Saturday, 13 July 2013

the best way to mend a broken back

I’m wearing socks and I’m not on my bike, that almost certainly means I am either in a place which is colder than I would like or on a plane. Fortunately I am en route from the Caribbean to the Pacific so there’s no danger of non flip flop compatible weather. Yesterday I found myself in  a somewhat less travel brochuresque  situation, one of those unexpected opportunities to do something you’ll never get the chance to do again that life sometimes throws your way. Running down the middle of a main thoroughfare in a capital city at 2pm on a weekday may not seem clever or that exciting but doing so as the street flows with 2 feet of water and a tropical storm pounds the coastline is, I can assure you a valuable stitch in life’s rich tapestry and not an opportunity to pass up, even with a broken back. If you get the chance I recommend taking it, and then stopping for an ice cream like we did.

On a personal level this last month was exactly what I needed, as you might remember i managed to execute a human javelin impression a few weeks ago and the touchdown didn’t quite go to plan meaning that my whole Dominican adventure was spent in the comforting embrace of a spine support which (hopefully) prevented me from doing any further damage to my lumbar spine. For my part I’ve not been riding (but I might have gone running around in a hurricane on Wednesday). It’s been a very long time since I haven’t trained at all for 4 weeks but it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt that I was doing something this worthwhile. Of course I’ve missed riding, my bike is my happy place and it’s so integral to my way of being that I don’t think I’ll ever spend a day away from it where I don’t feel an urge to clip in and go on an adventure at some point. The fact that I could spend 4 weeks away from my bike and feel happy, accomplished and proud is testament to how important and all consuming, as well as fun the work we were doing was, and continues to be. Like the wind and waves we saw whipping down the motorway yesterday the passion, energy and commitment of the volunteers and the local leaders can pick you up and sweep you a long way from where you came.

Bringing together young people who are fortunate enough to be living with diabetes in the USA and other more economically advanced countries and young people living with the same condition in a more resource poor setting is a fantastic experience for both groups. There were more laughs, smiles, hugs and hands held than I can remember for a long time. Living day to day with a chronic condition such as diabetes gives us so much that we share that even when our worlds seem so far apart and disparate we can still empathize and we can feel a special kind of belonging and friendship even when that hand of friendship is extended over thousands of miles. Our volunteers did a great job of planning and executing two weekend camps for kids with diabetes in the DR. these camps give so much in a short space of time, not just the education and knowledge without which medication is not just useless but dangerous but also a sense of belonging, of being just one of the kids. They don’t have to hide their diabetes or be ashamed of it, just for once they get to be just another kid in the playground (albeit joined by a 6 foot 3 gringo covered in facepaint who seems to keep ruining the basketball game).

Our Dominican hosts were nothing but gracious, we played dominoes and cards late into the night. Ate delicious meals on tiled rooftops and sandy beaches, used back braces as excuses for our genetic inability to dance merengue and, in my case managed to get involved in a haute couture photo shoot but there’ll be more on that a bit later. Like that hurricane run I went on these experiences only work if you totally immerse yourself, fortunately both hurricanes and Dominicans don’t leave you much choice, their friendship and welcome be they selling tostones in the street, driving an impossibly decrepit taxi or running huge business concerns , is totally irresistible.

There were tears to go with the smiles as well, our volunteers had their eyes opened to the potential consequences of a lack of access to medical care and insulin in the most graphic way possible, and that isn’t easy to come to for people who have always taken such things for granted.   There were tears from our Dominican young leaders too as they said goodbye to their new friends. Real life, just like bike racing isn’t all about smiling on the podium it’s about gritting your teeth and getting through the tough parts because you can only appreciate the peaks when you had to climb out of the valleys to get to them.

 There were tears from me too when I realized how scared I was, and how fortunate I was to be able to take half an hour with a parent and child and in that time give them the education and the tools to live a long and healthy life, but that if they didn’t use these tools correctly neither of those adjectives would apply. I realized again how lucky I was, I was born in a country which gave me not only insulin and strips for free but also the education I need to use those tools properly. I’m lucky now, I get to travel around learning and writing and reading. I get to share it with people and I hope I can bring some of the happiness and adventures I enjoy into the lives of those who find their situation less inclined towards putting on a pair of board shorts and going for a stroll in a hurricane. I know that all my new friends will be watching me, hoping that I have good lick, good results and good times. I’ll be going back in October and maybe I’ll find myself sat across the same desk, with my face painted with hearts and stars and a little child on my lap as I explain to his parents that  he isn’t going to die and he doesn’t have to be sick. If AYUDA wasn’t there and we weren’t able to give people this kind of life changing education, that healthy happy life wouldn’t be possible.  That’s a big responsibility, 7 guys burying themselves to get you to the front before a climb puts a weight on your shoulders and pinning on those UCI race numbers will still make my heart flutter but that weight will feel a little bit lighter now that I know there are a few more little eyes watching me.

If you'd like to help out, we still very much need donations to continue to fund AYUDA's work in the DR and in the USA. you can chip in here   

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