Resuming Activities and Starting New Ones
After returning home to New Jersey from Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Darren went to Kessler Rehab in West Orange three times a week for both Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Many people helped us out by driving Darren to therapy; generally I took him once each week. During those first few months at home, the therapy schedule dominated the daytime hours. But evenings and weekends left time for other activities and Darren’s friends were critical at this point. Since it was within one year of high school graduation and some friends lived at home and commuted to college, several of his “best buddies” were around. Combined with family events and neighborhood gatherings (including a weekly movie night and a few friends watching The Apprentice together each week), Darren kept pretty busy. But he was very cognizant of the fact that he needed to be driven everywhere and sometimes seemed reluctant to go out because he knew it inconvenienced one of us to drive him. We never felt that way as his parents – we wanted him to go out and about – but Darren always seemed careful not to ask for what he felt might be “too much.” Neither his friends nor us minded bringing him anywhere. We were glad he wanted to go places!
One of Darren’s loves in life has been hockey. He started skating around the age of 5 or 6 and never stopped. From basic skating lessons to playing all four years on the high school varsity team, hockey was a huge part of his life. Also an avid Devils fan, hockey was important to all of us. I actually don’t recall how it all came about, but one of the youth hockey coaches in our town asked Darren to coach the Bantam level team. I know I’m biased, but I always thought Darren had more than the average player’s knowledge of the game. As a player, he was big and strong and a talented skater. He wasn’t the “best” player on the ice, or the most aggressive, but I venture a guess he may have been one of the smartest. He could “see” the ice, strategize plays and understand the beauty of teamwork. Coaching younger players made perfect sense and it got him to be out and around people, around kids and the sport. Given that ice rinks are not usually too accessible, and always freezing, it was a challenge participating in practices and games, but true to his usual “M.O.” he was up for trying. So while the NHL and his beloved Devils were in a lockout the season of 2004-2005, Bantams level hockey filled in quite nicely.
I’ve never asked Darren how it felt going to a rink and not be able to lace up his skates to glide over the smooth surface he knew so well, but I only image it was devastating. Like not being able to pop on his skis and fly down a mountain, his injury robbed him of the sports that helped define who he was. But as with all of us and our hobbies and interests, that is part of us, not who we are entirely. Coaching enabled Darren to contribute in some way, and I believe it helped him as much as the kids on the team. I’m sure some of those kids really listened to him and paid attention, too!
In addition to hockey, just being with his friends and hanging out was really important. Watching TV, movies and playing poker are the activities I remember most during those first few months. Feeling part of the group was really good for keeping his spirits up.
Writing this so long after Darren’s injury (10 years), I don’t remember a lot of the details and timing of activities, but since his injury, he has tried water skiing, skydiving (!), skiing, tennis and hand cycling. I’ve probably forgotten a few others, too! Wheelchair rugby has been the one sport he has stuck with the longest, and plays with a great group of guys on the New York Warriors. We’ve enjoyed two ski vacations as a family, and I look forward to more of them in the future. Darren has been open to trying new activities, and has even enjoyed yoga and art. He has a positive attitude when trying new things and I think that really helps, just as it can for anyone and anything – with challenges or not. He’s still a risk-taker (see skydiving above!) to some extent, but I have to admit I’m glad he hasn’t tried any flips or jumps in his wheelchair (yet). Or at least none that I know of!