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Paraplegics Who Move the Heart

Are you an able-bodied person who spends a fair amount of time wondering why your life isn’t better than it is? Do you often look back on your life with regrets about things you missed out on? Is your life consumed with woulda, coulda, shoulda thinking? If so, you may want to take the focus off yourself and take a look at what the following individuals have accomplished despite living with paraplegia.

John Maclean

Always with a passion for sports, John Maclean was training to ride in western Sydney’s Nepean Triathlon in 1988 when he was hit by a truck. The accident was so bad he was given last rites on the spot. However, he managed to pull through despite his injuries. His back was broken in three places and his pelvis broken in four. He had two breaks in his right arm, a fractured sternum, and punctured lungs. He also suffered a head injury.

Maclean spent four months in the hospital. Understandably, he fought with depression and dealt with pain as he came to grips with the loss of his sporting career. Once he began rehab, he began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. He went on to become a Paralympic champion in rowing, in addition to being the first person in a wheelchair to complete the Iron Man triathlon in Hawaii. He also swam the English Channel, being the first wheelchair athlete to do so.

Bit by bit he overcame his disability. He participated in a new form of therapy using intense exercises that stimulate nerves and cause the nervous system to reboot some functions. Maclean became focused on his therapy. His first triumph came when he managed to take three steps.

With continued therapy, Maclean entered the Nepean triathlon again. It included a 1k swim, 30K cycle and 10K run. Using walking poles for most of the run, he tossed them to the side as he completed the last 30 meters with his wife and son. Maclean writes in his book, How Far Can You Go?, “Amanda, Jack and I crossed the line not as the finish but as the beginning of a whole new world of possibilities.”

After 25 years living with paraplegia and using a wheelchair, John Maclean was walking again. He continues to motivate others with his speeches and his book is up for movie options.

Kerry Gruson and Hector Picard

Closer to home are Kerry Gruson and Hector Picard. Together they made news by participating in a 50-mile bike race through the Florida Keys. What’s amazing is that Picard has no arms and Gruson is paraplegic, with limited use of her arms.

Gruson lost her mobility in an attack by a Vietnam vet who suffered from flashbacks. At the time, she was a reporter for the Boston Globe and during her interview with the vet, he strangled her, believing her to be a Viet Cong. She became neurologically disabled and loss the use of her legs and voice.

Picard lost his arms in a work-related accident when he was electrocuted by a substation transformer. This electrician survived despite burns covering almost half of his body. His right arm was completely amputated and half of the left arm had to be removed.

In spite of their physical losses, Gruson and Picard inspire others with their “can do” approach to life. Gruson is the co-founder of an organization called Thumbs Up! International. This non-profit organization inspires people of various levels of ability to come together and take on athletic challenges. Her zest for life and determination to keep pushing on despite being paraplegic has inspired many people, both disabled and able-bodied.

Picard is the founder of Don’tStopLiving.org. His organization provides resources, encouragement, and inspiration to people facing physical challenges through disability. But his organization isn’t limited to those with disabilities; it also serves those who face challenges with personal issues and who are “just down on their luck.”

Both Gruson and Picard have turned their disabilities into vehicles for inspiring all people to live full and joyful lives despite any adversity they may be facing. Through their perseverance as athletes and as regular people, they are role models for all of us who face challenges in life.

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