1304 km for the human being of tomorrow...
It's true that the press, with all their good intentions, wish to portray a positive image for those of us with a handicap. These good intentions are often not researched completely and sometimes a very small oversight can make a very big difference. What this means in my case , I am a complete paraplegic 12th dorsal, is that a paraplegic with a lesion in the 11th dorsal would not be able to contemplate the same challenge.
The finer points of being handicapped are what I am trying to explain in relation to the crusade that I have undertaken for us all. Take Sabrina Ferri for example, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting via the internet. Sabrina is from Porto Alegre (Brasil), at the age of 28 years she became a quadraplegic in the 4th cervical following a fall. This means that she is fully paralyzed from head down. Can you imagine what that feels like ! An itch on your cheek requires somebody else to scratch....
This is one small example of the crusade that I am committed to. I'm sure that there are numerous examples out there of persons with a handicap who live this handicap alone, without any assistance and little or no hope.
The truth is - Life's path is different for each of us and the lessons (sometimes difficult) that we each experience, serve to challenge us for the greater good of humanity and for oneself. We take much for granted and give little thought to the generations (and sometimes the suffering) that have preceded us to provide our present quality of life .100 years ago, the pain and the suffering that I would have gone through with the affliction that I have today would have been unbearable. We are not meant to live life sitting down in a wheelchair, and my mission is to be a symbol of our times, to be able to say loud and clear that life did not get me down because I was in a wheelchair, that I walked 1304 kms unaided. How many people do you know around you who have walked the length of France for the sake of humanity?
It is only by working together that we can provide a future for ourselves and our children. Life is lived at an ever increasing pace and some of the essential elements are being overlooked. In the early '80's, following my accident, I was advised by the medical community, with great enthusiasm, that by the early 90's we would see the results of spinal studies allowing paraplegics to walk again. 30 years later (in 2013), we see that these studies (which continue to give us hope) are still ongoing (1500 new cases of paraplegics per year in France alone).
Just as the craze that is created around cancer or AIDS, or any disease or affliction which we naturally fear, we need to understand that paraplegics and quadriplegics live an extremely uncomfortable life and together we need to ensure that advances are made.
For this reason I have created an association Association Joe Kals to unify our efforts and to provide us with a means to motivate the decision makers of our society those who are in a position to influence society and who need to understand that our handicap should not mean that we are condemned to live a life sitting down.
It is important at this stage, that I express my sincere gratitude to those members of my association, and all those who follow me on Facebook and this site, for the support that they provide and the energy that they give me to continue with my campaign.
Having achieved what I did, on my return I was convinced that many doors would open, that those who were in a position to influence the medical advances required would welcome me with open arms. I was disappointed (and disheartened) to hear such comments as Joe, you understand that what you are asking is complicated. It was as if I was requesting that they change water into wine!! As if Usain Bolt, after setting a new world record, would beg for his gold medal....of course he has deserved his medal. My campaign is not to win a medal, I would just like to be listened to and understood.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has achieved what I achieved in my walk the length of France (and I wonder if anyone would ever attempt a similar feat). Without wanting to blow my trumpet this feat really needs to be put into context, and I recognize that I have been blessed by the Gods in my attempt. Had I tried to do this in 2010, I would have been blocked by the snow in Morvan. Had I tried in 2012, winter in France would have put paid to my project Le Havre to Menton. I had a Guardian Angel for this feat and I recognize this with humility....why does humanity not recognize the cause?
So I am back in Menton and those who can influence our cause have not stepped up to the challenge. I wonder if, one day these people found themselves in a situation where their child suffered from the same affliction, they would have the courage to say that they had the opportunity to contribute to the cure, but it was complicated, thus condemning the child to a painful and humiliating existence of being a paraplegic or quadriplegic.
Perhaps one day, in 50 years time, somebody will make a film or a documentary of the efforts that I have made, and make a fortune!
Perhaps I should stop here and all that I have strived for will be in vain. But no....I won't, my voice is loud and clear and I want to show the world what can be achieved. Can you imagine someone in a wheel chair at the base of the Eiffel Tower, looking up at the 1665 steps that will take him to the top. This is not a challenge that a paraplegic takes lightly, this is not the world record for 100m and this is not a challenge that every handicapped person can undertake.....there are no two handicaps that can be compared.
I will undertake this challenge, and when I get to the top, I am going to announce that the next one is to walk from San Francisco to New York 5200kms. When will those who are able to influence the advances of medicine for our cause start to pay attention? Paraplegics and quadriplegics exist the world over and we have all suffered the same pain!
When I got back from my Le Havre-Menton challenge, the designer of my leg braces said to me Joe, I have not been compensated for the time and the effort that I put into designing these prostheses. It's true that he is very good at his job. It's also true that the funds required to advance the medical research for spinal injuries concerns us all.
In France there are great efforts and expenses being put into the research of prosthetics and robotics to assist those who are maimed, with a lost limb, to lead a normal life. This research is not aimed at those of us who have all of our limbs but cannot move them, or, due to the fact that the spinal cord is damaged, lose the ability to get aroused or suffer from incontinence, kidney and urinary infections and worst of all the bed sores.
There is a considerable amount of empathy required to read this. I'm not a hero I'm a human being, I'm a paraplegic, I live my life in a wheel chair.....I'm Joe Kals.