Mark Craig Sakaley was on his way to a college philosophy class on Death and Dying when his car was hit broadside, leaving him a quadraplegic.
Today he studies a philosophy of a different nature.
"My whole philosophy is to experience everything," he said. "I don't want to be 80 years old and sit on a bench and realize I've missed the beauty of it.I have learned and grown, although I could have experienced this second hand."
Sakaley, 27, was a sophomore at Notre Dame when he broke his neck and back. He was studying theater and dance at the time but quickly learned to "divert my activity to other areas."
Yesterday, Sakaley, an equal employment opportunity specialist at the Department of Commerce, diverted his energy in a unique sport called peytanque.
Sakaley led a Washington team in the National Peytanque Open Tournament. Competition -- which was open to both able-bodied and handicapped -- was held on the Mall, with five clubs and 36 other teams in action all day.
Peytanque -- pronounced "pay-tonk" and invented by Frenchman Jules LeNoir in 1910 -- will remind the uninitiated of the game of bocci that Marion Brando played in "The Godfather," a variation of lawn bowling.
It involves throwing a small wooden ball or jack, which serves as a target at about 15 feet. The object is then to throw two steel balls (each ball weighs 1 1/2 pounds) as close to the target as possible. It can be played almost anywhere by just about anyone and is especially popular with the handicapped.
Sakaley, who has served on a number of local committees advocating better public facilities for the handicapped is excited with the game, despite the fact he has only been playing one month.
"It doesn't require skill in order to help the team effort at the outset," he said during lunch hour one day at his office desk. "There is enough luck to come in and do fairly well right away. As you play more and more you learn the different moves, like how to knock the opponent's ball away from the jack."
Sakaley's team, La Joyeuse Boule, Ltd. meets once a week at the Carderock Park for practice. Team members spend the afternoon practicing skills and discussing strategy.
"Everything is so friendly and open," said Sakaley. "There is always a picnic and the teams are made up by taking names out of a hat; that breaks the clique and you are force to interact with new people."
Sakaley believes that "the handicapped are coming out of the closet, so to speak. Everyone is wondering what to do. It's a bunch of garbage. Through something as universal as sports it's a way for the handicapped to mainstream."
Sakaley lives in Washington and drives to work each day. The only evidence of a handicap, other than the wheelchair he sits in, are the typing sticks that lay on his desk.With limited use of his hands and arms Sakaley can hold the sticks and grind out 30 words per minute on the Typewriter.
Not much stops Sakaley. "I vowed when it happened that I would make it back to college in one year," he said, adding "And I did."
In addition to peytanque, Sakaley often can be seen riding at the Rock Creek Stables in a special program for the handicapped.
"I'm okay," said Sakaley. "I just sit down more than most people."