Welcome to New York

In Times Square with my friend Graham
In Times Square with my friend Graham

My first trip to New York City may have been occasioned by my role in helping MDA launch our new brand. But to me, it was much bigger than that. For me, the trip was about making dreams come true and celebrating the beauty of life. It was about overcoming challenges and living life to the fullest.

When you grow up depending on the use of a wheelchair, like I have, people are always questioning your ability to go places. Those of us with big-city dreams are constantly made aware of the difficulties of navigating metropolitan areas. It feels good to know that, despite these naysayers, I was able to fulfill yet another one of my goals of visiting New York City.

For years I’ve dreamed of making the voyage but, until now, hadn’t had the chance. Sure, I’ve wanted to visit friends who moved from Colorado to the Big Apple and see a Broadway show, but all of my plans to make the voyage fell through every time. Now I know that this was the trip I was meant to take.

As someone who loves to travel, one challenge I’ve come to expect is flight trouble. You might be surprised to find out that, unlike when I’m riding in a car or bus, I can’t take my wheelchair into the cabin of a plane. Instead, I drive my chair to the door of the plane where I am lifted and strapped into an aisle chair (a super skinny, rigid-framed chair that can be maneuvered down the aisle of the plane) and then transferred into my seat. Once I’m in my spot, one of my travel buddies will go back to my wheelchair and explain to the cargo personnel how to handle it. That’s right. You heard me; I said cargo. My wheelchair is then taken to the bottom of the plane and put into the cargo hold with everyone’s luggage.

As much as I wish it were, it’s almost never a smooth process. When I land there is often something wrong with my chair: parts have been broken off, parts have been bent, or, worst of all, sometimes it won’t turn on. This trip was no different. As it turned out, my entire backrest had been broken off my chair and we had to figure out how to jury-rig it enough for me to be able to use it the rest of the trip. Thankfully, that was the only flight debacle on that trip. I’ve come quite accustomed to navigating these obstacles and I’ve learn that sometimes you have to “roll” with them.

Though the flight was adventurous in its way, my real adventure was just about to begin. At last, there I was: in the city of my dreams. The fact that I was actually in the iconic metropolis didn’t sink in until I found myself blinded by the bright lights of Time Square. Everything was exactly like in the movies. Around every corner was something exciting to see and something even tastier to eat.

We loved Wicked!
We loved Wicked!

Even though I was there to be a part of the event at Carnegie Hall, I had to make the most of my free time when I got the chance. Believe me, I didn’t let a single hour go to waste. I made some unforgettable memories on this trip, and I’m grateful to have been able to share them with my family and close friends, Hannah and Graham. Only a few members of our group had visited the city previously so together we enjoyed a lot of unique experiences. I was also able to meet up with some of my other friends from childhood who lived near Manhattan. I can’t imagine better people to explore the city with. From attending the TODAY SHOW, to brunch in Central Park, to spending the afternoon admiring artifacts at The Met, we did it all. As someone whose favorite movie as a kid was The Wizard of Oz, I was blown away by the live production Wicked at the famous Gershwin Theater.

Even the cold weather couldn’t stop us. In truth, I was really surprised to see all of the streets and sidewalks had been impeccably cleared after the massive blizzard that rocked the East Coast just a week before. I did encounter some issues with accessibility but for the most part was pleasantly surprised because they were few and far between.

Aside from the flight in, the biggest mishap we encountered was getting stuck in the subway late Friday night. Roughly 10 minutes into the train ride we slowed to a stop because of a medical emergency on another train that halted the system. After waiting another 20 minutes, we tried to exit through another car, but I nearly got stuck trying to move between them. After waiting even longer, we finally got off, only to find that the station where we had ended up didn’t have an elevator. After that, we got back on the train, heading to next stop with an accessible exit to the street. Unfortunately, the elevator was broken when we got there.

So much for Plan B. Onto Plan C? We got back on the train and, after making it to next stop, we encountered yet another out-of-order elevator. We were getting tired and frustrated, so we decided to take our chances and tried defying gravity by riding the “broken” elevator. It worked! We finally escaped and made it to street level in Chelsea. By that time it was 1 a.m. and all of us were exhausted, but we celebrated our escape with a slice at a neighborhood pizza shop before hailing a cab and making our way back to the hotel. It was the best pizza I’ve ever had, and my friends and family now have a story we’ll never tire of retelling of the night we got stuck in illustrious New York subway.

Come to think of it, that pizza slice is actually a great metaphor for my experiences and attitude in general. Sometimes you have to deal with the bad to get to the good. That’s something I hope to share as I travel the country this year meeting MDA families, supporters and sponsors.

Traveling to so many wonderful places that have been on my must-visit list, like New York City, is one of the best parts of being MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador, and I’m thrilled to continue adding to the list of places I’ve been through my adventures with MDA this year. I know that each place will have its own challenges I’ll have to overcome, but, just like in the past, I will never let the obstacles obscure the goal of living my life to the fullest and inspiring others to do the same.