To John Lucero, Colorado resident, fishing is about connecting to the soul of nature and it’s more important than the obstacles he may find getting to a pond, river or lake. It links him to what he used to take for granted and reminds him to enjoy each day to the fullest.
On a cloudy June day in 2007, John Lucero was testing his son’s car for safety. As an expert mechanic and auto body repair man, he had done thousands of safety checks to ensure vehicle soundness. But this time nature got in the way. A wayward animal crossed his path and he swerved to avoid. It was an act of kindness to save a life but resulted in dire consequences for him.
As injuries go, this was particularly harsh. He awoke from a coma eleven days later to alarming new rules governing his body. From the upper chest down, John couldn’t feel or move.
He was also very hungry but had to wait for his internal injuries to heal before he could eat. He still remembers devouring that first non-clinical meal of burger and fries snuck in by his family and he was humbled at needing assistance with each bite.
Eight weeks were spent in the hospital to get a semblance of his life back. When he went into therapy, he was hoisted by a mechanical lift and placed into a wheelchair. He says that he had to hang onto the wheelchair arm rests like a life preserver to keep him afloat in his chair.
Without stomach muscles, the act of balancing in a chair or a mat is a daunting task. But little by little, John learned the precarious art of leaning a half inch here to an inch there and mastered sitting up. “At first, sitting for one minute was difficult. After three months, I progressed to the point of sitting for 8 hours,” he says.
After his hospital stint, he was then discharged home and truly honors those that have come into his path. He is the first one to point to others. “If it weren’t for my current therapists, I don’t know where I’d be.” “And I really do have great support from my sister, Judi and Anthony my brother-in-law and I can’t thank them enough.” He says his two sons, Josh and Chris and friend Sherry are always motivationally instrumental. But he recalls languishing at home and getting weaker without therapy.
“I gained weight, lost strength and developed a wound,” he says. So, in February 2013, friends and family sought out a facility that could put John on the right track. He’s now on a path that many will not experience and he’s driven to overcome the effects of being paralyzed.
For John, his choice is to never give up in the battle to overcome paralysis. His current therapists define him as one with ninja-like qualities that garner strength and allow him to persevere with newfound skills.
Weeks into his therapy, his occupational therapist, Ben Mooney, asked him to start training for a fishing trip. John guessed it had been a more than a year since he last cast a rod. He recalls enjoying the smell of rain, listening to the fly hitting the water and seeing the fish jump. He called these precious things he once had taken for granted. Now, he was excited to get back to something that he loved and a hobby that he cherished.
During his therapy at Orchard Park Rehabilitative Care, John has gone from not being able to pick up one pound with both hands to lifting five pounds. He talks about specialized pulley and cable equipment that allowed assistive and resisted motion that was personalized for his progress. It took months for him to propel two miles on a hand bike and now he easily cruises for 15 minutes at a time for a total of 30 minutes each session.
At therapy sessions, he would practice skills to get him back to casting. What seemed so simple before his injury was now a job of practicing and relearning those abilities. “My therapists were really patient and motivated me to the point where I needed very little help,” says John.
The big fishing trip finally arrived due to John’s success with his goals. Facility driver, Mark Ficco was ready for him and Ben, occupational therapist, was anticipating positive therapeutic outcomes. John was lifted into the large rehab van customized for wheelchairs and they started off to a nearby pond.
“The whole point of rehabilitation is working towards a patient’s goal. We want to see success and patients need to see that they can get to where they want to go,” says Ben. “I was so proud to be a part of making fishing a current reality for John. And it’s really more than just fishing, it’s about hope,” he says.
According to John, hope floats at the end of a fly. The rod and reel function as an extension of the mind, delivering the bait where one imagines it will go. Briefly, John experiences control of the cast and placement of hook into water. It’s a moment of pure perfection where mind and body reach its intended point. He’s truly surprised with a catch of an eight pound giant perch. Carefully, the fish was released back into the pond and swims again to enjoy another day.