Meet Josh Merryman

me+ Community member

Josh Pic 3 With Family

Josh with his family

In 1995, I was living in Oregon and raced motocross. I was on a new track running lines that I planned to follow in competition, when I got a little too competitive. I was racing down a straightaway, coming up on a triple jump. I was going too fast when I came off the first jump and landed right on top of the second jump. I flew over the handlebars of my motorcycle landing on my head. I had a rather severe head injury, I injured the main nerve bundle in my shoulder (the brachial plexus), and I had also broken T6 and T7 in my spinal cord. I was conscious, but I didn’t know what happened next.

Heavily sedated, I didn’t remember very much of anything that happened for the next 2 weeks. When I was first cognizant after my accident, and after I was informed of what had happened to me, I was also told I’d been in a coma for a week. The neurosurgeon was very matter of fact manner when she told me, “You’ll never walk again.”

The first thing I thought about was how fortunate I had been to survive and come out of a coma. I’m sure I was probably upset when I was told I never would walk again, but at that time, that information seemed to have blurred from my memory. I really didn’t think that much about being paralyzed, until I got home from the hospital. My family had modified our home to make it more accessible for me.

When I got home, I still had rehab, and I started back to high school. I didn’t have a lot of down time, and I believe that was a good thing for me. Before my injury I was an athlete. I played football, wrestled, rode motocross, skied and rode my motorcycle off-road. My schedule was still as busy after my injury.

Of course, being back in high school and in a wheelchair was different from my life before, but my friends were very welcoming. They were always by my side. When I was in the hospital, they’d come visit me every day and sometimes at night. They made my adjusting to my new life much better and easier than it would have been without them.

"The year after my injury was probably the hardest year for me."

It was about a year before I could truly adjust to my new normal. Because of the strong support of friends and family, I didn’t have any major depression issues during that time. They seemed to always keep me busy. Having that support system made all the difference in my recovery and adjustment.

After high school graduation, I enrolled at the University of Oregon and majored in business. One of the advantages of going to the University of Oregon was that the campus was pretty hilly. Those hills helped me build up my physical strength, besides the exercising I already was doing at physical therapy. Eugene, Oregon is very accepting of all types of people. That city was a great place to learn to adjust to my new body.

I have also enjoyed peer mentoring other people who may be living life after SCI. I tell newly injured people in wheelchairs to be prepared for the first year after their accidents to be the most difficult. I tell them to remember that just because they’re injured, it doesn’t mean that their worlds have to change that drastically. They’re still the same persons they were before the injury.

"If you’re an ambitious person, there is no reason to think that being in a wheelchair will hold you back from doing anything."

You can have whatever you want in life. You just have to work for it – whether you’re in a wheelchair or not. I’ve never thought that my life should be any different just because I’m using a wheelchair. People are often surprised to hear that I drive or that I have a full-time job. Don’t let whatever has happened to you to limit you.

Sometimes I get questions from people newly in wheelchairs about dating and marriage. I tell them what a nurse once told me. Everyone has a disability, whether you can see that disability or not. It made me realize when you have a life-changing experience, you have to choose to make the best of it or not.

I’ve been really fortunate to have a normal dating life, and I got married in October, 2016. I met my wife, Christina, through some friends here in town. We actually met at a baby shower for some mutual friends, and we just started talking. I invited her out, and the rest is history.

I love to travel and travel abroad, there’s a common misperception that I can’t travel alone. Absolutely not the case. It’s empowering to learn how to improvise and traveling makes me feel free and independent. In hind-sight, I’ve been so glad that I have been able to travel.

Life as an Intermittent Catheter User

One of the things I try to explain to newly injured patients is that using a catheter may feel awkward and strange when you first start using them. But in a very short time, the use of a catheter doesn’t feel awkward or different. Just be patient, and above all other things be compliant, (do what your doctor tells you to do when he tells you to do it). Your physician will tell you how important it is to stay hydrated, how often you should be cathing and more.

I had to learn that truth the hard way. However, luckily, I learned these lessons at a very young age. When you’re a teenager, you think you know everything in the world there is to know, but one or two urinary infections will drive home the point that you need to use your catheters when the doctor tells you to do so. I’ve become very proactive about taking care of my body and doing what the doctors tell me to do.

Josh Continues His Love Of Extreme Sports With Para-Bobsledding

In 2014, I went to Austria to learn how to bobsled and compete among other para-athletes. I’ve also trained and competed at the Olympic track in Calgary, Canada. This sport is a pure adrenaline rush. With its high-speed descent down a frozen twisting ice chute, the sport of Bobsleigh and Skeleton tests an athlete’s strength, finesse and courage. The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation offers this same challenge to elite athletes who have a disability through its Para-bobsleigh and Para-skeleton sport disciplines.

I’m proud to be part of such an awesome sport and to have the opportunity to represent U.S.A. Our goal is to eventually get the Olympic committee to approve having Para-bobsled included as a formal Paralympic sport event in the next Olympics. If I want something, I’m the person who has to go after it. 

My competitive record includes:

  • 2015-2016 Para World Cup – 8th place in Calgary (11/15)
  • 2014-2015 Para World Cup – 15th place in Igls (1/15)

More recently, I helped create an adaptive rowing crew in Atlanta and an adaptive sailing crew in Charleston. I even got to spend time sailing in Spain on one of the only tall ships in the world that is wheelchair accessible, from Maorka to Barcelona, a week out on the Mediterranean. Since my recent relocation from South Carolina to Washington state, I have joined a local sailing group in Seattle, sailing on a 2.4m boat.

I encourage people in wheelchairs to live as normal lives as they can, and to pursue the lives they’ve always dreamed of living. Don’t let your disability be any more of a challenge than it needs to be. There is a lot of opportunity out there, don’t let your disability hold you back.

Adjusting to cathing can be tough, with a range of practical, physical and emotional challenges. You don’t have to figure it out alone. Call and talk to a member of the me+ support team today. Call 1-800-422-8811 (M-F, 8:30 AM-7:00 PM ET).