The Gift of Life: The Story of Joe Thomas, Owner of Soak Float Center
In June of 2015 Joe Thomas, owner of Soak Float Center, was in a near fatal motorcycle accident. He was racing at Portland International Raceway when, in a fluke occurrence, he was thrown from his bike into a metal pole. The collision broke his shoulder, back and every rib on his left side, collapsed both of his lungs, and severed 40% of his left lung, which then required removal. He was sustained on life support for over a week and needed several surgeries to be put back together. Prior to the accident, Joe was extremely active in sports and lived life to the fullest. The extreme toll the accident took on his body required extensive and painful recovery time, most of it sedentary. As anyone who leads an active life knows, idle healing time can feel like a continuous death sentence.
Prior to the accident, Joe’s mental health and happiness stemmed from his physical health and happiness. But after this traumatic event, pain management consumed his life. The countless medications that wrecked his stomach, dominated his schedules and trapped him in a cycle of pain, pills and sleep deprivation were not working. Reasonably desperate, he sought every alternative treatment and solution he could find. Nothing seemed to work. The exhaustion and hopelessness began wearing away at his emotional and mental wellbeing.
Finally, a friend mentioned floatation therapy. At any other time, Joe might have dismissed floating as something for other people – meditators, yoga enthusiasts, or zen seekers – not for somebody like him. But at this point, he was willing to try anything to seek the slightest relief. He made an appointment, and climbed into a float tank for the first time.
For the first 20 minutes of his first float, he lay back in the water and felt the same pain he’d been feeling for months. It spread up, over his entire body and then stopped and concentrated in his neck. But after those initial minutes of tension and strain, he realized that he was still inadvertently holding his head up out of the water. It takes active thought to relax your own neck – especially when you’re experiencing the totally new sensation of floating in buoyant water for the first time. Eventually, as he was able to relax, he felt the pain slowly slide off his body and into the water.
That night he slept more than three hours for the first time in three months. If you’ve suffered wakeful nights over an extended period, you know how deadening and eviscerating the loss of rest can feel. And you know what it’s like to escape that empty cycle – you get your brain back, your spirit back, your self back, and, really, your life back.
After about twenty-four hours the pain began to reappear, and Joe began to doubt himself – had floating really helped at all? Had he imagined the respite from constant pain and pressure? Not yet ready to feel hopeful or ready to give up, he tried again. After feeling the same lightness and relief the second, and then third time, he knew that something was really happening. He called his sister in Salem, told her about his experience, and invited her to come float. Excited but tentative, he wanted to validate his newfound optimism. But more importantly, the magnitude of relief he had felt was so powerful that he wanted to share it with someone else. That feeling was infectious.
Not long after their first floats, Joe and his sister began brainstorming how they might bring floating to others in their community. After feeling and seeing such profound effects in Joe’s own body and life, they knew that opening their own float center in Salem could provide so many others with healing, comfort, inspiration, and a renewed sense of self. Just a few weeks after their first floats, the inspiration to help others by providing floatation therapy was put into motion.
We all want to find meaning in what we do with our lives. We want to find joy and purpose, we want to have fun, and we want to share these things with others. Some of us define this as our legacy. In opening Soak Float Center, Joe realized and began to live his legacy. Not only was Joe given the gift of life in surviving his accident, he was given the opportunity to impact other people’s lives in a more profound way than he could have ever imagined.