Sunday, April 6, 2014

                                                        April 05, 2014

Today, I engaged in an act of civil disobedience, and broke numerous rules in the process. Do I feel bad or guilty about doing so? Nope, not even a little.

In February of 2012, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge unveiled its "Wild Eagle" roller coaster. I'd read about it, saw the videos, and wanted to ride it in the absolute worst way!

Playing by their rules, I tried to go about riding it the 'proper way', only to be turned away, with the excuse that it was a "safety issue".

The following year, I tried again to ride it. This time, I was told that there were new safety harnesses specifically for "folks like me", so I tried to ride it, only to be turned away when I refused to remove my prosthetic leg.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I understand that there are rules in place for specific reasons - but folks, some rules are just stupid, and this is one of those.

In 2011, Army Iraq war hero/veteran James Hackemer was thrown to his death from a 208-foot tall coaster in New York state. Sgt. Hackemer was a double amputee who was not wearing prosthetic legs. There were rules in place that prohibited him from even boarding the ride, but ride operators didn't question him, allowed him to ride, and he died. His survivors went on to win a 7-figure settlement from the park that operated the ride.

In 2013, Rose Irene Ayala-Gaona, a 52 year-old able-bodied woman in Texas, slipped from her restraints and was thrown to her death from a coaster at Six Flags. No doubt that her survivors will also go on to win a 7-figure settlement from Six Flags.

My point in all of this is that rules obviously do not apply to everyone - nothing should ever be carved into stone. You have 2 stories of folks being thrown to their deaths while riding a coaster - one without legs, and the other with all 4 limbs intact.

The veteran with no legs had no business on the coaster in the first place. At a bare minimum, he should've been wearing his prosthetic legs - that likely would have prevented his being thrown from the coaster in the first place. Whether or not he ignored the warnings (there's much debate over that one), the ride operators, who're supposed to be trained in safety procedures, totally ignored said procedures and allowed him to continue on the ride. There were rules in place, but it wasn't he who ignored them - it was the ride operators. I mean, come on, who is gonna not notice a no-legged fellow on a roller coaster?

Ms. Ayala-Gaona, on the other hand, had no rules preventing her from riding the coaster, yet she was still thrown from the ride, and ultimately ended up dead as a result.

My point is this: Applying a rule for ALL amputees, thinking along the same logic, is the same as saying that all Mexicans residing/working in the United States are illegal, or saying that all African Americans are thieves, low-lifes, and welfare recipients.

I've been missing my left leg for 16 years. During that time, I've learned what I can and cannot do. I know how far to push the envelope, and I know that there are boundaries that I simply cannot cross. If I didn't think that I were physically capable of doing certain things, then believe-you-me, I wouldn't even try.

But I know that riding a roller coaster is something that I can do without jeopardizing the safety of myself or the safety of other folks around me. I realize that the possibility exists that my leg could become detached and go flying off due to the centrifugal force, so I've taken precautions to ensure that my leg stays firmly attached to my body. (Yes, there are products available for amputees to make sure that their leg(s) do not fall off or otherwise become detached from their bodies.)

That being said, today, I rode all of the prohibited rides that Dollywood has. Of those rides, the only one that I will not ever get on again is the Thunderhead, but not because of amputee-related issues. It's a wooden roller coaster that is best described as an epileptic seizure. I heard many able-bodied riders say "I won't ever do that again" after exiting the same ride that I'd just gotten off of.

But for the Wild Eagle, that Holy Grail I'd long sought after, definitely yes, I will ride that one again, and again, and again, and again......... It was worth breaking the rules for. And, NO, my leg didn't fall off.

My wife asked me "What is this teaching the kids?" - and this is something that I have given a LOT of thought to. And you know what? I now see things through my children's eyes.

Sometimes we adults do do things that do not make any sense. We do have rules that are unnecessary. And, sometimes, it is okay to ask "why?" - and, sometimes, it is okay to be proven wrong.

It's not about insubordination, disobedience, or otherwise doing things out of spite - it's about realizing that capabilities can sometimes far exceed expectations.

Yeah, I had a great day.

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