This blog is mostly about fitness, strength training, and nutrition. But there’s one other part of my tagline that I only touch on every once in a while, but it’s something that’s extremely important to me: Joie de Vivre (the joy of living). Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the good things and good people in life, and last Saturday I was introduced to someone who knows this now more than most, and is now doing his part to make sure that others get to enjoy their own joie de vivre, no matter what their circumstances are.
[all photos in this post courtesy of the Superman Walks Project]
There are some people who’s stories deserve to be told, and I believe that Tom Mills is one of them. Tom is the founder of the Superman Walks Project, which you will learn more about in the upcoming post(s). He is also one of the two men who took great care of me after I injured my ankle last weekend, and who insisted that they carry me back to the bus which was about a quarter mile away. Despite my protests that I could hobble and that it was an insanely long distance to carry someone, Mr. Mills graciously insisted and saved the day in true Superman fashion.
During that afternoon at the race, I was fortunate to hear some of Tom’s incredible story, but I wanted to know more. After I got home that night, I was able to contact him through the race’s facebook page to say thank you for everything he had done that day. It was at that time that I realized that his story really should be heard by more people, and he so graciously agreed to sit down and answer some questions for me, despite being insanely busy with current projects for Superman Walks. I am going to be breaking this up into 2 different posts because I wanted to be able to include all of the wonderful words that Tom gave me in the answers to my questions.
His story is real, it’s raw, and it might bring you to tears. But it’s what comes after the initial tragedy that shows us what makes this world a wonderful place, so I hope you’ll take the time to read about Tom and his amazing journey.
1. First off, could you please give us a brief account of your own story, and what was it in your life that inspired you to start this program?
“August 4th, 2003 I was riding my motorcycle home after a very long and trying day. I had made the decision to drink during the day to wash away my troubles then get on a CB1-400 Honda and drive at reckless speeds over the hills and curves of Highway 16 in Pipe Creek, TX. The sun was going down and visibility was beginning to reach that dusk hampering stage. Between my intoxication and frustrations I just did not care anymore.
I took turns that anyone would cringe at and scared myself a few times. I would slow down then speed back up. The last event that happened, I was coming down a big hill and opened up the throttle all the way topping 110mph. I came up a hilled curve with a truck in the left lane of the 4 lane highway and over compensated when I saw the tires of the truck drift onto the white dividing lines of our lanes. Due to being on a curve in hill country there was a guard rail with the tall galvanized reflector poles. I sideswiped the rail and my right leg extended out over the rail.
Added by Steph: **Warning: The following two paragraphs are graphic and may not be suitable for all readers. Please skip ahead if you feel this will make you uncomfortable or if you think it may be traumatic for you to read about.
A galvanized reflector pole smashed off my leg like a sledge hammer through a melon. My leg detached and was thrown up into a tree. The bike bucked out from the rail and then back into the rail again. This time the handle bars jack knifed and the bike bucked me off like a bronco. My body flew through the air for 50+ yards to land into the brush on the other side of the rail. I rolled, tumbled and ended up entwined in a very large cluster of bushes and shrubs.
Out in Texas there is nothing but highways, hills, and little traffic at that hour. The truck did not notice what happened and I was left bleeding to death from two major wounds. What I did not know at that time was my leg was gone and in the process of landing I had shattered both ulna and radius of my right arm. I tried to get up and folded my arm in half forcing both bones through the skin and was also bleeding from that wound.
Two girls coming over the top of the hill in the opposite direction saw my bike flipping end over end without a rider and they stopped and began searching for me. They found me and took their belts off to tourniquet my arm and leg to stop the blood loss. My memory is foggy but when the EMS showed up along with half the areas inhabitants I became lucid to time and space. Although there was an extreme amount of pain I was able to focus and hold lucid conversations with the paramedics. They leveled with me per my request and informed me I was missing my leg and about the double compound fracture to my right arm. I laid there thinking for a bit then asked if my left leg was still there and intact. The paramedics caught by surprise by my reasoning laughed and said as far as he could tell it was fine. I said that is good and just rested as they furiously tried to prep me for helevack.
I arrived at the hospital and experienced what most have interpreted as an afterlife experience. I am not so sure about the whole religious connotations about that but I do know that at one point right after I arrived in the ER I felt the urge just to relax and everything would melt away forever. I began to relax and felt myself slipping away from everything. I found this sense of understanding. There is no way to truly explain it but the best I can do is say that if you could imaging all the oceans in the world, all the water they contain, and then imagine that if you took a cup and dipped it into the ocean filling it to the brim, every drop of water within that glass would represent one bit of knowledge possible of understanding like “ice is cold” “some leaves are green” “blood cells carry oxygen for the body” etc. Each drop in that cup would represent one bit of knowledge. Now take that understanding and apply it to all the waters in all the oceans all over the world and every drop contained within those oceans are bits of possible knowledge that you could learn.
The experience was a realization not of all the knowledge available for all of time but the understanding that there is that much knowledge out there, that which we and 1000 generations of humanity will never fully realize all the potential knowledge that there is. The feeling and experience was so overwhelming and all I had to do is relax and I would become a part of that well of knowledge. I refused to relax and drift away. I wanted to fight, I wanted to live, and so I began fighting my way back.
6 & 1/2 weeks later I left the hospital and began an 8 &1/2 year trip through darkness and the school of hard knocks exiting on the other side with a double phd in lessons learned.”
**From the Superman Walks Facebook Page:
Superman Walks was born from walking alone during Tough Mudder Homestead 2013.
As I walked without a team I decided to start my own team that would support its teammates and forget about time. A team that is more concerned with getting everyone over the finishline and never allowing a team mate to quit.
Since then SWP is deticated to touch as many lives as possible and bring hope not only to amputees but anyone that is going through a hard time in their lives.
Tom after helping a group of women over a wall in the Tough Mudder
2. What exactly is the Superman Walks Project? And how can others become involved?
“The Hero Within – Superman Walks Project is an organization that was originally formed to be a walking team of people that commit to helping their fellow teammates and complete any course together never leaving a teammate behind. Since the early days the concept for SWP has evolved into The Hero Within Foundation. We strive to make a difference in this world withempowering all people by shining a light on the true potential we all have within. SWP is approached by people seeking something in their lives. Our endeavors have spread worldwide in 12 short weeks and through happenstance encounters or emails I have picked up projects to work on and help. Each subject that comes through the program not only heals and inspires them and their families but anyone who hears about it or are fortunate enough to be in proximity of what is occurring are also touched and forever changed.”
On Wednesday I’ll post part 2 of this post, with more information about the Superman Walks Project and some of the lives that have already been forever changed by this amazing man. For more information on the Superman Walks Project, visit the website here, or the facebook page here.