Someone asked me a while back how I overcame my disability. While I have certainly come a long way, I still hold on to a few insecurities. Like how skinny my legs have become and how my body has changed so much. Maybe some day I will get over them, maybe not. It has been six and a half years since becoming paralyzed and every day I continue to grow a little more and become a little more comfortable, but every day also brings its own challenges.
The two things that helped me most…
There are two things that helped me the most when becoming injured. The first is obvious, my friends and family. Fortunately for me, the hospital where I did my two months of rehab was only an hour and a half away from where I lived, so it was pretty easy for people to come visit me. I can not think of a single day that I was alone. Which at the time was hard because sometimes I just wanted to cry by myself, but looking back, it is what pushed me through. My friends and family were there learning just as much as I was. Once I was well enough to be able to leave the hospital to go on an ‘outing’, we would try different things, like the movies, going out to eat, and shopping. It doesn’t seem like it, but these are all things I had to learn how to manage in a chair.
The second was being getting involved in sports right away. Now just to clarify…I’m not the best at sports, you can ask my friend Hilary how well I can throw a softball and she will just laugh. But I grew up doing all sports and spending as much time outdoors as possible. My favorite sports growing up were skiing and snowboarding, so naturally I wanted to learn how to mono (alpine) ski immediately. Unfortunately, you have to wait one year before alpine skiing so your back can fully heal, so I decided to give cross country skiing a try. Living in the mountains where we have snow six months out the year, I knew I needed to do something outside or I would get depressed. Lucky for me, the National Sports Center for the Disabled is based out of where I live, so I started to learn to cross-country sit ski. This is no joke. I could barely make it 20 feet at first my arms were so weak, but I craved the cardio I got from it so kept coming back for more. Later that following summer, one of the Paralympic coaches invited me to a dryland camp in Utah. This would be my first trip alone, newly in a chair, driving to another state by myself. I admit, when I first got there I didn’t like being around a bunch of people in chairs. I guess because it made it my ‘new reality’ which I wasn’t ready for. With time though, I loved it! All of these people had amazing stories and had been through exactly what I had. There is a different type of bond you form with other people with disabilities. Which is why Sophie and I have gotten so close, we can relate to each other on a different level than our able-bodied friends. Jumping into sports and being surrounded by other disabilities is what opened my eyes to a different world and how much a person can overcome and still do!
Overcoming fears of travel
Starting to train for the Paralympics pushed me right back into travel. Prior to my accident I was a flight attendant, so hopping from plane to plane was part of my everyday world. Learning to travel in a chair is scary. It brings on all kinds of fears. Fear of an airline losing my chair, fear of my luggage getting lost with my catheters in it, fear of getting a pressure sore, worrying ‘will I be able to fit into the bathroom at my hotel? How do you go to the bathroom on the plane?’ Overcoming these fears with other teammates that already knew the ropes made it a lot easier I’ll admit. If you had to do it alone, it would be tempting to give up and not travel at all. Which is why Sophie and I wanted to start a blog as a useful resource for people with disabilities. We want to help people know what to expect and be prepared. Things will never go as planned, you will most definitely come home with a story, but if we can help provide enough information for someone to get out and try traveling we’d be stoked! The feeling you get from traveling, the things you experience and people you meet makes it all worth it. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your next adventure. Whether it is going halfway across the country, or just on a short road trip.
- Do your research. Before leaving on a trip, I always spend way too many hours on the internet researching hotels, things to do, the best part of town to stay in, transportation, etc. If you can reserve a hotel or Airbnb in a part of town where you can wheel everywhere, or take a short cab, your life will be so much easier. Take the time to figure out the right part of town to stay in. Also, shoot the hotel or airbnb an email verifying the accessibility of your room, so you aren’t surprised. Although you no doubt will be at some point or other.
- Never check all of your medical equipment. While it is certainly ok to check some I highly recommend you bring several days worth of supplies in a carry on in case your luggage gets lost. I haven’t had my luggage lost yet, knock on wood, but I can’t afford to take the chance. Having been a flight attendant in my earlier life, I have seen many bags lost!
- Bring someone you are comfortable with. Now, this isn’t to say not to travel solo. Sophie and I do it all the time. But if you are just beginning to learn to travel, bring someone who you are comfortable with and knows your needs well. This will make you feel more comfortable and they can help assist you in any way you need. Which is better than a complete stranger when you are nervous.
Learning to travel with a disability is a never-ending learning process. Just when you think you have it figured out, something you hadn’t thought of, happens. All you can do is be prepared for the worst and enjoy the ride. Traveling with a disability takes a little more planning and, at times, help from friends or family. I would be lying if I said I never got frustrated, I definitely have my moments, but for the most part I have learned patience and, sometimes, to just breathe. Oh and I laugh at myself, a lot. This is definitely not the life I would have chosen for myself, but it was the card I was dealt so I am going to make the best of it and live it as fully as I can.