Wearing his prosthetic leg, Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy teacher James Osborne rides his bicycle to the Londonderry school almost every day from his home in Manchester. He lost his right leg and part of his left foot to frostbite in 2008. (COURTESY)
LONDONDERRY - When James Osborne's first-, second- and third-graders come to him complaining that something "isn't fair," the teacher has a favorite comeback for them: "If life was always fair, I'd still have two legs."
Osborne, 41, a lower elementary school teacher at Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy, welcomes the chance to teach his students a thing or two about resilience.
In addition to pedaling 12 miles from Manchester to Londonderry almost every weekday morning and afternoon, Osborne is gearing up for his biggest challenge yet: the Million Dollar Challenge. A 620-mile bike ride, it will take him from San Francisco to San Diego in seven days as he raises awareness of and money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).
In one respect, Osborne's journey actually began in February 2008, when an ill-fated hike in Franconia Notch State Park changed his life forever. Osborne and his friend Lawrence Fredrickson were on Haystack Mountain when a sudden winter storm blew in, stranding them for several days.
Fredrickson, 55, died of exposure, while Osborne suffered from severe frostbite that would later claim his right leg and part of his left foot.
After a lengthy recovery, Osborne achieved his lifelong dream of obtaining his teaching certification and began working at the Londonderry Montessori school last winter.
"He's a remarkable inspiration for our students," academy Director Debra Hogan said, noting that Osborne is constantly setting new goals for himself.
Last summer, he learned how to run again, and he's also passionate about skiing.
Osborne's students aren't afraid to talk with him about his prosthetic leg. Hogan recalled how a little girl recently tripped over it, then promptly apologized.
After Osborne assured her he was fine, the child declared: "I guess it's OK because you can't feel it anyway."
Osborne takes it all in stride.
"It's just kids being kids,'' he said. "At this age, they're trying to figure out the world around them."
Typically, questions about his leg come with the onset of warmer weather, when Osborne wears shorts in the classroom and many students realize for the first time that their teacher's right leg is made of titanium.
"The nature of the kids' questions is without self-consciousness," Hogan said, "which creates a lovely environment in which there are no pretenses. I tell them that sometimes we have challenges on the inside and sometimes our challenges are on the outside."
On a recent Friday afternoon, Osborne gathered his students to share his latest news: He's planning to embark on a 620-mile bike ride in early October.
"That would be like driving to Boston eight times," he told the kids, who let out a collective gasp.
What was the first thing the children wanted to know? Well, the most pressing question concerned how Osborne intended to get his bicycle on the plane.
"I have a special suitcase," he told them.
Fellow teacher Julie Anderson said she plans to work with the students to update them on Osborne's progress during the ride.
"We can't go on the plane with him, and it won't be on television, but there's always the Internet," she said.
Osborne will leave for California on Oct. 10, with the Million Dollar Challenge taking place from Oct. 12 to 19.
He's hoping he can do his part to foster sports programs for athletes like himself.
"The idea is that sports can help make you whole again," Osborne said. "And the whole premise is to get people out again and get people active again."
For more information or to sponsor Osborne on his ride, go to www.challengedathletes.org/mdc.