The last time I talked to Adam Groener—prior to this month—was seven years ago and he was preparing to complete the 26.2-mile Madison Marathon.
What was unusual was that 19 months earlier, Groener had sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle crash that left him in a wheelchair, without function or feeling below his chest.
He was riding a specially-fitted hand bike in the 2010 marathon, and taking pledges to raise money for a Madison West Kiwanis Club ski scholarship fund.
Groener knew about the ski scholarship because earlier that year he’d received one, and spent a week in Colorado learning adaptive skiing.
If you’re getting the idea this is someone not defined by his disability, you’re right.
Groener’s latest project is a children’s book he’s written and wants to see published, because, he says, every time he reads the story to a group of kids, they cheer.
It’s a fun and unusual tale that Groener, 33, has titled “A Book Never Read Before.” He has an author pseudonym, A.G. Grey—“Easier to pronounce,” he says—and a Kickstarter page to help finance it.
It’s worth noting again that Groener’s own story is plenty compelling.
He’s originally from Lyndon Station, graduated from high school in Mauston, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2006.
Like more than one graduate before him, Groener decided to see the world before settling down. He visited Australia and Japan, and picked New Zealand for a two-month stay and where he developed a passion for Italian-made Ducati motorcycles.
Back in Madison, working for RockAuto on Odana Road—where he still works—Groener in the summer of 2008 bought a Ducati.
“I was on it all the time,” he told me.
Groener got on the bike late on the afternoon of Oct. 10, 2008, having finished work at RockAuto. He rode west on Mineral Point Road past West Towne, and at about 6:15 p.m. his motorcycle collided with a car that turned in front of him.
Groener doesn’t remember the accident. The last thing he recalls is strapping on his helmet at RockAuto and putting some music on his mp3 player.
Oct. 10 was a Friday. Groener didn’t regain consciousness until the following Tuesday at University Hospital. He was told he had two crushed vertebrae and would need spinal fusion surgery.
When he was eventually told his prognosis—that it was unlikely he’d walk again—Groener struggled for a bit. The last thing he wanted was to be a burden to anyone. A hospital therapist put him in touch with a mentor—someone with a similar circumstance—and the man’s cheerful perspective was a revelation. He rode a hand bike. Pretty soon, so did Groener.
Then, too, there was the nurse Groener met while doing inpatient therapy at the hospital.
“I was at the most vulnerable point of my life,” he says, yet it didn’t stop him from falling in love. He and Amy started dating shortly after he was released from the hospital. She was with him on the Kiwanis ski trip to Colorado, and it was there Adam asked Amy to marry him. He sang something from “The Wedding Singer.” She said yes. They now have two sons, ages 3 and 18 months.
It was their older boy who triggered Groener’s new project when he said to his dad, “Let’s read a book I’ve never read before.”
The English major in Groener had always wanted to write a book, and he was an admirer of the B.J. Novak children’s volume, “The Book with No Pictures.”
Groener came up with an idea for a book that would poke fun at some of the conventions of children’s literature while at the same time utilizing them, to enjoyable effect.
“There are no rhymes to take up time,” he writes at one point, “like that musical, Mr. Seusical.”
Groener is hopeful about the Kickstarter campaign, but also says, “I’m going to get this done one way or another.” He printed out the story and read it to his son’s preschool class. Their reaction told him it was a story worth telling. Adam Groener has a few of them.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.