Michael Weschler Takes Inspiration from Paralympic Sled Hockey All Star Ray Diaz in “There Are No Obstacles”
December 13, 2017
While I’ve always enjoyed photographing people who’ve achieved great things, I’m always moved by people who face and overcome adversity. So, when I met Team USA Paralympic Sled Hockey All Star, Ray Diaz, I knew he would become a portrait of inspiration.
Our mutual friend, an art director who’s also an amputee, introduced me to Ray and I was immediately captivated by his positive attitude. Meeting him reminded me of my first triathlon—I saw para-athletes getting thrown into the ocean to start the race. You’re struck by their courage and tremendous motivation and think about how hard they must have worked to get through both physical therapy and intense training. It makes you reflect and feel gratitude for your own difficult months of training, which you know pales in comparison to their journey.
When I first met Ray, I learned quickly about his extra-ability on the ice as a sled hockey player. Something about his story struck a deep chord inside me—I found myself thinking I could never match his level of intensity. Ice Hockey players often hip-check each other into the plexiglass, but sled hockey players get pummeled into the solid wall below that. Ray’s tenacity pushed him to go beyond his constraints to achieve not only what we take for granted, like walking or driving, but to excel at a sport that requires great courage, skill and strength to compete.
“You get new scars from guys jousting at you with their hockey sticks, spikes up, but you just want to feel more alive, so you shake off the pain and keep going,” Diaz says.
My new series, “There Are No Obstacles,” helps to tell Ray’s remarkable story. Sometimes, when we’re looking closely enough, time stands still, reminding us to stay grounded. For the series, I wanted to create something meaningful and inspiring, so I created captions and played with typography, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. The presentation needed to be special because there are very few people I’ve met who are as present and in the moment as Ray. Somehow, this tragic accident that paralyzed Ray for several months empowered him to accomplish tremendous feats of incredible athletic ability.
We are all fighting battles, but there are few heroes like Ray who raise the bar and, through their triumphs, help us to change our own perspective. Ray is a badass on the ice and much better than most. After losing his legs, it changed his center of gravity completely and he had to relearn how to walk. However, nothing holds him back. His athletic ability is incredible, so he’s no longer a victim, but a heroic fighter who is thriving. His spirit and tenacity inspire you to overcome all obstacles.
Find your ability within your disability. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but if we focus on elevating our game, we can remove all doubts and make anything possible.