Life Back on the Water

Never separate yourself from what you love. Push your limits and try new things and set your fears aside. I separated myself from what I love for almost 3 years. That love is water and waterskiing. If you would’ve asked me last week I would’ve said, “water and waterskiing were what I loved not what I love now.”

What started off this new curiosity once again was when I was invited to speak at the Junior US Open for Waterskiing in Cincinnati. Before this event all I had been watching was wakeboarding but now I felt ready to face what I once loved so much. I missed the slalom event in the morning which is what I really wanted to watch because that was my true love. But I got to watch some incredible trick skiers. I ran into many skiers and their families that I used to ski with. I hadn’t seen so many of them in years but it was like a breath of fresh air.

That night I had the opportunity to speak in front of these incredible young skiers and their families. I told my story and talked about how difficult it was to say goodbye to waterskiing. I think it helped these young skiers understand how they should cherish each second they’re on the water. I made some people cry during my speech and I made them laugh. In the end I got a standing ovation and it felt absolutely incredible.

After the speech and the next day I was approached by many people who told me that my speech really helped them and they thought that it would really help their kids. It’s a great feeling when people are telling you that you’ve made a difference in their lives. The thrill that I got from waterskiing is not as great as the thrill that I get from speaking. I got to watch the slalom finals that morning and I loved it and got a huge thrill out of that.

I was approached by a man who I think was from Brazil whose son was skiing in the tournament. He told me about his brother and how he had the same exact injury as me 20 years ago. He does not have use of either of his hands and he holds onto the rope with his wrists with his hands cocked backwards. But in the past 20 years he won the world championships 10 times for slalom. He really encouraged me to get back out on the water. And what did I do? I did just that.

Ever since I was maybe 10 years old my family has gone to the Clarion River in Pennsylvania to camp and waterski. I would not even consider it the last couple summers. I did not want people to have to carry me up and down the hill and in and out of the boat. I did not want to be a burden. I felt that there was nothing that I could do on the water in my condition. But I proved myself wrong.

When I first got there I sat at the top of the hill and took a panorama shot of the entire river. I actually had a smile on my face as soon as I saw the river when during that first year I could not even look at at a body of water without wanting to cry.

We got there late on Wednesday night so it got dark pretty quick but we made a fire and sat around it. I was ready for the next day because I wanted to get in the water. I went to bed and I had to be carried into the camper. The breeze coming through the camper windows kept me cool all night and I slept straight through the night. This was only the third time I had slept straight through the night since my accident. I slept through the night and slept in every day that I was there.

The next morning I was carried out of the camper and put into my chair. I could not wait to get into the boat. I drove down the hill and then two of my friends picked me up and put me in the boat. I wanted to go tubing right away but they treated me just how they treated me when I used to go to the Clarion. Valerie told me, “Adam, you’re going to have to wait your turn. We’re not going to treat you any differently.” So I watched some friends kneeboard and the next person up had never tried it before. It took him only three tries to get up and soon enough he was doing 360s. It felt great to be coaching once again.

We went down to a swimming area and I asked if I could get in the water. The water was freezing cold and no one wanted to get in. But I have an advantage. I put a life jacket on and was lowered into the water next to a kneeboard. The water felt great because I cannot feel temperature from the chest down. All I could feel was the sun beating down on my arms, shoulders, and head.

I sat there in the water staring at the kneeboard and I knew that I had to try it. So I got my friend Chelsea to go with me in case I needed saving. Usually you get up on your knees on a kneeboard but I was just going to get dragged around on my stomach. I have full function in my right hand but I do not have any grip in my left hand at all. So I held on tightly with my right hand and cocked my left hand back around the handle to hold on with my wrist. We took off and I realized how difficult it was to hold on with one hand because the left-hand was not really helping too much. I actually made it decently far but I lost grip. I went one more time and made it even farther but this time I lost grip and fell forward and landed face down in the water. I struggled to get my face back out of the water but Chelsea was able to jump off her kneeboard and lift me back up. I loved it despite that I felt like I was going to drown for a second but I knew Chelsea would be there to save me.

Next it was time to try tubing. I was lifted into a tube but it was made for children and my butt barely sat into it. This time I went with Valerie and we took off and I was supposed to smile for the camera but I was so terrified that it had to be the most forced smile I had ever made. I told Valerie to put a thumbs up to go faster but Chelsea took it a little too far. She swung us around and took us over a huge wave and I almost bounced off the tube. But another Harvey sister was there to save the day as Valerie jumped over and pushed me back into the tube. I was terrified and that was the end of tubing for the day.

On Friday we went out again and we found a different tube that fit two people in it that I could sit in a little better. Valerie went with me again to save me. This time it worked out great but my legs were too long and they kept flopping into the water and spraying me in the face. I was slowly getting twisted around to the right so that was the end of that tubing experience.

On Saturday my sister Trisha, Brother-in-law Todd, and my nephews Zach and Keller came down. We found a huge tube that you could fit two people in that had a back to it that you could stretch your legs out in and they would not hit the water. It looked almost impossible to flip so I felt much more comfortable in this tube. So I got in the tube with my sister Trisha and my dad took off flying. He weaved back-and-forth and then we hit a giant wave. The waves bounced me backwards and sent my feet flying over my head and I almost flipped off the back of the tube. All I could think was that I was going to drown. But Trisha’s adrenaline kicked in and she came over and pulled my feet down as fast as she could like you would do to your child when your car is stopping really fast. So I called my dad crazy and told him to slow down and we took an easy ride.

When I was done riding with Trisha my nephew Zach wanted to ride with me. But that was also when my nephew Keller begged to come on the tube as well. Zach is nine and Keller is four. Tubing with my nephews was probably one of the happiest moments I’ve had since my accident. We took an easy ride all the way down the river and back. I had a long conversation with Zach the whole ride and I messed with Keller most of the time. They loved it and I was having the time of my life.

Today I got to see Zach kneeboard for the first time. We got to the other end of the river which was when my dad asked me if I wanted to drive. I agreed to it and they lifted me into the driver seat. I took off slow but eventually I was flying down the river. It felt so incredible to drive again. I can’t wait to get through these drivers training classes so that I can start driving my car and have a lot more independence.

I had an incredible weekend with my family and friends at the Clarion River. It was by far the best time I have had since my accident. I cannot wait to go back. I have to give a big thank you to everyone that was there that helped me get in and out of the boat and into the camper and just help me with the little things. Valerie has been pushing me so hard to come back to the Clarion River and finally I agreed to it and she was so excited for me to be there.

These were all things that I have done before but never would I have imagined that I would be doing them paralyzed. It was like trying them for the first time all over again. I got a huge rush out of the entire experience which I have not had in a very long time.

Life is great these days… Like I wrote for my epitaph, “Here lies a man who truly found happiness. He tried what he thought he’d like and pursued only what he knew he loved.”


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