Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On March 1, 2012, Canadian Adam Biel will leave Ushuaia, Argentina, to cycle through two continents in 100 days. His goals? Break the Pan-American Highway world record and raise awareness and money towards autism.

Adam began raising awareness for autism in 2009 by cycling from Alaska toward Argentina, speaking to people along the way, and filming the stories of people living with or impacted by autism.

I know it sounds a bit quixotic and perhaps cliche, but the pinnacle of living life well rests in filling our interactions and relationships with love and compassion. We have more power than we realize - the ability to influence thousands of people around us - by simply looking upon all people and things with respect and value. Living with forgiveness and mercy. Looking for opportunity within challenge, and finding value amidst chaos.

Six years ago, my husband and I drove home from the hospital with our healthy baby boy. We talked at length about our hopes and dreams for son...what he might do and who he might become.
Two years later, we drove home from the hospital with our son, having been told he might never speak or run or ride a bike. That he would spend the rest of his life in our home, being cared for by us, until we which point he would require institutional care. That we would never hear him say, "I love you." We had a myriad of diagnoses: reactive airway disease, compromised immune function, expressive language delay, receptive language delay, auditory processing disorder, cognitive delay, speech and communication delay, fine motor delay, sensory processing disorder and autistic disorder. 
I had feared that moment. I thought the anguish would be too much for me to endure, the load too heavy to carry. Instead, we confronted the difficulty of those first moments after the dismal prognosis with determination. Some people play the hand they are dealt. We decided, instead, to live with intention, and to organize our life around the possibility that Henry could do or be anyone of his choosing. Instead of being consumed with fears and doubts, we made a plan to act with courage and do what we were told might not be possible.

The next year of our life was spent teaching Henry to talk. We handed him flashcards, and made him watch our mouths form the words. We would wait, hours, for him to repeat a single syllable. We taught him to follow basic directions, and respond to requests by pointing and, eventually, by brief utterance.

We taught him to wash his hands by breaking the action into its smallest parts, complete with picture cards of each task: turning on the water, moving hands to the running stream, getting them wet...
We refused to do for him anything we believed he could do for himself. We watched him wail and scream in terror and frustration as we made him pour his own cup of milk, learn to put on his own pants and shoes, hold a fork. We committed ourselves and all our resources to the shared belief in our son and his potential.

This is Henry today, demonstrating the refractive capabilities of water to his kindergarten class. He talks. He is smart and curious. He has friends, plays violin. He loves to read and make movies with his camcorder. He is an excellent sprinter, and ran the 100 meter dash on the state track team. He still requires supports in the classroom, and we still provide needed speech, behavioral and occupational therapies at a cost of nearly $50,000/yr., but my husband and I never complain. We know we are fortunate to be able to provide Henry these resources whereas so many cannot.
Examining his State Track medal

For some, riding a bike is a childhood rite of passage. For others, it's recreation. It's about the wind, whooshing by...scenery flying into a colorful blur...legs pumping as you move in harmony with your machine. That ease of motion, that licentiousness, is the lure of cycling.

I never dreamt my love of the bike would be my platform to evoke change yet, somehow,  cycling has given me the opportunity to bring awareness and provide hope to those living with diabetes. It has given Adam Biel the opportunity to help children like Henry.

There are approximately 10,650 babies born each day in the US. Approximately 960 of those children will have autism. Less than 10% will receive needed services because the cost is prohibitive.

I connected with Adam earlier in the week, and we found a shared desire to use cycling as a venue for change. More importantly, we gained some inspiration from one another. We talked at length about bikes and racing...and Henry. And the emotional experience that comes when we encounter extraordinary abilities or competencies - when we overcome the barriers in this life -  which motivates us to be better ourselves.  It's the moment when we move past the ordinary, and see the vastness of human potential. I wished Adam all the best on his journey.

Adam asked me to ride the stretch from Colorado to Wyoming alongside he and his team. A mere 160 miles of his 14,000 mile adventure. I'll be honored to ride at his side.

Life is full of uncertainty. Transforming uncertainty into hope takes courage. Making a greater contribution to society and leaving your mark on the world is really about finding your purpose, and nurturing that calling in the context of those things most dear to you. I believe we live amazing lives with unlimited opportunity and potential, and it’s up to us to look for ways in which to use those capabilities. In my case, the calling comes on two wheels.

To learn more about Adam Biel and Cycle Pan America, click here:

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