After I graduated from Ithaca in 1979 a friend talked me into taking a cross country motorcycling trip. I didn’t know anything about motorcycles. I had never ridden on one. I bought a touring bike, enrolled in school, got licensed, took a few practice trips from Boston to NH and back, and then we set our sights west. Our goal was to v-line it for CO, then head NW to Yellowstone and on to WA state and Mt. Rainier. From there our plan was to head south to Portland, then to the OR coast all the way to San Diego, back through southern Utah and several other points along the way as we made our way back home. At least that was the plan. Among many there were two memorable close calls. The first involved me. We had left Denver and were heading NW to Yellowstone. Our planned stop, interestingly, was Lander, WY. It was early evening, quite dark, and we had just passed through Rawlins, WY. Our goal was to get to Lander, another 125 miles in pitch black with perhaps 1 gas station on the way. My friend Rick was behind me and I was behind a pickup going about 80mph. We were pretty well spaced apart. I noticed the pickup slowly maneuver his truck around something, perhaps a pothole. I did the same thing and suddenly in my headlight was this round object, which fortunately was just to left of my front tire, otherwise it would have been a direct hit, and most likely no more Jamie. Instead, I felt this thud-ump against my left foot pedal. Rick never saw the object. When we arrived at the youth hostel in Lander I was telling Rick about it. He looked at my left boot and noticed 3” long needles sticking out. “OMG” he said, “that was a porcupine you hit back there.” We went down to my motorcycle to look at the left foot pedal and there was a cluster of needles sticking out of the rubber covering. It was that close. Between that incident, caught and buried in an avalanche and a catastrophic road cycling accident I’ve been a lucky man. I’m sure we all have our near-miss stories. Yes, Diane and I were pretty young at the time - 22.
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In 1976 I enrolled in an outdoor expedition through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) out of Lander, WY. Founded by the great mountaineer Paul Pezoldt in 1965 NOLS has become an international organization offering all manner of wilderness experiences. I participated in their classic 35 day wilderness expedition in the Wind River Range. Back in the 70s all NOLS expeditions practiced outdoor backpacking principles of ‘Leave No Trace’, a set of 7 practices for minimizing environmental impact. This eventually led to a partnership with the US Forest Service in 1994 and the founding of the non-profit organization Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics. On our trip these low impact environmental practices were taught in every aspect of living in the outdoors - digging and using latrines; only using loose dead wood or sticks for fires (no breaking branches, even off fallen trees); leaving no waste behind; not scorching rocks from fires; and leaving campgrounds just the way you found them (as if no one had been there before you.) We slept under a tent fly, no tent, and even encountered a couple of nights of snowfall mid-summer. A sagging tent fly in the am from 6” of snow nearly suffocated me. We built make-shift sauna baths using hot granite rocks, mud pads, shovels, pails of water and several tent flys for an environment to create steam and sweat out weeks of grime. Crawling out of the sauna and jumping into glacier fed water provided the most intense head rush. Terrible for the cardiovascular system but heck we were young. On July 4, 1976, the bicentennial, we climbed Fremont Peak, the 3rd highest mountain in WY at 13,743ft. I learned a lot about myself on that trip - good and difficult. I learned about teamwork, leadership, attitude and relationship building. I learned how to recognize and follow game trails, read topo maps, and survive a survival segment of the trip that concluded the last 5 days of the trip. Coming back to Lander to decompress meant hitting every eatery until our stomachs hurt, recovering and then repeating. It took weeks to regain lost weight.
As mentioned in previous posts I was raised just east of Boston in a small suburb called Weston. I grew up in a family of five - me, the second youngest. The oldest is my sister Molly. Molly is a highly credentialed physician - board certified in several specialties including pulmonary medicine in addition to attaining her doctorate in the field of neurophysiology. While Molly was in medical school in Denver I would often fly from Boston to Denver to visit. A trip to Denver in those years was highly cherished. This was when the airport was still close to downtown and known as Stapleton International Airport. Everything just seemed to be special there. Perhaps it was my age (late teens), being away from home, the lure of the flatirons near Boulder or the countless hikes in the backcountry. One thing I’ll always remember was picking up a 6-pack of Coors, popping them in an ice-cold cooler, driving to the west end of the airport at night and watching the jets take off just overhead. I loved feeling my parked car shake as the plane blast was directed right at me as it started its ascent. Molly was with me on my first trip heli-skiing in British Columbia in 1982. She skied each of the 7 days and was right with everyone. Although I was caught and buried in an avalanche that year it didn’t diminish an epic memory. Another memory permanently etched in our times together was on a camping outing in the mid 1970’s. Molly, Rob (one of two brothers you’ll meet in another post) and I had traveled to Aspen and were overnighting in a local campground by the river. Partaking in a little after dinner “smoke” session we walked back from the river to fire pit to roast some marshmallows, chanting in unison, “The Osborne’s are going to get f----d up.” Not sure why but the memory will always live with me. Btw, we sure did.
I always have goals. From a gym standpoint, there are many. For example, in spin class, I want to be able to average 200 watts for 60 minutes. I want to be able to do 10 legit pullups, full arm extension, head raised above the bar each time, no swing. I want to be able to do 30 legit push ups at a time, body in full plank position, only chest touching the ground, with an explosive push up motion. I want to be able to do 10 bench press reps of 135lbs, arms brought down to my chest and back up to full arm extension. I want to be able to do leg squats with proper arched back and locked pelvis. From an outside recreational perspective there are more. I want to cycle around Mercer Island, 13 miles, averaging 20mph. I want to play 18 holes of golf, legit, from the white tees. I want to ski down a black diamond run at Blackcomb mountain like Spanky’s Ladder or Ruby Bowl. I want to ski in untracked powder. I want to ski a full day. From a travel perspective I have several on my list. I want to travel to France and ride 30 miles around Lake Annecy. I want to climb Le Mont Ventoux on a road cycle again, this time from the small town of Bedoin. I want to travel to Switzerland and visit Lake Geneva, the ski resorts of Gstaad and St. Moritz as well as Austria including St. Anton and Kitzbuhel. From a new sport perspective I want to ice skate again; try cross country and skate skiing, go tubing and try snowshoeing and snowmobiling. I want to try zip lining, and perhaps even an adventure course suspended between the trees. From a book and messaging perspective, I want to reach broader and more diverse populations including our veterans, professionals in the affected medical specialties, high schools and colleges, particularly those student populations afflicted with infirmities. Longer term I have goals to increase visibility of my message, through various forms of social and mass media. How cool would it be to be on a major TV broadcast or even - drum roll - a motion picture. Dream big I say. My biggest goal, above all others, is to be the best Jamie I can be, every day - as a husband, parent, friend, presenter, influencer and colleague. I wake every day with goals in my head, movies I am making of accomplishing them and thinking forward about what the next goals will be after that. It’s what gets me out of bed at 3:30am during the week and drives me with new found purpose and resolve.
My wife Diane and I have been married 36 years, soon to be 37 in October. We are both Capricorns born in January 1957 just 11 days apart. Diane and I, like most marriages, have been through alot together over those years. We met in Long Island, NY, the result of an unusual connection enabled by our parents. We were both undergraduates in Healthcare Administration from rival schools - she, Penn State and me, Ithaca College. After our marriage October 11, 1980, 16 months after we met, we moved to the Seattle area in the spring of 1981. We have never looked back. We love the PNW and found it to be an awesome place to raise a family and enjoy all its recreational amenities. My professional career in technology management was advancing, and Diane was diligently working her own business helping people with medical billing. In June 2007 everything changed. Our lives, marriage, nature of our relationship abruptly changed. Diane has seen things from a very different perspective. She has seen everything. I dedicated my book to her for one simple reason. She is my wife. She has and continues to love me through this hard-fought journey that neither of us remotely considered. It has derailed so many plans we had for our future. It also, interestingly, has opened many new doors. Many spouses when faced with this kind of terrible trauma don’t stick around. Some feel this isn’t the life they signed up for and leave. It takes incredible love and commitment to stick with your partner when your partner is not the same. There are certainly things we can continue to do together, but many things we can not, or that are compromised and require adapting. What is certain is that Diane, despite the countless life adjustments she has had to make, has never wavered in her commitment to me and our marriage. Her love and support did bring me back, and for that will always be grateful.
I have two awesome children. Kevin is 29 and married to a wonderful Chinese National named Guang. Alana is 23 and soon to be married to her fiance Creighton. At the time of my injury Kevin was 19 and just finishing up his Associate's degree at Bellevue College. Alana was 13 and just finishing up middle school. Each has dealt with my injury in different respects. Kevin rapidly became the man of the house for the first year before he enrolled at Seattle University and majored in Environmental Science Magna Cum Laude. He soon followed his passion and moved to China, on his own, not knowing anybody, to carve out a life on his own. That takes incredible courage. And that he did, for five years before returning to Seattle in November 2016 with his wife Guang. Kevin was affected in way that brought flashbacks to a difficult time in his life when he was hospitalized with a very difficult condition called Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy. For many this affliction can result in a lifelong commitment to intensive pain management. Fortunately for Kevin, through intensive in and outpatient therapy, he was able to be cured of it. I imagine those memories made it difficult for Kevin to visit me while I was hospitalized, and also I suspect kept him a little further away from the gravity of my injury. Moving to China, perhaps even partially motivated by a desire to get away from the injury mayhem, may also have been a factor. Alana was in a very formative time in her life, and I have no doubt this injury has affected her in many ways, different, but no less impactful than on Kevin, perhaps even more. Alana is a remarkably gifted child as I have written about before. Despite the myriad of health challenges she has faced, which for me can’t be completely discounted as having some connection to my injury, has overcome incredible force fields to graduate both from Bellevue College with her Associate’s degree and on to Arizona State University to graduate Summa Cum Laude, with both an undergraduate and graduate degree, through the Barrett Honor’s program, all before the age of 21. Her studies were in broadcast journalism through the renowned Walter Cronkite program of Mass Communication and Journalism. She is a high achiever. I suppose after 10 years, and seeing the progress I have made, the terrible sting of the injury has abated somewhat - but by no means completely. They are both keenly aware of my residual deficits, and lament often about seeing me continually suffer. What brings them the greatest joy is seeing me happy, joyful, with a smile on my face. When I hurt, they hurt. It is certainly natural. Their biggest smiles have been when I have accomplished some hard-fought goal, like riding my road bicycle again or taking a long ski run down from the top of Blackcomb mountain. They love hearing me yelp, “I feel so alive!!” And in those moments, even when suffering, I do feel alive. It brings them great joy, as it does for me too.
A few months ago I was invited to participate in a podcast called DefyInjury hosted by Kay Lathrop. Kay is a former RN and current neuroscience based professional coach. I have read through her website defyinjury.com as well amplifiedagility.com. Kay and her team are the first I have come across in 10 years that, imho, are 100% focused on the right approach to healing from spinal cord injury. Their focus on neural re-patterning is composed of three modalities - bioelectric signaling; neuromuscular exercise and regenerative visualization - is where I believe the answers to SCI recovery can be found. This is the first location I’ve found that discusses the power of the mind, neuro-plasticity, and the body’s innate and remarkable ability to heal itself. This isn’t just talk. Kay and her team have chronicled numerous stories of remarkable recovery, and I feel very fortunate to have connected with her. She has committed her life’s work in this space and I have every confidence that she is on the right track. Which brings me to one of my passions. I am keenly interested in finding ways to influence the affected medical specialties in spinal cord injury treatment, including researchers, physicians, and ancillary practitioners in physical and occupational medicine. There are commonly held beliefs and lexicon in these specialties that in my opinion are dated, and frankly limiting in terms of the potential all SCI patients have to regain lost function. Labels, classification scales, complete v. incomplete are “boxes” that patients get neatly tucked in to but say little about the biggest element in a patient’s recovery potential - the brain’s plasticity. I will continue to seek out relationships and methods for exerting influence amongst the affected medical specialties to look more broadly at cases like mine and many others whose recoveries have defied conventional medical wisdom.
There are a few seminal events that happen in a person’s lifetime that can change their entire trajectory. Trying out for the crew team at the end of my freshman year at Ithaca was one of those moments. Freshman year was largely a blur, having come out of an all boys boarding school at Avon with pretty strict rules on dress code , appearance, study time, and daily routines. I now found myself in an environment that was almost the complete opposite. Nobody to remind you when to get up, when to turn out the lights, when to study or eat, or what to wear. Even attending classes was up to me. So much freedom that first year in college and I had a lot of difficulty getting focused. Enter crew. All the discipline I had learned at Avon came to my rescue as I discovered the sport of crew and the incredible effort and focus required. It was just what I needed. I found athletics. I found sportsmanship. I found teamwork. I found camaraderie. I found heart-pumping, anaerobic, endorphin-releasing effort. I found my passion. I found my sanctuary. Sports, crew, rowing rescued me. The final three years of college flew by. My grades recovered. My crew friendships blossomed. My self-esteem grew. One of my college crewmates and good friend Dan stayed on at Ithaca after graduation and went on to coach the program, now along with his wife Becky, into a a division III powerhouse. They are still coaching today. Two years ago Dan invited me and a number of college crewmates to come back to Ithaca for a reunion, and for a dedication of a new 8 person shell named after me. It was quite an honor, and was very humbled by the recognition. I was especially grateful to actually be able to get in the shell along with my other mates and go out for an easy row for 20 minutes. With help I managed to get in the shell and with some difficulty stay with the cadence of the others, and most importantly, not inadvertently eject myself from the shell. It was a tearful moment for me as we returned to the dock. Happy tears because it was another goal realized in my recovery, but just as significant and perhaps more a reminder of how the sport of crew changed my life. I owe my adult-life commitment to athletics to that day in spring 1976 when I first learned how to take a rowing stroke in the indoor rowing tanks at Cornell just across the valley from Ithaca College.
I graduated from Ithaca College in 1979 with a degree in Health Care Administration. After graduation I still had to complete a summer internship working at a local hospital. Interestingly it was at Waltham Hospital, where I was born and next town over from where I was raised in Weston. I remember meeting with my preceptor who asked, “Jamie, why do you want to go into Administration? There are so few positions.” He continued, “If you really want to pursue Health Care these are the three growth areas to consider - financial management, labor relations or technology. You seem to have an analytical mind, why not technology?” I shrugged my shoulders and said why not? That was it. That one brief conversation is what ultimately directed my professional career into technology. I worked for a few hospitals in New Jersey after I graduated, married soon after and relocated to the Seattle area in 1981 where I continued to work for a large Medical Center in IT Management until 1990. I left Health Care to work for several companies over the next 22 years including an Internet startup, Real Estate Investment and Retail. My professional career continued in IT Management where I continued to progress in terms of job position and responsibility. Unlike many who pursue a career in IT who are steeped in the technical aspects my background was from the business perspective. In other words I learned technology from the outside in, enough so I understood the lexicon and concepts to be able to manage but not so immersed that I was engineering software, networks or servers. I didn’t take a typical path as many who pursue a career in IT do. In fact in many ways I was a bit of an outlier. I chose a different path to achieve my professional goals, much the same way I chose a different path to achieve my recovery goals from this injury. It may not be the paths typically traveled but they don’t have to be. They just involve choosing, pursuing and not looking in the rearview mirror wondering whether to turn around.
My mother, Victoria Henderson Osborne, has in many ways committed her life to learning, especially when it comes to health, nutrition and wellness. I’m not sure what prompted so much of her life’s work in this area but I can say it has left an indelible impact on me. Perhaps it had its roots when I was a very young toddler afflicted with eczema, a skin disease that would cause me to itch my skin so severely I would make it bleed. Sixty years ago little was known how to treat the condition so my parents did the best they could, often wrapping me up like a mummy in gauze. Only problem with this approach was that the open, oozing sores on my skin would dry and stick to the gauze. Unraveling me in the morning was excruciatingly painful, sometimes tearing at my skin. Mother thought part of the problem was diet, so she took me off all dairy and wheat products and replaced them with alternatives like goat’s milk and rice crackers. By age 3 I had largely grown out of the worst of the eczema. Mother continued to learn more and expose all of my siblings to fresh food from our garden - asparagus, rhubarb, corn, potatoes, green beans, blackberries, homemade syrup, beets, cucumbers, and squash. She even distilled water. We learned about juicing. She even grew and juiced wheat grass, which for many years was served at the breakfast table before school. Fresh squeezed lemon juice (not great for teeth) was used to chase it down. As we grew into our middle school years I remember all sorts of interesting interventions like osteopathy, chiropractic, colonics, acupuncture, massage, high alkaline water, yogurt, whey, probiotics and many others. Yes, in many ways she was ahead of her time. Remember, this was 50+ years ago. What I learned from Mother is that there are alternatives to commonly held beliefs about medicine, diet and nutrition. I’m open to considering non-traditional options as long as they are properly vetted. There are plenty of charletons out there.
Latin for “to aspire and to persevere” these are the words that represent the motto of the boarding school I went to from 1971 to 1975, Avon Old Farms School. Both my father and brother Rob were alumnists of Avon. These words certainly had meaning and focus while I was in high school. As I have grown older, and particularly as I have faced the challenges of spinal cord injury, these words have taken on a whole new level of meaning. I coined this phrase post-injury and it goes like this: Define Your Terms. Take A Stand. Choose To Win. When I think back to high school, I realize now that this mantra I’ve embraced had its origins in Aspirando et Perseverando. In parallel fashion, this phrase I coined could easily read like this: Aspire. Persevere. Prevail. Avon taught me a lot of life lessons but none as significant as this. Finding focus in trying to recover from this injury has had me reaching, pursuing, goal setting and committing; it has had me resolute, unwavering, determined and persistent; it has had me visualizing, accomplishing, achieving and prevailing. It is amazing to think that over 46 years ago when I first walked through the quadrangle of Avon Old Farms School I would quickly learn about the school’s motto and what its founder Theodate Pope Riddle intended as she created a school for young boys that would transform them to young, capable, impactful men. The school’s motto has been a timeless instrument of focus in my life and has helped me embrace the enormous challenge of this injury.