Tim Brown Chooses His Own Adventures
The adaptive athlete was missing the thrill-seeking activities that used to define his life—until an experience on an icy pier showed him that he could find fulfillment just about anywhere
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Tim Brown told his story to producer Cat Jaffee for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It was a bleak, cold day in Boston, Massachusetts. No one was really outside. I absolutely questioned whether I should be going out on that pier. Ice and snow are challenging to navigate in a wheelchair. So there was certainly a level of risk involved, and I felt trepidation around what I was about to do. I decided that this was a risk worth taking.
Some of my friends call me Tim Jo, which is a story for another time. I love to spend lots of time outside. And that journey in the outdoors led me to Colorado, where I lived and worked as a ski patroller at Snowmass Mountain in my mid-twenties.
In February of 2011, I was on sweep clearing the mountain one day, and I fell. I don’t remember the accident, but I woke up the next day in the hospital in Denver, in the ICU. I was told that I had been in a bad ski accident, and that I had broken my neck.
The night before my accident, I had met up with a friend just to grab a beer. I remember telling him that, after a few years of feeling a little bit unsettled and unsure of myself, I felt like I had arrived at a place where things were happening. I just started dating someone who I was excited about. I had received a very good mid-season evaluation from my supervisor. Everything seemed to be falling into place. So it was challenging to go from feeling like that to then waking up in an ICU.
I moved back to Massachusetts, where I’m from, moved in with my parents, and spent several years aggressively pursuing various physical rehab therapies in the hopes of being able-bodied once again. In my mind, in order to live the adventurous lifestyle that I had been living up until the point in my life when I was paralyzed, I had to be able-bodied again. It was such a core part of my identity.
There was always this intense comparison to what it was like prior to my accident, and what it was like now. It just didn’t feel the same. It was really, really hard for me to come to terms with that.
I had an experience last winter in my neighborhood here in East Boston. I went out on a cold, snowy, icy day by myself. I use a wheelchair now. There is this little pier that juts out over Boston Harbor.
Part of the pier is elevated probably 20 feet off the water, but when you go out over the water and you’re 20 feet up, the wind feels stronger and you feel more exposed. They had built an extension to the pier, a metal ramp, that I hadn’t pushed out on all that often because it was a little steeper. And I went up there.
I was out on the pier for probably 20 minutes. It was windy, it was cold, it was icy. I felt exposed. But I also felt confident, which I think is often what we are seeking when we put ourselves in these precarious adventure situations. To be out there where there’s a level of risk, but you also feel that the work that you have done has prepared you, and you feel confident you can handle it. It’s exciting. And it’s something that maybe I would not have thought twice about when I was 25 years old and I was able-bodied. But for me now to roll down there out over the water and feel the wind, it’s incredibly empowering.
Last winter was 11 years after my accident. Through a lot of hard work, a lot of therapy, and a lot of personal reflection and difficult conversations, I came to understand that I could experience adventure as a person with a disability, as an adaptive athlete.
Adventure is different for everyone. It doesn’t have to be necessarily going on a weeklong rafting trip, or driving down to Baja California to camp and surf for several days by yourself. I might not have been at the top of a 14-er in Colorado, or a place that we typically associate with these sort of badass adventures. But for me, in that moment, I was pushing myself in a way that felt right, and it felt as adventurous as anything I had done in my life.
Tim Brown is an adaptive athlete, a podcast host, and a director at a clean tech startup called Solstice. He has competed twice in the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships, and is the only quadriplegic person to heli ski at Silverton Mountain in Colorado. You can listen to his podcast, The Unexpected Journey.
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