In Kelly’s Words – 16 Years
16 years. It’s been a whole person-who-can-drive since I had my spinal cord injury. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, sometimes the memories of before my injury seem so much more distant. But every year as February 18th approaches it allows me time to reflect on my life in a way that I don’t do at any other time.
I think back to being in rehab and the random memories and hardships come right back to me. In the first weeks after my accident, my blood pressure would drop any time I sat up, so I had this wheelchair that had a back that could recline. I’d sit up in the chair for a few minutes and then have to lay flat. I remember celebrating the day when I could stay in my wheelchair all day and not have to lay down. I remember the first shower I took after my accident. It was after I arrived at Craig Hospital in Colorado which is a rehab that specializes in spinal cord injuries (SCI). They had a stretcher that was waterproof that I could shower in laying down since I couldn’t yet sit up for long periods (which included the length of a shower). The feeling of getting clean and fully showered for the first time in almost 3 weeks was incredible. And I can still taste the medicine that I called “Elmer’s glue” that I needed to take to get my digestive system moving again. Taking that felt like torture!
But beyond reminiscing about my accident and the time right after, each year on February 18th I want to do something to mark the day. I would say ‘celebrate’ but that doesn’t even fully capture how I feel about the anniversary. It’s a day to reflect on what I’ve done since my injury, to remember some of the amazing experiences I’ve had. But it’s also a time to remember how far I’ve come.
My proudest moments over the last 16 years largely have nothing to do with my SCI. I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to go to graduate school and become a nurse practitioner. I’m proud of and grateful for my two wonderful and healthy daughters. I’m proud of the organization we have built in the KBF and the number of lives we have been able to touch. But most of all, I’m proud that I haven’t let my spinal cord injury dictate my life.
The best example of this for me is skiing. I loved to ski before I got hurt. If I had never gotten hurt, I would have raced for two more years at Middlebury until I graduated, and then continued to ski on the weekends with family and friends whenever I was able to. After my SCI, I had to completely relearn how to ski. Of all of the things I had to learn and figure out after my injury, learning to ski was by far the hardest. It took me years to be comfortable on anything steeper than the bunny hill and even now I don’t feel totally comfortable in bad conditions (really icy, etc.). But I loved the sport of skiing as well as the culture of skiing so much, that I was determined to figure it out.
This year, and most years, on February 18th I spent the day skiing with my family. The sport that led to my accident is still the sport that I have the most love for and have the most fun doing. We talked about the day I got hurt a little bit, and reminisced about the crashes we took while I learned to ski, and in the quiet moments I thought about my accomplishments over the last 16 years. But above all, it will always be a day that I just want to have fun. Go out, rip some turns, laugh with my family, and feel the love for this one precious life that I have.