Face of America: A Simple Lesson in Physiology and Fellowship

By Melissa Grappone

Holbrook, New York, April 24, 2012 – I used to think I was incapable of perspiring — that I had a different internal makeup from others that kept me from working up a good sweat. Since becoming more physically active, in large part from the inspiration I gained participating in my first Face of America (FOA) bike ride last year, that silly notion has been dispelled. On the contrary, individuals who live with paraplegia or quadriplegia do not sweat. I learned this recently while chilling out with quadriplegic George Taborsky after we finished a 40-mile bike ride with Team American Portfolios in preparation for FOA coming up this weekend. From American Portfolios CEO Lon Dolber’s house out on Eastern Long Island, we rode to Cupsogue Beach, then to Shinnecock Inlet, circling back to West Hampton Beach and returning to Lon’s home in East Moriches.

George Taborsky

George Taborsky (right) at the 2011 Face of America ride, with fellow team members. Photograph courtesy American Portfolios.

By nature individuals can maintain a body temperature of about 98.6 degrees and adapt to the environment that they’re in. When it’s hot, human physiology manages this through perspiration, which evaporates into the skin and cools down the body. But someone with a complete spinal chord injury cannot perspire below the level of their injury, and in some cases, even above it. So on a warm day, a paraplegic or quadriplegic — unbeknownst to them – will likely have a rise in body temperature; and if they are active, it’s something they’ve taught themselves to be acutely aware of and to correct as soon as possible.

Over a glass of much needed OJ and a bagel with cream cheese, George educated me on the finer details of life as a quadriplegic. He shared his story about his accident in 1992 where, at a college reunion, he hit his head at the shallow end of a pool after being pushed down a slide, resulting in a c6 broken neck injury. After a few years working through some difficult adjustments and personal losses, George slowly gravitated to activities that made him feel whole. He began volunteering as a peer mentor at the rehab facility for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and at the Northport VA Medical Center, where he worked prior to his accident; it ultimately turned into a full-time paying job for him as a biomedical engineer technician repairing medical equipment, a move that caused him to lose his Medicaid and personal care benefits, forcing him to become more independent. Then he found quad rugby and everything changed for him. The physical activity has kept him conditioned and strong; for the last fifteen years or so George has been actively playing on various quad rugby teams, improving his game to the point of being invited to play in regional competitions and the opportunity to travel all over the country. As with most 40-somethings who are resigned to relegating competitive sports to the young, George has been focusing his activities more with outdoor fitness and adventure sports such as skiing, kayaking and bicycling.

George may likely be the only quadriplegic at FOA this year; last year he was one among only two—the other, his quad rugby friend Lee Fredette, who is currently immersed in his doctorate studies in psychology. But for George, in an activity that tends to be a solitary one, he has enjoyed the practice rides with Team American Portfolios and is looking forward to the camaraderie that comes with an event like FOA, not to mention showing his support for the disabled veterans.

Barring poor health, like me, nothing is going to deter George from riding in FOA this weekend, not even stormy weather conditions, the likes of which we experienced last year.

Let’s cross our fingers for smooth riding with the blessing of blue skies.

Team American Portfolios 2012

The 2012 American Portfolios Face of America team at a training ride. Photograph courtesy American Portfolios.