I have always been very adventurous, outdoorsy, active, and energetic; I’ve been this way since my childhood. I became an avid runner and deemed most valuable player on my high school cross country team. Outside of school, I rode my bike, roller-bladed, traveled to the mountains to white-water-raft and the beach to try my hand at surfing.
I placed an extreme amount of value on new experiences trying new things. In college, I was granted the opportunity to study abroad twice- both times in London. While there, I visited Scotland, Wales, and Amsterdam of the Netherlands. I made some amazing friends, had some incredible cuisine, and had two true adventures of a lifetime.
At my United States University, I was living the all-American dream lifestyle. I was in an awesome program- Communication Studies and I loved most of my classes and teachers. I had two roommates that I considered best friends. I had a part-time job at The Gap and all of my co-workers became a close network of friends who did everything together. Oh, and did I forget to mention I attended college at the beach? Life was great, but I hit my prime the year after I graduated.
It paid well, but it was very erratic and I was left with a lot of spare time. But that was the way I liked it. I became great friends with a very adventurous group of people- I had found my perfect companions. We played Frisbee golf every weekend, went zip-lining, skiing and snowboarding, jet-skiing, kayaking, hang-gliding- you name it. When I was outside or partaking in an adventurous activity, I was in my element.
About ten months into participating in these adventurous and outdoorsy activities, I discovered the long-board. Although it didn’t give the rush of flying three thousand feet in the air like hang gliding provided, long-boarding lent a new kind of adrenaline kick. For those of you who don’t know, a long-board is similar to a skateboard, but is made for cruising. My friends and I were long-boarding down roads, paved trails, and even parking garages. This new-found activity offered the most adrenaline I had ever experienced- looking back on it, I wonder if I was getting adrenaline mixed up with fear. But it was a new feeling and experience, so I was basking in its glory.
I had been borrowing a friend’s long-board, so the day mine came in, I couldn’t wait to break it in. I immediately called my friends and we hit the hills. In our boarding expedition, we came upon some new and uncharted territory. We all stopped and stared in awe at a steep hill. Not too much later, I hopped on my board nonchalantly, wanting my friends to think of me as bold and fearless.
I started the hill and went down a curve, only to realize the hill stretched on. The hill was longer and more daunting than I could have imagined. But it was too late now; I had already committed to it and was progressively picking up speed. I went around a second curve and that’s as much as I can tell you. According to my friends, I collected a bad case of speed wobble. Unfortunately, I could not recover, and what happened next started a new, foreign, and life-altering chapter of my life. I flew up in the air off of my board and came crashing down on the back of my head. Oh, yes- I forgot to mention: I was not wearing a helmet.
Where to begin? I had suffered a subdermal hematoma, or often called a traumatic brain injury. I spent twelve days in a coma. Upon waking up, I couldn’t walk and had no use of my left arm. I had a shaved head, no sense of smell, and a ventilator in my throat, making it very hard to talk. I spent two months in the hospital doing in-patient physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I had to learn how to transfer back and forth from a wheelchair to a bed. Being left-handed prior, I had to relearn how to feed myself. I had to relearn how to get dressed with the use of one hand.
I remember my family members wanting me to remain positive but realistic. They kept reiterating how lucky and very fortunate I was to not have suffered any mental deficits, but they also told me it was going to be a long road to recovery. Shock and denial kicked in and I chose not to hear them. I was going to return to my adventurous, care-free life in no time. I had only hit a little snag, but this would all be a distant memory. Not so much.
After being discharged from the hospital, I did out-patient therapy for a month. I then found a private physical therapist an hour away from home and I began to visit her once a week. My mom and brother rearranged their lives for me. They were at my beck and call 24/7. Thankfully, my mom was already retired. My brother took a semester off from school and they looked after me around the clock.
Two months passed and I graduated from a wheelchair to a walker. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, this was going to be a very long journey. I remember a specific time about six months after my accident. My family had taken me to Lake Johnson in Raleigh, a lake with a three mile loop trail surrounding it. I was still using my walker so I was a bit slow in my gait. We had only been walking for a few minutes when we came up on a slightly upward hill.
My mom and brother suggested we turn back and walk in the other direction. Ignoring them, I took two strenuous and unbalanced steps forward. Having only one hand available to hold the walker was making it all the harder. I stopped and looked around. There were two girls in yoga pants and tank tops jogging past and chatting away. I looked at their hair pulled up in cute pony tails and hearing them talk and laugh happily and carefree. I used to be those girls. I broke down, sobbing, as the realization finally dawned on me that I may never get back to running and being carefree.
Although I progressed and regained my ability to walk independently, life was still an everyday obstacle. I had been so physical in my past life and to have that aspect stripped away from me was almost more than I could bear. I went from having adventures, being in top athletic shape, and priding myself on my independence and efficiency to a disabled individual, having a difficult time even doing minute things such as getting dressed.
It’s been five and a half years since that tragic event. Let me update you: I walk better than I did, but I still have foot drop and I walk with a limp. As far as my arm goes, I still have very little movement. But that’s okay; I’ve made modifications as I learn to live one-handed in a two-handed world. I wear braces on both my foot and arm. I’ve finally learned to be grateful that my accident wasn’t worse. I easily could have acquired mental deficits, and I’m extremely thankful that I didn’t.
Whenever I get down, I just remind myself that the brain injury didn’t affect my memory, my ability to talk, and my capability to read and write. If I had suffered mental deficits, I may not have been capable of writing this story. I’ve had to work hard to gain back confidence under this new development. Yes, there are some things I can’t do, but there are plenty of things I still can do.
I set goals for myself each year and work hard to achieve them. This year’s goals: landing a full-time career and getting my driver’s license renewed. I turned my attention inward and started looking at work from home jobs. In the meantime, I applied for an internship in human resources with a virtual record label called Hit Records Worldwide. About six months into it, the instructor called me to inquire about another position I might like. It was in the marketing department, which was perfect as it was directly related to my college major. Working in that department for a year has allowed me to work my way up to Senior Regional Social Media Marketing Manager.
This internship has been extremely rewarding. We are working towards starting a non-profit called Getting Out Records, which will be an online community for foster care girls who want nothing more than to reach their goals of becoming music artists. I am very passionate about assisting these girls as I completely understand hardships and adversities. Some of the foster care girls my CEO has taken under his wings ironically long-board. I have spoken with them on the phone and have stressed the importance of helmet use. I think, or at least hope, that my story touched them and had some influential meaning.
My mom and I are writing a book about my journey and advocate for the importance of helmets. We see kids all the time biking and skating without helmets. I would like to educate them and tell them my story in order to make a difference in their lives. A helmet can make the difference in life and death.
I was extremely fortunate to have lived to tell. Since my accident, a lot has happened and a lot has changed. There have been very high highs and very low lows. There have been many laughs and many cries. Though I’ve suffered loss, I’ve still made gains. And though I’m limited in my capabilities, I’ve made many modifications and have still found a way to live life.
I’ve come to believe we choose how to play the cards we’re dealt. I’ve learned that it is okay to have bad days, but not to dwell on it. To try to be positive, and know that it could always be worse. I’ve come to believe that we are all on a journey of self-discovery.
In no way, shape, form, or fashion would I have believed that this is where I would be in my life right now. That being said, I now believe that this had to happen in order for me to end up where I do one day. This belief helps me cope and keep moving forward, knowing that this is only a part of my path. I don’t know what I’m destined for yet, but I do recognize that I had to go through this tragedy as a part of my journey. Perhaps I had to overcome this adversity in order to gain strength. Perhaps this strength will be put to use in the future.
I’m very hopeful that this will all be a thing of the past. They are making strides in stem cell treatment every day, and we are coming closer to finding cures. And perhaps I will not fully recover, but only partially. This will still be a good thing. However, I will always keep hoping.
Everyone is fighting a battle and undergoing a struggle, no matter how big or trivial. If you ever feel alone or feel like quitting, just remember that you are not alone and that there are millions of people trying to overcome adversities and underlying circumstances. We are all a team, rooting and cheering each other on through our trials and tribulations. We all are hoping that we can pull each other through the tunnels of darkness to see a sunnier sky.
So no matter how bad things get, just know in your heart that we are pulling for you. “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Andy DuFrane, The Shawshank Redemption