After becoming paralyzed, Jeremy McGhee’s sense of adventure never wavered
ENCINITAS — Would you describe yourself as adventurous?
“Yes,” said the man.
Would you have described yourself as adventurous before the accident?
“Yes,” he answered again.
“I always say I’m the same person before and after. I think the biggest difference is having been close to death is just now going on adventures and being adventurous with more thankfulness,” said Jeremy McGhee.
“I don’t think the accident changed me so much. I think it’s getting older that’s changed me,” the 37-year-old endurance athlete said.
In 2001, while running errands on his motorcycle in Point Loma, McGhee was cut off and hit by a motorist.
He remembers everything clearly. And when asked about the accident that would leave him without the use of his lower body from his chest down, McGhee recounts the details in a matter-of-fact way.
Assessing his injuries as he lay on the street bleeding, he said he knew right away that he was paralyzed. He could feel his face getting cold as the blood drained from it.
The only thing that saved his life at that point was the fact that paramedics on a lunch break happened to be right there.
McGhee said the paramedics were caring for him immediately, and he was in surgery 20 minutes later.
In the hospital, having woken up after surgery, the doctor told him before anything else, that he was lucky to just be alive.
What followed would be six weeks in the hospital filled with dark nights spent alone in the hospital, he said, wondering why this all happened.
In the middle of it all, he said, was the most difficult time to try and understand it.
His whole life growing up had always been about surfing, and now that he’s getting older things are more about the adventure rather than the adrenaline rush, he said.
For his latest adventure, the Cardiff resident now finds himself in Hawaii.
Three months ago he began training for the renowned Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championship, which requires paddleboarders to paddle approximately 32 miles from Kalua Koi to Maunala Bay Park.
He has a little more than two months to complete his training before competing.
“I wouldn’t say I’m competing,” he said with a laugh. “I am surviving — hopefully surviving it.”
“Jeremy’s very unique in the sense that he is very fit and able, even prior to us working out,” said Siene Freeman, Jeremy’s trainer and fitness director at Tri-City Wellness Center in Carlsbad where Jeremy’s been training.
The focus on their training has been on trying to prevent any extra injuries, she explained. With the position that he’ll be in for a long time paddling, laying flat on his belly, they’ve worked on exercises that protect his shoulders and upper body.
The first step in finding the right training program, Freeman explained, was to understand the event that he would be competing in.
McGhee’s training has taken him out into the open ocean off Encinitas.
But the view out there for him was limited.
“Basically my face is in the board and I’m just paddling away, one stroke at a time and just trying to push as hard as I can and push harder every time and go further every time,” he said.
All the while he was training, he was forgetting about the adventure, he explained. It was more about the training and the endurance.
On that realization, McGhee said he’s had to remind himself to pick his head up and look around and see where he is, and to enjoy it.
And since the start of McGhee’s training, Freeman said she’s noticed differences in him.
“The biggest difference, I think for him, is when he came in, though he was in good shape, he was still dealing with a lot of pain and he was still dealing with some limitations that we’ve been able to work with,” she said.
“It’s not just about working yourself as hard as you possibly can until you kill yourself, it’s about balancing everything out appropriately and really taking a look at how the body’s functioning,” she said.
Less pain, more mobility in the shoulders and more control in his balance, are some of the other changes she’s seen come through in Jeremy.
As for why he decided to enter the paddleboard competition: “It was haunting me,” he said. “I have this problem where I get an idea in my mind and it just starts haunting me. I can’t get it out of my head,” McGhee said.
“I’m expecting an adventure,” he added.
McGhee’s progress can be followed online at TriCitymed.org/jeremy2oahu.