Stories of Hope
James E. MacLaren
Jim MacLaren is an actor, motivational speaker, retired professional athlete and writer. His uncanny ability to articulate his life story with humor and compassion invites others to reach for the best in themselves. Just forty years old, Jim lives his life pushing beyond limitations -- using challenge to deepen his capacity to live and appreciate life more fully.
At 14, Jim left home. At 21, he graduated from Yale a scholar, promising actor and six foot five, 300-pound defensive lineman. At 22, Jim was hit by a New York City bus, thrown some 80 feet, pronounced dead on arrival at Bellevue Hospital, and his life stabilized after 18 hours of surgery. Thirteen days after waking from a coma, he began a grueling, three-month rehabilitation, after the doctors told him he'd be in a hospital bed for six months and that there was no medical reason he should be alive. In addition to the numerous internal injuries, Jim lost his left leg eight inches below the knee.
The accident prompted Jim to overcome what others might have accepted as insurmountable limitation. He was accepted to and graduated from the Yale School of Drama, and landed a part on the soap opera "Another World." Any dream of playing professional football now gone, he started competing in running events for the pure exhilaration of it. Pushing himself to see what his body could do, Jim competed for seven years. He holds the record as the fastest amputee marathon runner in the world and the Hawaii Ironman (2.4 miles swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run) record for an amputee athlete with a time of 10 hours, 42 minutes. He often finished in the top third of able-bodied athletes. (Note: About that same time, Mark Allen's best time in the Hawaii Ironman was 8 hours, 15 minutes.)
Jim's focus, will and courage inspired others. His story was widely covered by the media. He was invited to speak to corporations, charities and at fund-raising events in the U.S. and Europe. He touched the lives of others with physical disabilities, especially young people.
On June 6, 1993, during the biking portion of a triathlon in Orange County, Jim was hit by a van and thrown headfirst into a lamppost. He broke his C5 vertebra and was diagnosed quadriplegic. In the ambulance, not feeling his legs, before he knew he was paralyzed, Jim mused about competing in a wheel chair. Coming out of anesthesia from one of three surgeries in that first week, he wondered what he was supposed to learn this time.
Again, Jim came back. Because the injury to his spinal cord was incomplete, he regained partial use of his limbs and independence. He continued motivational speaking and created a one-man-show based on his personal experiences. In constant pain and confined to a wheelchair, he faced a huge new challenge - how to integrate this loss into his life's perspective that our greatest adversities are our greatest gifts.
Jim looked to his training as an athlete. Rather than avoiding the pain, he surrendered to it and focused inward. He used his course work at Santa Barbara's Pacifica Graduate Institute to further his understanding of this single concept -- wounds integrated bring about transformation. His course work centered on mythology and depth psychology. He is currently working on his Ph.D. thesis.
Drawing from a deep and rich well of experience, he is also working on a memoir of his first 40 years, writes articles and poetry, and continues motivational speaking. A new resident of San Diego, Ca., he pursues charitable work, namely with the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Camp Good Days and Special Times, a camp for youth facing the toughest challenges of life. This year he began working with the Fox Network on a made for television movie about his life.