Fed by the Strength to Excel

Evan Strong
Image reprinted with the permission of Extremity Games.

On the morning of Nov. 3, 2004, Evan Strong borrowed his older sister’s motorcycle — despite his lack of a motorcycle license — to get to his job at a landscaping company. When a police officer pulled him over for speeding, he was able to avoid a ticket, but not the decision that would determine the rest of his life.

Strong decided that it would be best not to ride any farther without a license, so instead of continuing on to work, he turned around to return home. He approached a valley just 2 or 3 miles away from his home in Maui, Hawaii, where the road ran over a bridge and curved to the left. As he exited the bridge, an SUV driving in the opposite direction swerved into Strong’s lane, sideswiped the car in front of him and hit him head on.

He flew from the motorcycle, slammed his head, protected by a full-face helmet, into the hood of the oncoming car and landed on his back. He was left lying there on the ground, just 10 days before his 18th birthday.

Calm acceptance

Strong lifted his head to determine what had happened, and saw the SUV flipped over 100 yards down the road. He saw his sister’s motorcycle, which had sustained a great deal of damage and was strewn in the middle of the road.

“Then I looked at me, and the Levi’s jeans I was wearing literally were ripped right off of me, and I saw my thigh was wide open and my leg was laying up over my chest,” he said.

At that point he realized that he was not doing well. His next thought, he told O&P Business News, was that he was never going to skateboard again. Up until the accident, skateboarding was Strong’s passion, and he had pursued it through sponsorships that allowed him to travel to do demonstrations and compete in contests.

“It was my life. It was everything, and it was taken away from me in that moment,” he said.

He waited for help. The pain continued to increase until he no longer could focus on remaining conscious, so he began doing a meditation he has practiced since he was 4 years old, called shrop shot yoga. Strong turned his attention inward at his third eye and repeated a mantra, and entered a peaceful, centered space where he did not feel the pain from his injuries.

“I still knew I was there, and I was still present, but I was almost transcending my body in those moments,” he said.

At some point, a passer-by on her way home from the laundromat found Strong and stopped at the accident scene, where he was bleeding from the major arteries in his leg that had been ripped open. She packed his wounds with her clean laundry, saving his life.

Strong remained in his peaceful place until he felt a sharp kick to his side and looked up to find several people yelling to him that they thought he was dead. The onlookers refused to let him return to his meditation for fear that he would slip into a coma, despite his persistent attempts to stop the pain.

Once the ambulance arrived, paramedics attended to his wounds and tried to stop the bleeding. When he awoke in the hospital bed, his mother, his older sister and the rest of his family ran in, crying. He calmly told them that his left leg was broken and probably would be amputated, but that he would recover. He had been unconscious, but he said that, from his first look at his leg, he already had accepted it.

The attending physician rushed Strong through the visit with his family, determining that the facility was unable to treat his extensive injuries and that he needed to be medevacked to Oahu, Maui’s neighboring island, immediately. He flatlined once on the helipad, but doctors revived him and safely transported him to the hospital in Oahu, where he remained in the intensive care unit for a week.

Back to basics

By immediately accepting that he would have his leg amputated transtibially, Strong paved the way for his entire recovery.

“When I was stable, I knew I wanted to recover,” he said. “I knew there are runners out there with prostheses. They live full lives. Why couldn’t I?”

He set a goal to learn to use a prosthesis to skateboard again and got to work. He began the rehabilitation process just 1 week after his amputation.

“I wanted to get there as soon as possible. Throwing a pity party wasn’t going to get me there any quicker,” he said.

He spent a year on crutches and, for the first 8 months, worked with physical therapists on massage to break up the scar tissue beginning in his hip flexors and running down his leg. Because his quad muscles had been destroyed, his left knee fused and he was left with only about 10 degrees of flexion, so he also received Rolfing therapy to manipulate the tissues.

Once he was fitted with a prosthesis, he was hasty about using it, he admitted.

“I used it way too much, because I wanted to walk. I said I could take the pain,” Strong said. “But one thing I learned was patience. There’s a perfect time for everything.”

Return to action

He began by walking with a cane. Then he moved to golf because he could play by using just his upper body. When he tried skateboarding again, he would step on the board, roll and step off.

“It was all downhill from there,” he said.

Once Strong learned how to use his prosthesis well, he began to feel less fragile, he said, and slowly increased the number of activities he was able to participate in.

“It started coming back so fast,” he said. “Getting your life back is such an amazing experience that I want to do everything.”

Currently, his core sports consist of rock climbing, snowboarding, skateboarding, road biking and downhill mountain biking.

He got back into competing with nudging from his uncle, who, because of his chain of sports clubs throughout California, has ties to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), and introduced Strong to the organization. CAF donated to Strong his first prosthesis and flew him to watch its San Diego Triathlon Challenge.

“It was so motivating to me to see such a community of people like me doing amazing things. This is exactly what I’m looking for,” he said.

He vowed to get a road bike and compete the next year.

“I had a skateboarding background at that point, and getting spandexed out and road biking was totally night and day,” he said.

But he said he loved the feeling of being able to pedal and move from place to place quickly, and be a part of disabled sports in any capacity. That year, he finished the bike leg of the half-Ironman event in 3 hours and 15 minutes.

In October 2008, he competed again — with the added experience of mountain biking under his belt — and finished in 4 hours.

“How did I get slower? This year I’m definitely going to be training a lot harder because I want to do it in less than 3 hours,” he said.

In YEAR, Strong also became involved with Adaptive Action Sports, a nonprofit organization that aims to involve those living with disabilities in action sports through various camps, clinics and events. Daniel Gale and Amy Purdy reached out to Strong and asked him to join the organization’s skateboard tours.

During that first skateboard tour, the group stopped at Extremity Games 2 (eX2). Strong signed up and won first place in the skateboarding competition.

“I was stoked to be able to compete and perform well like I used to,” he said.

He placed second in skateboarding at eX3, and said he plans to both skateboard and rock climb at this year’s event.

Raw pursuits

Business sense also feeds Strong’s desire to succeed. Crediting “super nutrition” with his ability to recover, he now wants to bring this type of cuisine to others. He recently received the funding he needed, and plans to open a living food, also known as raw food, restaurant called The Fix where he lives in Nevada City, Calif.

“The concept is living food for a living body,” he said.

Strong wants to give back to his community in other ways as well. As a teenager in Maui, he had friends who got into trouble, but he avoided that scene by attending a boys and girls club. The director of the club’s sports department organized clean ups around the local skate park to teach the children to enjoy skateboarding while also providing a service for the park.

“Through that, I got a new appreciation for what life could be,” he said.

Strong, now 22, currently is working with the mayor to develop a similar youth sports program where children can participate in positive activities like skateboarding, mountain biking and rock climbing.

He also wants to continue competing in various sports — his next concentration is on downhill mountain biking, which has no adaptive division, so Strong’s first-place win was against able-bodied competitors — and plans to serve as a mentor for Adaptive Action Sports’ new mentor program.

“I just want to help people know that they’re able to do whatever they set their minds to,” he said. “I believe disabled is a state of mind.”

He paraphrased Henry Ford: “If you think you are not capable, you’re right; you’re not capable. But if you believe you are capable of doing whatever you want, you are right then also. I want to be able to give that perspective to people.”

Stephanie Z. Pavlou, ELS, is a staff writer for O&P Business News.

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