A tale of inspiration and positive mental attitude

Human beings are a fickle breed. We allow things on the outside to consistently interfere and influence the things on the inside. We run hot and cold, and our overall moods and dispositions often vary from moment to moment. Good things cause us to be in good moods. Bad things tend to put us in bad moods.

One of my favorite examples of this is the notion of inspiration. We hear athletes constantly say they were inspired by a teammate battling through an injury or an emotional speech by a coach. Actors often credit stirring performances by their peers as inspirations to take their acting to another level. Teachers get inspired by students, students get inspired by teachers and all of you get inspired every week by the words of a certain bald newspaper editor who ...

But I digress.

I am by no means different, as I find inspiration from all kinds of sources. Seeing a young person battle through physical or mental challenges is an inspiration to me, as is seeing some of the older people in our community work exhaustively to help others.

However, it is important to remember that, as human beings, we often find our inspiration in different places. What changes one person’s life might not mean as much to another. We have different backgrounds, families, education, financial situations and hair styles. Things that hit home for one person just might not make much of an impact on somebody else who has a different frame of mind on the world.

But I think I found a story that should hit home for everybody. To be honest, it was a story first forwarded to me from a longtime friend so I didn’t exactly “find” it, but he doesn’t have a column and I do, so he kind of loses in this one. Sorry, Sean.

The story he sent me appeared on cyclingnews.com, and it focused on competitive byciclist Monique van der Vorst, who is from the Netherlands. Van der Vorst has been in a wheelchair since she was a 13-year-old girl in 1998, when her left leg was paralyzed. She became a competitive handcycling athlete, and an incredibly good one at that, winning three world championships in her field. In 2008, she won the women’s part of the Marathon of Rome and actually finished second overall.

Yeah. She was pretty good at handcycling.

Then bad luck seemingly struck again. While training for the 2012 Paralympic Games last spring, she was struck in her wheelchair by a bicyclist and was injured again. During the lengthy rehabilitation process, well, let’s read her own words from her blog:

“... I was in my best shape ever, but I could never think 2010 would be such a thriller and end like this. Again I got involved in an accident, followed by a long period in the hospital. I got a spasm in my legs and suddenly I felt some twinklings in my paralysed legs. It was so strange because I hadn’t felt anything in my left leg for 12 years. Later I could move my legs a bit and from that moment I really tried everything to get my legs working again. I spent months in the hospital and rehab center, but now I am walking again after being in a wheelchair for almost 13 years! To be continued ...”

Oh, it’s continued.

The Rabobank Women’s Cycling team announced last week that it had signed Monique van der Vorst to begin her road cycling career.

“Monique still has a lot to learn, but I’m sure the rest of the girls will also learn a lot from Monique,” said Rabobank Women Team Director Jeroen Blijevens. “She has the right mentality and willpower. She has proved that during her sports career. She would like to race on the road and we will support her to do it.”

Inspired? Go on. Admit it. You’re inspired.

What moved me is not the fact that van der Vorst is now able to walk again and compete in road cycling as much as it is her spirit. When faced with adversity as a youth, she found an outlet to compete and did not let her disadvantages stop her. She rose to the very top of her field. When hit with more misfortune, she continued to fight to try to get back to the competition, and when she began to develop feeling in her legs and gradually regained her ability to walk, she chose not to walk — she chose to run.

I like her.

There’s no telling how van der Vorst will perform in her road cycling career. She’ll be going against competitors who have been doing this for the majority of their lives, and she’s a newbie to the scene. But I’m guessing she’ll give full effort, and enjoy every turn of her tires.