I remember the first time I met Marshall Allen. It must have been about 1999 or 2000. I was out on my bike, just about five miles from home in the next little town, when a tall, athletic-looking cyclist crossed my path. We rode together for a while, introducing ourselves and chatting like old buddies. Marshall told me he was a firefighter, and talked about his family in his deep, resonant voice.
What a delightful guy. I told Brent about Marshall, and Brent remembered meeting him too, on one of those casual rides that meets at a local bike shop.
Marshall and I ran into each other (not literally; don’t worry) again after a few weeks and swapped some more stories about our kids and such. I knew Marshall was a faster rider than me and appreciated his camaraderie all the more because he could have merely smiled, waved and disappeared over the horizon.
Some months later I heard the horrifying news that Marshall had sustained a serious spinal injury in a cycling accident. I talked with him on the phone once, and tried to offer encouragement. After that I lost touch, but often wondered how he was doing.
Then, just last summer, I learned that one of my fellow freelancers had written a book about a firefighter who had become a quadriplegic. “Um… that wasn’t Marshall Allen, was it?” Yes. Yes, it was. The author, Alexandra Allred, and Marshall himself, were going to speak at the next meeting of the writers’ group I attend. Oh, yeah, I would be there.
Come to find out, Marshall’s life was much more complicated than I ever could have imagined. I read the book, which weaves Marshall’s story — quest, really — with the author’s own quests. I love Allred’s humorous account of how she and Marshall met.
The book is called Swingman: What a Difference a Decade Makes. Just last night I got a link to a video clip that filmmaker Mark Birnbaum posted on Oprah’s website, apparently to be considered for inclusion on a future broadcast. Watch it here. 09-2013: Sorry, the link is no longer live.
Thanks for reading!