Any other survival story, such as tales of refugee survivors would’ve been quite different, but these had a profound impact on Christian’s mindset.
“They were fighting for fun, not for life.”
The stories, especially Christian’s personal favourite, Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, helped him to see the only way to get out of a bad situation is to keep moving forward.
Moving forward was exactly what Christian intended to do. However, as a result of his injury he was faced with intense spasticity on a daily basis.
“My legs shook to the point where my legs pulled out of my socket, I was on tons of muscle relaxants and drugs, it wasn’t a life to live.”
For two long years, he suffered through the spasms, even returning to his job in the engineering department at the University of Calgary.
The constant pain meant he wasn’t able to work full time hours. Christian was despondent. Even undergoing a surgery to implant a baclofen pump to drip muscle relaxants on his spinal cord made no difference, and in fact the spasms got worse.
He was desperate to find a way out. In fact he was desperate to just do away with his spinal cord altogether. And that’s exactly what he did.
“I’m not going to walk, I don’t care that I can sort of wiggle a toe, let’s get rid of it.”
Two years after his injury he got his spinal cord severed – otherwise known as the smartest thing he says he has done in his life.
“I wouldn’t have a life if not. When I woke up from surgery I was just a regular old paralysed dude.”
Where once every day and every moment was a fight, Christian could now actually envision the future. He could see himself in the mountains again and now he had the time, energy and the will to get there.
Christian credits Joe Simpson with inspiring him to make such a massive decision to cut his spinal cord.
“The constant sitting on a ledge in a crevasse with pure darkness below you and no way up, you can either sit on the ledge and die or go down and die, but at least going down was somewhere. Things could get no worse in my mind. F – it lets try it, and it worked just like it did for Joe, we popped out of the snow and saw the light.”
A bit of an adrenalin junkie, Christian loves pushing outside his comfort zone and taking risks. Most of all he loves getting to a place where what’s happening in day to day just melts away, unconsciously.
“You have to be 100 per cent present, you really have to be in survival mode.”
Now in his forties, he reflect back on his escapades and adventures in the 1990s.
“It was the early days of mountain bikes, there wasn’t a checklist of things you should do to get better to accomplish X, Y or Z, it was creative. It was the time of the VHS and no internet, we didn’t know what was possible.”
After breaking his back, it took Christian a long time to reach that state of mind again, where he could hop on a mountain bike and experience those same feelings of creativity and spontaneity.
One of the first things he did after his injury was to build himself his own wheelchair. A fairly tall guy, clocking in at six foot four inches, many of the wheelchair back then didn’t really accommodate for his height.
As a qualified machinist, he had the mind-set of being able to build his way out of a situation he didn’t like or build his way into one he did.