I want to share a story of a friend by the name of Jim Arbuckle. Before dawn in the fall of 2020, Jim was riding his bike along a wooded area next to the Minnesota River. Although he had lights on his bike and helmet, he briefly took his eyes off the trail and hit a tree branch. The impact knocked him off his bike and down 15 feet to the river bed where he lay on his stomach, face in the leaves and mud. He couldn’t move any of his body from the neck down. He imagined a future of being totally paralyzed. His life would have so little meaning. He’d be a burden to his wife and family.

Not only was he at the bottom of a riverbed but on an unused trail. The temperature was below freezing and he was cold. Although he had a cell phone he couldn’t use it. For an hour and a half of yelling for help and praying, Jim heard a voice. “Are you Ok? Do you need some help?” Jon and Megan, two early morning joggers were running on the trail and saw a piece of his jacket. Jon climbed down the riverbank and called 911. Afterward he told Jim, “You are the luckiest guy in the world, we generally don’t run here, but we did today and we even drove our car to get here quicker.

It took several minutes for the EMTs to arrive. One came up the river in a boat and the other down the trail with a 4-wheeler. Before long, they had Jim on a stretcher and lifted up onto the river bank. Then they took him down the trail to the ambulance waiting at the trail head.

In the hospital, Jim got some good news. He had only bruised his spinal cord in several places and recovery was possible. The bad news was that they couldn’t didn’t know how much mobility would be possible and if he’d ever regain the full use of his limbs. His doctors treated him with screws and rods and a halo to fuse his vertebrae and informed him he’s go through a long period of physical and occupational therapy.

Although his nurses told Him that he needed to try to move his arms and legs constantly to rebuild his muscles and nervous system, he received only three hours of physical therapy per day and was confined to his bed another 21 hours. So he used those hours to his advantage. He got rubber exercise bands and a hand squeezer. When not using these props, he worked at lifting his hands to touch the bed railings.

The doctors and nurses pushed back at his hard work because patients weren’t supposed to do their own therapy in their rooms. At one point, they put an alarm on him to call the nurses if he were to stand up from his wheelchair. And they refused to let him walk without a walker. But Jim was more interested in his healing than hospital protocol and so he pushed himself to stand on his own and walk. As his strength and feelings were slowly returning, Jim knew that his recovery depended on commitment and motivation, so he exercised every hour of the day. In truth, the work was painful and unpleasant.

Since Jim’s accident happened in the middle of covid, he could only have one visitor a day. His wife, Jean, came to the hospital for about ten hours every day, dressing him, feeding him, doing for him what he couldn’t do for himself. Her dedication touched Jim deeply. And during the three weeks of hospital therapy, he received many messages of encouragement from friends and relatives. Jean, his only visitor, read these messages to him and constantly wiped the tears from his eyes. The messages meant so much and gave him motivation and helped fuel his positive mental outlook.

Jim was released from the hospital after just three weeks, halo and all. His doctors told him they had never witnessed anyone progress so quickly and completely. Once released, Jim continued working out. He went to a local gym every day and even paid for a personal trainer. He used equipment at home and never missed an opportunity to walk out doors. He started working with a chiropractor who would get underneath each arm and push until it was absolutely numb with pain. Jim still does the stretches every day. If he doesn’t do them constantly, he regresses.

As Jim became stronger, his goals of being independent and giving service to others were coming back. He felt he was receiving divine support and decided to help others who were struggling to walk. He knew one man with a cane in his church congregation. Jim took it from him and put it in a closet during the church services. The man walked around the church without it and went home, that day, walking on his own. Jim visited another man in assisted living. He’d suffered a stroke and lost the use of his left arm and most of his right hand. Jim started taking him to LA Fitness and taught him to use bands and regain as much use in his arms as possible. Jim teared up as he shared this. He could use his experience to inspire others.

Today Jim gets up at 6:00 am every morning and goes to the gym for a good workout—45 minutes of weights and a 45-minute swim. He mountain bikes with a friend and hikes with his wife. Last summer as a strength and confidence builder, he and a friend did a 300-mile kayak trip on the Mississippi River, camping on sand bars and cooking their own food. It was very challenging with high water, strong winds along with the periodic locks and barge traffic to overcome. This winter for the first time since his accident, he tried snowboarding. Although not quite 100% in terms of movement and balance, he is doing almost everything he did before his accident.

Jim has told me that, in spite of this hard experience and diminished physical abilities, he has gained some wonderful insights. He appreciates his family and friends as never before. He understands the preciousness of life and is weeding out weeding out the negative emotions of doubt, fear and discouragement. He is using what he has learned to help others that lack the know-how and confidence to recover from similar injuries.

I’ve been privileged to travel with Jim since his accident. For me he’s a hero, an incredible example of faith, determination and resilience. He could have given up and lived his life in a wheelchair. Instead, he pushes himself daily to live a normal and full life.

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