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Hood to Coast as a Quadraplegic

Imagine…it is the middle of night, the sky is black with stars covering it as far as you can see. You are on a paved highway in Oregon, not in a car, but on your bike. But this bike is not like most, this bike is a hand-cycle because you are a quadriplegic. Your hands are strapped into the handles. All you hear is the wind rushing by and the patter of footsteps from the person behind you.  All you see is the small globe of light your flashlight is creating along with some flashers bobbing in the distance. You know you are almost done with your leg, that you are about to hand the baton over to your teammate… THIS is the Hood to Coast… THIS is the brutal, exhausting, exhilarating event that I would do every weekend if I could.

My entire life I have played sports. My entire life I have been an athlete. From when I was four and out on the soccer field, to being a three season varsity athlete in high school, to being a wheelchair rugby athlete today, I have always been a part of a team.

If you asked my friends, or even my acquaintances if I am competitive, they would say YES! Very much so! There is something about losing that keeps me up at night. I hate the questioning of what I could have done better or how I could have prepared more. I know this feeling all too well. You see for FIVE years the Portland Pounders Rugby team, my rugby team, lost the National Championship. For FIVE years we finished second in the country.  For FIVE years we worked, practiced, trained, but never saw the ultimate success of being first. Until finally in 2013 the stars aligned and we brought home the championship. The ironic thing is that was the last year we made it to the championship game.

kip johnson with the usqra national champs trophy
Today, being an athlete, being a teammate, playing a sport has taken on a new role in my life now. Now it’s a time to compete with my friends, a time to hangout with people that I truly value having in my life. My wheelchair rugby team is as close as family. Most of us would do just about anything for our teammates, our brothers, the only people who really understand our situations.
portland pounders wheelchair rugby team
But what has really been missing over the last 15 years is getting to hangout with my high school buddies like I used to, how it was before I got hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I see my high school friends all the time. We actually have a very close nit group of guys that have a crazy bond. But the only time I really get to do things with them is when we get together to drink a few beers and watch a game, go out to dinner, or go to a movie. I never get to go compete or workout with them. Now don’t get me wrong, I could do these things with them, but in my paralyzed state I would need help. I don’t like asking for help or being a burden so I tend to not get involved even though I know my friends would help in any way.

Hood to Coast gives me that opportunity. I get to be a part of a team again with my high school buddies. The guys that I used to be one of, the guys that used to see me as the same as them, as a fellow football player that could run through any wall of guys, throw the javelin farther than anyone else, and someone that always skied without fear. I get to be a hint of that person and that team again on hood to coast weekend.
kip johnson with his high school friends
These guys, these teammates, they rally around me and give me a little help during the weekend, because nothing is really accessible enough for me out on the course. But I get to be out there competing with them, as one of them. In some ways I have an advantage, my fat ass on wheels going downhill can go faster than any of the runners, but once I hit any decent hill I am a snail and anyone could beat me. But that doesn’t really matter because hood to coast is so much bigger than running a race.
I get to sit in a van, or this year a truck since our van broke down a mile from the start, with some of my closest friends. We all smell, we are all exhausted, but we all get to hangout. The HTC Race of 2019 will go down as the all time best HTC I have ever competed in.

•    My team did it with ONLY six people instead of 12. Our team “5 studs and a gimp” did 200 miles in 30 hours, 23 minutes, and 41.5 seconds and we placed 452 out of 1200 teams…..with half the people. Talk about an accomplishment.
•    One of my best friends, Ronnie Miller and I have been talking about doing a 6-man team for years. For a long time we said when we were 30 that we would do it. I am 34 now and we finally got it done. I think our biggest hesitation was that we knew we needed Big L to be there.
•    Lawrence Franks, Big L, is one of my biggest heroes (if you don’t know his story you are truly missing out). I strive to be more like Lawrence. His grit is inspiring and he pushes everyone to be better and do better. HTC 2019 would not have been HTC 2019 without Lawrence.
•    The last year has been one of the hardest of the last 15. Getting a divorce from my ex wife/used to be best friend Ashley has tested me more than I would have ever expected. To be honest, I spent a lot of the last year feeling completely alone.

finish line of hood to coast
Going into hood to coast weekend I had spent months thinking I had lost the life I had built.  It had been in my head like a pounding headache.  What more could I have done to have kept the girl and life I had loved and came accustomed to. Ashley was about to graduate from college and our dream life was within reach. Until one day it wasn’t and everything came crashing down around me.
HTC was one of the first times in a long time where I was able to get out on a road all by myself. In the middle of the night in pitch black surroundings except for my flashlight a few flashers from runners in the distance bobbing. Zero distractions. I was able look up at the stars and really think. I realized I hadn’t lost in life and that I was further from alone then I have ever been. I’m surrounded by awesome friends and family and I’m able to use what has happened over the last year to better myself, to make myself new from the inside out.

I was lucky enough to be competing in Hood to Coast 2019 on the “5 Studs & A Gimp” team with my closest friends Cameron, Brandon, Megan, Lawrence, and Ronnie. I will cherish that time spent with them forever. Thank you guys so much. You made every crank on my bike over those 33 miles so worth it.

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    kipjohnson@myjonesrealtor.com
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