By Amanda Sullivan, New York Metro Abilities Expo Ambassador
I was run over by a car over four years ago, injuring everything from my skull to my toes. I'm still recovering from numerous traumatic brain injuries, have herniated and bulged discs poking my spinal cord, extensive nerve damage throughout my body and my right leg doesn't work. I have many surgeries left. I spent more than two years bed-ridden and have been in and out of the hospital for most of these four+ years. However, I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. I'm using this experience as a unique opportunity to learn life lessons from adversity. I do at least four hours of physical therapy six days a week. I use forearm crutches and a wheelchair to get around.
I've learned that I don't need to be "who I was" before my accident in order to love this new life I was given. I decided that it was time to take my health to a new level, so I began playing adaptive sports and joined a gym in June of 2012. The most incredible experiences of my life have occurred since I began loving this "new me." With each goal accomplished, a wave of inspiration, hope, love, confidence, strength and motivation engulfs my soul. I realize that I am way more today than I was before. I am braver, more positive, more loving, more motivated, more hugging, more spiritually-beautiful, more compassionate and more "me" than I could have ever been otherwise.
In the last few months, I completed two 5k races!! I was extremely nervous about placing myself in a large group of able-bodied athletes. I thought I may be trampled in the crowd. I didn't know if people would make fun of me. When I did "The Tunnel To Towers Race" last September, a bunch of my Wounded Warrior friends came up from Walter Reed Hospital to wheel, crutch and run the race with me. Even though I finished last out of more than 35,000 people, the memories I made that day and the friendships forged will last a lifetime. Two of my friends are triple amputees and had just been fitted with their legs in the days before the race. Watching them walk along side of me, as thousands of firemen, military, civilians and onlookers cheered us on, ignited a fire within my heart that will never be snuffed. I was walking amongst Giants. Their vibrant spirits, courage and smiles were contagious.
I wasn't sure if I could finish those races. But, with each step I took, I learned that it's not about being in first place, or last place, or looking a certain way or having an able body. These races are about encouragement, friendship, celebrating life, shining in the face of adversity and overcoming odds TOGETHER.
My disabled veteran friends scuba-dive, rock-climb, handcycle, crutch/walk/run/wheel as far as they can, sky-dive, participate in "extreme obstacle challenges" (like "The Spartan Race"), have wrestled alligators on "Gator Boys" and love the lives they were given. They practice an attitude of gratitude. Watching my friends smile through tears has taught me how I want to handle my own circumstances. They know no limits & accept no excuses. They are making the most of every day, no matter what.
I've learned that we don't need to wait to be "better" in order to start living the lives we're meant to live. The day I played wheelchair basketball for the first time, a part of my soul that I thought was gone was reborn. When I started going out and doing fun things again, I began making new memories with this new body of mine. Sometimes our bodies need to break in order for our souls to be healed. I will handcycle "The Marine Corps Marathon" in October and do "A Super Spartan Race" this August. Inspiration is my motivation!! Watching my body become stronger and healthier every day is a blessing. I'm taking my vitamins, eating healthy foods, surrounding myself with positive, empowered people and I feel unstoppable!!
This surge of motivation and hope has fueled the motor in my soul. I joined a 90-Day Challenge recently, in which I planned to handcycle and/or walk 90 miles in 90 days. My doctors said I was crazy and shouldn't even think about it. My friends said, "LET'S DO THIS!!" and gave me training tips, inspiration and encouragement. (I listened to my friends. Ha ha.)
I'm SUPER excited to say that I broke the 100-mile mark of hand cycling/walking yesterday!!!! I'm on Day 74 of my 90-Day Challenge. The official tally so far:
** 103.7 miles in 74 days **
That's 103.7 miles more than I would have done had I not decided to take my health and fitness to the next level. 103.7 times I pushed myself further than I ever dreamed possible. 103.7 more accomplishments to be proud of. 103.7 times I became my own hero. But, most importantly, 103.7 new reasons to love the life I'm living.
I'm really happy to be writing this chapter of my story, after having the pen taken from me for so long. I bet that your story can be just as amazing. You just need to pick up the pen and start writing it. Remember:
"The only one who can tell you 'you can't' is you. And, you don't have to listen..." =)