Willing His Way Back
On Saturday, October 14, alumnus James Osborne '75 returned to the Avon Old Farms campus as a Saturday Program speaker. Unlike other alumni who have presented to the student body before, Osborne did not come to talk about his career, or about how important it is to stay connected to the brotherhood after you leave Avon. Osborne's story was different. He came to campus to share his real-life experience of willing his way back after suffering from a catastrophic cycling accident that left him a quadriplegic.
Osborne began by telling the audience about his time at Avon and how he came to discover a passion for exercise through his involvement with the crew team at Ithaca College.
"At Ithaca, the effort and the training was so compelling - it changed my approach to life," he said. "Rowing gave to me something that I had been missing. It put me on a trajectory of fitness for the rest of my life. Then came June 14, 2007 - the fateful day."
Osborne played a video on the big screen. It was the view of the ride he was on with a group of cyclists at work. It was normal for 10 or so cyclists to use their lunch hour to go on a ride, and that day, he said, the ride was especially competitive.
As the video took the audience down a steep decline, Osborne recounted how he was on his brakes while everyone else took the hill at full-speed. When the road leveled out, he described driving hard through his feet, pushing to catch the group that was now ahead of him. He was almost with the pack. He was riding full out. And then, the video shook violently, and the audience was staring at a screen full of clouds and tree branches high overhead.
"My bike had snapped in three places, and I was catapulted at 25 miles-an-hour head first into the pavement," he described.
As Osborne illustrated his injury with actual MRI scans of his spine and described the location of the impact, hundreds of hands reached up simultaneously to feel the knob at the back of their necks for themselves.
Despite how Osborne's story could have gone, he explained how he chose to take the path of hope.
"As I lay in my hospital bed struggling with everything I had lost in an instant, I said to myself, Okay, Jamie. You're at a crossroads. Where are you gonna go? Will you let this win?" he described. "My body was screaming at me to stay idle. Or, I could choose to fight the good fight, and do what it takes for as long as it takes. And then my doctor told me 'Get independent.'''
Osborne chose to fight - to do everything he could to not be enabled by anyone else. Osborne's story became one that we all reach for: a story of hope.
Remarkably, Osborne has regained many aspects of the functions he lost while coming to grips with this new normal. Today, he lives independently, with minimal assistance. Although his life was turned upside down, his will to recover has allowed his physicality to completely reset because he has devoted countless hours to rebuilding himself and conquering enormous obstacles with grit, determination, positive thinking, and resilience.
Osborne has recounted his journey thus far in the book, "Will Your Way Back: How One Man Overcame Tragedy With A Winning Mindset."
After the presentation, classmate Tim Trautman '75 commended Osborne for his strength of character. Other classmates who made the trip to campus to support Osborne's presentation were Jason Beeble '75, David Jack '75, Tom Bryne '75, Bob Applegate '75, Don Gallup '75, brother Rob Osborne '73, and Linda Woodwell, the widow of Woody Woodwell '75. Students lined up for an opportunity to shake his hand and thanked Osborne for sharing his story with them.
Recordings of presentations can be found on Osborne's website, including his April 2017 TED talk.
Alumnus James Osborne '75 Shares Story