Post by Richard Hunter
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the reader is introduced to Devil’s Snare, which is a magical vine-like plant that strangles its victims but wilts in sunlight. The more one struggles in its grasp, the tighter its hold. Adversity can be a noose that zaps one’s will. It is suffocating. Where can we find that light that loosens its grasp?
There is not a person that leaves this Earth without facing adversity. It is a given. Loss, illness, injury and broken relationships leave us bumped and bruised, both physically and emotionally. Our response to these normal life occurrences can leave us wounded, broken and bitter. We find others to be inspiring when they respond to adversity in an overtly positive manner. The assumption is that it is nearly impossible to remain positive when bad things are happening. We put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and conclude that we would never be able to manage that kind of stress. While I’m challenged over and over again in my own thought process, I can’t afford to buy into that way of thinking. Simply put, it would hurt too many people I care about.
At 47 years old, I feel like I’ve had many do-overs already. My original career aspiration was to be an officer in the USMC. However, within 10 months of being commissioned as a 2nd LT, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, told I was going to go blind in the future, and was medically discharged. While it took several years to be able to think long-term again, I ended up going to graduate school to become a school psychologist. Within 10 years, I could no longer observe students in the classroom or administer one-on-one learning disability assessments. Disability applications risked defining me by my limitations. It was not a good time in my life.
On July 5, 2013, I was struck by a car nearly head-on while training for an Ironman triathlon on my tandem bicycle. My sighted guide ricocheted off the windshield and hit the ground. I flew head-first through the windshield of the car and came to rest in the driver’s lap with my left leg sticking out of the window. I woke up when emergency personnel were on the scene. I sustained a concussion, a broken neck, 2 facial fractures and multiple lacerations. I was life-flighted to a nearby hospital and was ultimately put in a neck brace for just over 3 months. My C7 is still broken and I experience chronic nerve pain in my neck and upper back. 5-months and 3 days after the accident, I completed a marathon and went on to run the 2014 Boston Marathon a few months later. On June 7, 2014, I swam tethered to a guide with 900 other swimmers from Alcatraz to the aquatic park in San Francisco. It sounds crazy, but I’ve learned that sometimes one must do something insane to stay sane
Each of us will have different ways to shed light on the Devil’s Snare and to break the downward spiral of negativity surrounding adverse situations, but these are the things within my control which help me remain positive.
Challenge my mind to be an ally, not an adversary.
Undoubtedly this is hard work. At times I know my mind seems to work against me. After all, I was the little boy in the 3rd grade who got a sticker each day he didn’t cry at school. Even then, I had to repeat a mantra over and over again when worried about school, “The teachers are here to help me.” Worrying about the future is something I battle by focusing on the present and reframing the past. For example, in the case of vision loss and my accident, I think of the blessings. Had I not lost my vision, I never would have set the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, completed Ironman or finished a 50-mile endurance run, let alone to meet all of the amazing people along the way. In the case of my accident, I’m very cognizant of the fact that flying through the windshield of a car could have had a much worse outcome.
Ask yourself, “What CAN I do?”
Early on in my vision loss journey, that question was a game changer. There were many visual things I could no longer do independently. However, I had a particular skill set and interests. I could run and I could do things to help others. I started to set ambitious goals in endurance sports and I immersed myself in volunteer endeavors in things I was passionate about. This pattern of thinking was well established by the time I was struck by the car. When I woke up the first night in my home in a hospital bed, wearing a neck brace, on several different medications, I was disoriented and in a near panic. I imagined the impact it would have on my children if 911 had to be called. I literally forced this out of my mind by thinking in the present and what I had control over. In that case, I reminded myself I could breathe, and that was about it. In the following days, I had many responsibilities to follow up on since I coordinate a large marathon event for the blind and visually impaired. I could not sit at my computer. However, I could sit in the hospital bed, learn the accessibility features of the iPhone, and basically use a handheld computer to follow up on the most basic tasks.
Do for others what you won’t do for yourself.
I think we can all agree that we would do almost anything for those we love at great risk to ourselves. I am a big believer that my role as a parent is to model for my children that one can still set ambitious goals in the face of adversity and one still has value and purpose in the lives of others. I’ve talked to too many people who view themselves as a burden, become depressed, and effectively disengage from life. I am humble enough to recognize that this could be the case for me as well. Therefore, I am committed to stepping outside of my comfort zone as difficult as it is. My children will also face adversity in their lives, and I’ll do my best to summon my strength and motivation for them!
Embrace the reality that you have purpose.
I believe strongly that each one of us, regardless of our circumstances, has purpose on this earth. In my case, Faith is integral to who I am. Losing my vision, career redirection, breaking my neck are circumstances I navigate with the belief that God will use me in service to others and will open doors where they need to be opened, and closed where they need to be closed.
Recognize that pride is an enemy.
I’m mystified why so many people I come into contact with are so reluctant to accept assistance of any kind, yet they may be very giving people themselves. I’ve been so bold as to challenge this way of thinking as being selfish. Why can they “give” to their friends, yet not allow their friends to receive the gift of being able to give of themselves? The reality is that I cannot engage in endurance sports without volunteers. They are my friends and my heroes. If I refused assistance, I would not be able to engage life the way I do.
Give yourself permission to have bad moments.
I have had many private moments of wanting to quit. I worry too much about things I can’t control. The key is to not get stuck in this way of thinking. They are episodes and should be classified as such. The more one perseverates over the negatives, the tighter the hold of the Devil’s Snare.
For more information about my story, check out these links:
2013 USABA Military Sports Program Video:
12/7/2013: KCRA 3 Interview for CIM: http://www.kcra.com/news/blind-marathoner-veteran-laces-up-for-cim/-/11797728/23365432/-/109wjhlz/-/index.html