But in fact, when he found himself faced with the situation, now over 20 years ago, all he wanted to do was live.
“It was just such a reverence for life I felt so strongly and deeply. I was able to face the fear and face the challenge head on.”
Aaron was filled with a lot of anger and has to maintain a tight balancing act between his emotions of frustration, and gratitude, even now. Instead of letting them overwhelm him, he harnesses them and channels the intensity into whatever goal he is working towards at the time, whether that is function or movement.
Quite frankly, coming home from rehab was shit. There was nothing out there, no facilities available to help him with his recovery. There were standard exercise gyms, but with no adaptive equipment, this was of no use to him.
“There were no clinicians that understood my condition. All I wanted to do was work, I was hell-bent on putting in effort to maximise my return of function.”
Aaron knew if he stopped working, his body would quickly regress and he would no chance of a successful recovery. He was severely depressed, and with nowhere to go for help, he was ready to end it.
But through it all, his mother was his saviour. She scoured the country looking for opportunities, reaching out to friends, always trying to bring hope back into his life. They eventually discovered the Centre of Achievement, in LA, a teaching-learning lab filled with equipment and run by students who were working with spinal cord injury and thinking outside the box.
“I looked around the room, saw this equipment, saw this environment, I thought, ‘hell, this is where I can get it done’.”
In order to attend the centre for three years, for four-six hours, six days a week, his family liquidated their assets. His mother, after selling off everything, basically had nothing left. They received support from the state California children’s service, as well as social security payments.
“We were living off food stamps off the state, and doing rehab and mum would help others for pay. That was our life day in, day out.”
Inspired by his experience with the Centre of Achievement and also by the lack of facilities that were around when Aaron was discharged, he and his mum opened the Centre of Restorative Exercise, C.O.R.E, in 2011.
Their centre is located in Northridge, California and pledges to bridge the gap from rehabilitation to regular fitness. Clientele isn’t just restricted to people with spinal cord injury, also including stroke patients, war veterans, people with neurological conditions and elite athletes, all under one roof with access to specialists, and adaptive equipment.
“We like to systematically progress a client through phases depending on competency and abilities, it doesn’t feel like rehab, I wanted it to feel inspiring and empowering. When you come through the door, it feels like a race shop, all the equipment is clean and sharp, vibrant, and the energy’s high.”
For anyone going through a similar situation to what Aaron did 20 years ago, he is brutally honest with them.
“It’s hard as hell. It doesn’t get easier, even after all these years. Now I’m ageing with a spinal cord injury, and that’s a whole set of new challenges.”
Most of all, you have to be willing to suffer.