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Coming Up for Air

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A lot has changed in the past couple of months. I have moved away from Illinois, which had been my home for the past 11 years. I am now living in Kansas and working at the University of Kansas as an Assistant Research Professor at the Beach Center on Disability! Amidst all the chaos of packing up and moving, unpacking, settling in and starting a new job, I am now coming up for air to give some updates.

As most of you know, my year has been filled with health challenges. Each and every one of these challenges has been an opportunity in disguise for me to learn more about myself, my disability and has tested my patience in unimaginable ways.

Ten days after the London Paralympic Games, I went in for a routine lumbar spinal fusion surgery and came out a quadriplegic. It took doctors all over the country close to 10 months to accurately diagnose and suggest a solution. I then went in for another major spinal cord surgery the end of May. I am happy to report that I regained function of my arms and hand almost immediately after the surgery. I am still dealing with recovery though. The challenging part about neurosurgery is, it's not quite the same (I'm learning this...) as orthopedic surgery where there is a prescribed plan or approach to rehabilitation of PT and increasing physical activity to improve mobility and to get better. With neurosurgery, you are restricted to how fast your nerves want to heal. As a Type A person, this is frustrating. There are good days, and there are bad days. I am slowly getting more involved and more active again, but still dealing with the physical aspects of nerve pain, tightness and the psychological aspects of wondering what this means for my athletic career. I am trying to remain optimistic and positive, however. I am doing a better job at listening to my body, asking questions to my doctors before things get out of hand, and relying on friends for support.

Here's the way I see it: Things happen for a reason. This has been, without a doubt, a true test of my patience. I question so many things that I previously took for granted. Will I be able to get dressed today? Will I be able to make that transfer? Will I be able to do a 5K? Why is my body failing me at age 29?

Before all of this, there really was no doubt in my mind that I would try once again to make Team USA for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Now, I am not looking that far ahead. I am focusing on making each and every day in the present count. I am focusing on small victories. I am putting my trust in the universe that things will work out exactly the way they are supposed to. While I am still goal-oriented, and I believe it is important to have high standards for yourself, you also have to balance that with making goals that are manageable, realistic and adjust accordingly. If you raise the bar too high to the point of being discouraged on a daily basis, this is counterproductive and does more damage than good. So, take that lofty goal, write it down, and tuck it away in a safe place to revisit when the time is right. That's my plan. In the meantime, I'm focusing on regaining a basic level of fitness and continuing to find ways to bring happiness and joy to my every day life.


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