In this new series, Nick will be blogging about his visits and impressions of some of the SCI Organizations and Peer Support Groups in Northern California.Just last weekend, Nick met up with the Steve Wallace of the High Fives Foundation in Truckee.
The following day, Nick met with Lynn Murray the founder of Placerville Mobility Support Group.
Two very different organizations, each doing fantastic work.
Before I start blabbing on about my visit to the High Fives Foundation, just go to their website and look around, everything you need to know is on there and it is fun exploring it. Steve Wallace who is the Program Coordinator with the Foundation had graciously agreed to meet with me that day despite being extremely busy preparing for an event on the East Coast. Steve sustained an SCI while skiing in the granite chief area in Squaw in 2008 and like his colleague and friend Roy who sustained an SCI at Mammoth in 2006, they are both fortunate enough to be able to walk on there own steam. No doubt through great rehab and their infectious positive attitudes. The drive up to Truckee which I've done over a 100 times was extremely smooth. Despite the Carry Chains Warning, I passed over the 7200ft Donner Summit experiencing only light sleet. My trusty Google maps plopped me right in the Truckee Business Park where the High Fives Headquarters is located. They share the same premises as the CR Johnson Healing Center with whom they have a very special relationship.
As I walked in, I was greeted by a friendly man called Mark who was about my age, he was there with his son Geoff who was in a wheelchair. As I chatted to them both, I learnt that Steve was out having lunch and would be back shortly and invited me to hang out while Steve returned. The main reception area was bright and comfortable but what was more apparent was the happy and positive vibe that seemed to inhabit the building. As I waited, one of the acupuncture therapists passed by and introduced herself with a friendly smile. I then got chatting to Kyle, another therapist and my first impressions of the place were further strengthened by his clear enthusiasm and passion for the work he was doing at the healing center. The story is far better told on the CR Johnson website but simply put, CR was an inspirational guy, a world class free skier who passed away doing what he loved the most. All of a sudden, the small reception area burst into activity when it filled up with what I would describe as typical Tahoe Ski Nuts. In amongst this happy bunch was Steve Wallace although I did not initially recognize him as he was minus a baseball cap on his online photos. I'd spoken to Steve a couple of times on the phone and recognized his laid back voice so I introduced myself.
After finishing a quick email, Steve sat down with me and gave me a detailed history of how the Foundation got started back in 2009 and their special relationship with the CR Johnson Healing Center. The center specializes in alternative therapies and are pioneering a new treatment using pilates as part of a proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (My words not Steve's) He then gave me the tour of the 3000 square feet facility which included the well equipped Healing Center Gym, two treatment rooms and reception area. There were two offices, one very well appointed with the latest video and computer equipment, that had to be Roy the co-founders office.
The facility was decorated with posters, certificates, checks and sporting equipment. Every item had a story behind it from the Skis used by CR Johnson to the adapted sledge that took one of the HighFives Athletes to the south pole. Steve explained to me that they use the term "Athlete" to describe the beneficiaries of the Foundation's work. To date almost 100 Athletes have benefited from the foundations "Hand Up" ranging from securing treatment at the best SCI Rehab Facilities to providing lessons and equipment for Athletes returning to the ski runs. I got the chance to speak to Nick, (easy name to remember) who is one of the Foundation Athletes and was there receiving treatment at the Healing Center. Nick, who is a ski jumper, represented the USA at the last Olympics and was injured in the sport he loves and excels at. His wheelchair was easily recognizable as it was fitted with Mountain Bike Tires which he said worked best in the Tahoe snow.
The facility continued to buzz with people as they were getting ready for a fund raising event at the nearby Squaw Ski Resort. In the melee, I briefly met the co-founder Roy who was frantically preparing for their next big event in Vermont. He apologized for not being able to spend any time with me at this moment and I assured him that Steve had done a great job in introducing me to the foundation and describing the fantastic work they do. Thanks again to the HighFive Foundation for showing me round and don't just take my word for it, check out their website (Have I said that already?) to find out more about the fantastic work they do, truly inspirational.
After spending most of Saturday Snow Boarding at Squaw on the same part of the mountain where Steve sustained his injury, I drove down to meet Lynn Murray for dinner in Placerville. To get to Placerville, I had to drive South over HW49 from Auburn, that was my first time on that stretch of the HW and what a stretch it was. Despite no leaves on the predominantly Red Oaks in the area, the ground vegetation was exceptionally green highlighting the natural beauty of the area. The drive was spectacular winding over the American River and passing the magnificent Forest Hill Bridge and meandering through the scenic Gold Country and the tourist village of Colma. I met Lynn in Downtown Placerville and I followed him round the main street as he rolled into one of his favorite eating places "The Farm Table" He had a complete T level SCI back in 2004 after falling 30ft from a building site. He joked that his brother said to him that the only reason he survived was that he landed on his head. Lynn insisted he was paying and I let him order for me. He ordered a lamb shank for himself and Duck Confit for me and then grabbed a table at the side of the main room. Lynn's enthusiasm was palpable as he described the work he was doing as the founder of the Placerville Mobility Support Group. Lynn has very much a hands on approach to Peer Support, reaching out and connecting with the disabled community in and around Placerville. He has a network of 80 individuals in the area and believes in getting people out and about in the community, enjoying the beautiful surroundings and addressing and helping in the common issues mobility challenged individuals have. Despite a small budget of around $5,000, the Mobility Group have many events throughout the year and Lynn is always seeking out and connecting with individuals who have recently become disabled. I found out not only do I share the same ancestry as Lynn, my middle name is Murray, but he also grew up within two miles of where I now live in Los Gatos. As we consumed the delicious fare, all locally sourced and beautifully prepared, we swapped our hopes and dreams for enhancing the help to the SCI communities we both volunteer for.
The two hours just sped by and I said my goodbyes and walked back to my car. I witnessed first hand Lynn's positive attitude and enthusiasm for making a difference in his community and I am looking forward to taking Lynn to dinner next time he is in the Los Gatos area