In Kelly’s Words – Creating a Community of Women
Last week we held A Night to Inspire in Boston, which is our celebration of the KBF’s impact and community. It was our first time back in Boston since 2019 (thanks a lot COVID!) so it was really fun to be back in-person doing this kind of fundraising event. (You can read the recap about the event here.) At these events, we usually invite a lot of former grant recipients and other wheelchair users so it ends up being a reunion of sorts.
While the night had a lot of highlights, for me, the biggest takeaway was the value of the relationships I have with others with spinal cord injuries (SCI), and particularly with other women. When two people with spinal cord injuries get together, there is usually no shortage of conversation. When you make that two women with SCI who both enjoy sports, they can usually talk for hours or days. The value of this bond goes beyond just good conversation, it fills me up in a way few other relationships can.
This year, I was struck by the number of women in chairs at our event. This is striking because women only make up about 20-25% of people with spinal cord injuries, but of the chair users at the event, women made up more than half. It only took getting past pleasantries to start talking about the things that only others in chairs can help with – type of cushion used on that chair, insurance issues when ordering a new chair, etc. But beyond these topics, we were able to fall into conversations easily because of the shared experiences that we have. The sense of ease and comfort was lightyears higher than it would have been had we not had these shared experiences.
After finishing the night with these group of (mostly) women in chairs at the hotel bar, I left feeling happy and excited about life. I was energized by their drive for life and our commonalities in our love for an active lifestyle. We are determined not to let our injuries define our lives. These are such big, intangible ideas but they frame everything about how we live our lives and allow us to feel connected at such a deep level.
All of the women I saw in Boston have been injured for at least 4-5 years. A lot of our success and outlook on life didn’t come right away. The first months and years after an injury can be really hard for so many reasons. But I know there is light, it’s not only possible, but it’s necessary to get through those struggles to come out on the other side.
At this same time I was hanging out with all these incredible women I’ve known for years, I was starting another conversation with someone new to this community. I had been texting all week with a woman who had an SCI just this past January and is currently in rehab in Boston. It’s going to be really hard for her, but I can already tell she is going to be just fine. She has a great attitude and was asking me all about bikes and how I get outside and am active. While she couldn’t come to the event since she’s still in the hospital, her husband came. It was a great opportunity to introduce him to this community that he never knew existed. And I hope he saw, and told her, that there is this incredible community of women just waiting to support her. She has joined a club that she never wanted to be a part of, but who she is going to have a lot of fun with. The relationships that I have built with other women with SCI are some of the most rewarding parts of this injury. I was reminded of that last week and I’m excited to make these reunions more frequent!