In the End, it is up to You!
By Jen Lee
As I’m preparing to load up my last boxes into the U-Haul trailer, I was caught in the moment which I had gathered my thoughts and began to wonder how I got myself here? As a Taiwanese born American, my family and I immigrated from Taiwan in 1995 hoping to have a better future and optimistically fulfilled the American dream as legal immigrants desired for. However, the “ideal” American dream my parents have planned for me and my future was to attend a 4-year university right after high school and earning a doctorate or an engineering degree as my major. Regardless if I have any other interest or dreams, this was a common mindset or “dream” that my parents wanted me to achieve. The majority of Chinese/Taiwanese immigrant parents want their children to earn a college degree and hoping they would become a doctor, engineer or a successful business person upon their graduation. Most of us felt it was our obligation to achieve that goal for our parents so we can make them proud.
Unless you’re coming from a wealthy family background, most of us all know the struggle and the sacrifice our parents had to make to immigrate us into the United States. I, myself, felt the sense of responsibility to fulfill my family’s dream until I realized I had no interest in going to college after I graduated from high school. So instead of going to a university and obtain a degree like everyone else, I’ve decided to become the 1%, the outsider as they say it in California, and enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve this nation. Fast forward to 10 years later and after medically retiring from the U.S. Army, I’ve decided to buy a house and stay put in San Antonio, Texas.
Some of you may ask, “why Texas?” Well that is another story I’m saving for another time! But that was the first thought I’ve gathered in my head; how the heck did I end up loading up all the boxes in the back of this U-Haul trailer as I’m preparing to move to Chicago for the next 6 months to train and prepare for the upcoming 2018 Paralympic Games in PyoengChang, South Korea? The answer is, “In the end it is up to you.” At the age of 31, I have come to a realization that as much as your parents, siblings, friends, significant others or whoever have encouraged or spoken to you about what you should do about your future, in the end it is up to you to decide which path you want to take. Maybe I could’ve been a doctor or an engineer like my parents wanted me to be, but instead I picked military as my career and I ended up as a gold medalist Paralympian. The journey wasn’t easy and I’m sure did not expected to be a full time elite disabled athlete, but It’s pretty very funny how the universe work sometimes. It was the path I chose and I don’t regret a damn thing.
Whatever it is you want…. Just Go Get it!
“Going against the grain” is always the mental approach I’ve set myself because coming into the U.S. as an immigrant kid was never easy. After immigrating from Taiwan at the age of 8, my family resided in San Francisco, California where I continued my elementary education at Daniel Webster Elementary in Daly City, California. I did not speak a lick of English and I remember showing up at my classroom totally clueless and had no idea what anyone was saying. I pictured the kids or the teacher would be nice to foreigners like those TV American shows they televised in Taiwan but boy, was I wrong! Kids started to point, laugh and called me names whenever the teacher or my classmate trying to ask me a question. Bullying foreign exchange students definitely existed in school and both of my older sisters faced the same reality at the school they were attending as well. From that day on I knew life will always be a struggle regardless how easy I wanted to be. Therefore, no matter what I do in life I always pick the hardest route or accepting the most challenging task assigned.
In the military I used this mental approach to get through basic training, advanced individual training, airborne school, air assault school, pre-ranger school and special forces selection and process. One thing I learned from the military is that you never want to be “voluntold” because your drill instructors and sergeants will tear you apart if they have to call you out individually to complete a task. So I’ve decide to volunteer for any school, tasks or missions given by my sergeants regardless if how difficult and pain in the butt it could be. I can tell you by using this mental approach definitely helped me overcome my struggles when I lost my leg in a motorcycle accident in 2009. Remember earlier when I mentioned how funny universe work sometime? Well my life definitely threw me a curveball when I was hit by a vehicle while riding my motorcycle in Jacksonville, Florida. I don’t want to go into full detail on the accident, but I can say that I’ve became permanently disabled for the rest of my life. From growing up as a high school varsity athlete then later became a soldier in the U.S. Army then all of a sudden I’m physically disabled in the blink of an eye at the age of 22 was an overwhelming feeling to absorb.
So let’s fast track to this picture above on the top left, who’s prosthetic leg and croc sock looking foot is that? I’m proud to say that is my leg as I was suiting up for another hockey practice here in Niles, Illinois. After driving 22 hours none-stop (besides bathroom breaks) from San Antonio to Chicago, I had the choice to settle down and rest for a few days until I begin my training. But I’m sure as you know by now that was definitely the opposite direction I took. I unpacked my things, cleaned the poop and urine stains my dog Bolt had left in the back of my truck bed during the ride up here and showed up to practice the next morning. If you really to accomplish your goals, you just need to go get it and never expect the journey to be easy. Plus, you want it to be challenging because it feels even better knowing the fact that you’ve worked your tail off to be where you need to be.
Ever since I became an amputee in 2009, I’ve looked at life with many different perspectives. One of the perspectives is realizing not to fall back into your “comfort zone” anymore. The reasons I said that because I’m used to the military structured way of getting things done by following simple directions. Following directions in the military is as easy as cooking Hamburger Helper from scratch by simply reading the directions from the box. As long you don’t question the task and simply just do what the instruction tells you, the mission will be accomplished. But as soon as sh*t hits the fan, I had the tendency to fall back to this comfort zone where I’m accustomed of and not even trying to questions the reason.
After the amputation of my leg, I began my rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, TX. I witnessed many wounded and injured service members who had to overcome their pain and struggles individually. I thought missing a leg was tough until I saw my brothers and sisters in arms who had more than 1 limbs missing crushing their therapy workouts like they’re not even missing a limb. From that day on, I stopped making excuses and constantly remind myself never fall back in the comfort zone I’m accustomed of. As an abled body before, I was used to the hard and physical challenging tasks because of my “going against the grain” mentality.
Even though I like to be challenged, sometimes I have the inclination to not admire the little things in life that I have found no interest of. For an example, golf is a sport that not many people are fond of and I was definitely one of them. I used to think the sport was boring and it was only for people who can afford it due to the cost of equipment and the course fee you have to pay to play. I immediately didn’t respect the game of golf and looked the other way whenever I can. Little did I know, golf became one of many sports I fell in love as a disabled athlete because of the nature of the game. Being out on the golf courses by yourself or with your buddies can be therapeutic because simply you’re just admiring how quiet and peaceful it could be on the golf course without hearing the sound of car horns or the smell of petroleum coming from the city.
My fellow brothers and sisters in arms who I rehabbed with decided to participate in golf and many other adaptive sports competition because they were all testing their limits outside of their comfort zone. You see, most of us decided to put on our prosthetic leg because we all wanted to walk, run and do all the basic things we used to do in life again. We also know that the socket we’re about to put on our amputated limb will be uncomfortable and we will continue to struggle in the months ahead. Instead of coming up with dozens of reasons on why walking with a prosthetic will never be the same as a regular person, we’ve decided to just get out of the comfortable zone and just do it. Heck maybe you’ll fall in love with it like me. So in the end, it was up to me to reconnect with the game of golf and get out of my comfort zone instead of making excuses on why I don’t like golf. This past Friday my teammate Brody (middle from the picture) and I played in a golf tournament where we shot 2 over as a team but had so much fun because of the deeper meaning of the game; team bonding.