1,000 Families Project: Rocking the Chair with Robert Buren, a Dad Living with Paraplegia

I could never have imagined becoming confined to a wheelchair in the prime of my life. I guess that’s why I’m always striving so hard to leave the chair behind me. I’m a father of two beautiful daughters, a proud husband and I live an adventurous, exciting and fulfilling life. Although I’m paraplegic, I consider myself a lucky man.

On October 5, 2008, I headed out on a mountain bike ride with one of my colleagues. I was working as a Senior Marketing Manager at Microsoft Canada at the time and like my colleague and I often did, we enjoyed starting our Sunday mornings with some fresh air, adventure and exercise, while still getting home in time for breakfast with our families.

As we approached a makeshift ramp that was set up over a fallen tree, I decided to challenge myself—like I always had in life—to jump off the ramp. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I said to myself. I soon found out.

A few short minutes later, I was lying on the ground. My bike had landed on the front wheel and tipped over, my head hit the ground and I heard my back snap. I could no longer feel my legs.

I was flown to the hospital by helicopter where I was told that I was lucky to be alive, but that I’d never walk again. I was assured that after three or four months of rehab my quality of life would be acceptable. I’ve never been much interested in “acceptable.”

I had the support of my family, my community and my friends. That is was got me through these first few weeks.

During the first days, just sitting up without fainting was a success. In the hospital and then rehab facility I learned what it meant to live without the use of my lower body. Getting dressed, showering, taking care of my personal needs … it was like I was starting all over again, having to learn the basics about caring for myself, never mind learning to navigate the world beyond the hospital walls.

Just a few months later, once reality had officially set in, my wife, Sabrina, and I sat down to evaluate our new life. It was actually New Year’s Eve, the perfect time for looking ahead and setting goals. Although so much had changed, we thought to ourselves, “Why should this year be any different?”

New Year’s Eve, going into 2008—prior to the accident—we had made a list of things we wanted to do and accomplish that year. Sabrina was going to ride her horse more. I was going to get out on the motorbikes more. As a family we’d do numerous camping trips, and as a couple, we’d strive to complete our first half-marathon.

Even with a broken back, we decided that we were going to accomplish everything that we as a family had ever wanted to do. We would find a way. In fact, instead of giving up, letting go and letting life pass us by, we decided to challenge ourselves even more. We’d become even more adventurous.

We had always been an active family, and we knew that this wouldn’t change. Before my accident I had the desire to try my hand at a triathlon. While in rehab, I was told of Chris Bourne, a paratriathlete from Ottawa. I did some research and called Chris to learn how he does it, and what I needed to do.

A competitive spirit, I was determined to learn how to swim, bike and run, without the use of the legs. I’d sign up for rides and races to challenge myself and then go about doing whatever I needed to do to accomplish my goals. I knew I couldn’t walk, but I was determined to show my girls that their dad could still make them proud.

Nine months after my accident, I completed the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a two-day, 200km ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls. Six months later, Sabrina, my wife and I completed our first marathon, me using a racing wheelchair. Next was a 2km open-water swimming race in cottage country. I knew I could swim, bike and run independently, now I had to put them together for a proper triathlon.

In the fall of 2010, I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run). It was awesome. In 2012, Sabrina and I completed our first Half-Iron distance triathlon (1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run). But could I do a full Ironman race with just my arms?

In the summer of 2013, we answered that question for ourselves. In 12 hours and 32 minutes, I completed the 226km race in Louisville, Kentucky, becoming the first Canadian with paraplegia to do so. Sabrina finished in just under 15 hours. We set goals for ourselves and worked hard. We found a way to succeed, and most importantly, we showed our daughters, now seven and five, that anything is possible.

It is now eight years later and I just became Canada’s first paraplegic to race at, and earn a 2nd place at the Ironman World Championships, in Hawaii. It was the most challenging thing I have ever accomplished in my life, but it was so worth it.

This accident has taught me so much. It has taught me to never give up on my dreams. It has taught me that if you set a goal, with the right attitude, you can achieve it.

It has taught me that family and friends are everything. It has taught me to face challenges head on. It has also taught me a lot about myself.

I’ve learned that I’m happy when I’m on a stage sharing my story, so that’s what I strive to do now as often as possible. I speak to children in schools and to leaders of corporations. I’ve given TEDx talks and I’ve shared my story with a variety of non-profit organizations. And when I say my story, I really mean my family’s journey and how we’ve reshaped our lives to make it even more meaningful, to make our relationships stronger and to hopefully inspire other families to do the same.

We could have let this setback get in our way, but instead we’ve turned it into an opportunity to give hope to others that the impossible is possible and that we can all achieve our dreams and goals with the right attitude and outlook.

This is #1000families post number 214. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.

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Robert Buren

About

On October 5th, 2008, a mountain biking accident left Rob a paraplegic. At the age of 37, he was determined to continue living life to the fullest. Over the last eight years, Robert has accomplished a great deal, including 6 Half Ironman and 2 Full Ironman Triathlons, making him the first and only Canadian paraplegic to complete the 226 km event. Robert also enjoys inspiring the young and old with his message, going fast on things with motors and doing what most people think shouldn’t be possible. Learn more about Robert at his Rock The Chair.


'1,000 Families Project: Rocking the Chair with Robert Buren, a Dad Living with Paraplegia' have 1 comment

  1. February 20, 2017 @ 4:01 am The New Family / Podcast Episode 125: Dad, Paraplegic, Ironman - The New Family

    […] Robert’s 1000 Families guest post […]

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1,000 Families

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