Five days after Jordan Bird was paralyzed from the waist down, the 2½-year-old informed his mother he wanted to be up and moving. He didn’t want to spend another moment stuck in his bed in the intensive care unit.
He had to stay there, though. Doctors had to monitor him and see if the paralysis suffered in a car accident was permanent.
That was one of the last times Bird was kept from being active.
A little more than 20 years after the accident that killed his father, Jeff, Bird will compete in the 400 meters, 800 meters and 1600 relay wheelchair track events for the United States at the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
It’s a goal he’s focused on, one first instilled by his mother, Kristy.
“She was always telling me, ‘You can be a Paralympian if you try. You can go to the Paralympics,’ ” Jordan Bird said. “She told me that from a young age. I never believed her. But then it became more and more real, I was getting faster and faster and better and better.”
On Valentine’s Day 1992, Jeff Bird, then 21, took his two sons, Jordan and Jaydan, shopping for a present for Kristy. But during the drive, their car was struck by a neighbor’s that crossed the center line on K-49 near Conway Springs. Jaydan, then 1, suffered a broken collarbone.
It was a devastating time for Kristy Bird.
“I don’t remember a lot,” she said. “I went from one hospital and found out (Jeff) died, and then to another. I thought Jordan had only a broken arm and leg. But he was in intensive care, hooked up to everything and he was paralyzed.”
Less than two weeks after the accident, Jordan and Kristy flew to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Chicago. Jordan was given a 5-percent chance of walking again, and Kristy clung to that.
When it became clear that Jordan would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, his mother vowed to keep him active. She reached out to those knowledgeable about sports for disabled people and got Jordan into track, hockey, swimming and tennis.
Driven by a fierce competitive nature, he flourished, even playing doubles tennis, with an able-bodied partner, for West High.
He thrived, though, in wheelchair track.
“Jordan has always been about speed,” Kristy Bird said. “He wanted to go the fastest he could go in the wheelchair. He had so much energy.”
That hasn’t changed.
“I love speed,” he said. “I love going fast. There’s nothing like the wind in your face and being competitive.”
Bird has a daredevil streak, one that has him easily heading down 12 steps while in his wheelchair. Escalators don’t scare him. Neither does parachuting.
What he credits most with his success, though, is his innate desire to compete and win. He trains six days a week for two hours a day, adding in weights twice a week.
Sports helped feed Bird’s competitiveness, but so did his brother Jaydan, who plays football at Oklahoma and was an Eagle Top 11 selection at Conway Springs in 2008.
“We were really competitive,” Jaydan Bird said. “We both wanted to outshine each other, do the best we could, challenge each other the best we could.
“We made sure that we didn’t feel sorry for him. We made sure that he knew that he had to work for everything.”
So if Jaydan got a certain number of tackles or sacks in a football game, then Jordan had to counter with a personal-record time. Or vice versa.
“He’s doing big things,” Jaydan Bird said. “I’m just trying to catch up to him.”
Jordan Bird was on track to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics when he crashed during the Paralympics Trials.
“I was just going around the backside of the 1500 and a gust of wind hit me and threw me into a guardrail and threw me into the infield,” he said. “At that point I knew I was in bad shape. It was kind of devastating. I had put in all those years of hard work and it comes down to one race and you mess it up.”
Bird didn’t give up.
“I just had a bad break,” he said. “It was bad luck for me that one fall cost me…. I understand stuff happens. It’s one of those occurrences. You can’t control it. It’s a freak accident. Instead of dwelling on the past and letting it eat at you, year after year, you forget about it and move on so you can be ready.”
He went back to training with University of Arizona coach Derek Brown, focusing on upcoming events and London.
He worked to develop his lungs for endurance, increased his power and worked on his fast-twitch muscles.
“What really stands out is he’s very competitive and very racing savvy,” Brown said. “He has a really great ability to be able to come up with his own strategy… I try to work with him and give him advice, but I’m assured that he has the ability to adapt to whatever strategy.”
When Bird qualified at the Paralympic Trials in Indianapolis, his mother cried. The tears were partly because the 2008 crash had been so disappointing, but also they were tears of joy.
“My only wish for these boys is to have their dreams,” she said. “It’s been so hard because it’s been his dream, and for him to finally get his chance, I was so happy.”
Jordan Bird knew he had qualified when he saw his time in his first event, the 800. His reaction was immediate.
“I screamed a little bit, I pumped my fist and I had this warm feeling inside,” he said. “All the hard work that you put in, it’s all paying off. Now it’s time to shine and keep going with it.”
Bird, who competes in his first event on Sept. 5, set his goals on the Paralympics years ago. And as his time to compete neared, his focus shifted. Competing is no longer about besting his brother or simply qualifying.
It’s about the United States of America.
“The whole weight of the U.S. is on you,” he said. “I’m going over there to represent and I want to make us look good and make the U.S. be proud. It’s no longer about me, but what I can do for the country.”
Never look back
When Kristy Bird first involved Jordan in sports at age 5, Jordan knew it was because she didn’t want him getting used to a life as a couch potato.
“And she didn’t want me feeling bad for myself,” he said.
That hasn’t been a problem. Jordan Bird brims with positive energy.
He doesn’t look back at the accident and regret how that moment changed the course of his life.
He doesn’t ruminate about how his life could be different if only he weren’t chained to a wheelchair.
“I’ve been taught not to,” he said. “From the moment I could move, I could do stuff myself. I tried new sports to see what else was out there. I never viewed it as a disability, but a different way of doing things.
“This is my personality, and the way I was brought up. My mom wanted us to stay positive and not look at the negative things.”
So he hasn’t. He’s got a life he loves, studying psychology on scholarship at Arizona, and intends to be a clinical psychologist. He also has a girlfriend of four years.
“There’s no bitterness from me,” he said. “I’m disabled now. I can’t go back in time and make myself not disabled. I have to take what I’ve been given and make the best of it.
“What I’ve been through my entire life is nothing to shake my head at. I’m happy…. I’ve had more opportunities with being on the track team and being able to travel and see the world.
“Everybody has opportunities, but it’s how you take advantage of what you’ve been given.”