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Former Quadriplegic Finishes an Ironman Triathlon

A former quadriplegic finished an Ironman triathlon, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon. Thirty-year-old John Carson retired from the sport after participating in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho’s Ironman.

Carson was training on his bicycle when a SUV hit him from behind, just two years ago. Next thing he knew, he was in intensive care unit as a quadriplegic after suffering a serious spinal cord injury.

“When I was a younger guy, to me the thought of being paralyzed, I was the first person to say I’d rather be dead,’’ Mr. Carson said. “I remember waking up in the I.C.U., my wife being there, my mom and my family, and being so thankful for being alive.’’

There was little hope for recovery in Carson’s injuries, due to the injuries being in his cervical spine. He quickly began using his arms and hands, which shocked his doctors. Yet they still offered him little hope regarding the use of his legs.

Carson was moved to a spinal cord injury rehabilitation program in New York, where he learned to take steps while holding onto parallel bars.

Four months after the bicycle accident, he attended an event featuring Lance Armstrong.

“It had always been a dream of mine to be in the same room with him and get to speak to him,’’ said Carson. “After my injury happened, I never let it settle in or felt sorry for myself. I looked to him, at how he fought a disease that could have and should have taken his life. I took on that mantra to live strong, to do everything possible to regain my life, whether it was in the wheelchair or at a higher level.’’

Carson continued his rehabilitation and made plans to complete a triathlon using a hand-powered bike and a racing wheelchair. He said he made the choice in part to show his family that “no matter what, I’m going to be O.K. I’m going to be me again. That’s how my training started.”

Slowly after this event, Carson began to walk again.

“Looking at my spinal cord and looking at the images, nothing I’m doing now should be possible,” Carson said. “They can’t say for certain why I recovered versus a person with the exact same injury who is still in a wheelchair.”

He returned to his job as an agent for the United States Customs and Border Protection department, although he now works in an analytical unit rather than in the field. Although he no longer needs a wheelchair, his spinal surgeon refers to him as a “walking quadriplegic.’’
“There is a lack of sensation,’’ he said. “Taking a step, I have to remind myself to lift my foot, shuffle my weight, have the heel strike the ground and roll onto the toe. It’s more mentally tiring than it is physically tiring. If my eyes are closed, I can’t tell where my legs are.”

A year after the bicycle accident, Carson finished the 2010 Lake Placid Ironman in 14 hours 56 minutes, a respectable time for an able-bodied athlete.

Earlier this year he ran with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation at the Boston Marathon, finishing the race in 4 hours 40 minutes 6 seconds. He has raised nearly $20,000 for the foundation through his racing efforts.

Carson’s injuries have altered the biomechanics of his running pace. More He says his desire to devote more time to his wife, possibly start a family and spend time volunteering to support others who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

“Racing used to be the most important thing in my life, but sometimes an accident like this makes you re-prioritize,’’ said Carson. “This is a very selfish sport. I’ve done enough. That five or six hours I spend on a bike Saturday mornings, the run on Sunday, I want to take that time I’d be spending out there and put it to better use.’’

Carson says he’s not giving up his athletic quest entirely and may take part in bike races or other events, including a possible marathon swim.

“I may do one a year to continue to raise money,’’ said Carson. “More important, I’m going to stay involved with the Reeve Foundation with their team events. My goal is getting the word out and trying to inspire other people and raising awareness that there are a lot of people who have suffered spinal cord injuries, but they’re getting out there and participating.’’

Davis Law Group sees many spinal cord injury victims that do not experience a full recovery. Seattle spinal cord injury lawyer Christopher Davis has the legal information that you are looking for as a victim of spinal cord injury. Call (206) 727-4000 for a free consultation.