Habitat for Humanity, community reach out to help Adam Lavender
October 22, 2013
A betting man would bet on Adam Lavender.
The bet would be that he someday reaches his goal of exchanging his wheelchair for a bicycle.
Lavender, 36, of Carbondale, is a former pro cyclist who competed in several disciplines and had a special affinity for downhill and free riding. He was among the pioneers of the single-track trail network accessed from Prince Creek Road outside of Carbondale. It's clear from talking to him and some of his friends that he was fearless — though not careless — on a bike.
But on April 28, 2012, Lavender experienced the worst nightmare for anyone who rides mountain bikes or is even vaguely familiar with what cyclists do. He and colleagues on the cycling team had finished building a special course on private land near Grand Junction. The course featured the banked turns, berms, jumps and drops that Lavender loves. After the final day of work, he took a spin, as did other riders who wanted to get the dirt of the new course packed down.
"There was nothing out of my depth or really challenging," he said. But he was tired after working on the course all day. He equates what happened to him with a wipe out on skis after a long powder day.
Lavender said he failed to scrub enough speed going into one particularly tricky maneuver and started going over the handlebars.
"My instincts said to tuck and roll," he said. His chin was tucked when he came down on his head. "I basically had a vertical impact," he said.
Special connection to Carbondale
He calmly and matter-of-factly describes how the resulting neck and spinal cord injury could have been worse. He is now an incomplete quadriplegic, which means he can move his arms to some degree and twist his neck. He said he can feel his toes and has sensation throughout his body. As the swelling has gone down over the last 18 months, more blood and spinal fluid has started flowing and he's slowly gaining more use of his muscles.
Nevertheless, he said recovery will be a long, hard process. He was recently hospitalized while battling pneumonia. His health presents daily challenges, which he takes on with the help of his wife, Tanell, who is his primary caregiver.
One challenge was finding a place to live. It's important to him and his family that they remain in the town they love. Lavender, who owned a custom woodworking and cabinet making business, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley from Paonia in 1999. While he's lived "up and down" the valley, "Carbondale has always been my hinge point," he said.
They tried to find suitable accommodations that meet his special needs and still provide a good house for their two daughters, Ananda, 6, and Aliya, 2. The family includes 19-year-old stepson Jacob.
Adam said it was important for him not to have to turn the living room of a home into his bedroom because of his limited mobility. He also dreaded the thought of not being able to tuck his girls in at bedtime because the bedrooms were on a different floor.
Habitat learns of family's plight
That's where the Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork chapter came into the story. President Scott Gilbert said he got a handful of messages from people who know Adam and others who just knew of the Lavenders' plight. Gilbert investigated the circumstances and found the family good candidates for a Habitat house. The chapter bought 12 house lots at the Keator Grover affordable-housing subdivision during the tough times of the recession. Work started July 30 on the Lavenders' 1,900-square-foot house, the first Habitat is building there.
It's a special house that will feature an elevator allowing Adam to access everything from the therapy room in the half basement to the bedrooms upstairs. It features picture windows, some with a view of Mount Sopris, and numerous efficiency features that Gilbert said will make it the first LEED Platinum residence in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The special features make the house more expensive than the typical house Habitat builds. The Roaring Fork Valley chapter needs help covering the fiscal gap, Gilbert said. There are also opportunities for volunteers and in-kind service providers (see related story, A5).
The Lavenders are blown away by the prospect of living in their own home in Carbondale. It should be ready for them in July. For now, they are living in Ironbridge.
Adam said he thought when first contacted by Gilbert that the nonprofit organization might be able to help with a ramp at his rental house. He didn't dream they would give him the opportunity acquire an entire house.
"This has created an opportunity to have a sense of permanence in the community," he said. "All of my friends and my support system are in Carbondale."
A little help from his friends
Accepting the help has been a humbling as well as gratifying experience for the Lavenders. Adam said he was a "vagabond" when he moved from South Carolina to Colorado as a young man. He worked in farming in Paonia, then started training under a master woodworker and cabinetmaker.
"I kind of caught onto the Colorado spirit of self-sufficiency," he said. "I tried not to rely on anybody for anything."
A lot of Adam's friends in construction, many of whom are also his biking buddies, have volunteered time. Shawn Shuman, who owns a small framing company, was able to volunteer his crews' time in between jobs. Habitat for Humanity ended up hiring the three-man team to accelerate the work before the snow flies.
"When I found out this was going on, I had to get out and help," Shuman said, explaining that he and Adam have been friends for 15 years. Whenever Shuman has been in a bind in his professional or personal life, Lavender was always willing to help him. Now it's time to return the favors.
When Lavender visited the job site Thursday, Shuman gave him an exuberant report. "You'd be amazed how many of the bros came out to help," he said, producing a big grin on Lavender's face.
"It makes me glad I've done right by my friends," Lavender said after Shuman returned to work.
Focused on recovery
Now that they know where they're going to live, the Lavenders' can focus on Adam's recovery. He said therapy through Hospice Home Care of the Valley has been invaluable. "They've really helped me push the envelope," he said.
Amanda Boxtell, a well-known Aspenite who advocates for people with disabilities, helped Adam acquire a special electric stem therapy stationary bicycle. Electrodes are placed on Lavender's quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Computer-generated, low-level electrical impulses are sent to Lavender's legs to generate contractions and resistance to pedaling. It's designed to maintain muscles.
"I can't even explain how profound of an effect that has on me, to push the pedals," Lavender said.
He said he is determined that he will someday pedal a real bike again, and be a dance partner for his wife — he says she's an excellent dancer. He's also determined to give back to Carbondale and Habitat for Humanity in any way he can once his health improves.
He's kept a positive attitude from the minute he hit the ground in the accident. He recalled that he was paralyzed from the neck down right after the accident. He forced himself to remain calm and concentrate on breathing so he could return to his family.
"I'm just happy to be here, to be here for my kids and my wife," he said. "I'd say my own attitude is due to my little girls."