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Bad Kitty® Inspiration Series: Jason Lam

By on July 13, 2016

Jason Lam (Pole). Courtesy of Rick Trelease.

 

When I walked into Jason’s room at the UCLA Neurological Rehab Unit, he greeted me with a bright smile and a strong, reassuring hug. On May 5th, 2016, Jason Lam fell 14 feet from the air during an aerial straps training in Las Vegas when both straps suddenly snapped and broke. He landed on his neck and back, injuring his C6 and C7 vertebrae, which caused a temporary paralysis of his hands and legs. Although he was properly taken care of by the EMTs and surgeons, his current insurance policy was only able to cover up to two months of rehabilitation at UCLA. A GoFundMe account (click here to support Jason) was setup by Jason’s friends to raise money for his future rehab expenses with a goal of $90k. The project raised $20,000 after merely 24 hours, and had hit the midway mark just after three days. Bad Kitty® had the honor to talk in depth with Jason about his accident, rehab journey, and shares some of his inspirations and struggles with you.

 

Bad Kitty: How are you Jason?

Jason Lam: I’m actually really good.

 

BK: It’s nice to hear that from you. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself as an aerialist?

JL: I am a training aerialist. I have been doing aerial straps for the past a year. I trained in pole for two years. Before that I mostly trained in martial arts for my entire life.

 

BK: What got you into doing aerial straps after pole?

JL: Aerial straps are one of the hardest apparatus in the aerial world. They challenge you in every aspect, especially your upper body strength, which is why I got into it. I trained in aerial straps simply for the love of it. This may sound a little arrogant but after two years of training in pole, I kind of got to a point where I had learned everything that I wanted to learn. Most of the tricks beyond a certain point are very acrobatic, and you can potentially hurt yourself. Plus, there weren’t any places where I could go to learn them. After my first aerial straps class, I was quickly addicted. Pole and aerial are like brother and sister. The world of pole dancing is great because it opens the door to a lot of different styles in aerial. I enjoy getting the best of both worlds.

 

BK: Did you want become a full time aerialist or was it just a hobby for you?

JL: It was just for fun and it was a hobby, but the more I learn the more addicted I am—I think that is how we all start. Like pole, we just wanted to do it for fun until it becomes an addiction. You never know where things are going to take you.

 

BK: What is your identity outside of the aerial world?

JL: I am a full-time sushi chef.

 

BK: Do you enjoy making sushi?

JL: Being a sushi chef is interesting. The world doesn’t understand a lot of things about it. People think sushi is a California Roll. That’s not wrong, but it is much deeper than that. A lot of people think that the idea of raw fish is really disgusting, but they have never tried it before. So how do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it? My theory in life is that you should always try everything twice. This is because the first time you try, it may not be good or it may be a bad experience; it is the same for sushi. You eat good sushi at one place, it might not be that good somewhere else, or you could have had bad sushi and it could be great somewhere else. I like the idea of changing people’s mind. It’s a fun job.

Jason and Alexis (Aerial straps). Courtesy of Rick Trelease.

 

BK: On the day of the accident, what were you doing just before it happened?

JL: I was training in a classroom environment on May 5th, 2016. My friend and I were practicing a move called the “dislocate” on a motor rig that brings you in the air super quickly. I had done this move a bunch of times. It is very safe and we did it in an environment where we were fully in control of what was going on. But the one time that I went up, both of the straps broke in the middle of the air. Aerial straps have been known to have a snapping point and usually break one at a time, but not simultaneously. It was one of those freak accidents that no one could have ever prepared for. It is very rare, and unfortunately it happened to me.

BK: Can you describe the accident?

JL: I took a fall that was about 14 feet high. I landed directly on my neck and back. One of my vertebrae completely twisted 180. I was conscious the entire time and right away I knew something serious was wrong. I didn’t die, which was good, but I couldn’t move my legs. Because of the height and that level of fall, it should have been fatal. You don’t fall from that height and expect to be ok. I don’t know how I survived, but I’m glad I did. I have the entire accident on video, which I don’t plan on seeing until I get out of this wheelchair, am walking again, and make a full recovery. However, because of that video, the EMTs and all the people who were helping knew exactly how to handle me. They showed the doctors my fall and did the surgery right away. It was just hours after my accident. If anything else had gone wrong, I don’t think I’d be sitting here as strong as I am today.

BK: What part of your body was injured?

JL: It was my C6 and C7. Basically, the motor functions of my hands, shoulders, and from my chest all the way down are paralyzed. Both of my hands were entirely numb when the accident happened. They still are numb but I can wriggle my wrists up and down a little. Everyone gives me support and keeps visiting. They make me smile a lot. People poke and pinch my legs and ask if I’m feeling it. I keep telling them no, and that is the hard part.

 

 

BK: Were you anxious about the situation as it happened?

JL: Somehow I was conscious and very calm. I remember everything. It was very uncomfortable to lay face down the floor on my side with my arm straight out. The entire time I really want to move my arm. Everyone was saying, “don’t move anything at all!” So I said, “Okay, I’ll just stay here. Don’t worry about me. You guys just go get help. I’ll be right here.” I made a little joke about it. When I took that floor, I remember telling my coach: “This thing that happened to me, if it had happened to anybody else, I don’t think they could have survived.” Of all the people that train in aerial straps, I’ll gladly take this fall again if I can save somebody else’s life because I can make it through this.

BK: What was going through your mind as the accident happened?

JL: I guess I wasn’t thinking too much because I didn’t know how severe the accident was. I felt that I was ok except that I couldn’t move. The first thing that came to mind as I was rushed to the hospital was a friend who was coming to visit and train with me. And then I realize that I broke my neck and they’d have to contact my family and tell them the bad news. The third thing was that it was my best friend’s wedding in three weeks, and I was his best man. I knew right away I couldn’t be there. So I was really disappointed. I didn’t realize how much of a life changing experience I would have to go through. To be honest, I feel like I let a lot of my friends down cause I couldn’t be there. I train so hard and I want to make my parents and instructor proud. I didn’t think much about what else could have been. People told me I didn’t let anyone down but I couldn’t help but feel that way.

BK: You didn’t let anyone down. It was an unfortunate accident.

JL: It was—it was a freak accident. Something like this shouldn’t have happened, but life is full of surprises. You can get into a car accident or a tree can fall on you. It comes down to how you handle it. Are you going to sit around and mope? Or are you going to move forward from it? I quickly understood that this happened to me and only me. But it’s time for me to move forward and what I can do next?

BK: Did you ever feel frustrated at any point?

JL: Absolutely. I’m only human. I trained my entire life as an athlete, but nothing could have ever prepared me for this. It’s hard to accept that I can’t do the things I used to do. I’m lying in bed and I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own body. I think I’m normal, but when I want to turn over and grab something I suddenly realize my body is not listening to me. I do get frustrated, but I don’t let it consume me. I accept that a lot of things that I am not capable of doing right now are only temporary. I can still do everything—it just takes 20 times longer. Like putting on my pants the first week. It felt impossible but I never gave up. I put one side of the loop on, which took me 20 minutes. Two weeks later, I’m now able to put my shorts on completely, which still takes 20 minutes, by myself with minimal assistance. It is frustrating, but you have to think like an athlete: breathe it out, be patient, and don’t stop. I have always been training, and this is just another level of training. Whatever movements I can do, are better than nothing. If I’m leaning over to grab something, that is better than just sitting and watching TV.

BK: What are some things that you learned about safety in aerial training?

JL: I told my coach that once I recover, I want to bring safety awareness to all other aerials. If anyone is to train with me, I’ll make sure that the apparati are top notch. We are not going to use cheap products. I understand that money is tough, but there’s no reason to ever train with cheap and faulty equipment. What happened to me shouldn’t have happened. We can never be too safe. We do what we do because we are so used to it. We train so much that we never think about equipment failure, but it can happen. You don’t want to have an accident when doing what you love.

BK: Will you be expecting a full recovery?

JL: It’s hard to say. I believe that I will, and won’t stop trying until I am. The truth is, we never know what’s going to happen. The mind is very powerful. As of right now it is just one day at a time. I’m making weekly progress. It’s all up to the person and how much you are willing to work. I hope to make a full recovery, but I might never know—only time will tell.

BK: What will happen to your sushi life?

JL: Luckily for me, my job will hold my position for two years. I’m hoping to make a full recovery and eventually get back to my normal life. I really do love making sushi. You have good conversations and you meet people all around the world. Food always makes people happy; I know food makes me happy.

BK: Any words for your family, friends, and people who supported you in this journey?

JL: I want to thank everyone who has ever supported and cared for me. The level of support is beyond what I ever could have imagined. I’m thankful everyday for the messages and for the people who reached out to me. It means more than they will ever know. Not a lot of people can understand my current situation, but the fact that they try means a lot. I am grateful for all the people, the pole and aerial world. It’s powerful to see that there is so much greatness in people. Sometimes it takes a situation like this for you to see it, cause you forget, but when they are there, it’s an incredible feeling. I tear up when people are out there supporting me, and I know that one day when I get better, I will definitely be there for them.

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Rhyn Cheung

Rhyn Cheung

Rhyn fell in love with pole dancing in Los Angeles, California. He competed in PPC, NAPA, CPDC, PSO Nationals, and was crowned Men's Division Champion of Colorado Pole Championship 2016.

Rhyn now teaches workshops in Hong Kong and is pursing his PhD in marine biology at the University of Hong Kong.

Instagram: @rhyncheung
Email: aerial.rhyn@gmail.com
Rhyn Cheung

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