Renowned author Neil Gaiman was once quoted as saying: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
In life, we are often faced with obstacles that appear so imposing that we are faced with only two options: admit defeat and live a life filled with regret or adjust our attitudes, embrace difficult choices, and slay the dragon.
30-year-old Chris Hearn had to make some very difficult choices when he came face-to-face with a series of arduous challenges. While he could easily have thrown in the towel, Chris chose to rise above his circumstances and is now not only an acclaimed sportsman but a tremendous inspiration to every around him as well.
Here is his story:
My name is Chris Hearn. I live in Durban, South Africa.
I am passionate about bikes and the sport of BMX racing. The letters BMX have been engraved into my DNA since the beginning. It is the best medicine I can recall in my 30 years of being alive. It is a platform where I can push my limits in the midst of battle,living life to the full in each moment, one pedal stroke at a time. It gears my life with the essential components I need to be the best in whatever I do in any aspect of my life. My heart is on the BMX track and racing bikes are in my blood.
In the last 6 years, I have had to grow through many hardships and heartbreak.
In December 2013, I severely shattered my right ankle training for motocross and ended up in a government hospital. I had an external ring fixator from just below my knee right down to my feet with 11x pins penetrating through my bones including my foot bones, which was the absolute worst. I had to mission around with this humiliating contraption for 6 months. Mundane tasks like walking became a chore. When they finally decided to remove the pins, I picked up cellulitis which soon became osteomyelitis due to the lack of sanitation in the hospital. I spent the next few months on the most intense regime of antibiotics and in a lot of pain.
During this time, my father was fighting his own battle with chemotherapy. He was diagnosed with AML leukemia, which is an acute form of blood cancer. I watched him deteriorate in front of my eyes in a matter of weeks. As hard as it was, I had to pretend that everything was going to be okay. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to him a day before my 25th birthday in 2014. I dosed up on opioid pain killers the morning of his funeral because I wanted to be standing strong in honor of his life. I read his eulogy with a bleeding heart, but proudly without the aid of crutches.
Over the next few years, I had to endure many corrective procedures, from reconstructive surgery to arthroscopy, which were mostly unsuccessful. My ankle was becoming more and more fused with every operation as a result of the repetitive trauma to the soft tissue surrounding the joint. It was also badly misaligned which put a lot of stress on my knee and my hip. Every step of every day was painful and mentally exhausting. I tried every possible solution to regain movement in my ankle, but with no luck. I felt so hopeless and frustrated. No matter how hard I tried to get back up and push forward, life kept me on my knees with injury.
The doctors suggested an ankle replacement, but that didn’t sit well with me because an internal prosthesis wouldn’t have allowed me to race, run, or do any impact sports.
In 2018, I shifted my mind to a new state of realization.
I knew that I had to get rid of the part of me holding me back so that I can begin again. I stayed up most nights just thinking about it. Eventually, with tears in my eyes, I made the most difficult decision that would change my life forever. A below-knee amputation.
I disabled myself so that I could get back to doing the things that I love!
Whilst they stuck an epidural into my spine, I could see my Dad in the room with me, portraying himself as the surgeon and I felt immediately calm. When I woke up from the amputation, my heart felt a sense of relief for the first time in years. Rock bottom became home for so long, but now I could see the shimmer of hope and light. I was really happy for someone who just had their leg chopped off, but I knew that the worst part was behind me and that the best was yet to come. I was so eager to get my life back, to get back on my bike, to race BMX again.
Every single night for about 6 weeks after amputation, I suffered with the most unbearable nerve pain in the foot that wasn’t even there. The kind of pain you hear about but didn’t think would happen to you. Life decided to be hard on me during this time, breaking me down into the core blocks that I am built with today.
I adopted a racers mindset and put everything I had into my rehabilitation. I never gave up until I crossed that finish line of being able to run again, something which I hadn’t done in years. I did this with the most determined heart and excited to win my life back. I couldn’t wait to see what I was capable of.
From crutching and crawling around the house to learning how to adapt and walk again with a prosthetic leg was no easy process. Once I could take my first steps on my own, I started pushing myself to be better than I was before, to prove to myself that NOW is the best version of me. Most everyday tasks presented challenges in which I had to grow through and conquer daily. Little accomplishments lead to bigger accomplishments.
Now, when I look back and see my fight, it humbles me.
But despite my struggles and fear of being rejected by the public, my heart still beat strong in my chest and I still had life burning within me. I couldn’t give up, not on myself. I decided to embrace the change and overcome my adversity. The choice was made and I picked myself up from rock bottom and started to live each moment, one second at a time, putting the pieces of my life back together, slowly but surely.
Being disabled does not mean that your life is over. For me, it was a brand new beginning. Learning how to do everything in a new way was like growing up all over again. Life for me is all about perspective and how I saw myself was very important. I felt like a refurbished racing machine, like a newly polished Mongoose ready to tear up the tracks.
I started racing BMX again in 2019, as the only rider in the sport with a disability. My first race meeting was merely months after my amputation and I had to dose up on schedule 5 pain medication just to survive the day. I was approached by team Staystrong who took me under their wing and believed in me and my ability to excel in the sport, despite my adversity. I am proud to be a part of this BMX family and to be the embodiment of STAY STRONG.
With a pure heart and God giving me the strength and courage to go beyond what I believed was possible, I was able to finish the year 2nd in KZN in the super cruiser class and 3rd in South Africa in the 16 – 39 cruiser class. I also participated in my first Red Bull Pump Track event and finished 4th in KZN and 8th in South Africa – able-bodied.
From losing a limb in 2018 and learning how to walk again, to being ranked 3rd in my country for BMX in 2019 is my greatest triumph thus far. Standing on that podium alongside the best BMX racers in South Africa with a bronze medal around my neck, holding up the number 3 plate, was the happiest day of my life. This is a feat that nobody has been able to do anywhere else in the world.
During February 2020, I entered my first ever Downhill Mountain biking race and finished 3rd in the first leg of the KZN Championships – sub veteran class.
In March 2020, I was able to take the SA 3 plate to the top step of the podium with a gold medal at the first leg of the KZN BMX Championships – super cruiser class.
Later this year, I will be representing my country at the BMX World Championships in Houston, Texas. My goal is to go down in history as the first disabled athlete in the sport to make it to a World Championship event, going up against the best able-bodied riders from all over the Globe. And one day, who knows, I could be the next BMX World Champion!
My disability has been a blessing.
It has given my life a new purpose and the opportunity to make a difference in the world. I am able to help motivate and inspire people to not give up on themselves and to prove to them that nothing is impossible if you put your heart and mind into it.
Looking back, I have realized that my transformation has been for the best and it’s molded me into a better version of myself. I am now physically, mentally, and spiritually stronger and more motivated than ever. I have a lot more appreciation for the small things, which most people take for granted.
No matter how held back you feel in life, it’s important to keep the wheels turning with enthusiasm – don’t let your excuses catch up and beat you! Even if it hurts, be strong, stay true to your path, and never stop going.
I believe that the only disability is a negative attitude.
During these trying times, the world can do with more people like Chris who chose to have a positive attitude despite adversity. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.
GOOD THOUGHTS • GOOD WORDS • GOOD DEEDS