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Canadian SCI Rehabilitation Introduction

A Matter of Perspective Foreword – Carl Hiebert I was honoured when invited by the authors of the Rehabilitation Environmental Scan Atlas: Capturing Capacity in Canadian SCI Rehabilitation, to write the foreword for this publication. The Atlas offers individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI), their families and caregivers, clinicians and researchers a unique perspective of current SCI rehabilitation services in Canada. Much can be gained by understanding the current Canadian SCI rehabilitation landscape and, by creating this baseline, I hope that one day, every person with a spinal cord injury living in Canada will receive the best rehabilitation services available in the country. After my spinal cord injury, rehabilitation was instrumental in my recovery, and was one of the many critical factors that allowed me to move forward and build a career as a motivational speaker, adventurer and photographer. I remember that day as clearly as if it happened an hour ago. As a senior hang-gliding instructor, I was the one responsible for launching first to test the wind conditions. After checking my harness hookup once more, I ran off the cliff edge, gripping the control bar of my hang glider. It was the shortest flight of my life. A gust of wind slammed my wing down into the hill. At the moment of impact, it felt like an internal rubber band snapped off its hooks and I realized something serious, something irrevocable, had happened. I turned my head side to side – no problem. Then my arms – full range of motion. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all. But when I went to move my legs, there was nothing. I tried again. Nothing. And then it hit me. I’d broken my back. My thought process in the next few seconds was crystal clear. “I’ve broken my back. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I don’t think I can handle this. I don’t think I want to live.” There was a slight delay, then the next thought was, “The real problem here is not my broken back, it’s my attitude and how I choose to handle this.” It was only after I came to this realization, that I yelled for help and began my journey as a paraplegic. That sequence of events will remain with me forever as the most dramatic and poignant example of how our choice of perspective is fundamental to how we travel through life. We can’t control the cards that we are dealt, but we can choose how to play them. Three weeks into my rehabilitation program, some friends dropped by and told the nurses we were going out to the parking lot to get some fresh air. Before leaving, I hung a “Gone Flying” sign on my hospital room door in anticipation of what was to come. Within two hours, I was back in the sky, strapped in my friend’s single-seat ultralight. Looking down on my empty wheelchair was another shift of perspective. Even if I couldn’t walk, I could fly. I knew, in that moment, I had been given my gift of wings. Within two years, I was running my own flight school as the first paraplegic flight instructor in Canada. Three years later, I became the first person to fly coast-to-coast in an ultralight. Through my adventures as a flight instructor and aerial photographer, what I delight in the most is finding a sense of harmony and natural rhythm to the land. Often, our choice of perspective comes into play in the simple routine of daily living. On a drive home one winter’s night, my front tire blew apart, leaving me stranded. Try as I might, the biting cold, snowdrifts and limitations of my wheelchair, made changing the tire impossible. My first reaction was one of complete frustration. And then the inner voice reminded me, “Hey this is about perspective. You had better walk the talk here, if this is really what you believe in.” It took a couple of minutes to process that message, to decide that this would be an unexpected adventure, and I would accept whatever the outcome. I alternated between keeping warm in the car and trying to flag down a vehicle. Eventually, a proverbial Good Samaritan showed and a half hour later, I was back on the road. I smiled all the way home, my change of perspective having made all the difference. Perspective weighs heavily on how we confront challenges in life. As you read through this Atlas, I hope you appreciate the network of people and resources available to help you with your rehabilitation journey – and to consider that whether you are confronting a life-altering situation or a flat tire, your choice of perspective truly does make all the difference. Carl Hiebert is a photographer, aviator, motivational speaker, adventurer, philanthropist, and author of six best-selling books. www.giftofwings.ca A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE 1


Canadian SCI Rehabilitation Introduction
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