Something Amazing Happened to Jim MacLaren


Jim MacLaren

I was honored to interview Jim MacLaren for my book, Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything. Jim has inspired countless people with his upbeat attitude in the face of unimaginable adversity. Here is an excerpt from Jim’s profoundly moving story:

I was having an early-morning cup of coffee on Saturday, June 5, 1993, the day before a major triathlon in Mission Viejo, California. I was sitting on my girlfriend’s porch in Boulder, Colorado, reflecting on a pretty heady book I was reading, The Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky. Although I was up on a porch, covered by trees, I could hear families walking to breakfast with their children on the street below. It was such a beautiful, pristine summer day. I was gazing at the trees and the huge rock faces in the distance and looking back over the eight years since I had lost my leg. I remember thinking, Wow, I’ve really reinvented myself. I’m a professional triathlete. ESPN is following me in the race tomorrow, and I’m traveling around the world racing and doing motivational talks. And it hit me. I thought, Wow, I’m back in it. I’m back in life.

Out of nowhere, I started crying. My girlfriend and training partner came out on the porch with a cup of coffee, saw me crying, and asked, “What’s the matter?” I smiled through tears and said, “Nothing is the matter. I’m crying because I’m happy. Something amazing is about to happen to me. I can just feel it.”

Fast forward eighteen hours later. I wake up early, get to the race and again, I’m feeling wonderful because I’m being announced along with the top pros. The race starts. I finish the mile swim and hop on my bike. A couple miles into the bike ride on a closed course, I’m stretched out on my aerodynamic handlebars, just flying. I assumed the people watching were applauding until I realized they were screaming. I look over to my left, and coming right at me is the grill of a black van. I learned later that a traffic marshal had misjudged my speed approaching the intersection and had directed the van to cross the street.

Life in these moments really slows down. I remember thinking, Okay, if I pedal one click faster, I can beat this guy across the intersection. The last thing I remember hearing is people screaming and the driver hitting his accelerator instead of his brakes. He struck my back wheel, I was thrown from my bike, flew headfirst into a signpost, and broke my neck.

None of that I remember. I woke up in the ambulance, still in race mode, feeling the adrenaline. I was in the same state of mind I had been in eight years earlier. When I first woke up after getting hit by that bus and saw that my left leg was missing, I thought, Oh, okay, cool, your left leg’s gone. And I went back to sleep. When I woke up the day after that, that’s when my ego and brain started freaking out.

So when I came to in the ambulance, I knew right away that my legs didn’t work. But I remember thinking, Oh, maybe I’m just a paraplegic. Maybe I’ll be able to wheelchair race. And I could go beat Jim Knaub (who held all the wheelchair marathon records). Then I blacked out again.

The next thing I know, I’m in the hospital, outside the OR. A doctor is holding my hand. He tells me straight, “Look, you’re a C5-C6 quad, which means that you broke your neck right up around your ears, and you’re never going to move or feel again from the chest down for the rest of your life.” At that moment, there was some aspect of me that felt that if he never let go of my hand, that I’d be okay. But, of course, he had to let go because they wheeled me into the OR. That was the start of multiple surgeries and months of being in the ICU. Basically, the inferno had begun. It was hell. When a buddy from Yale came to see me, I rolled over, looked at him and said, “I don’t know if I can do this again.” Because I didn’t.

As I look back—it’s been fourteen years now—there aren’t a lot of days where I feel great physically. There are a lot of things that I’ve lost—my fiancée, much of my independence, the use of my left shoulder due to a failed rotator cuff surgery. But that’s life. I had a choice: I could lose myself to my body or learn to live beyond it. I found my strength by saying and believing that I am not my body. I am a man. I am alive, as alive as anybody who’s jamming a basketball or scoring a touchdown or hugging their child.

Even though both accidents were devastating at the time, I now view them as gifts and not tragedies. Granted, it might have been easier to say that eighteen months ago, because the last year and a half has been literally miserable. During trips to the hospital, I picked up mono, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a real trip. So I’ve been spending most every day getting up, going to the bathroom, and going back to bed. But even through those tough times, magic happens.

Click here to view all my posts about Jim MacLaren.

Click here to view all my posts related to my book, Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything.


Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the one book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.

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Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to start one.
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to.
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier.

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Like to learn more about Through God’s Eyes? Here is a free 44-page PDF sampler from the book that includes:

• an overview of the book
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• my Introduction
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• endorsements from authors and thought leaders

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Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents.

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In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
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SiSe_fullcover_final.inddPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.

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Here is a three-minute video introduction to Sixty Seconds.

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