Don Rogers: The dragon’s gift
Film can’t take you into that cold, thank God. It can’t put you on skis that won’t slide on Antarctic sandpaper disguised as an ice shelf. It can’t make you comprehend a life that snaps cleanly in two — before a snowmobile jump gone awry, and after. Ever after.
But “The Push” sure gets close, close as you can get from a comfy theater seat in Incline Village.
I bumbled last week into the showing, the kickoff for the Tahoe Film Fest. I went because longtime friends asked, and sure, I could endure a documentary to hang out with them. They knew the guy the film was about, Incline native Grant Korgan.
My focus was on my friends. Wasn’t paying attention to particulars. Didn’t realize Korgan would be there himself, with wife Shawna and guide Tal Fletcher. Didn’t count on the elation in the sold-out theater where the hometown hero as a boy once pedaled his bike to see “Star Wars.”
I knew only vaguely what the film was about: Some thrill seeker cracks his spine and winds up paralyzed.
It didn’t intrigue me, honestly. Live anywhere active, especially a mountain town, and you’ll count too many friends among the broken bicyclists, snowboarders, skiers, kayakers, sky divers, paragliders, wingsuit fliers (or maybe not), climbers, divers, motorcyclists, ATV riders and in Korgan’s case, a snowmobiler taking one too many jumps up around Sonora Pass.
Paralysis is especially cruel for the daredevils. Adrenaline was their life, after all. What now?
Well, the South Pole. Roy Tuscany, founder of the High Fives Foundation based in Truckee, suggested skiing the last degree of longitude early enough in Korgan’s recovery that the notion was still laughable out of sheer impossibility. Dangling an expedition to a guy who can’t walk, what was he thinking? Actually Tuscany, a paralyzed athlete himself, had a pretty good idea.
Maybe the quest saved Korgan’s life, surely his soul. Here was something to do, not merely endure.
The impossible? Ah, now there’s a worthy challenge.
Of course you know Korgan made it. The movie is terrific, too. He, Shawna and Tal are taking a victory lap of sorts to film festivals and showings, where they share a whale of a message for us all. A special stop was Incline. Home.
The Project HEART Christmas dinner Monday in Nevada City was on my calendar soon as the invite came. This organization helps men and women negotiate a path as fraught for them as the South Pole was for Korgan.
Their troubles come from no accident, no single bad turn, no clean snap. Life has pummeled them as perhaps they pummeled other lives until they hit a bottom where few come back. And who cares, really? We’re talking about thieves and addicts and cons, lowest of the low. Maybe that’s the coldest part, cold as the ice shelf: Almost no one cares.
The stories after dinner can’t take you there, to the inside looking out from the gutter. Even with all the tears and yes, elation too, for these achievements you hope and pray will prove lasting.
We the fortunate, at least lucky enough not to break spines or spiral into hell, can only imagine.
I don’t know what it’s like to load one bullet in a revolver, spin the cylinder and feel the barrel under my chin. Then to squeeze the trigger just once each of seven evenings in a row. Click. Click. Click. And on the seventh decide, OK, there must be a God and He must wish me to live. I’ll try. Lord, I’ll try.
Korgan and the men and women who pulled themselves from their abysses say remarkably similar things. Amazingly, they are grateful. Grateful?
Here’s another apparent paradox: They did not accomplish these singular achievements themselves, not by a long shot. Only by giving in to their need for others and help did they make it to the pole or lift their lives. And only by giving of themselves have they found joy amid the ongoing struggle.
In the film, Korgan names his struggle the dragon. His documentary works because it doesn’t end with his triumph. No, the movie pushes on, back home, back to reality. There he’s the same guy as before, paralyzed as ever, struggling still as he always will.
As each of us will. He and his remarkable wife, Shawna — imagine her struggle — and each speaker at the dinner acknowledged the obvious. We’re all in this together. We all have our dragons. None of us slays them alone. We must have help. And we have a sacred calling to give to others with all our heart, to help them slay their dragons.
To me they are heroes for their journeys, each turn, with hard-won wisdom we luckier, dimmer souls might tap once we realize we’re each on our own one, too, yet hardly alone.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.