Today is a day to celebrate our differences and unique abilities, officially known as the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. I often crack up when our son, Carver, innocently asks, “So what’s Dad’s disability again?” He’s looking for the term “spinal cord injury” or “paraplegic” specifically, when the obvious response is simply that his legs don’t work. He’s never really viewed his dad as disabled and doesn’t usually bring it up. Conversely, our daughter, Greta, has from a very early age always pointed out Geoff’s disability to him, as if he hasn’t noticed. When she first started talking, it sounded something like this: “Dada’s legs no work.” We then progressed to, “But, Daddy, your legs don’t work because you broke your back when you were young in a snowmobile accident with Uncle Schmoo (also known as Uncle Jeff Clermont).” Yes, she is that specific. As they get older, they think out loud about how their dad will get around new places, like when we went to Disney World last year. Would their dad get to go on the rides? Would he just have to watch? Where would he sit on the airplane? Anyone who knows Geoff knows the answer to those questions. And while my wonderful brother Greg and I had some sporty dismounts getting Geoff on and off different rides, it was always Geoff who had the vision for how it would all go down– and generally he was right, and only a few times did we actually fall down.
When I fell in love with Geoff, who by the way is out in Breckenridge, Colorado at Ski Spectacular this week, leading clinics for able- bodied and disabled folks alike, all with the same goals in mind: how to make better skiers and how to find the fun again through sport despite a disability– the disability didn’t really enter into the equation. He first won me over with that smile, the dimples, the baby blues, and at that point maybe I noticed he was in the wheelchair.
In fact, it was this very week nine years ago, when I too had traveled out to Breck for the Ski Spec experience, when Geoff asked me to move in with him, on a chair lift ride actually. He had a captive audience, so of course I agreed. Couldn’t let the guy down like that on a blue bird day in Colorado, now could I? But perhaps the best disability story about moving in with Geoff was that his roommate Andy also gained a new housemate. Andy was a Paralympian ski racer who was also legally blind. These two were the epitome of a symbiotic roommate relationship. Geoff could drive and get Andy where he needed to be, specifically to work or the mountain. Andy could help bring wood in for the stove and reach the high stuff Geoff could not. Together, they were invincible.
Due to Geoff’s different positions over the years working with all sorts of students with wide ranging abilities, our kids have literally grown up in the coolest world ever. They love amputees especially, and, like their dad, don’t have a whole lot patience for people who are sedentary and prefer to spend their days indoors when there is so much adventure to be had outside with Mother Nature. They believe they can do and be anything, and their dad models that for them even if it takes him longer to do most every day tasks, except ski down mountains and ride fast bikes.
I would be lying if I said there were never days when I wished his disability didn’t exist. Like when March rolls around and I’m so very tired of being the primary shoveler and wood carrier during the coldest months and days of the year. He will tell you that nothing frustrates him, but that too isn’t entirely the truth; however, it is the way he wishes to view his world and patiently deal with the challenges that come his way. He wishes he could more easily wrestle with Carver or swing Greta for her favorite flippy dippies like their many beloved uncles do with them on a regular basis.
But I fell in love with a good guy, a funny guy, a smart guy, a patient guy, and a really good skier; he also happens to use a wheelchair. He likes to say he does everything anyone else does; he just does it sitting down. Well, it’s more than just sitting down. It’s everything. He helps the rest of us to do those crazy things with him– like hiking Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington with a 9 week old baby and then 5 years later with a 5 year old and a 3 year old; oh, and ,hey, let’s ski out the Sherbourne Trail while we are at it and God only knows what else the world has in store for us. Disability compels the world to collaborate, to question, and to put the best problem solvers to good use. And when you have good friends and family willing to help along the way, you really do have everything you need.