Crutching the Capital

Matthew Merlino

On the first night of our trip we were all sitting around a table for dinner at The Front Page when Ed Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” began to play. I stared down at the ground whimsically for a few moments as thoughts rushed through my head and started to drown out the music. I was in my own little world.

I never realized how much I actually took for granted until a crutch underneath each arm was supporting me.

I am no stranger to big cities, as I’ve grown up near Pittsburgh and traveled to New York City on multiple occasions—so you would think that the District of Columbia would be a breeze to navigate. Let me tell you, I literally cherished every breeze that passed by. A big city while on crutches is a whole different realm.

I always try to lead by example with everything I do, but it was so difficult to lead anything whenever I was twenty steps back at all times. If it was cold outside, I could not wear a jacket because I knew I would end up in a pool of sweat (which still happened even without the jacket). A half-mile walk that would usually take about ten minutes felt like an eternity. I was forced to stop frequently to rest. Each time, my friends would stop ahead of me to wait for me to catch up to them. And each time I would hear Marlin from Finding Nemo in my head saying, “You think you can do these things, but you just can’t, Nemo!” Though, I (slowly) pushed through all of it because I didn’t travel to the District to not be with my friends.

The best way I can describe the feeling is like trying to drive a car with the emergency brake on; sure, you can still do it, but there’s a considerable speed difference and it’s terrible on the car.

I also noticed that people looked at me in a way I’d never before experienced. Everywhere we went children stared at me and adults gave me dirty looks because it was an inconvenience to pass by them. At one point someone even honked his or her horn because I was crossing the street “too slowly.” I really hope they had their windows rolled down because I had some very choice words for them.

When we went to the Newseum, a six-story museum focusing on news and television, a very nice employee suggested that I get a scooter or wheelchair to make the visit a bit easier on myself. I originally did not want to because I felt that it would draw even more attention towards myself, which is what I hate most about being on crutches. Though the soreness in my chest and arms changed my mind almost instantly.

I sat down on the scooter and looked at the speed control knob on the handlebars. Doc Brown’s voice rang through my head. “When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious s***!”

Needless to say, the scooter didn’t go anywhere near 88 miles per hour, but for the first time in over a month I felt like myself. I turned the corner to meet up with my friends and stuck my tongue out, laughing. I could be obnoxious with the little scooter horn, I could see everything in the museum, and most importantly I could finally keep up with my friends and actually enjoy myself.

Overall, the trip was extremely tough on my body: my arms hurt, my chest was sore, my hands became blistered and my foot swelled often. Yet I would still do it all again in a heartbeat.

Crutching around the capital made me realize how strong I can be, both mentally and physically. It was honestly one of the hardest things I think I have ever done. For the first time in my life I actually felt tired. But with my friends by my side, I tried my best to do anything and everything, regardless of the toll it might have taken on me. It’s the least I could do for them for all that they did for me.

So thank you, Ed Sheeran, for starting a song with, “When your legs don’t work like they used to before…”

You gave me the perfect way to sum up my District experience.