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?