The Ogden Family will bike 1200 miles from Bend, Oregon to Los Angeles to raise money for people who desperately need wheelchairs to allow them mobility who cannot afford one.
After lying in bed with a head cold and sinus infection for a week, Heather Ogden, bored and restless, got an idea.
“I thought, ‘We need to get some wheelchairs to people down in developing countries,’” Ogden said.
What better way to raise funds and awareness, she thought, than to take a 1,200-mile family bike trip along the West Coast?
One evening she announced her big plan to her family — including her bewildered husband.
They stared back at her for a moment.
“You should, like, talk to your husband first,” Nathan Ogden later joked.
But Nathan Ogden and the kids — ages 17, 16, 12 and 10 — quickly got on board.
The family starts their trek July 10 in Bend, Oregon, and will ride to Los Angeles in 10 to 12 days. They’ll tackle the 1,200 miles relay-style, taking turns on different legs of the journey.
Nathan Ogden’s bike will be hand-powered. It’s his story that makes the need for wheelchairs such a meaningful issue for the family.
Three days before Christmas in 2001, Nathan Ogden, 26 at the time, was skiing at Mt. Bachelor in Bend while Heather Ogden shopped with her sister. The Ogdens had two children under the age of 3.
Nathan Ogden hit a jump wrong on the ski hill, was shot an estimated 25 feet into the air, and landed on his neck, shattering his seventh cervical vertebra.
“My brother-in-law, he actually had to drive to the store and come find us because we didn’t have cellphones,” Heather said. “He just said that Nate had injured his back really bad, and I needed to go to the hospital. I knew right then, that feeling like, ‘OK this, it’s not going to be an easy fix.’”
Nathan was paralyzed, but he and Heather were confident that he would walk again. He made hopeful progress over the next several months and regained the use of his upper body through intense rehabilitation. He even went back to work at a shipping company in Boise, driving a Ford truck customized for his condition.
“It was working,” Nathan said. “We were starting to kind of get a new life back together, or at least our goals were coming back into view.”
But just 13 months after the accident, Nathan was dropped from a gurney at the hospital while getting X-rays. His neck broke again in a different place, this time causing more damage and paralysis than before.
The Ogdens won a malpractice lawsuit against St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in 2005, awarded $5.7 million by a jury. But the Ogdens said the judge did not rule on that amount, and they ended up settling for a lower, undisclosed amount.
The couple said they harbor no bad feelings toward the hospital or the X-ray technician.
“It was an accident,” Nathan said. “We still go there.”
But Nathan’s loss of mobility from his second neck break was more severe than the first.
“I lost my hands, I lost my triceps in the back of my arms, I lost everything from the chest down. None of that was coming back,” he said. “That’s when it started hitting me.”
Nathan’s former dreams and goals became sources of despair.
“I want to take my kids camping. I want to hike them up in the mountains like my dad and me, and, you know, fishing and hunting and sports and all these things,” he said. “And all of a sudden I’m like, I can’t do that. Or I can do it, but it’s going to be so different from the way I wanted to do it.”
He and Heather had two more children after the accident in the hospital. Heather said she went into “rock mode” — doing what she needed to do to take care of her family without letting emotions get in the way.
Nathan saw her mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, and he sank deeper into self-doubt and frustration.
“I’m sure there was a lot of, ‘What good am I?’” Nathan said. “You know, ‘How good of a husband can I really be? How good of a father am I? I mean, I’m going to things, but do my kids really care? They need a dad who can go out and chase them around. My wife needs a husband who can do more than I can do.’”
Heather said in her determination to be strong for the family, she wasn’t giving Nathan the emotional connection he needed.
“We just slowly started pulling apart,” Nathan said.
Heather wasn’t getting what she needed either, she said, which was for Nathan to show her that he was still motivated to make progress.
“During that time, we didn’t work as well together as a team,” she said. “Nate was really suffering with depression and really suffering with just trying to figure out what he wanted to be and who he wanted to be.”
Nathan tried to write motivational speeches, but he would sit in his office for hours and get nothing done. His children would comment on how he never laughed during funny movies or cried.
One step toward recovery was getting off a pain medication that Nathan said was dulling his emotions. Though that meant he’d be in more pain from the nerve damage, at least he would feel more alive, Nathan said. When the medication wore off, he started to feel like himself again. He’d laugh deeply and cry at the slightest things.
Heather teases him, “He was always like, ‘This is so stupid, why am I crying?’”
Though life looks different from what they expected, the couple has found new ways to support each other and pursue adventure. They went sky-diving together and took their children on a trip to St. George, Utah, to rappel 150 feet off a cliff. The family moved to Virginia for a year in 2015-16 just to try out a new place.
The 1,200-mile bike trip this summer is their next big experiment. Someday, Nathan wants to dive with great white sharks — though Heather still needs some convincing.
“We’ve had our hard times. And that’s not to say that it’s always easy even now, but we’ve been able to figure out that we’re good together,” Nathan said. “We love each other, we’ve got an amazing family, and we don’t want to ruin any of that.”
The goal throughout all of their experiences, the couple said, is to help others. They now have a window into what it’s like to be depressed or anxious or in a rocky marriage, Heather said.
“We can help others who have been through that,” she said. “And I’m not saying we’re going to fix it, but we can be compassionate to it.
“We are grateful that God has given us kind of that greater understanding of, we’re just all here to help each other and to pull each other up and get rid of the judgments.”