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My Heart On My Sleeve: The 10 Year Anniversary

My Heart On My Sleeve: The 10 Year Anniversary 

Polaroids I took three months before the accident

Polaroids I took three months before the accident

In seventeen days, I’ll have been in a wheelchair half of my life. I knew it was coming when I turned twenty a couple months ago, but now it’s slowly starting to sink in. I think I was sixteen when I first realized that in a few short years I would clock in more time rolling than walking, and just the very idea really scared me. In reality, it’s just a number. What does it matter if I’m running or pushing, as long as I’m moving forward? But it does matter to me, because the piece of me that used to be able bodied and “normal” seems to be drifting further and further away with each passing year. This post is going to be pretty hard for me to write, but I recently attended a workshop where an author dared us to write down whatever we feel we absolutely cannot say, so that is what I’ll try to do here.

People often ask me if I remember what it was like to walk, to not have a disability. To be completely honest I don’t think I do. It’s one of those ‘you never truly appreciate something until it’s gone” kind of moments. I remember loving to play basketball at the Y with my friends. I remember going to the beach and my biggest worry being, “what if someone knocks our sandcastle down!” instead of worrying about being abandon by friends and stuck in the sand. I don’t remember what it was like to run up a flight of stairs, or put one front in front of the other and simply walk, but I do remember the joy I felt jumping up and down on my first “big kid” bed, and how happy I was to stand on a swing and feel like I was flying to the moon.

I don’t remember much about my time in the hospital either. I remember an abundance of gifts and friends and family always there, something I was so blessed to have. I remember keeping the tradition with friends from preschool and decorating Christmas cookies in the lobby of the in-patient unit. I remember painting my favorite animal (a manatee) on a ceiling tile with my best friend, and learning to push myself in a hospital chair while it beamed down over me. I remember sneaking out of rehab with my mom and some friends, riding a roller-coaster at some carnival in Miami, and for the first time in weeks feeling as if something was possible. What it was I had no idea, but I knew things were going to get better, and get better they did.

Our manatee ceiling tile

Our manatee ceiling tile

Decorating cookies with friends at the hospital

Decorating cookies with friends at the hospital

I rolled back into my fourth grade classroom forty-four days after I was paralyzed. I wanted to wear my favorite oh-so stylish Hawaiian shirt my first day back, but within the first ten minutes, I sprinted to my mom’s classroom and promptly threw up all my fears down my shirt and into the accessible toilet. I cleaned up and went home, but was ready to try again the next morning. I’m very lucky to have had so many awesome friends who saw me in the same light both before and after the accident. From then on the transition was so smooth. All my P.E and dance teachers were completely inclusive, and with the help of some very special people, the following spring I was able to walk across stage (wearing leg braces) and receive my fifth grade diploma. Life was definitely different, I absolutely hated the shots I had to take every morning (not the fun college kind), it took me twice as long to shower and go to the bathroom than it used to, transferring in and out of cars was a bitch, and most days during recess I preferred playing chess inside rather than watching everyone else champion the monkey bars, something that used to be one of my proudest attributes. But life was still really good. I went on field trips, had sleepovers, took the special “fifth graders only” pottery class, when to states with my Odyssey of the Mind team, I was one busy and very satisfied kid.

First basketball team!

First basketball team!

On the monkey bars in third grade

On the monkey bars in third grade

After that I had a blast in middle school, and an even greater time in high school, but that’s not to say I didn’t have my bad days. One morning senior year the only elevator at school was broken again for the third or fourth time that week. I had no way to get to my class on the second floor, and I was tired of asking my friends to carry me up (which they did many times because they’re such awesome people). The smart thing to do would have been to go to the front office and explain the situation, but I felt so helpless and insignificant in that moment, that I got in my truck and cried the whole way home. It’s the little things like that that put my whole world into perspective; where I jump to those horrible ‘what if’ questions that just lead to a spiral of more sadness. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Damn girl, it was just an elevator! Why get so worked up about something so small?”  But I guess the elevator isn’t just a machine to take me from one floor to another. When broken it’s a reminder that I can’t be independent and go wherever I want whenever I want. It’s a reminder that sometimes it feels like I’m shackled to this chair and the only way to freedom is a pair of legs that actually work.

Something that has helped me cope quite a bit recently is a psych class I was required to take for my social justice job that I will be starting in the spring. I enjoyed psychology in high school, but never had any plans to pursue it further in college; the word “therapist” has always scared me, just ask my mom! But this class has opened my eyes to the other minority groups, not just us “crips”, and it helps me keep my privilege in check and always remain grateful for so many of the amazing things I have in my life. I’m blessed with the opportunity to go to an incredible institution and receive a college education, I’m blessed with the most loving and supportive family a girl could ask for, I’m blessed with the best group of friends, ones I can laugh with, ones I can cry with, and ones I know will always have my back. I’m blessed to be training with arguably the best wheelchair racing coach in the world, and travel the states with an equally amazing team of professional athletes. I’m blessed to have two homes, Florida and Illinois (shout out to becoming the 15th state to have marriage equality what what!) full of memories I love. And I’m blessed to be living in a country that is making strides every day towards equality whether it’s LGBT rights, increasing locations with ADA accessibility, equal pay for the sexes, ethnic diversity in the workplace, protection of religious freedoms, or any other act that aims to make our country a better place, not just for the majority, but for the minorities as well.

So this Thanksgiving when I fly home (twelve more days!) I will sit at the table and choose to remember all of the good that I have received in my brief twenty years on this Earth, AND look forward to how much good is still to come. I have so many hopes and dreams for this planet, the only way they’ll ever come to fruition is if I just. keep. pushing.

Christmas the year before the accident (2002)

Christmas the year before the accident (2002)

Christmas after the accident (2003)

Christmas after the accident (2003)

 

Last Christmas (2012)

Last Christmas (2012)

For a bit of a back story and another perspective, you can read my mom’s awesome post about the anniversary here!…. http://kdrausin.com/blog/2013/11/10/remembering-accident-changed-lives/

 

Everything Happens for a Reason…Or Does It?

Everything Happens for a Reason…Or Does It?

 

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Four months before the accident

 

I only have faint memories of my time in the hospital and rehab, but one thing that stands out in my mind was receiving dozens cards from my friends and family that read, “ Everything will be O.K., because everything happens for a reason.”

My ten year old brain was having an extremely difficult time grasping this concept. Were these people telling me that it was good that I lost the ability to walk because someday it would have a greater purpose? Were they telling me that some God purposefully made this awful accident happen? That ten year old me was supposed to not be able to run on the mulch at recess, or feel the sand between my toes at the beach, or reach for the sky on the swing set with my best friends? At the time I just couldn’t comprehend why people kept saying that to me, and I would always just brush it off and move on. It’s probably important to note that I was not raised in a very religious family (surprise, surprise). Even years after the accident I still often hear that phrase repeated to me, and it always makes my stomach clench and I fight to keep my big, mouth shut.

There’s the age old argument that if everything happens for a reason, then why…? Why are people across the world starving on the streets while others spend $500 on a purse? Why are kids with different sexual orientations bullied to the point of suicide? Why do innocent people die? Ultimately, why do bad things happen to good people?

I, of course, am not trying to answer any of these questions, just hoping to provide a small insight to my personal point of view.

About a week ago my team and I were driving home from an awesome week of road races and track meets in Georgia. For those who don’t know, I’m a student at the University of Illinois, and a member of the wheelchair track team. The program is better than anything I could have ever imagined, and our coach is amazing beyond words. Joining the team has definitely been one of the best decisions I have made to date. The twenty or so of us are all in wheelchairs, but everyone’s injury is unique. Some were born with Spina bifida, some are veterans, some were in sporting accidents, my injury is from a car crash back in 2003. I would say we’re a pretty tightly knit group, but I’m never quite sure who’s okay to talk about their injury, and who is not, so it’s not really a popular topic of discussion.

My team!

My team!

I was sitting in the back seat of our team’s suburban with two of my teammates, both incredible girls who hopefully someday I’ll be as talented as, and somehow the topic of our injuries came up. I won’t go into specifics, but one thing was exactly the same in all three of our stories, none of us were wearing a seat belt with a shoulder strap. We all had on the lap belt that is equipped in the middle back seat of most oldish cars, but nothing went across our shoulders. If you take a look at any new car now, it is absolutely mandatory that every seat in the car has a lap and shoulder belt, but that law wasn’t put into full effect until 2008! I was ten at the time of my injury, and I knew not having a shoulder strap was one of the many factors that went into the cause of my injury, but when I realized these two other girls had very similar injuries to me, and also weren’t wearing a full seat belt, I was a little shocked.

Is there some greater reason that the two girls on my team and I are paralyzed, or was it just the lack of understanding and knowledge, that hey, maybe it would be a good idea to put a proper seat belt in every seat of a car? Maybe just maybe it would be smart to make it illegal to not wear a seat belt in most states? I always thought my injury was as unique as the car crash, that there were so many independent variables that the exact cause of my injury was unknown. But after talking to others in very similar circumstances with very similar injuries, it really makes you think.

What if someone in the nineties was really ahead of the times and decided to make it mandatory to have shoulder straps in all vehicles, how completely different would the three of our lives be? How completely different would just my life be? For one thing, I sure as hell wouldn’t be running marathons at 19, I can tell you that! Haha I definitely wouldn’t be going to school in Illinois, trying to get used to these cold cold winters either! I wouldn’t have to worry about the accessibility of the world when I travel, or deal with flat tires and broken castors, or have to take medication daily so I don’t pee my pants in public all the time…. Let’s just say things would be very different. On that note, I also wouldn’t have met many of my best friends in high school that I ran track with, or the three amazing teachers and coaches who have guided me through the good times and the bad, or get to travel across the country with a group of people I adore, pushing my body to its furthest physical and psychological limit! The state of Florida probably wouldn’t have a program for high schoolers with disabilities to compete in track and field either, which is something I’m very thankful exists today.

Obviously many great things have been a result of my injury, but I’m still not so sure I would like to accredit them to a higher power or completely set in stone destiny. I would like to think that everything that has happened since the accident is a result of incredible support from my family, a strong group of friends always by my side, teachers and guides who have continually pushed me and believed in me, and then my own stubborn perseverance to not let my wheelchair stop me from doing anything I want to do.

So although I do not exclusive believe that everything in life happens for a reason, I do believe that it is possible, and in your favor, to make light of every situation and as my favorite drama teacher would say, “Keep turning those negatives into positives!”

Our car after the accident and me racing in high school

Our car after the accident and me racing in high school