I was a few minutes late to greet the contractor who had come over to discuss putting safety grab bars in our guest room bath/shower in preparation for my mother’s upcoming visit. “Jim” had responded to an online form I had completed in search of a contractor for the job. He called promptly and was able to come over later that afternoon—two points in his favor!! And he said that he had experience with installing grab bars. I was optimistic.

But when I joined my husband and Jim, my hopes were somewhat dashed. Jim moved and spoke very slowly, almost as though he were medicated or had been drinking. He was stick thin and had sunken eyes, again potentially signs of substance-abuse problems. I generally expect an experienced contractor to be forthcoming with ideas and demonstrate his/her knowledge of the project. Jim said he’d been a contractor for many years, but I had to ask him multiple questions to be sure that he was knowledgeable about not just drilling into the tile but the proper type and placement of the grab bars. Perhaps he had been a contractor for many years, but was he a good contractor…or an over-the-hill one?

I hate the mean thoughts that went through my mind, but sadly, paranoia reigns in the world we live in. Social-media feeds are riddled with complaints from people who are unhappy with the work done by their contractors…if they can even get someone to answer the phone, show up and then actually do the work. Plus…I didn’t even know where this guy came from since it wasn’t the name of the website where I submitted my inquiry. Given all of this and the fact that drilling into marble tile in a shower and installing bars sturdy enough to hold the weight of a falling human has a high price if it is done incorrectly, my radar was on high alert.

After Jim left, I asked my husband if he thought Jim’s slowness was a health issue or substance one. We agreed that it seemed more of a health issue than alcohol or drugs, but I still had a question in my head about whether he was capable of doing the job.

So I admit it…I google-stalked.

Jim has a unique name, and we live in a smallish town so it didn’t take me long to get my answer…which honestly had me in tears for both Jim and for my skepticism.

Six years ago, Jim was in a very bad accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He was in a hospital over 100 miles from his home and his family for four and a half months. He endured surgery and rehab for injuries to his spinal cord, head, shoulder, knee and elbow.

Holy moly! Jim was looking at life on a respirator and in a wheelchair, but he had the guts and fortitude to fight back. I can’t even begin to imagine what he went through physically, emotionally and spiritually from his first moments after the accident, through numerous surgeries and extensive physical therapy. What kind of pain he still must be living with today, yet every day he gets up and is able to walk and live his life…and he followed up my initial inquiry very quickly—something few contractors do. Needless to say, Jim will get the project—if he can overcome all that he has, I’m confident he can install some grab rails in our shower. Ironically, this task suddenly seems so small relative to what Jim has accomplished in the last few years.

Jim is just one example of thousands of people every year who overcome enormous odds. We hear stories of young children facing terrible illness with not just bravery but grace and emotional strength that fuels their loved ones around them. For many years, I have been a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. I believe everyone in America owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women (and their families) who live every day with pain and suffering as a result of injuries received in the line of duty.

Another example: My friend Amy was happily studying to be a pharmacist in college when an autoimmune disease suddenly attacked her eyesight. The treatment caused her to gain a significant amount of weight and other health challenges. An athlete all her life, she went to the local Y and started swimming to fight the weight gain. Fast forward—she has since become the 2016 ITU Aquathlon World Champion and a six-time World Triathlon Para Cup medalist (three gold medals, one silver, two bronze).

But shortly before she was due to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics, she again had to fight an array of health challenges that led to a significant hospital stay and more weight gain. She made it to Tokyo but not in the shape she wanted, and she did not perform as well as she had hoped. Simply crossing the finish line was a superhuman feat for all that she’d endured in the run up to the Olympics. Others might have quit after Tokyo, but Amy has not—at the age of 46, she has shifted her focus to indoor cycling and now is the national paracycling champion in the individual 3k pursuit.

We can all learn from these spiritual warriors who have faced life-threatening and life-altering challenges. Rather than collapse, they fight…sometimes for the simple normalcy that so many of us take for granted. Amy would love nothing more than to go a week without a trip to the hospital…Jim, I’m sure, would love to return to the bicycle he loved.

How do they do it? One choice and one step at a time. They choose to fight. They choose life. They reach an understanding and acceptance of their new circumstances and find reasons to live and ways to learn from their situation. Amy is not only an athlete, she is a frequent speaker on topics related to her assorted health challenges and has founded a training camp to help other blind athletes prepare for competition.

Many of us today have lost this fighting spirit, but we can learn a lot from the Jims and Amys of the world—the fighters who don’t give up…the fighters who believe in possibility and put everything they have into achieving their dream…those who want to keep working and make the world a better place. While I would never wish tragedy on anyone, thank goodness these warriors are there to teach all of us “normal humans” a lesson.

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