Hemi-Man The Jay Enloe Story
of Conquering Disability
By: John Shepler
"It's not what you've got, but
what you do with what you have." Those words are the title
of a personal story, an inspirational story being polished by
a man in a wheel chair. A man who hopes that his tragedy and
struggle back to a full life will serve as a boost for others
who have suffered setbacks and need that glimmer of hope to know
that, yes, they can really make it. You've seen this man. You
may have heard him share some of his story or heard about it.
You may well be thinking that I'm speaking of Christopher Reeve
and the miraculous way he has struggled back from near death
to be a national inspiration. But, this is another story. It
is also about a man who was nearly given up for dead after a
traumatic fall...but it is a story that is closer to most of
us. Much closer.
It's the heat of a championship bicycle
race. Our rider has completed the Veterans race for entrants
who are 35 years or older. That was 24 grueling miles. He's now
on his second race of the day, also 24 miles. It's the last lap
between the third and fourth corner. Just a matter of minutes,
now, and he can celebrate with his teammates. Then something
unexpected happens. It's one of those freak things that happen
in the intensity of racing, whether it's bikes, motorcycles or
automobiles. Somehow Jay takes the third corner wider than usual
and his pedal strikes the curb. At 35 miles an hour, this is
no mere scuff. The momentum of his body catapults him over the
handle bars in an instant. He scrapes and bends a parking meter
and stays airborne to collide with a city light pole about ten
feet farther. The pole and his body absorb the remaining kinetic
energy. The substantial metal light pole is dented, like it might
have been struck with a baseball bat or ax handle. As for Jay...his
only luck was that there were paramedics stationed at that corner.
One of his teammates later told him: "There was this huge
hole in your leg...bones sticking out everywhere."
Jay Enloe once dreamed of being a professional
athlete. He loved sports, all sports. He earned enough points
in his freshman high school year to get a varsity letter on the
swim team. He played tennis with his brother and football and
baseball with the kids in his church. His high school coaches
got him into cross-country, but he gravitated toward baseball.
When he joined Sundstrand, working in Electric Power, he was
playing 150 softball games a year among 4 teams. In the winter
he switched to competitive racquetball and became a "Class
Injury is no stranger to athletes. Even
a professional athlete's career is likely to be limited by the
constant danger of broken bones and torn muscles. At the peak
intensity of competitive sports, disaster is always lurking,
never more than a split second away. Jay slid into first base
and into a much larger first baseman, and the result was a double
ligament tear in his right knee. On the comeback trail, he took
up bike riding and fell in love with yet another sport. He regained
his conditioning by riding 30 miles each way to work instead
of driving, and soon was racing as far away as Detroit and St.
Paul. Yes, there were spills and more recoveries, but Jay was
in the game to stay...and to win.
One life faded into blackness at the
street light, never to return. Jay's brain stem was partially
torn away from his brain. He entered a coma that some expected
to be a permanent state. Three month's later, though, he remembers
coming out of anesthesia after Achilles tendon surgery, to face
a bleak future of half-paralysis. Jay calls himself the "HemiMan,"
which refers to being hemiplegic, or having one side of your
body paralyzed due to an injury to the other side of the brain.
He even makes jokes about it. But Jay feels that he chose this...that
he was given a choice during near-death, a choice of passing
on or returning to his wife and children to endure the tribulation
of a long, slow healing process. He made a choice in faith, and
that faith now provides the energy that once his peak body conditioning
Incredible? You see him today, scooting
around in his motorized wheel chair. He's already left behind
the days when Peggy bathed him every day and endured the agony
of a man who did not sleep and was always on the verge of crying
out in pain. He's moved beyond those struggling first years back
at work, having to relearn ways to operate equipment, to develop
his productivity and to gain allies among colleagues who have
never experienced, and probably never will experience, these
There have been a couple of turning
points recently, indicators that Jay is back in control of his
future again. The first occurred during some reorganizational
shuffles, when Jay rolled in to speak to a manager about a job
in engineering and found himself saying "Give me a month
and if you don't like what you see, I'll leave with no hard feelings.
But if you do like what you see...I expect a job!" He got
one. The second occurred when an engineer asked for his help
on a speed sensor test failure that had all the technical people
stumped. Calling back to his experiences as a test man years
before, he remembered working on that very design and knew immediately
that they were measuring the wrong voltage.
Now, Jay's not only back to being a
contributor, he's moving on forward again. This time, though,
he's offering something uniquely his, the value of his experience.
It's that silver lining behind the dark cloud. It's the light
of inspiration that can only come from someone who's been there
and made it back. It is encouraging to us all, but most valuable
to those who suffer with their own personal tragedies and have
no one who relates to what they're going through. Like Christopher
Reeve, Jay is choosing to turn adversity into a contribution
and help others as well as build himself up. After all, it's
not what you've got, but what you do with what you have.
Spinal Cord Injuries, Functional Rehabilitation by
The Spinal Cord Injury Handbook for Patients and Their
Families by Karla Dougherty and Richard C. Senelick
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Still Superman - From a man who questioned whether he wanted to live to one who planned to one day walk again, Christopher Reeve tells his incredible story.