I’m often asked what keeps me going during those dark times, seemingly insurmountable challenges I constantly face with spinal cord injury, and how I remain determined to try and live a life that does not consume me with anger for everything I have been through. I must admit there are times when I do feel like giving up, but there’s something inside me that keeps telling me to push forward just a little bit more each day. I’m sure everyone who has dealt with tragedy in their life have their own coping techniques, but I attribute much of what I’ve accomplished to who I was before the accident.
You must remember I had 27 years of my life before I broke my neck and only 7 ½ years of being paralyzed. My parents raised me to always be curious, challenge the unknown, explore life beyond your comfort zone, and above all be kind to others. I was an extremely mischievous teenager, to say the least, but somehow I always managed to get myself out of uniquely perplexing situations before things went south. I like to think that I was “Responsibly Irresponsible.” I would plan out an adventure, write down all of the things that could possibly go wrong, how I would fix them, and then hope for the best.
To understand a little bit more about my nature I’d like to tell you a tale of one of my many adventures that would always bring me back to a path of serenity and focus when things were not going my way in life. I’ve always traveled around the world, much of it on my own, and I would find myself getting bogged down in life’s drama, people, the stresses of self-expectations I would constantly put on myself with respect to what I was hoping to accomplish by what age, etc. With this in mind, I started embarking on wilderness survival adventures around the world as a young teenager. As the years progressed I would find different wilderness adventure companies that challenged me physically, mentally, and really tested my strength of will in the wilderness for months on end.
At 23 years old I had just graduated from the University of Miami, could not find a job because, frankly, I was much too cocky for my own good, I started to get into drugs, and I just could not see a way out of life. Eventually, I made a decision to sign up for a very intense several month wilderness survival course in Western Australia, specifically the Kimberly Mountains.
On this trip I would be accompanied by 10 to 12 fellow hikers and one instructor. On these trips you learn to navigate the rough terrains of the Australian outback in degrees sweltering over 100° per day, carrying a 60-80lb pack on your back, hiking from water source to water source, sometimes killing your own food, navigating topographical maps with only a compass and no GPS, building leadership skills, and running into whatever dangers might be headed your way that day. I had already been on several wilderness adventures, but this was going to be by far the most challenging for me mentally and physically.
I purchased all of my necessary gear, did my research, and flew over 25 hours to reach my destination in Boone, Australia, which was located on the West Coast of the continent. I didn’t know what I was in for at that time, but I was eager to get my head on straight so I could find some clarity in life at 23 years old. I might’ve been having a midlife crisis of 23… Who knows 🙂 I arrived at a hostile the night before I was set to meet my team, and wrote in my journal about how I was feeling at that moment. I was feeling like a failure, low, curious as to how I was going to get my life going, I just broken up with a very serious boyfriend, and I had no idea where life was about to lead me.
Our Group on Day 1 before the Adventures Begin
I woke up bright and early at the crack of dawn the next morning, and met my team at the designated location at 6 AM in the morning. We went through a several hour orientation, were ordered to get rid of most of the things we had prepared to bring, and instructed to only pack what we were comfortable to carry for over eight hours a day. The packs normally ranged between 60 to 80lbs. There were, of course, a few items I stuck in my pack because I simply could not do without them. I was wearing contact lenses at the time, so I clearly needed to bring my contact solution, a little mirror, and antibacterial solution for my fingers. I refused to wear glasses … I don’t know why. I also snuck in a couple extra pairs of clean socks and underwear, and biodegradable baby wipes. We were supposed to dig holes in the wilderness when we had to use the bathroom and wipe our bums with leaves. I had done this on one of my prior wilderness survival trips, and let me tell you the amount of poison ivy I got in places where the sun does not shine was no joke! So, I stuck these little babies in when no one was looking 🙂 Continue reading