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I have learned some major lessons, says paralyzed adventurer
Jan 18, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Though he has been confined to a wheelchair since 1994 when a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed, Clay Egan says he does not feel handicapped.
"I've learned some major lessons about life and about myself," Egan told an assembly of Riverton High School students Friday. "I've learned things about true obstacles and what it really takes to succeed in life."
Egan said his paralysis presented a challenge for him, but the struggles he faced during his life before his accident "far outweighed" the difficulty of his current situation. When Egan was a teenager, he said his father was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and other emotional disorders that left him distant and unavailable.
"It was very devastating for me to see the man I loved and needed emotionally just falling apart right before my eyes," Egan said. "It was too complex for me to understand. All I really knew was I didn't have a dad."
He spent many years working through the anger, blame and resentment he felt toward his dad. As a result, Egan struggled with drugs, and one day he said he contemplated taking his own life. It was then that he turned to family and friends for help.
"I got checked into a rehab center and was able to clear my thoughts and get clean," Egan said, encouraging his audience not to use alcohol or drugs.
Egan said the above experience, all of which took place before his accident, taught him to take personal responsibility for his own life instead of focusing on others' failings.
"If you go through life and point fingers and blame everyone for the wrongs in your life, you're simply a victim," he said. "Choose not to be a victim. Take ownership of your dreams and opportunities."
That attitude helped him stay mentally tough while recovering from his motorcycle accident. A year after the crash, he had resumed work on his general contracting license and had started his own construction company in Utah. He had returned to the world of hunting, fishing and extreme sports and joined a rugby team for people in wheelchairs. A couple of years ago, he became involved in rock crawling, a sport in which contestants attempt to drive up and over a vertical wall.
"I was the only quadriplegic in the world to compete professionally in the extreme sport of rock crawling," Egan said. "I've been to four world championships, and I place in the top 10 in the nation consistently against all other able-bodied drivers."
The key to his rock crawling success is in his mind, Egan said.
"I size up the rock I'm about to climb, and if for one second I think the rock is impossible or too big for me to climb, I get nervous and frustrated and usually lose my cool," he said. "Instead, if I stare it down and determine that I'm going to the top of that rock, I win."
He told the RHS students to stay positive in the face of their own challenges.
"Focus on the spot at the top of your rock," he said. "Focus on your goal to succeed. The rocky road may twist and turn, but to win at the end you have to determine to win from the very beginning."
It helps to have a strong support network, he added. In rock crawling, for example, a spotter helps the driver make the best strategic climbing decisions possible.
"From the top the spotter has a better idea than the driver as to what that strategy may need to be," Egan said. "In life we all need spotters. Some of us may even need more than one. ... Real success in life is a team effort."