“I believe that everything happens for a reason … and you decide what that reason is.”
I am going to do my best to keep this short and sweet.
I grew up able-bodied, I am not sure how I feel about that term, but it does get straight to the point…and I did grow up able-bodied.
My body could do it all. Anything I wanted to do, I could. The opportunities were endless. Any sport I tried, I picked up naturally and anything I wanted to try…the opportunity was there. I could get around the world with ease. I never knew the physical struggle, the barriers, the stigma, and the lack of inclusion that I would soon experience when I turned 18.
What I did know, was the struggle of the mind. I knew about depression. I knew about sexual abuse. I knew about broken families and pain on a level that a kid is incapable of understanding…pain and confusion that shaped the way I viewed and approached the world.
But, despite that pain, I always fought hard to keep going and hoped that one day I would figure it out.
That’s what I told myself, “One day I will figure it out.” “One day I will be confident.” “One day I will learn to believe in myself and not let these negative thoughts take me down.” “One day I will stop caring so much about what others think about me.” “One day I will stop living in fear.” “One day…I will stop holding back.”
But despite the desire I had for a better life…the one I was living was all I knew. The bad crowd I was in was the only world I knew existed. I chose to surround myself with the people that I did, the ones dropping out of school, the ones getting in trouble, the ones who seemed to struggle in their mind in ways similar to me. I did this as a way of protecting myself from getting hurt more than I already had been in my life. I did it to avoid the pain and rejection of not feeling good enough. I thought it was where I belonged…yet, it was only magnifying, echoing and creating more of the same trauma I wanted so badly to get away from. But like I said, it was what I knew. And if there was a better life…I struggled to believe that I deserved it.
In 2008, one month after I graduated high school, I was the passenger in a motorcycle accident in which I broke 18 bones, including my back and was left paralyzed from the waist down.
I was instantly filled with an unbearable regret for all of the things I had taken for granted. For all of the ways in which I struggled to believe in myself and held back in everything I did in order to avoid that feeling of failure…and now… that fear of failure wasn’t even an option…it was all I felt.
Over the next month following my accident I slowly regained the use of my quad muscles. This gave me hope that maybe I would regain all of my muscles back and that maybe I would have the chance to make it better. To overcome that regret. To never hold back again and to face my fears head on.
The mistake I had in that thought process was that walking was the only way to do that. But this was 2008. Social media was still new and little, if anything at all, was known about life and opportunities to live it after a spinal cord injury.
Everywhere I went I felt I was looked at with pity, and I was. whether those looking at me that way were aware of it or not…they were putting me into a box that felt so incredibly hard to get out of. A box that was suffocating, full of shame, sadness, pain and frustration. I felt like an outcast. I felt like a burden to all of my friends I had before who were slowly dropping off. Ones who didn’t feel like taking the subs out of their trunk so that my wheelchair would fit and I could go camping with them-I left that house, while everyone was loading up to leave, feeling incredible numb, with tears streaming down my face and drove to my friend’s mom’s house, crying in her driveway and telling her I didn’t think I could handle it all. It felt like pain was coming at me in every direction. I could no longer run from it the way I had before. I no longer had endless opportunities and distractions to take for granted. I no longer believed so easily that I would always have another chance. There was no longer another chance. At least…that is how I felt and that is what the world around me echoed.
But I dug deep. I was used to fighting. And honestly, the physical disability was nothing compared to the mental pain I had been living with for so long. Heartbreak was hard. Breaking my back was not.
I muscled through that first year, in the dark, feeling completely alone, scared of the future, scared of the present, scared of the darkness that was all around me.
I started going to the gym everyday. I worked hard to hold my head up. To ignore the stares. To fight back the tears that were always there, ready to drop with one sentence coming from another telling me “i’m so sorry this happened to you”, or “you are too young to be in a wheelchair”, I could name a hundred things that people said that absolutely did not help…yet, they were trying to help and I had to remember that. I had to not be bitter, angry, not cry. Because crying didn’t help. being bitter didn’t help. being angry did not help.
I needed to be able to go out in the world and find a way to live again…but I wasn’t finding one. I was finding obstacle after obstacle. The clothing store at the mall whose isles were too small for me to fit down without getting stuck-without crying and wishing this wasn’t real life. Or the movie theatre date where I first realized I could no longer be that girl on his arm, at his eye level, walking with confidence as if I was someone I felt he would want.
Life was hard but I kept going. I kept going to the gym and doing what I could to get stronger. To practice holding my head up. To practice not crying. Sometimes I couldn’t get out of my car to go in because I could’t get it together. Sometimes I went back home and cried in bed for the rest of the week. But then I went back and I tried again.
And one day, 9 months after my accident, a kid came into the Y who had been in a car accident, he was now in a wheelchair and he asked them if they knew anyone in a wheelchair he could talk to. They gave me his number and I called him up. We both understood the pain we were feeling. He had been told about some guys that get together THIRTY minutes from that Y and play wheelchair basketball. I was shocked that no one else knew about this to tell me. He asked if I wanted to check it out with him.
We went the next weekend…and I knew right then and there that it was my second chance at life. It was an opportunity to overcome the immense regret I was feeling and I told myself that no matter what it took…I was going to push myself to reach my fullest potential. No matter how insecure I felt, no matter the self-doubt, the fear, the pain, the frustration…I was going to face it.
I soon learned about the Paralympics and that there were colleges that offered full-ride scholarships playing wheelchair basketball and I vowed to make it to the Paralympics and to become the first in my family to go to college. And I did.
I earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois where I played from 2011-2016 and earned my Bachelor’s in Psychology and my Master’s in Social Work.
During that time I was also made the USA Women’s National Team and played on it from 2013-2016 where I ultimately reached my goal of competing at the Paralympics in 2016 where we won a Gold Medal in Rio de Janeiro.
Between 2016-2018 I moved back to Washington state and finished my internship with Child Protective Services-a place I chose in order to better understand what went wrong in the case against my stepdad. During this time I met some incredibly strong kids and learning about, as well witnessing their struggles and the broken system opened my eyes further to the depth of healing and connection that we all so desperately need as human beings on this earth.
I then moved to Oceanside, CA for a job as an assistive technology professional, fitting people for wheelchairs. I chose this career after the many bad experiences I had working with ATP’s after my accident who acted more like car salesmen than someone trying to help a vulnerable person in need. But that plan quickly shattered when the company I moved there for went through some hard times and began laying people off. I had no idea what to do at that point. I was renting a small room for $900 a month and would soon run out of money with no plan B.
I kept my faith and volunteered and connected with as many adaptive sport communities in CA as I could trying to figure out what might be next.
A former Illini player, Jaime reached out to me and asked if I would want to come play with the Wolfpack, an all male, military veteran wheelchair basketball team in San Diego. I then moved from Oceanside to San Diego and began playing as the first and only female on their team…which definitely taught me a lot about strength and confidence and I was blessed with ten brothers who taught me so much about the opposite sex (something I did not learn as the middle child of five girls), communication styles and trust.
Between 2018 and 2020, I became a sponsored athlete with Nike, The Hartford and Per4Max Wheelchairs as well as became an ambassador for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an incredible organization who helped to get me my first basketball wheelchair in 2010.
During those years I was blessed with numerous opportunities of traveling all over the United States, coaching adaptive sport camps, surprising athletes with adaptive equipment and giving speeches to schools and different organizations. I was in a few big commercials, one being the “Dream Crazy” video ad featuring Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams, and the one I am most proud of was being chosen by the Challenged Athletes Foundation to be featured in their organization’s “25th Year Anniversary” campaign, alongside Kobe Bryant- a blessing and experience that will stay with me forever.
In 2020 I was named to my second U.S. Women’s Paralympic Team set to compete in Tokyo 2020…but when the pandemic happened, rather than continue training for another year for a Paralympic games that may not happen….I decided to take the opportunity I saw in front of me, while the entire world was on hold, to go deep within, find myself and learn what was causing the immense pain inside that I was still fighting – something I felt I had never had the chance to do. And that’s what I did.
And that gets us to where I am today…someone who has a much better understanding of who I am and what I need to do in order to take care of myself. Someone who’s biggest desire in life is to help others to heal from their own pain and to know that healing is possible. I want to share my own struggles and accomplishments in the hopes to show others they are not alone and that things really can get better. I also want to keep it real and remind people that change doesn’t happen overnight and that my struggle with depression is a constant fight that I am still fighting to this day…I am just doing it better than I did before.
If you are reading my blog…I hope you find something in it that helps you learn something about yourself or someone else you may know so that we can all continue growing and moving forward in this crazy life.
I am strong believer that it takes a village and as long as you can deal with bad grammar and repetitive wording, my honesty is my contribution 😛
There you go…as short and sweet as I could make it. 🙂