Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Blank Canvas

We start the new year fresh. Opportunities in front of us seem limitless. No matter what happened before, we believe we will have new experiences to delight us.

Some of this is true. We can't predict the future. Good and bad things will occur to us which we won't see coming. We might win the lottery or be hurt in an accident. We might meet a soul-mate or lose a loved one. You never know what the new year will bring until it does.

But one important fact I've learned is that while you can't control external events, your reaction to them is paramount. Your reaction reveals your character. We respond to successes and tragedies based on who we are. Our primary, innate qualities determine the course of our lives, not incidental stimuli which trigger them.

I ponder this now because I'm in the midst of reading a memoir given to me for Christmas called "Racing The Gods." The book is written by a guy who, in his twenties, raced motorcycles at the highest level (Paul Ritter). He won prestigious Superbike races and excelled at a difficult, dangerous sport.

Twenty years after Ritter retired from professional racing, he casually participated in a meaningless vintage-motorcycle race. During that race, he crashed horribly and broke his spinal cord. He became permanently paralyzed from the chest down, with no physical sensation or hope of improvement.

During his rehabilitation, Ritter discovered -- like Christopher Reeve and others -- that events don't determine our lives, we do. Our personal character affects how we react to situations, including tragic ones like Ritter's.

With tenacity and strength, Ritter struggled to recover as much physical ability as he could. Despite the paralysis, Ritter devised a way to get back into motorcycling. He built a motorcycle with a sidebar that has its operating controls moved over into the sidecar. Plus, the sidecar opens in the back so a wheelchair can roll into it. With these Rube Goldberg-type adaptations, Ritter is able to roll his wheelchair into the sidecar and operate the motorcycle attached to it with his hands on the controls in the sidecar. He can do this without anyone sitting on the motorcycle itself, which must be quite a sight to passing motorists.

Long before I knew of Ritter or his new book, I heard his contraption discussed in the motorcycle community. I marveled at the ingenuity of the design, as well as its very existence. What handicapped person, I wondered, would try to ride a motorcycle? Well, Ritter is the guy.

Ritter's story is a testament to perseverance and character. His final words in the book are these: "I've been asked if I could do it over again, would I give up motorcycles if it meant I could avoid the [spinal cord injury]? My answer is, 'No." Life in a chair, with all its limitations, is still life.... I cannot imagine my life without motorcycles. I am, and always will be, a motorcyclist."

What do you think of this story?


  1. That sounds a very inspirational man! How amazing it is to see the go-getters of this world do amazing things because of their tenacity, determination and joie de vivre!x

  2. It all comes down to two things 1) passion 2) perseverance, without those life would be mundane. I have learned a lot about those two things in the past year when learning to be an instructor and then as a new beginner instructor. I almost quit a few times, but it is my passion for riding that made me persevere. I believe the himan spirit has the capacity to rise above and acheive your goal if you work hard enough. To me a dream come true just means I worked hard for it and made it happen.

    Happy New Year!

  3. That is quite the story.

    What you wrote is so very true. Dealing with adversity shows a person's true inner character.

    I don't think I would have been apt to say that I would have made the same choices. Every person doesn't know truly how they would react though until they are in that situation.

    Interesting post.


  4. Reminds me of a good friend of mine who became paralyzed doing a bike trick he saw a 7 year old do. Yes, it took 12 months for him to fully get back to "life" but based on how he is doing now, the only thing he really lost was a year. He picked right back up as soon as he could and the only difference is that he's wheeling through life :)

  5. Yes, we never know how we would go until it happens.
    Sometimes we surprise ourselves.
    Recently I discovered how close to the edge I'm sailing day to day, as I started overloading within normal life. That took some serious handling as well!
    Much better now.
    I know you like risky environments. Does this book give you pause?
    Xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Not at all. Every biker knows the risks -- and chooses to ride despite them. Crashing isn't desirable but it's not a surprise. I went down in 2003 and almost died while lying on a cold road, but that experience never dampened my enthusiasm for riding.

  6. That's a very inspiring story. :-D

  7. Wonderful story. We either have an internal or external "locus of control" - Mr. Ritter is internal all the way, and may he ride for years more. You - be careful. xox

  8. What an incredible story! He sounds like an amazing guy!

  9. If you cannot Imagine Life without something or someone then I think it is so tied to your Destiny that you would not change it even given that Option. His Story is indeed Inspirational... and his Passion is Evident. Too many people do not follow their Passions and thus live a Passionless Life without Contentment and to me that would be far more of a Tragedy. Happy New Year my Friend... Dawn... The Bohemian

  10. Amazing. If you love something enough, it's worth whatever happens in pursuit of it.

  11. A very inspirational person, Ritter. You're right - events don't determine our lives, we do - but that's so much easier said than done. It's good to learn from those who have done exactly that, proving that we are in charge of our own happiness. Happy New Year Ally x

  12. That's the kind of harrowing, inspiring story that sends a shiver down one's spine, in a very positive way. It's absolutely phenomenal that he was able to keep his love of riding alive, put such ingenuity to work, and remind us all that many a seemingly impossible hurdle can in fact, ultimately, be tackled and triumphed over.

    Thank you very much for sharing this powerful account with us, Ally.

    ♥ Jessica

  13. Thank you very much for your sensitive and insightful essay. Yes, Paul is all those things, and he approaches his many daily challenges as matter-of-fact. He is probably the most humble person I know, given his accomplishments and number of followers.
    Dee Ritter

    1. Thank you for sharing, Dee. It's an honor to hear from you.

  14. I love people with a passion. And he must have an enormous passion to say this. You are right... it is how we deal with events, not the events themselves.

  15. Very, very inspiring guy - sometimes I find myself complaining at the smallest stupidest things :( and then these stories show me that regardless of what I am going through, I am truly lucky. Hugs-