field reports: a lesson on inspiration from ninja-macgyveress, danielle watson

commuting chronicles

Danielle Lancelot Watson I can’t quite recall if Danielle or I had the idea first, but once it was put on the table, I was stoked. To have an opportunity to use a wheel chair for the eventing and be guided by a pro, how could I say no? I was incredibly curious, but mostly, I wanted my best friend to know I cared about her experience and wanted to be a part of it. Danielle first started using a wheel chair 3 years ago, when she moved from New York to the West Coast. From what I understand, she took the most massive fall anyone has ever survived, like Guinness Book of World Record status. I’ll let her share that story with you via her own words on her blog:Danielle Lancelot Watson. In any event, Danielle obtained a second top of the line chair (this is no small feet) and I was in.

Some parts of being in a wheel chair felt very natural to me, the seated position, mobilizing myself on wheels and through my own exertion. I had also just spent a ten hour day working retail at Patagonia, I’m not ashamed to say being off my feet for the duration of our evenings’ outing was a relief. Steering was a lot like paddling, if you wanted to go a certain direction, usually you grabbed the opposite wheel. As an admirer of precision, I was fascinated by Danielle’s ability to turn on a dime, back into a tinny space, and, on the up hills, there was no contest, she left me in the dust.

Some parts felt very unnatural, operating two wheels side by side with my hands as the crank set, feeling my abs and thighs engage when I would reach for something or open a door. I know that because of Danielle’s injury, she isn’t able to activate these muscle groups, knowing this made me feel a bit fraudulent. I couldn’t believe how well she had mastered using the chair with all these barriers. Taking the challenges into consideration, a new image of Danielle was forming in my head… She was like some sort of ninja-macgyveress who had this sweet superhero strength I never new about. Being in the chair is like having a constant obstacle course around you and she could improvised these awesome solutions and keep a great attitude the whole time.

But I digress… At our first stop Dojo, we ordered some sushi rolls and waited for them outside with Danielle’s dog Chai. I had noticed, previous to this evenings experiment, that people loved to stop Danielle and ask her about her dog. Was he Pomeranian, how old was he, what was his name, was he a puppy, the list goes on. But today, outside Dojo, two thirty-year old females in wheel chairs with a cute dog, it was like Boo from face book, the dog with a million followers. You would think that we were in another universe and Chai was a miniature elephant or bear or other animal that people were in love with. Eventually we got the rolls, met up with a few more standing chicks, and then headed to check out the newest bar downtown, The Dogwood.

The most interesting moments of the evening where when folks talked to me that regularly wouldn’t have. In a crowd, I tend to blend in well, I wear plain clothes and don’t typically to go out in the evenings much, so when I do, often it is quite uneventful. This particular eventing, I attribute it to being in the chair, many people wanted to visit with me. I could begin to understand what it might be like for Danielle. She is constantly surrounded by people When we go for dinner or a walk, someone is always stopping her to say hello, ask about her dog, and often remark at how inspirational she is. I like to refer to this as, The Danielle Effect. Later in the evening, breaking out dancing to the old school hip hop tunes at The Dogwood, the phenomena was in full swing. Once Danielle was up cutting a rug in her chair, with each passing song more and more people filled the dance floor. The Danielle Effect never fails.

While I don’t think she would agree with me about this, it has happened so many times when we go out. Being a scientist, I have looked at the data, and have a hypothesis. I think that Danielle has a unique way of creating community. Something about her friendly air, authenticity, and her athletic accomplishments collide to impress even the most stand-offish of citizens. And people want to be around her, even for just one song, on a dance floor. Towards the end of the evening, a woman approached Danielle, hugged her, held her hand, wanted to converse with her. Eventually the woman moved on, Danielle told me that the woman had told her how inspirational she was and also, that the woman was ‘hurting for friends’ and could Danielle be her friend. Now this could happen to anyone, sure, but when you see that it happens to Danielle every time we go out, one has to stop and wonder. I can’t explain it other than saying it was the Danielle Effect and I feel lucky to have had an opportunity, small window, into what it might be like to be Danielle. One word: inspirational.

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