July 15, 2008 | Comment

From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

(Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)

Artist turns tragic crash into art, inspiration
By Alfred Lee, Staff Writer

Martin Vogel is a racer. He raced motorcycles as a youth until a crash with another biker paralyzed him from the waist down. He was 21 then, and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

His voice steels when recalling how he woke up two weeks after the crash to the news of his paralysis.

“I wasn’t depressed. I didn’t care,” he said. “That’s where I got it all. The answers to life. I got a little clarity.”

Vogel, now 44, still races for the Los Angeles Kart Club, using hand controls he built himself. He lifts up his shirt and points to one of his ribs. It juts out at a sickening angle.

“The g-forces are the equivalent of Indy car racing,” he said, with more than a hint of pride. “I’m fifth in points.”

Immediately next to the garage that Vogel keeps his go karts is a new art studio. These days, Vogel’s primary focus is on painting. He creates abstract images using the wheels of his wheelchair.

He first got the idea about 15 years ago, he said, when he and his friends went up to Cheney Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains.

“I would get ahead of my friends, and have to stop and turn around and wait for them. Then I looked down and saw all these patterns I was making in the ground,” he said. “I thought, `That’s me.”’

He went down to a nearby baseball diamond to practice making various shapes and forms. In the years since, he’s refined the rhyme and reason to his technique: First, he sketches out the moves he needs to make on paper. He then paints the lines with his wheelchair on a canvas taped to the floor, stretches the canvas out on a stretcher board - which again, he builds himself - and hand paints the rest.

I marvel at how often certain people, dealt an incredibly difficult hand in life, end up being MORE productive than the average person.  Let’s see: motorcycle racer.  Paraplegic.  Kart racer.  Painter.  How many of us allow some kind of slight to ruin our day, our week, our year?  On television this weekend, there was the story of a kid born without eyes and unable to walk, who played two or three instruments, was in his university marching band and was an inspiration to all around him.  He said that he was not “disabled” but “able,” because his so-called disability allowed him to ‘see’ the heart of people and not be distracted by externals.  The petty slights, insecurities and excuses fall away (or never take root), replaced instead by a clear, keen vision of the goal at hand. 

If they can do it, why can’t I, or you? 


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