How many of us could be twice cursed in life so cruelly, so painfully – and find the strength of spirit to transcend those physical devastations and call them a gift?
Who among us could not merely cling to simple survival after accidents which cost him a leg and then, for a while, the feeling and the mobility in all four limbs – but then rouse the charisma and heart to achieve a miraculous level of recovery and reach out to inspire and help countless others?
Jim MacLaren died August 30 at age 47 a man who had an incredible impact in his too-short life.
At age 21, he was an incredibly handsome specimen – an All-American defensive tackle who stood 6-feet 5-inches and weighed a chiseled 300 pounds — who was also a gifted actor at the prestigious Yale School of Drama. The next year, in October 1985, he was riding his motorcycle in New York City and got hit by a 40,000 pound bus. When he woke up, his left lower leg was gone but somehow he mustered the will to not only recover but to prevail. He sculpted his powerful body to the lean dimensions of the endurance athlete and set records of 3:16 in the marathon and 10:42 at the Ironman.
The saying goes that the fates, or God, or whatever you might call the power that orders the universe does not ask more of any of us than we can bear. Which by definition makes Jim MacLaren a serious cut above your average everyday hero.
In June of 1993, MacLaren was sitting at home in Boulder, Colorado reading a book about spirituality. While gazing at the nearby Flatirons in the foothills of the Rockies, he had what he told the New Haven Register was an epiphany. “I thought ‘It’s seven years later and I’ve reinvented my life. I’m using my philosophies in motivational speaking. I’m the fastest man in the world on one leg. And I’m only competing against able-bodied athletes.’ And I started crying.”
When his training partner came out and asked what was wrong, he recalled to the New Haven Register writer, “Something amazing is about to happen. I can just feel it.”
A day later, In June of 1993, while competing in the Orange County Performing Arts Triathlon in Mission Viejo, California, a black van crossed into the bike course and hit MacLaren.
Before that moment, recalled MacLaren in a moving short movie directed by Emmy-winning director Lisa Lax, “I thought “Wow. I’m back in it. I’m back in life.”
The van hit MacLaren’s back wheel and he was thrown from his bicycle headfirst into signpost and broke his neck. “At the hospital, the doctor said ‘You are a quadriplegic. And you’re never going to move or feel from the chest down for the rest of your life.”