In the beginning there was Chris…
In 1977 at 10lbs 3oz and longer than most, I came into this world as fresh and new as can be. I had my whole life in front of me and would soon be starting the process of learning how to move, function independently, and to fend for myself. As a new-born baby I was also lucky to have an amazing mother, father and big sister to help with this process.
Then came “Stouty”
Fast forward 19 years to June 18th. I had become a 6'4, 190 lbs football playing, basketball dunking, l'il bit crazy but still university bound young man. Little did I know that in a few hours I was going to have to start the process I started the day I was born all over again. At a friend’s party, the week before I was to head to the University of Guelph, Ontario to start summer training for the varsity football season, I met a situation from which I would not walk away.
Growing up I had a knack for somehow escaping situations pretty much unscathed that would put most people in the grave. For example how about being hit by a car not once, not twice but on three separate occasions and never even catching a stitch or broken bone. I jumped from a second story roof into a bush at the age of 10 and somehow manage to miss the roto-tiller parked underneath it. At 11 years old I flew through a plate-glass window wrist first to escape during a game of tag and cut every vein in my wrist but the one that would have caused me to lose function in my hand. At 13 I tried to skateboard down a hill that had speed bumps on it and smashed my head so hard I couldn't stop throwing up (they had to put me in the hospital for a few days on that one).
I was the reason my mother wasn't fazed by much and my father had gray hair. There was a point growing up when my file never left the front counter in the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital emergency room. Surprisingly I never broke a major bone (just a few fingers). I did, however, catch a lot of stitches and have plenty of scars to show for it. I have a long list of near misses and crazy stories that I would need days to explain. Many called me an accident waiting to happen. I called it living on the edge.
June 18th, 1997 – a day that changed my life's trajectory forever
On June 18th that edge was going to present itself as a railing on a balcony and I was never going to see it coming. Nearing 1 AM the party began winding down and I walked on to the balcony of my friend’s condo and sat up against the railing. I was talking to my buddy when I suddenly heard a “SNAP”. The next thing I knew I was upside down falling towards the ground. Luckily I had good aerial body control and managed to flip back upright making first contact with the ground feet first. Unfortunately the speed and velocity of the flip carried through and flung me to my back and my last memory of that incident was reaching back for the ground. Then lights out…
I awoke to my buddies standing around and looking down at me. I remember wondering why no one was helping me up. My head hurt but otherwise I felt fine. But I could tell by their faces that I wasn't fine. My arm was twisted behind my back and my legs were twisted the opposite way. Then it hit me that I couldn't move. No one was helping me up because I was in bad shape. Want to hear the lucky part? I landed on a 6’ x 4’ strip of grass between a cement staircase and a metal bike rack. Luck hadn't completely abandoned me but it had definitely run thin. The last thing I remember before an ambulance showed up was my good bro squeezing my foot and asking if I could feel it. Then I was in and out of consciousness from an ambulance, to a helicopter, to surgery. It was just pieces and blurs in time that seemed like a dream. I awoke three days later lying in a hospital bed in Toronto. A surgeon was standing over me about to drop a burner of a life changing statement. It was a moment that has never left my thoughts…
He said “I’m Dr. blah blah. You had an accident. You are paralyzed from the T-6 spine level and will not walk again.”
My name is Chris Stoutenburg. I'm a paraplegic and this is the story of my “wheel life”.
Since that June day in 1997 my life has been crazy. There have been lots amazing highs and some pretty big lows and while you might think that being paralyzed at 19 was enough tragedy to endure, I guess there were other plans for me. I’m about to share a part of my story that I have never shared other than with friends and relatives, but after meeting and speaking with Dai, I feel like this would be a great place to share this part of my life. Two days after receiving the news I woke up and thought to myself “This really sucks, my football career is over, my ability to make money is gone, and I am not happy.”
Then as fast as those thoughts entered my head the hereditary stubborn part of me spoke up and said “This is not how things are going to end for you. This can’t be changed. What has happened has happened and crying about it will do no good.” I then buzzed the nurse and asked for a wheelchair. She replied “The surgery is too fresh. You have more than 70 staples in your back and iron rods fused to your spine. You are not ready for a wheelchair.” I replied “If this chair is going to be my ticket to getting places then I want one now” and swung my legs over the side of the bed and gave her a choice…a chair or I jump off the bed. The chair showed up a few seconds later. Granted, this was probably not the most tactful way of handling the situation but it was effective.
The Glass is never empty
One week later I was ripping around the emergency wing trying to maneuver this giant hospital chair, driving everyone nuts, and listening to them explain that there was a waiting list for rehab admission that could take months. Then my surgeon spoke to the doctors and asked if they had ever seen anyone this determined to carry on with their life in this stage of recovery? The next day I was admitted to Lyndhurst Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Hospital. When I arrived at rehab I was able to test some more suited “rides” for my style of life. I got to speak with an occupational therapist and meet my physical therapist. They told me I’d be there a minimum of six months before I would be able to leave and be on my own. I told them I planned to be at University in residence on the first scheduled day, September 1st (less than two months away). I think they knew at that moment that I was going to be a handful.
My Recovery: The Road Less Traveled
The daily program at Lyndhurst consisted of one hour of physiotherapy and one hour of occupational therapy. The rest of the day was mine. So after my sessions were over I hung out and watched the other people who had been there for a few months in their daily session and then tried what they were doing on my own. This was very helpful to my plan because when my next sessions came up I could already do what they were planning on teaching me that day or week. This carried on for a few weeks and by August I was far ahead of their expectations.
I spent every day working out in the weight room, trying to hop curbs, learning to transfer, and wheeling at speed. I also secretly began taking on the challenge of pushing up a hill that everyone was told to steer clear of. By the third week in August the head doctor at Lyndhurst came to see me and asked if I was serious about going to school in September. The next week I was released. They told me there was nothing left to teach me and that staying there was just holding my progress back. So home is where I went, back to the real world after my two and a half month hiatus from that fateful day in June. I was greeted by friends and family and a house that wasn't meant for wheelchairs (LOL). Thankfully my Father had been hard at work and jimmy rigged a few things to make it possible to get around. He was always good like that.
I moved into residence at the end of summer and began University on the first day of class. Six months in I was studying, partying, and just trying to be as regular as possible to fit back into a world that had changed so much in the year. It was then that I met a young man with Cerebral Palsy. He told me that I should give wheelchair basketball a shot and told me about a club team about 45 minutes away in Burlington that practices once a week. He said I could go with him to check it out. To be honest I wasn't sure about it but thought okay let’s try. Well I fell in love with the sport. I found a place where I could still feel like an athlete and compete and on that court I forget about all the other woes of my life. The game came naturally to me and after six months I was invited to try out for the Ontario Junior Team and play in the Canada Games. We won gold in that tournament.
A “Gold”en Career in Sport
From that point on my basketball career took off. A month later I was asked to the Ontario Men’s Team and went with them to win gold at the Canadian Championships. During that tournament I was asked to join the Canadian Men’s Team to tour Great Britain. Following that I was recruited to play wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois where I spent my next three years ballin’ every day. After one year at Illinois I officially became a carded member of the Canadian Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team and in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, I won my first Olympic gold medal. The next years of my life I won many international, national and provincial titles, and all-star awards. We won bronze at the World Championships in Japan in 2002 and we were back to defend our Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Greece. It was a long hard-fought tournament from which Canada returned home with a successfully defended gold medal.
Things couldn't have been better! I remember flying home from Greece thinking about the rush of events since my accident, and that riding a wheelchair was obviously my calling. One month later on a Friday afternoon I got a call from my mother in the hospital. When I arrived she told me that she was having breathing issues and they had diagnosed her with cancer. Now with her own Stoutenburg stubbornness and will to fight she met that cancer head on and battled it into remission one year later…or so we thought.
Leading into the 2006 World Championships my mother and my girlfriend Sara had planned to come to Amsterdam to cheer us on. With only a few months until the trip the doctors scanned my mom and said the cancer was back and had spread. My mom wanted to come to Amsterdam and I knew she would not take no for an answer so the doctors said to go for it and I knew Sara would make sure she was well looked after while they traveled. I played the best tournament of my life! I was awarded the Tournament MVP in the form of The City of Amsterdam Award and we won the world championships! My mom was in the crowd cheering every game and was so excited. Her happiness was overwhelming. After all those nights up awake worrying about me, never leaving my side and always my number one fan and friend she looked like she couldn't be any happier.
Less than one year later my mother lost her battle with cancer but fought through to the end. All those highs came crashing back down to a very low point in my life. I was crushed and again felt like I had to battle back into a world I felt was being very cruel. There were times I wasn't sure I would make it. The people who kept me fighting were Sara at my side, my loving sister filling the shoes of my mom ensuring I stayed grounded, and my father who like my mom was always at my side and became a best friend to me. We needed each other as much then as we ever did and together we began to rebuild. We did it in my mother’s honor. She would never give up so there was no way that we could.
In 2008 we were once again on the world stage at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Sara, by then my fiancee, was there cheering us on in an amazing battle with Australia in the gold medal game. Unfortunately our streak of gold came to an end. We returned home with silver and a bit of heartache but overall thankful for the amazing experience.
Love at First WOD
After some reflection time I decided I was going to hang up the ball chair, get married, and start a family. I was 29, living back in my hometown, married to the woman of my dreams, and working a full-time job for the city as an event coordinator. I felt like everything had come full circle. I had accomplished so much and been through so much. Life was finally giving me a chance to relax. It was here during this time I found my next challenge. I stumbled (via my cousin) onto CrossFit, a world where my competitive type “A” personality was gladly accepted, a place where people supported each other and didn't look at you crazy because you pushed so hard you puked. It was love at first WOD.
“CrossFit has changed my life”… How many times have you heard or said that?
Stouty's Story: CrossFit.com Interview
Well for me it did. It gave me mobility and movement I had been chasing my entire life in a wheelchair. It gave me another outlet and a new community of like-minded people. After three months into CrossFit and major PRs I found out I was going to be a Dad! A baby boy was on his way and my life as I knew it was going to change again. Getting ready for his arrival was my main training goal. I took on the 2013 CrossFit Open and found a following of people who were inspired by what I was doing which in turn inspired me to push the levels of my training to more intense exercises. In February 2013 our beautiful 9lb 8oz baby boy, Quintyn James Stoutenburg, arrived and my world was complete. My Dad was so happy, my sister was excited to finally be an aunt and though Sara and I were exhausted we couldn't believe how much love we had for one little person. “Q” was immediately absorbed into our lives, into the box, and was adopted by our two large golden retrievers as their own. He is literally being raised by dogs I swear!
Living a Life of No Regrets
So there I was back at the top and looking forward to the future when early on an August morning the phone rang and the manager at my dad’s work said there had been an accident and I needed to go to the hospital immediately. By the time I got there he was already gone. He’d had a 1/1000 fluke aortic tear and within minutes he had passed. My best friend, role model, and mentor was gone and back to the low side I fell. But I knew I had to stay strong. I couldn’t be weak, he would never want that or let that happen and I had a son of my own to look after. I had to do my best to teach Q the things my dad had taught me. James Robert Stoutenburg was a king among men and if I am lucky enough to turn out to be one tenth of the man he was I will know I have done something right.
Although I am still recovering from his passing I know he is still cheering me on. He inspired me to dust off the old ball chair and take my advances in Crossfit back onto the court and in 2015 I will be trying to step back on the stage of world basketball in hopes to make the Canadian Team for the 2016 Olympic Games. This will be a daunting task and will take much determination and effort and no matter the outcome I will be happy to know I gave it a shot and plan on leaving nothing to regret. I live by the motto #NoExcuses and plan on taking that with me throughout life.
Family, love, fitness in the form of CrossFit, and laughter has brought me back to my desired path and I know it is going to bring me back to the top and help prepare me for whatever comes next. If there is one message I can leave with you, it is this:
Life is uncontrollable in so many ways. Worry about the things you can control and make use of the time we are given. Never settle for good because we all have the ability to be great! When things seem dark and lost look for one thing to turn you back to the light and grab that and hold on and never give up. You can never fail if you never quit!
I get by with a little help from my friends…
His athletics background includes Canadian Men's Wheelchair Basketball since 2000, 2 time Olympic Gold and 1 time silver. Currently completed his Crossfit L1 Training as continues to coach U16 Boys OBA Rep Basketball – The Trailblazers.
Some of Stouty's interests include; Sports in General, Coaching, Competing and starting to enter the world of adventure/obstacle racing all around Adrenaline Junkie.