11 Jun From Amputee to Marathon Racer
by Brian Coker, Saturn Adviser, Christchurch
On the 22nd of February 2011 a lot of peoples’ lives in Christchurch changed forever, including mine, when the Christchurch earthquake hit. I was trapped in the PGC building with a concrete beam across my legs. I was conscious and in agony, my hope of surviving reducing as the blood slowly drained from my body.
Fortunately help did arrive. After a few hours several very brave people crawled into the middle of the building where I was trapped to achieve my rescue. Unfortunately, this rescue required the amputation of both of my legs above the knees. An anaesthetist, urologist and policeman took turns, with nothing more than a Leatherman tool, completing the amputation.
Six hours after the quake I was transported to Christchurch Hospital having lost most of my blood. They debated whether to resuscitate me or not when I arrived in the Emergency Department. This was the start of my journey in managing a myriad of changes in my life.
Change is often forced upon us whether we like it or not. We can try and bury our heads in the sand or fight it; however the most productive response I believe is to accept change, adapt and work through it. This is the biggest lesson I have learnt.
Mobility is by far the biggest issue for an amputee. I have tried to look forward and focus on the positive aspects of what I can do rather than what I can’t. If there is something I really want to do then there is usually a way of achieving it. Right from the outset I took the view there was no point in wasting energy on ‘Why me?’ or ‘What if?’ With my wife Helen’s help and strength we have concentrated on my mobility on prosthetics, as improved mobility makes virtually everything else easier.
Completing the New York Marathon in 2013 in a hand-cycle pushed me out of my usual comfort zone but also made me realise I can still achieve anything I want to.
In a work sense little has changed and in fact within a few weeks of the earthquake and while still in hospital in Hamilton, I was badgering the office for a laptop so that I could keep in touch with clients, many of whom suffered property issues. Clients have been very supportive, I work with them as if my disability is non-existent just as it should be.
Interestingly I have found there are parallels with my recovery and managing client investment portfolios and it has been useful to talk to some clients about this. After all, ‘change’ appears in many forms and whether it is a relationship break-up, redundancy, retirement or widowhood at least one of these things will affect us at some time and linked to that is managing the financial implications of that change.
I know it has helped clients to understand the importance of focusing on long-term goals and sticking with the long-term plan even though there may be ups and downs along the way. Just as it would have been easy for me to keep looking back at what had happened to me and having a negative outlook, it was imperative to look forward.
Although for me, learning to walk again was a significant task, it was important the odd fall I had or other issues didn’t discourage me from pursuing the long-term goal.
If we use the same analogy with investing, clients often want to look back and focus on the painful ‘change’ a particular investment may have caused them, or one investment which didn’t perform, or a loss in one sector, rather than keeping their goals front-of-mind. While we learn lessons from the past we need to keep moving forward and revise the plan if necessary as we go.
Understanding and accepting risk is important and it is very easy to be far too conservative. There is the analogy I refer to of my learning to walk again and the old adage, ‘no pain, no gain’. If I didn’t stand up and take a step and accept the risk I might have a fall then I wouldn’t have made any gains towards my goal of walking. The easiest option would have been to be conservative and not risk a fall and simply accept life in a wheelchair. That in my mind would have been a negative (albeit ‘safe’) outcome for my quality of life.
In the same way, an investor can sit on their funds in a low yielding bank deposit and actually go backwards in real dollar terms, which will negatively impact their future quality of life. Managing change in a forward looking goals focused way will produce the best possible outcome. Brian Coker CFP CM