A freestyle skiing champion with his sights set on the Calgary Winter Olympics, Jim Milina’s spinal cord injury changed his physical world but not his inner resolve and can-do attitude. He became the first quadriplegic to ever climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and the first to climb up one side and down the other. He also set a World Altitude Record for a quadriplegic at 14,800 feet. Jim, who lives in Comox, BC, with his wife (and fellow Kilimanjaro teammate) Corrine, and their two children, talks about life since his injury.For more information about Jim, please click here.
I grew up in Lynn Valley, in upper North Vancouver. My wife Corrine and I moved to her hometown in the Comox Valley, in 2002.
Jim Milina with his family.
I was injured in a freestyle skiing accident in 1981, as BC Freestyle Skiing Champ, at the Toronto Ski Show. I was 18. I dislocated my 4th and 5th cervical in my neck when I missed landing the double back somersault. In my attempt to roll out of the crash onto the airbag, I suffered my spinal cord injury.
At the time, three months after high school graduation, the injury had a devastating affect on my world. However, as devastating as it was to me physically, my emotional self remained intact by adopting 'a new playing field' approach to my new set of challenges. By nature a generally positive person, on the inside I felt that little had changed. Outwardly, I faced an incredible new physical world of challenge and limitation.
I was at GF Strong for 10 months for my rehab, and this is where I first met Rick Hansen. I still follow spinal cord research and treatment quite closely, and have always believed that a breakthrough can occur at any time. I believe that.
During the 18 year gap between my injury and the Kilimanjaro expedition, I was living in our family home in Lynn Valley with my parents. I went to college, taking math and science before focusing on computers. Taking CAD at BCIT got me started in computer graphics, the field I continue to work in today.
|Milina enjoying a morning coffee before continuing on his Kilimanjaro expedition.|
In August 2002, our Kilimanjaro expedition set a World Altitude Record for a quadriplegic at 14,800 feet; and yes, my spinal cord injury did affect how my body reacted to the altitude. With decreased lung capacity and a compromised circulatory system, we weren't sure beforehand how my body would react. However, we were involved in a study with Simon Fraser University to try to determine what role the spinal cord plays in altitude sickness and other affects of altitude on the human body. So, I was all wired up with sensors and data collectors, and the nurse on our team performed a battery of tests on me three times a day.
After the climb, we spent a week on safari touring some of the most famous game parks…the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and Lake Manyara. Being able to see the African animals in their own environment was a very exciting and moving experience. After safari we spent almost a week hanging out in the inland city of Arusha where we shopped, met new friends, and became immersed in the African culture.
CORD (Climbing Over Restriction and Disability Society, a disabled advocacy society Jim formed for the expedition) was set up to endorse and promote adventure recreation for the disabled. We did some amazing stuff but the kids came along and our lives and priorities changed. By then, adventure recreation for the disabled had grown by such leaps and bounds, the vision has pretty much become a reality.
Having kids was one of those things that also disappeared post injury, due to my SCI. Thanks, in part, to research into reproductive technologies, funded by the Rick Hansen Foundation, I was able to father two children.
As a Solutions Coordinator with the Rick Hansen Foundation, I was part of a team that allocated Wheels In Motion project-based funding. And, as Event Leader for Comox Valley's Wheels In Motion event, we successfully spearheaded a $12,000 fitness machine for the disabled for our new Wellness Centre, along with a stationary hand bike and an active-passive leg machine, thereby outfitting one facility with a complete set of workout equipment. Other projects saw a specialized kayak for those with disabilities as well.
The Art of Living Well
The greatest challenge in my day to day life is finding a healthy balance for my level of ability, being a father of two children, work commitments, and an active lifestyle. Life for me seems to be a work in progress with priorities stretching me in seemingly different directions at times. Finding the fine balance is the art of living.
Living with an SCI is really no different than anyone else's life, really. We all struggle with the limitations that exist in our lives. The biggest difference I think is that, with an SCI, you can 'see' much of those limitations.
Sharing the Experience
I speak to lots of audiences - mostly school children these days - but at one time, my audiences were far more diverse and even included being invited to Boca Raton, Florida to speak to a Fortune 500 company's conference audience. Speaking to kids is great because it's always different and you never know what they'll want to talk about. There are times when they want to just hear about the climb and all the intricacies of how and where and why; and other times, they'll be fixated on my injury and want to know all kinds of things about that and my wheelchair. It's always different and it's always fun. Of course, having children of my own now, it's like they don't have a real desire to 'know' anything because they pretty much know everything! The fun part is in how freely they can share information about their Dad in such a nonchalant, no big deal way.
I still dream of the same things I always have around my SCI and my disability: that one day, I will be able to stand up and walk away from my wheelchair once and for all. It would be a far more complete and fulfilling world if, physically, I could fully participate in the activities of our family. And, I truly believe that one day I will get there. One day, we'll all get there...and that will be an amazing day indeed.