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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 A" player.

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 had provided.

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 challenges themselves.

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.


Related Books:

Spinal Cord Injuries, Functional Rehabilitation by Martha Somers

The Spinal Cord Injury Handbook for Patients and Their Families by Karla Dougherty and Richard C. Senelick


Also visit these related sites:

Jay's Facebook Page - Jay Enloe, the "HemiMan", is a former digital imaging technician and inspiring public speaker.

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.


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