tailgating and going to every home game there is at Clemson, that’s our biggest thing. We also do a lot of traveling. I actually, that’s an interesting story—nine months after my injury my wife said, “I’m going to China, are you going?” And I said, “well yeah,” and so we actually went to China within nine months of my injury. And since then, we’ve been to Germany, Ireland. We went on an African Safari to Kenya and Tanzania, we’ve been to Canada multiple times. But that’s kind of our big thing is we try to take one big trip a year. Always been interesting.
Well, my wife and I like water, so we share a lake house. We like a good movie every once in a while, we like some good food every once in a while. But you know, I didn’t come out of the house right away. And one of the first movies I went to with some friends—and that’s back where I had a van that had the boards they could roll me up, and they had to pick me up, and get in and out of the car, load my big old, I mean, I had chairs back then weren’t as light as they are now, they were like tanks. And so, I remember going to a movie with some friends, and I remember having a bowel movement, okay. So, it set me back a little bit, from the standpoint of “I don’t want to take that risk again if that happens again.” But they were cool about it. And that was what was so nice about it, “well, hey, what do we do?” I said, “let’s go home, clean me up and we’ll come back and watch the movie again.”
We have a place in New York that we love to go to, so we will do that. We will, and I say go out to eat, we’ll do that as a family, or we’ll do it with friends. That we’ll go out, spend time with friends, and do things like that. We’ve got some real close friends that we, you know, have ramps and stuff like that; I have ramps that I bring around with me. One of the folks, they built ramps, so, you know, that’s to me a pretty close friend—a person who’s kind of put together a ramp for you and all that—so when you get there, you’re all set. And one of the folks that worked for me that got married had a big wedding celebration at her house. Her husband came over, measured my wheelchair, blah, blah, blah, and they that built the ramp that day so I could come in the house and everything. It was going to be out in the tent in the back however, it started raining, so we had to all be inside. So he wanted to make sure I was inside.
For fun, I like to do anything and everything, but I think my favorite thing is we go camping. And we don’t just go local camping. I probably have 15 more States to cross off my United States list because we go camping. In the last year, we did 6,000 miles almost to Canada to Glacier National Park, and then Yellowstone, and then back down. And we had to get an oil change halfway through the trip, it was crazy. But that’s my love, is just going, and exploring and seeing the United States and all it has to offer. And making the most of certain places that are not accessible and camp grounds. And it’s hard trying to find something that’s accessible, but it’s so much fun. It’s my favorite thing to do.
Right now, I’m dancer, and I was dancing maybe two or three times-a-week prior to my injury. So, I still go to a lot of the functions, we still have a lot of competitions and balls. So, I still participate, and people chair dance with me all the time, so it is kind of like the best thing. So, I get out and go to those events, me, and my girlfriends, once a month, we do dinner and a movie. My son takes me to the mall all the time, I’m like “I’m sick of the mall,” but that’s what he likes to do. So, I am starting to hang out now.
My sister and I have each taken a number of unbelievable trips with my mom. You know, my sister went with her to Bali, she and my mom and I went to Prague, we went to Africa, we've been to the UK, you know, we've done a lot of things. But, we went to Costa Rica.
Let’s see, I love to go to the beach, I also love to kayak. I’m a movie person; I go to the movies, I go out with my girlfriends. My boys play competitive travel baseball, so I get to drive my favorite players to the game every day and we’re heavily involved in that.
Oh, it doesn’t stop me, that’s for sure. Sometimes if somebody, you know, invites me over and I haven’t been over to their home, like “is your house accessible?” Now, I did go to a home a while ago, and it was not accessible, but they got me in. It scared the stew out of me, but they got me in. I don’t let the wheelchair stop me. You kind of have to be a little cautious when you go places like you know to find out if it’s accessible, or can you get where you need to go. But it doesn’t stop me, I mean I’m busier than some people. So, the weekend is when I have fun, Friday evening to Sunday. I try not to do too much Sunday night because I call it a “school night.” Then I’ve got to go to work the next day. I like to go to the movies. I like going shopping. I have two dogs I love to death and spend time with them. I’ve got a roommate and her children I love to death. I just like spending time with my family and friends primarily.
Since it’s summer time right now, we love to go to the pool. And this summer leading up to this, I was not good at getting in and out of the pool, not good at floor transferring, which was awful because I would be outside, and overheat real quickly and we’d have to go in. So, I kind of, it was like “I have to face this and figure this out.” And now that I can get in and out of the pool and the whole deal by myself, it’s much, much easier. So, we love to spend time at the pool, love to go out with friends, go out for dinner, go out, get some drinks or something like that. The same old things that we used to do really.
Still do the same thing—go out drinking, not to like get super-intoxicated, but just to hang out with friends. My friends consist of able-bodied folks—we call the “AB’s”—and people with disabilities, so my group of friends, you know, it’s like very eclectic. Life goes on, I mean, the only thing that changes, again, we have to find accessibility. So, it’s not about us now, it’s about our environment that’s not ready for our craziness. But life goes on. We just had a great barbeque on Sunday, at the beach on the sand, with wheelchairs, which I never thought.
Lots of things. We tried to get back to a lot of the things we did before. I would say one of the major things that we did before Ryan was injured was we went four-wheeling off-road. He couldn’t get back on the four-wheeler that we owned before, so we went and rented a side-by-side. And with the help of the rehab center, they explained to us how we could adapt it, so he could still do that activity that was one of his favorites and we did it together a lot. So, we like to do that. We like to go out with friends to dinner, we like to go to the movies, go on dates, we like to go to the pool. I mean just pretty much everything we did before just a little differently.
We like to watch football; we have friends over usually every Sunday to watch the football game. We try to get out to dinners. We have some friends who’ll occasionally go to a bar and ask us to go; we’ve gone a couple of times. It’s a little hard—it’s not hard for me, but I feel bad for Kelly because everybody’s standing in a bar, and he’s sitting, so he’s at a different level. But, you know, most of our friends will accommodate for that. If we go to a bar that has the high tables, they’ll make sure we have a couple that are lower, and people sit at that level, too. But, we still get out socially. We go to dinner with friends, and we do pretty much everything that we did before.
I actually do more now than I did before. We'll go bowling, we'll go shoot pool, sometimes we even do things that I know I can't do, just so I can do it, or so I can try, just to get a laugh out of everybody, or just to get a laugh myself. You know, so, I mean, it's just all about having fun, I mean, even if it's a thing that's not safe for me, it's just, just about having fun, going out, you know, and being around friends. That's what makes the day.
I enjoy going out and listening to music. I enjoy dancing—I’ll get on the dance floor just like anybody else, and I’ll shake a tail feather, I have a good time. I love shooting billiards; I just have to use a glove now, you give me a pool table, believe you me, I’ll hold the whole table. You know, the longest I’ve held a pool table, it was about in two hours, I mean I became that good. Other things that I do: I enjoy the outdoors, I go to the zoo, I love coming to the city on the train. There’s, there’s so many things, you know, that are, you’re able to do, almost like there’s no limitations in a sense.
I do wheelchair rugby. I still hang out with some of my friends, we have poker night every once in a while. But, just hanging out with my wife. We’re homebodies, so we don’t really—I guess if we go out to dinner at TGIF Friday’s, it’s a big thing or something. We try to stay around the house, watch movies. When the weather is nice, we go out as much as possible. Summer is over, but we still hit the shore every weekend. We try to spend as much time outdoors as possible, and take in as much as we can.
I would say I do the same thing as everybody else. Actually, I probably do more than a lot of people for fun. I have an active travel schedule, I’m very involved and engaged in the Boy Scouts as a volunteer, and I played competitive wheelchair tennis for seven years. I don’t have time to sit at home because I live the life that I want to live. I don’t think I’ve yet to find something I want to do that I can’t, or can’t find a way. I might have to do it differently, but I can do it.
It’s like a relationship with any brother. You know, the physical aspect of it really doesn’t bother either one of us. You know, we butt heads, we’re brothers, we’re supposed to, you know, we’re supposed to bitch at each other. You know, but, we go sit there, we walk around, and, you know, walk around downtown, around by the house, we check out girls, you know, we eat, you know, lunch together or dinner, you know. Yeah, it’s like any other brother.
Enjoy friendships with others whatever it may be. I don’t think that I actually have a social activity that I continuously do. I’m a churchgoer, so that could be classified as a social activity, which is very fun for me because of the community aspect of it. It allows me to build other relationships that participate in other activities. I mean so many of my friends, you know, individuals getting married, participating in weddings, going bowling, on date night with the friends and the families and everything. Those are all fun times for me as well. But love just to enjoy community; whatever we’re doing, going out to eat, restaurants.
Cook and our kitchen has been designed so that I can cook. Everything is at different levels; the stove is different and so everything allows me to cook as well as my wife. So, we cook, we enjoy antiques, and so we will go to auctions in different places, different things, and we read a lot, so we have lots of books. So, a lot of things are things that we can do. Fortunately, have traveled all over the world before the accident, and so we have those wonderful memories and pictures, but we still want to travel. So, we’re just now, it has been four years, and we’re just now beginning to get on planes, and fly within the United States and go to different places. But it’s a transition, and it’s a little scary when you fly with your chair, and hope that things work out well, and that your chair is still in one piece when you get to where you are going. But so far, we have been fortunate.
One of our biggest social things is going out to dinners. We have a group of four couples from our church that we’ve been together forever. And about every six weeks or so, one of the couples chooses the place. We try all different ethnic places, and the stipulation is wherever they choose, the group goes. So, if you don’t like Chinese food, suck it up, you’re going to go to the Chinese restaurant. And it’s just a great social outlet. One of the things my wife and I got into years ago—we were taking a trip, I think, around Lake Michigan, and we noticed all these lighthouses. They’re all so beautiful; they’re in beautiful locations by the waterside. And we thought, “Man, let’s see how many we can…” So, we started kind of building our trips around where the lighthouses were. So we’d drive around the coast, “Okay, we went all the way around Lake Michigan. Well then, there’s Lake Superior, that’s a pretty big lake.” So then we drove on the state side of Lake Superior. Well, as of today, we’ve probably visited 150 lighthouses in about 15 different states all down the east coast from Maine to Florida, and it’s been fun.
My friends come around, we play cards together, we go to a casino; we sometimes go out to different events, sporting events. I have a club I belong to; I get out once a month to that usually. I go out to eat quite a bit. Well, I started a food company, so now I'm out; I go out and try to run a business. So you know, I just, my, I would say my, I would say my extracurricular activities are just not as numerous as they used to be, but I still do pretty well for myself.
We cook out. We play cornhole. We go on our boat. We go camping. We hike. We play with the dogs. We’ve got three dogs, big dogs. We go to football games. We go to soccer games. We do everything. We lead a normal life.
I go out and go to the show. I get on the bus; it doesn't embarrass me, because I have to deal with it. So, I just do like every normal person do, but, I have to have somebody with me. And, then I met somebody, you know, she is been with me for 9 years. Me and her be having fun like l was never in a wheelchair, so that make it even better. One day she asked me, "Is this ok, you know, for me to take you out and stuff?" I was like, "I don't know?" Because, my parents, my mother, thinks she's more a protector. And, my father was like, "eh, he grown. If he trust them, let him go out then." Ever since that day, we've been to the White Sox game, down to the Taste of Chicago, to Navy Pier to see all the boats. Just having fun, you know, and, I'm glad she came along