“What kind of beast is your salamander?” asked the Prince. “It is hard to tell their kind, your Honor,” said Golg. “For they are too…
Early spring in Northern Colorado can offer up a hot summer day one moment and a winter-like storm the next. On this particular Wednesday morning, we got a bit of both; vibrant blue sky set off by fresh breezeless mountain air chilled to a bracing 30 degrees. The Rocky Mountains to our west were now bathed in white following a banner year of high altitude precipitation. Despite the havoc of I-25 South, the majestic now-snow-covered mountains reaching into a crisp blue sky inspired a sense of hopefulness.
JMo had been traveling for several weeks: back to Kansas for a family reunion of sorts and then off to see friends in Arizona on an annual Spring Training Baseball visit. “Everyone loves ‘Wednesdays with JMO,’” he said when he returned.. “So many people who have known me since long before the accident are just now beginning to see the bigger picture of what has happened to me and how I’ve dealt with all this. It felt really good to talk about it. And, reading about it this way lets them know that it’s OK to talk to me about these things, and that this kind of talking is good therapy.:
We were listening to 103.5 The Fox, Colorado’s classic rock—Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and then Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” —I turned the radio down. “This and music always reminds me of my college days,” I told JMO. I added that many of my history students in the late 1990s were getting into their parents’ old music, which is exactly what JMo did; although Ron tends to favor country and country rock. While JMo also beats to his hip-hop and rap, his true love is classic rock.
Then we talked about JMo’s college days.
After a couple of years living with his dad, JMo decided he didn’t want to be dependent on him forever, that he wanted to have a life of his own. “My dad would work from home in the morning after getting me going with the help of a caregiver,” JMo told me. “His boss had been super-cool about supporting him as he got used to this new situation. In the afternoon, they loaded me into the Volvo wagon and we headed to my dad’s office. For about two years or so, I sat in the Volvo in the parking lot listening to the radio; either classic rock or sports talk. The people in the office encouraged me to come inside but I realized I really enjoyed being alone with the great music or just listening to the chatter about the Rockies and the Broncos.”
“Then one day, I tipped forward and couldn’t pull myself back up. My head was in my lap for about half an hour,” JMo laughed, “before my dad came out to check on me. It was funny because if it’s not funny, it can quickly become rather pathetic and then depressing and I just can’t afford to go there. Anyway, after that navel-gazing experience, we agreed I should maybe spend some time inside. They set me up with a TV and I watched a ton of movies, so that was cool too.”
And then JMo became restless.
“With the encouragement of friends and family, especially my mom, I decided I needed to do something with my life, ” he said. “So, in 2009, I applied to Colorado State University and was accepted as a Guest Student. I hadn’t done all that great in school up to now and the counselor at CSU told me I had to prove myself.”
And that’s exactly what JMo did. After doing well in two classes and then writing a paper explaining his motivation to succeed, despite—and now maybe even because of—his condition, he was eventually accepted as a full-time student.
“The most difficult part of returning to school was making sure I had all my class necessities together,” J’Mo explained. “This is true of every college student, which is cool; what is not so cool is that I didn’t have the use of my hands. I couldn’t interact with a text book in the usual way so, depending whether or not someone like me had taken a particular class before, I had to wait for the book to be transferred into PDF format. Then, I could use my computer, equipped with voice-activation software, to read the books.”
As it turned out, many of the books were not available on PDF until well into the class. This was a real drag at first until JMo realized that there were other ways to complete the work.
“I was fortunate to have superb note takers,” he said.
The first was a friend named Jeff who had been laid off by a landscaping company. He rolled JMo around in those first college days, took superb notes and, really, took the classes with him. “My dad came up with an extra 50 bucks a class to pay Jeff,” JMo went on, “while the tuition early on I paid the old-fashioned way… with Ronnie Joe’s VISA card, hah!” (Dad’s real name: Ronnie Joe. And, years later, Jeff’s company laid down sod, installed a sprinkler system, and landscaped JMo’s home… for free!)
JMo turned the lemons of no textbooks into lemonade. He took full advantage of instructor office hours and, as his professors got to know him and his spirit, they spent even more time with him; including football parties for the CSU Rams, going out to lunch and dinner and business school activities. So, JMo’s charm gave him a front-row seat to his academic world and, he said, “this appealed more to the way I like to learn new things, by being active and working with others. Screw the textbooks!”
Within the business school community JMo saw an opportunity; a program called The Institute of Entrepreneurship, which supports the launching of new businesses. One of the key tenets of starting a business is to identify a problem and solve it. JMo didn’t have to look any further for a problem than the chair he spent so much time in. Working with some engineering students, he developed a product that could be attached to wheelchairs in order to smooth out what often is a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride.
JMo worked closely with mentor Bill Cobb as they developed and manufactured prototypes of QuadshoX, with the nurturing support of the local community and the university. Some of the obstacles to actually selling QuadshoX were dealing with the Food and Drug Administration and receiving a Medicare/Medicaid code so that upgrading wheelchairs this way would be covered by insurance.
JMo eventually sold the business, while retaining royalty rights. This may someday yield some actual dollars. For JMo, though, the most rewarding part of the process is the “ripple” effect within the medical bureaucracy. QuadshoX has drawn attention to the comfort and health of people in wheelchairs and to the costs associated with the supplemental medical care needed to address the conditions that arise from rolling around in a chair.
As we followed Colfax Avenue to the I-25 North entrance ramp later that Wednesday afternoon, JMo said, “Deciding to go [back] to college was one of the great decisions of my life.”
On the way home we chatter less. JMo always takes a few muscle relaxants on the way in so as to get the most out of his therapies, including a deep body massage. The chill attitude on the way out is also enhanced by a “gummy bear.” Only a few years before his accident, Colorado approved the use of medical marijuana and, as JMo says, “it has smoothed out my ride ever since… almost as much as QuadshoX.”
JMo’s got his buzz on and I find my chill by hugging the slow lane in the mad afternoon Denver traffic; cars and trucks racing by in a hurry we just don’t do.
As we crank up the classic rock—this time some Aerosmith, Steve Miller Band, Van Halen, and more—I’m sure JMo can’t help but ponder those days in the parking lot… in a Volvo station wagon, for God’s sake.