Will Your Way Back: How One Man Overcame Tragedy with a Winning Mindset

Will Your Way Back: How One Man Overcame Tragedy with a Winning Mindset

by James H. Osborne


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An Incredible Journey of Recovery

James H. Osborne suffered a tragic spinal cord injury from a road cycling accident that rendered him quadriplegic. Though doctors said he would likely never walk again, James has been fighting for nine years to recover his body. Will Your Way Back chronicles his journey, an exercise of will, to walk again and live independently.

James has struggled professionally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to overcome his disability and persevere in pursuit of a new normal. His story is unique and compelling, and if you have ever suffered loss, or have a loved one who is suffering this way, you will draw hope from his inspiring story.

Sometimes you must let go and find a new path, a new way to success: Define your terms, take a stand, and choose to win

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632991126
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
Publication date: 12/22/2016
Pages: 350
Sales rank: 843,866
Product dimensions: 5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.78(d)

Read an Excerpt

Will Your Way Back

How one Man Overcame Tragedy with a Winning Mindset

By James H. Osborne

River Grove Books

Copyright © 2017 James Osborne
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63299-112-6


Just Keep Breathing

My life was shattered in an instant.

The day was clear and sunny, with deep blue skies behind Mount Rainier, visible in all its glory. The sun was right overhead, casting a small shadow in front of me. I had just descended a steep hill on my road bicycle and rounded the corner to start heading north on Frager Road, adjacent to the Green River. I was utterly spent, exhausted from the preceding ten miles of up and down climbs at race pace, most of the time breathless, gasping for air, and fighting for oxygen.

My lungs were screaming. My legs were on fire from the exertion. All the rapid breaths I was taking did little to quell the intense suffering I felt. The fast descent provided little respite for recovery, and when I turned the corner, I could see a small cadre of my cycling comrades trying to pull away from me. Every fiber in my body said, "Accelerate, Jamie, close that gap and catch up to them!" The gap was about one hundred yards. We were racing, and I was determined not to get "dropped."

I implored the engine room in my gut to give me the energy I needed to pedal faster. At the same time, I had to make my breathing more rhythmic. I gripped the handlebars a little tighter and moved my hands down into the "drops," the lowest level of the handlebars that mostly flattens your back parallel to the ground to reduce air friction and helps the rider go a little faster.

As I rode, my mind flashed back to six hours earlier, when I had commuted twenty-five miles to work on my bicycle. It was a gorgeous ride, most of it along the southern portion of Lake Washington, and the remainder through the Kent Valley. I remember seeing Mount Rainier being illuminated by a rising sun, the sky painted in hues of blue and pink, and I cheered out loud at that moment, wishing I could freeze myself in time, feeling incredibly happy and thankful. The crisp spring air had caressed my face with the aromas of the surrounding landscape, trees in bloom, and flowers of different colors accented against the morning mist.

My brief mental diversion was short-lived, and I was back in the moment, having closed the gap by half. I was making progress but could sense there was very little gas left in my physical tank. I glanced at the Garmin 305 GPS device attached to my handlebars. It displayed several data points, including time and speed. It showed a time of about 12:30 p.m. and a speed of twenty-five miles per hour.

The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I shouldn't have commuted into work that morning on my bike and tried to follow up that excursion with a competitive lunch ride. Perhaps I wasn't in the top physical condition I thought I was, or maybe I hadn't eaten enough breakfast earlier to refuel my system. I displaced those thoughts by igniting the last few matches I had inside — and finally closed the gap.

I got on the wheel of the last cyclist in the pace line group, my front tire just a few inches directly behind his back tire, allowing me to draft, which is a common road cycling tactic. The cyclist in front has to work harder because he is facing directly into the wind, unobstructed, which creates resistance and consequently requires more effort to go the same speed as those following right behind. The people following the lead cyclist in a group or pace line don't have to work as hard, about thirty percent less than the person in front, to go the same speed. The lead rider is "pulling" — essentially towing the riders immediately behind him.

Now that I had gotten on the wheel of the rider in front of me, I was able to ride in this small, trailing air pocket of less resistance. This enabled me to recover faster and get my breathing and leg pain under control so I could surge again as we finished the final eight miles of our road cycling race.

Before I could entertain another thought, I heard the sound of cracking, crunching, and metal on metal. I felt for a moment like I was falling, being dropped straight down as if there were nothing underneath to support me. It was like the proverbial rug being pulled out from under me, except in this case I was lying facedown on it, four feet off the ground, moving forward at twenty-five miles per hour.

BOOM! The right side of my head slammed into the pavement. Thank God I had my helmet on. My neck snapped back to my shoulder, and my forward speed caused my body to roll forward, contorting my neck toward my back in the process. At some level I was aware of what was happening, but I don't have a visual memory of it. It happened so quickly, in the space of nanoseconds.

And then all at once, everything was very still.

Where was I? I couldn't see anything. It was pitch black. Or maybe I had just closed my eyes? I don't know. What I did know was that I was in pain, unimaginable pain.

I was aware of being in this tangled mess, feeling something wirelike lying across my face. It was a nightmare. This couldn't be real. I would open my eyes in a moment and find myself in my bed, waking up and looking forward to cycling into work. But the pain said otherwise.

I was incapacitated, shocked, stunned, dazed — with pain spiking through my upper body like lightning bolts repeatedly striking me. Strangely enough, I couldn't feel anything in any other part of my body. It was as if part of my body was asleep. I felt like I was having an out-ofbody experience, like I was separated from myself; floating above, and looking down at this terrifying scene.

Someone had crashed. Who? It was all so surreal. I could feel these sensations but was in a state of disbelief. Suddenly I was aware of someone cradling my head between his hands. I could hear a man's calm voice telling someone not to move me.

Fuck, I thought, it's me. I'm the one who's down.

"Does anyone have a cell phone?" the man keeping me still said. "Call 911. Now!"

Soon there were the sounds of sirens moving in our direction, growing progressively louder, and then, someone was speaking to me.

"Can you hear me?"

An EMT? I wasn't sure. "Yes," I whispered. There was a lot of commotion, other indistinguishable voices; more sirens. I was looking straight up; I couldn't make out faces, just partial views of a man standing over me. I wanted to move my head to try to look around him, but my head was being held stationary between two strong hands. It was frightening, and I closed my eyes.

"What about your arms?"

My arms?

"Can you move them?"

I remember feeling like my right arm lifted up, but I wasn't sure whether I was doing it or someone was lifting it for me.

"Slight movement in elbows," the EMT reported.

"No other response in arms or hands," someone else said.

The EMT asked if I could move my legs. I blinked up at him. "Legs unresponsive," he said.

The same questions were asked as I watched two men — more medics I supposed — poke me again and again all over the lower two-thirds of my body. Can you feel this? Can you move that? I couldn't feel anything. I couldn't move.

"You're going to be all right," the person still cradling my head said.

"I'm scared," I whispered. "I'm really scared."

It was like I had been cut in half. My upper torso hurt terribly, especially my upper back, shoulders, and neck; but below the chest I couldn't feel my stomach, waist, legs, or feet. They were numb. What had happened?

"You're going to be okay," he said again, in a soothing, calm voice.

I later learned that it was my friend, Pat, holding me, trying to keep me calm. He had been right behind me when I crashed and had T-boned into me when I was on the pavement. He was the lucky one, somersaulting after hitting me while still attached to his bike. He rotated 360 degrees in midair and landed on his buttocks. After he landed on the pavement, he noticed that he was still wearing his bike shoes, which were still clipped in to the foot pedals of his bike. He was a few yards away from me.

Dazed, but not unconscious, he saw I wasn't moving and was the first one to reach me.

"Keep breathing, keep breathing, don't stop breathing," I said to myself.

My eyes opened again, or at least I thought they were open. They had to be open, because I was looking up at the overhanging branches above me, the sun filtering through them, causing me to squint. There were more voices, lots of voices, a blur of voices.

"I can't get a BP reading," one voice remarked, sounding frantic.

"Try the other arm!" another ordered.

"It's 60 over 38!"

"That can't be right, try the other arm again and see what you get!"

"Same thing," came the response.

"Keep breathing. Don't stop breathing." I had to keep breathing. If I stopped breathing it was going to be lights out. Over. Dead.

I didn't want to die.

The EMTs strapped me onto a transport board to keep my body immobile and loaded me into the ambulance. They immediately began debating where they should take me. Federal Way? Valley General? Saint Joseph's in Tacoma?

"No," I managed to say. "We're going to Harborview!"

Harborview Medical Center (HMC) is the number-one regional trauma center in Seattle, perhaps even west of Chicago. Within minutes, the doors to the ambulance closed, and we were on our way to HMC.

As the sirens wailed above me, the pain in the upper third of my body became even more excruciating, off the charts. I was completely incapacitated. The medic explained he couldn't give me any painkillers because my condition hadn't yet been diagnosed. Finally one of the EMTs gave me an injection. It didn't help my agony, but my terror seemed to recede a bit. I was awake, but in a daze. Shocked and stunned, my mind and vision were blurred with pain and fear as the surreal ride continued. Being fastened, bolted really, to the rock-hard transport board was driving me crazy. I get claustrophobic easily.

My mind began to drift, and the thumping sensation of the ambulance, navigating the roads up to Interstate 5, receded. I remember flashing back to a small, after-work business party I had attended in the Denny Regrade area of downtown Seattle. It took place in winter 1992 and was held at the condo of a work colleague. We all had some beer, wine, and cheese as appetizers before making the short walk up to the Seattle Center Coliseum (now known as KeyArena) for an evening sporting event. My wife, Diane, and son, Kevin, had joined me. The condo was on the fourth floor of the building.

When it came time to leave, most of us went to the elevator for the short ride down to the first floor. After I walked into the elevator with my family, at least ten more people shoved inside, not paying attention to whether they were overloading the elevator. The elevator door began to shut, when someone stopped the door from closing and, shockingly, about five more people shoehorned their way in, pinning me and my family against the elevator wall. The elevator door shut, and the car lurched downward. After a few moments, it abruptly stopped.

Everyone was talking, laughing, immersed in a happy-hour buzz, oblivious to what had just happened. The thought went through my mind to tell someone to find the phone at the front of the elevator and make a call. The person closest to it called, but there was no answer.

I knew our situation was very dire. There had to be about eighteen people crammed into this elevator, chest to chest, unable to move. I knew that it would be hours before anyone would find us, not counting the time it would take to get us out. I was claustrophobic and nearing panic. The laughing chatter died down as people slowly began to realize we were in trouble. I was unable to move, and neither could anyone else.

How on earth were we going to be able to manage staying here, crammed together, for at best four hours but probably longer? A few soft moans of fear began to fill the air. I looked up at the elevator ceiling and noticed it was recessed with four plastic grates hanging down. There was a hand railing around the inside of the elevator about waist high.

Wedged into the corner, I asked the people around me to try to lift me up, so I could put my feet on the railing. I hoped to reach the recessed ceiling and push aside the suspended ceiling grates to see if there might be an escape hatch above. I was quickly lifted up into position.

After pushing aside a grate, I noticed there was indeed an escape hatch, but I had no idea whether it was open, locked, or even usable for an escape. I pushed my hand against it and felt it move slightly. Elated, I asked the people just below me to help stabilize my position on the handrails, gave the escape hatch a stronger push, and was able to fully open it.

The opening wasn't very large, but it was big enough for me to slither through. With help from the people below, I was able to climb up and out on top of the elevator car. There I could see the cage was wedged on hydraulic runners that presumably had been activated to stop the elevator due to overweight. Looking up, I could see the fourth-floor landing about three feet above me. I managed to climb up to the ledge and find the door opening mechanism to the landing. It opened, and I could see the party revelers who had remained behind.

Now that I knew we had an escape route, I went back to the top of the elevator and helped pull all seventeen people up through the ceiling opening in the elevator, and then up to the fourth-floor landing. This time, we all walked down the stairs.

* * *

Hearing the ambulance sirens abruptly stop blaring snapped me out of my daydream and back to the nightmare of reality.

The doors of the vehicle opened, and I was hustled out by the EMTs, one on each side, the legs of the gurney lowering to the pavement with a thump. As I was wheeled into the emergency room at HMC, I suddenly realized my wife Diane was by my side. I remember her face, red, eyes swollen, tears pouring down her face. I don't remember conversing, just the look of horror on her face. I must have looked terrible, bloodied, with deep contusions, and wrapped tightly to a transport board.

I later learned that when she reached the ER she was contacted by a social worker, cautioning her that she would need to be counseled before seeing me. This only happens if the injury is very serious. With her health-care background, Diane knew my situation was dire. I must have looked like hell when she saw me. The right side of my face was completely bloodied. I was moving in and out of consciousness, anxiously waiting for test results.

A neurosurgeon leaned over the rails of the gurney and gave me his name, but I couldn't hold on to it. He explained I had broken my neck and injured my spinal cord and would likely require extensive spinal fusion, involving as many as four cervical vertebrae.

The look in the doctor's eyes frightened me. He seemed determined, intent on doing surgery. It was like he had already decided what was going to be done and I would have nothing to say about it. I had worked in the medical field for over a decade and have a pretty good understanding of medical protocol and lexicon. I also know my body and have a discerning mind. I wanted to know more, but before I could get any words out, he was already gone.

Surgery has always been a choice of last resort for me. I remember one surgery I had to repair an anal fissure. The surgeon I consulted with was the best in the field. I had at least three consults with him before deciding to proceed. I was so cautious in making that decision. I'll never forget the final consult appointment when the surgeon banged his fist on the table and said, "Look, Jamie, are we going to proceed or not?" I did have surgery then, and it was successful.

I had experienced neck problems in the past and was aware I had spinal stenosis in the cervical region. I also had herniated two discs in the same area a decade prior but, fortunately, resolved that situation without surgery after intensive physical therapy. I've always been dialed into mybody; the thought of being rushed into the operating room without discussion didn't sit well with me. I didn't trust the man.

I begged Diane to find my orthopedic doctor, Dr. Jens. I didn't want any surgical decision made until he had been consulted. Dr. Jens and I had met years before. We lived in the same town and both had daughters of similar ages; we had both participated in a father-daughter program for several years.

I knew his profession, specialty, and reputation. An incredibly busy man, it was sheer luck that Diane was able to reach him at his clinic across the street from HMC. When I was admitted to the ICU, my wife told me he was there, but I don't have any memory of actually seeing him until I was in acute care two days later.

I lay on the gurney for what seemed like a very long time and began to feel nauseated. I somehow moved my neck slightly to the left and a little dribble of liquid rolled across my cheek. Nobody noticed. Diane was still with me but on the phone coordinating with Dr. Jens.

Suddenly, another wave of nausea hit me, and vomit spewed out — straight up and right back down into my face — filling my mouth, eyes, nose, everything. I was gagging for breath. I couldn't move my head to expel the disgusting fluid. Finally, I heard a nurse yell something, and then someone rushed to my aid. I don't know how I kept from suffocating.


Excerpted from Will Your Way Back by James H. Osborne. Copyright © 2017 James Osborne. Excerpted by permission of River Grove Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part One: The Injury,
1. Just Keep Breathing,
2. Growing Up Jamie,
3. The Cruel Reality,
Part Two: Anatomy of a Recovery,
4. Define Your Terms — Take a Stand — Choose to Win,
5. To See and Be Seen,
6. The Ride I Nearly Died,
7. Game On,
8. Thou Shalt Not Be Enabled,
9. A Daunting Transition,
10. The Second Crash,
11. Catastrophic Living,
Part Three: All Is Not as It Seems,
12. The Daily Routine,
13. The Weight of So Much Loss,
14. It's Not Just About Me — Family,
Part Four: In Pursuit of a New Normal,
15. The Solace of Memories,
16. Recovery Phase II 191,
17. Getting Back My Life,
18. The Upside of Alternative Medicine,
19. Rediscovering Jamie,
20. Lessons I Didn't Expect to Learn,
21. A Day in the Life,
22. I Thought Nobody Was Watching,
23. Measured Risks,
24. Make Your Own "Movies",
25. Dreams Are Made True,
About the Author,

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