Last Sunday, on March 2nd, Aaron Baker, 29, former motocross champion and recovering quadriplegic, crossed the finish line publicly for the first time with his Rise Above Team at the Acura Bike Tour and Los Angeles Marathon. This historic marathon has been a Los Angeles tradition for 22 years, and Conscience Entertainment Group was proud to be the one to present Aaron Baker to the public.
The Marathon was 26.2 miles long, over which 20 thousand runners, walkers, and bicyclists raised money for Baker’s C.O.R.E. foundation (Center for Rehabilitative Exercise), which provides all forms of aid to those with debilitating injuries. Baker biked the first 26 miles on a special Trike, then walked the remaining .2 miles with others recovering from debilitating injuries. Watching all the effort Aaron and his team put into walking those last steps over the finish line was an incredibly touching and emotional moment..
What was even more impressive was the fact that Baker fell ill with a cold two weeks before and had not been able to train during that time. When I spoke with him, he was sitting in his wheelchair, completely exhausted, and bundled up in a silver blanket. He said he had blacked out at point during the race, but he was still determined to walk that .2-mile across the finish line. Now that is determination and willpower.
The Man – The Power of Hope
Aaron Baker is a former motocross champion. In 1999, he was trying out a new bike, which resulted in devastating results. He suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury, breaking his neck in three places. Six days later, he suffered a respiratory failure. The future looked bleak for Baker – his doctors predicted that it would almost certainly prevent him from even feeding himself, let alone walking or competing professionally. Even his Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Taylor Kevin, did not see much of a chance for Baer. However, Baker says he never gave up hope. Although throughout the ordeal, his attitude has suffered ups and downs, at the core of his heart, he never gave up believing that one way or another he would beat his chances. Baker says that all that matters is one’s attitude.
With hard work, he overcame colossal odds, and has proven his doctors and his injury wrong again and again. His will to overcome his physical obstacle has only made him a stronger and more caring person.
He says the accident changed his outlook on life completely. "I was completely clueless then," he says. Today, he is thankful for each day.
"I walk slow enough to smell the roses," he smiles. "In my mind, I’m breathing, I’m alive. It [the marathon] hurt, but I’m willing to put myself through suffering because I can."
Some may see this Marathon as a great feat for a recovering quadriplegic; Baker however, sees this as just a stepping stone to grander things: This summer he will bike across America’s heartland.
"Rise Above US Bicycle Tour ’08: Transamerica Trail Ride," is Aaron Baker’s "moment of truth," in which he will cycle across 3,000 miles within three months. The Rise Above Tour will start on June 10th in San Francisco and end in September in Washington D.C.
A Mother’s Love
Baker’s mother, Laquita Conway, said that intellectually she knew chances for her son were one in a million. However, in her heart, she says, she felt that her son could overcome.
She described to me what she felt when she got that fateful phone call about her son’s accident. She had just bought a farm out of state, but as soon as she heard about her son, she jumped on the first plane to California with little more than a toothbrush and toothpaste.
She says she never looked back – she retired from her job, moved in with Aaron, and did all that she could to aid in his recovery. She started a home business – working for Arbon International – so she could work her schedule around Aaron’s needs. She says she never wanted to look over her shoulder and say "what if?"
"Never believe in prognosis," She says knowingly.
Because of her love, devotion, and faith, Baker is where he is today: walking across a 26.2-mile finish line.
"C.O.R.E. seeks to give individuals whose lives have been shattered by devastating spinal injuries the ability to regain mobility and lead active & fulfilling lives."
C.O.R.E. aims to change attitudes about the treatment of "catastrophic injuries." Most people do not realize how vital to their being their health is, and the foundation is committed to helping people realize that health can be achieved through daily exercise. The foundation believes that the after-effects of a debilitative injury may be greatly diminished or even prevented through exercise.
C.O.R.E.’s goal is to assist those with such injuries through an extended care program, after an individual has been released from medical care. With C.O.R.E., "no" is NOT an answer!
The foundation wants to build centers with specially designed exercise programs and provides state-of-the art facilities with "unique and personalized equipment," "low cost integrated, structural, personalized and progressive evaluations, treatment plans, and education to help improve function, independence, and self-efficacy."
Baker hopes to raise $1,000,000 to build and maintain C.O.R.E. facilities throughout the country. Aaron Baker describes his vision for C.O.R.E. as "an abundance of opportunity for my fellow friend who suffers." He wants to use his experience as a way to help others.
The Tour is a campaign for C.O.R.E. The team will most likely comprise of around seven or eight cyclists, with the Rise Above Tour bus following them. The tour will stop in cities along the way to give presentations, fundraising events, pass out literature, etc., to raise awareness and money.
Baker says he does not want C.O.R.E to just another gym; he says there is a NEED, not a want, for an affordable rehabilitative center. He wants to raise awareness of this through the community through the Rise Above Tour.
Sunday was truly a special day. Not only because of the great physical effort exerted by both Baker and other athletes, but because it was a manifestation of one man’s struggle to rise above his circumstances. Baker is truly a hero; he is a prime example of that flame of fire that dwells within each and every one of us. His refusal to give in and his intense willpower to survive – and survive on HIS terms – makes him truly a great inspiration for all of us.