Life is not over. I once was in your position and I believed that all of my hopes and dreams were crushed. That everything I worked for no longer mattered. All I could focus on was the past. I so desperately wanted the life that I used to have. How can I be happy without my body? I was very active and I would have to say goodbye to all of the physical things in my life. But I could not give up right away. I was not ready to accept my situation. All I could focus on was walking again.
One day in the hospital I looked down and I was able to move my toes. I thought it was a sign that everything would come back. I prayed to God every day that I would walk again. But I began to grow bitter and angry as those prayers were not answered. My dad had suffered a spinal cord injury and he made a full recovery and I thought that I would recover just as he did. But when I got out of the hospital after 3 1/2 months I started to do some research. I desperately searched for the stories of people that recovered completely after their spinal cord injury. Those stories were almost impossible to find and during my research I can across a statistic that made me lose all hope. I found out that of all people with spinal cord injuries only 0.9% of those people make a full recovery. The odds were against me but I had to keep trying.
Everyone told me that I would walk again. Everyone was praying for me and pulling for me and they could not see me in this situation for the rest of my life. So I did countless hours of physical therapy. But nothing returned and I felt like they were only trying to get me used to life in a wheelchair. I eventually got accepted into a program at The Ohio State University Medical Center called locomotor training. In this program you are suspended above a treadmill and they move your legs in a walking motion which is supposed to retrain your spinal cord how to walk. I did over 500 hours in this program which is the best therapy that you can get. But in the end I still was not walking. But at one point I realized that my legs were not going to come back and that was when I decided to accept my situation. I decided to be happy no matter what the outcome and to focus on what I could do and not what I can’t do.
Acceptance was the biggest key to my happiness. I started to pray to God not to walk but to just be happy. Those prayers were answered.
If you focus too much on the past then you never will accept your situation. I realized that I was left with the most powerful part of the human body. Your mind is much more powerful than your body. You can overcome anything with your mind. Keep a positive attitude and realize that God left you on this earth for a reason and he has a plan for you. I am just lucky that I found out his plan for me so soon.
I only have the use of my right hand so I purchased a copy of Dragon and started to write about my experiences. I made people realize that they should not take the little things in life for granted and that life can change in an instant. There was no better feeling than when people reached out to me and told me that I changed their life in a positive way. I have a crazy story to tell so I started to write a book that I recently finished and I’m working on getting published. Writing is my escape and it fills the holes of all of the physical things that I can no longer do.
I also started public speaking a little over a year ago. I recently did a Ted talk at The Ohio State University where I spoke in front of 750 people. I got a bigger rush and more satisfaction out of this than anything in my life that I had done physical. Before my accident I was a national champion waterskier. It was incredibly hard to say goodbye to the sport but let me tell you that passions can be replaced no matter what your limitations.
The first year is by far the hardest. I was living at home and I felt like a burden to my family. But less than a year after my accident I returned to Columbus to live at a place called Creative Living. It was here that I could live independently because I had the help of a resident assistant at the push of a button at any time of the day. I also have three incredible girls that take care of me. I also have an incredible nurse who comes in every other day. All of this is paid for by the Medicaid waiver program.
Once you are disabled you will receive a lot of help from the federal government. So take advantage of everything that you can. There is an incredible program called the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation that helps you to get back to work and do many other things for you. They will pay for your college tuition. They will pay to have a van modified for you so that you can drive. I was able to go back to Ohio State and finish the five classes that I had left and graduate in civil engineering.
BVR is now helping me to shape my career. They set me up with an incredible agency and they are 100% behind what I am trying to accomplish. I want to be a professional public speaker, an author, and I want to do grant writing to build more places for people with physical disabilities. They are actually supporting me by paying to start my own business. I have an incredible girl who comes over once a week to help me stay on course. She currently is helping me to find an agent to get my book published.
I recently found something that was as big of a rush as waterskiing. I was invited to go to a racetrack by someone who also had a spinal court injury. He has use of both of his hands so he is able to drive a car with hand controls. I rode along with him and we went flying around a track at over 100 mph and it was exhilarating. It was the most fun I’ve had since the two years since my accident. It made me feel alive. I am in the process of learning to drive so hopefully I can drive on that track one day. You would think that I would not enjoy this because I crashed my car going 120 mph but I fell in love with it. I was invited this weekend to ride along in a pace car on the track once again. Having a disability will open up so many doors for you. You’ll get invited to so many more events and people are much more welcoming.
If you were recently injured I’m sure that you feel incredibly lost right now. But just know that you are not alone. There are so many people that have found more happiness after their accident than life before. Because now you will have a greater appreciation of life and you will realize not to take the little things for granted. Your family will become stronger and you will realize how much you are loved. You will find out who your true friends are. You will think differently and you have the ability to change the lives of others. If you can have a smile on your face then other people will wonder why they can’t get through the little situations in life.
The challenges ahead of you are huge. Having a spinal cord injury is one of the most traumatic things that can possibly happen to you. You will think that life is over and you will want to give up. But I promise you that things will get better and you will get used to this new way of life. Try writing about your experiences and sharing them with the world or just keep them to yourself. It is a great way to clear your head.
You may be stuck in the hospital right now and it may feel as if you never are going to go home. The hospital will become your comfort zone as you are surrounded by other people with spinal cord injuries. But let me tell you that when you go home it is going to be a huge adjustment. You will be surrounded by people that are able-bodied and it will remind you of the things that you can no longer do. But please do not focus on those things. Focus on what you can do and create a new dream for your life. Pray for happiness in this new life and do not pray for the life that you had before. Chances are that you are not going to get it back but it is possible. So don’t give up hope quite yet. But I’m here to tell you that there still is life in a chair. You will realize what is truly important in life. I had yet to find happiness before my accident like I found it today. Take joy in the little things in life.
Do not isolate yourself and express your feelings as much as possible. I cried so much during that first year but I have not cried since. Look at yourself in the mirror every morning and remember that you still are the person that you were before your accident. Smile at yourself and believe that you will be happy once again. Keep your mind at ease and try to stay away from the thoughts like, “will I ever walk again?” God has a plan for you and just be happy that you are alive.
So don’t be scared. Don’t be afraid. If you search for it eventually you will figure out why this all happened to you. You will get used to this new way of life. Everything just takes a little more time and you will become one of the most patient people in the world. I thought my life was over and I contemplated suicide. But today I am happier than ever before and I feel that now that I am in a wheelchair I will be more successful than I would have been before my accident. So keep a smile on your face, keep your head up, talk to others and do not isolate yourself, and keep on pushing. God never puts us in a situation that is too big to handle. He knew that you were capable of handling this and most people could not. So you are one of the chosen ones so use your disability as an advantage and go out there and help others. You’re still very capable of doing great things! That I promise you!
Best of luck,