Nine years ago, after being rendered quadriplegic from a bicycling accident, Mercer Island resident James Osborne couldn’t touch his fingertips together. Now, he can walk (carefully), exercise, work, drive and even ski.
Working his way back from an “unimaginable injury” has been a “long, arduous and monumentally difficult process,” and now, the Bellevue College IT manager wants to offer hope, inspiration and possibility to those facing life’s adversities.
Osborne chronicled his inspirational almost decade-long, and still ongoing recovery in his recently-published memoir, “Will Your Way Back.” He will speak at Island Books from 4-6 p.m. on March 19 on how he “overcame tragedy with a winning mindset.”
“When I was initially hospitalized, I had no movement at all,” he said. “The doctors couldn’t tell me how much function I would regain, because the spectrum of recovery [from spinal cord injuries] is so broad.”
Osborne said he could have been in a wheelchair forever, or live a totally independent life. He had a choice to make: to “give in and surrender, or fight the good fight, doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes.”
The two best pieces of advice he received were: “get independent,” from his doctor, and “trust yourself,” from a gym buddy. Osborne works out at Seattle Athletic Club every morning, and said the community there helped him regain not only his physical strength, but also his mental courage.
He said he resolved early on not to be a medical science statistic that suggested his recovery trajectory would flatten out after one or two years. A “medical outlier,” Osborne has had “more recovery in the last seven years than the first three by many fold,” he said. It took him a few years to learn how to hold a pen again, and now he can do 1,000 push-ups in 75 minutes.
His book is an unfiltered and vulnerable account of his hard-fought recovery process. Osborne goes in to depth about living moment by moment and the arduous nature of everything he does. Before his accident, Osborne was a “recreational enthusiast” who loved exercise and fitness.
“I had always been pretty active, and I love the outdoors,” he said. “I still am, but I can’t quite do everything I used to. I’m working my way back.”
His injury occurred during a bike ride on his lunch break. While racing with his coworkers, Osborne’s bike frame failed.
“I went down headfirst into the pavement,” he said. “I remember hearing these loud metallic crunching noises.”
The impact hit the right side of Osborne’s neck, causing hyperflexion of the cervical spine, he said. His injury was not “complete,” though he had 75 percent blockage at his C7 vertebrae.
He said he “always believed at some level that [his] body would get better,” but at the time, it felt like someone had hit “Control-Alt-Delete” on his life. His body had experienced a “complete reset,” Osborne said.
Along with the physical trauma came emotional hardship. Osborne said that if he could do his recovery again, the first thing he would do would be to seek out mental health counseling right away. Instead, he experienced a mental “second crash” a few months after his accident.
Osborne said he became depressed, even suicidal for a time. He said that through the love and care of his family, and coaching from his doctor, he was able to climb out of that hole. He then received treatment from both clinical and behavioral psychologists for seven years, along with physical, occupational and pool therapy.
Osborne said he uses an “enormous amount of concentration and visualization” to do things that used to be enjoyable, and easy, like hitting a golf ball, getting into a crew shell, cycling around Mercer Island and skiing down the bunny hill. But accomplishing each small goal is a huge victory.
Along with going back to work as an IT manager at Bellevue College a year ago, Osborne is now a sought after speaker for podcasts and events including TEDx at Bellevue College.