Riding the Wave | Lockdown Perspective

Disability Lifestyle & Lockdown

I was born with a rare, progressive form of muscular dystrophy. Besides being a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, my condition comes with many other complications.

For me, being stuck at home for prolonged periods of time, due to chronic illness, is the norm. Hospital admissions, operations, cancelling plans and missing out on events and opportunities is a way of life.

Over the years, many birthdays, holidays and celebratory occasions have been lost to my condition. Whole months have been wiped out to repeated bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and pneumothorax.

~ This is the case for thousands of disabled and chronically ill people throughout the UK! ~

I know what it is to struggle, to feel trapped, isolated and helpless. Such an existence really puts life into perspective and opens your eyes to what is truly important.

Attitudes to Lockdown Restrictions

Since lockdown began, I’ve seen and heard many petty complaints from ignorant individuals, which I find incredibly frustrating.

People whining about being unable to go out partying or bar hopping to get pissed.

To those self-absorbed cretins ~ GET OVER YOURSELVES!

Despite warnings, many continue to flout the rules, refuse to wear face masks and generally take life for granted, with little regard for the wellbeing of others. Some naively appear to think they’re invincible.

Trust me, it’s a hell of a lot easier to breathe through a protective face covering than a ventilator!

So please, have a little care and consideration. Protect yourself and others.

Abide!

My Perspective

During lockdown, I can honestly say I did not miss going to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, shops or salons. To me, these are life’s luxuries.

Yes, we all need that escapism and we all enjoy going out and socialising, myself included.

But, when the time comes to look back on my life, I’m pretty certain I won’t be thinking, “damn, I wish I’d done more pubbing and clubbing”.

The one thing I REALLY missed during lockdown was quality time and physical contact with my family and closest friends. Being able to sit with them, touch them, hug them and talk face-to-face.

~ It really isn’t what you do, it’s who you do it with. ~

Disability & Chronic Illness | Experiencing More Joy

Experiencing more joy might seem a long way off to you, or even impossible to achieve. However, you can improve your happiness simply by adapting your everyday activities, habits and way of thinking. It may sound harsh but it’s important you first choose to stop being a victim of circumstance and start being the hero of your own life!

This is your own unique journey, and you can still make it positive and fulfilling if you are determined enough. Below we have some ideas for finding joy in your everyday life, no matter what your disability, illness or condition. Take a look…

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Don’t Try To Ignore Or Suppress Your Feelings

First thing’s first: you should not suppress or ignore your true feelings when you begin to feel them.
Inflicting self-judgement and criticism will only have a negative impact. However, this is not to say you should force yourself to feel positive all the time – this just isn’t realistic. We all get down and feel lost and hopeless from time-to-time. Allow yourself time to grieve for whatever or whoever you have lost throughout your life.

Healing Is Not Linear

Healing does not happen in a straight line – it isn’t linear or consistent. One day you may feel great, and the next day you might feel worse than ever.
Write Daily Gratitude Lists
It is hugely beneficial to keep a physical record of all that you are grateful for. Try to get into a regular habit of doing this everyday. It will keep your mind focused and positively proactive.

You might be grateful for your job, friends, family, your home, health and so on. These are just a few ideas to get you started. Try to be specific and review how many different things you can come up with each time you write your gratitude list.

Setting Daily Goals

When you get up each morning, try to set an intention for your day. How do you want to feel today? Is there a specific task or chore you’d like to accomplish? Setting daily goals or intentions can help your day run smoother. As a result, you should find yourself making faster progress towards improving your mood and well-being.

Appreciate At Least Three People Every Day

Whether it’s your partner or a considerate stranger – nurture the important relationships in your life.
Are you appreciative of the people who perform your home care services?
Appreciate The Small Things
You don’t have to have lots of money, possessions and exciting things going on in your life to feel good about it. Appreciating the really small things is important too. Whether you’re reading a good book, chatting with a friend, enjoying a hot cup of coffee or simply watching your favourite TV show – find the enjoyment and fulfilment. The way you frame things in your mind has a lot to do with how happy you feel each day.

Learn To Love And Accept Yourself

Most people find this tough, let alone those with limitations who maybe struggle with things that others don’t. Learning to love and accept yourself will likely be one of the toughest things you set out to do, but it’ll be one of the most worthwhile and important. Don’t compare yourself to others, and find things that you really love and appreciate about yourself every day.

Becoming your own best friend will enable you to always feel comfortable in your own company and never feel the need to escape from yourself.

Join A Support Group

If you want to meet like minded people and share stories and advice, joining a support group could be a great idea. Check out support groups in your area and visit them to see how you feel.

Accept Help If You Need It

If you need help, please don’t be afraid to ask for it – it DOES NOT make you weak. Taking care of yourself and getting other people to help take care of you, whether mentally or physically, is nothing to be ashamed of – quite the opposite. It’s natural to want to maintain as much independence as possible. However, seeking appropriate help and support will allow you to do this for much longer.

Develop New Hobbies And Find Things That Make You Truly Happy

Developing new hobbies is a wonderful way to find happiness. Perhaps you could join a book club, learn to play an instrument, write poetry, paint, draw or do something else with your time – whatever you want to do, just give it a try!

Exercise In A Way That’s Possible For You

You may not be able to exercise much, if at all, but there are likely a few things you can do. Rolling your feet in a circle or moving your head from side to side, for example. Whatever physical activity that is within your limits, do it regularly.

Eat Well

Eating healthily will make you feel good from the inside out. Learn how to read and understand nutritional labels and aim to get plenty of vitamins and minerals into your diet.

You Got A Friend In Me: The Importance Of Social Connections For The Chronically Ill

Isolation and loneliness are issues affecting many people living with chronic illness. You may live in central London, surrounding by people and yet still feel completely alone and separate from the outside world. Anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, along with physical limitations can make it incredibly challenging to leave home. However, social interaction and the opportunity to form meaningful relationships is something we all need.

Read on to find out why and how to nurture more of this in your life, no matter what physical and mental health issues you are facing.

Companionship

Even those of us who enjoy our own company and identify as introverts, experience a sense of loneliness from time to time. Ultimately, we all benefit from and appreciate the bonds of friendship, family and loved ones with whom we can connect, interact and share our lives.

Life with chronic illness can be isolating for a number of reasons. It is difficult, sometimes impossible to be spontaneous and free. As a consequence, one’s social life is often impacted. You end up missing out on events, occasions and turning down invitations even though you may not want to. Furthermore, it can be hard for other people, who have no knowledge or experience with chronic illness, to understand what you are going through and why you are unable to involve yourself as fully as you’d like to.

It is therefore useful to find a real-life group or an online forum that is focused on the specific condition(s) you live with. This will help provide support and information, enabling you to better manage your issues, whilst also connecting you with others in a similar position.

Support

Of course, it’s not just companionship that makes social connection vital to those suffering from chronic conditions. Many of us need other people in our lives to support us directly with day-to-day activities.

This takes many different forms – from employed support workers to help with personal tasks like washing, dressing and feeding, to family members who voluntarily play their part. Others in your life may take on a less direct, but still supportive role in helping out with childcare, for example. They might even assist financially, by offering to be a guarantor should you need a loan. Find out who can be a guarantor by clicking on the link.  This option is worthy of consideration, especially if you are unable to work full-time because of your condition.

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Perspective

Finally, personal relationships and social connections are so important because they give us perspective. After all, it is often all too easy to fall into a negative thinking pattern when you have a chronic illness. But interacting with as many people as possible, both in real life and via social media, will offer comfort, companionship and the realisation that we are not alone in feeling low, frustrated and isolated.

In addition, pursuing social connections in this way can present us with the rewarding and mutually beneficial opportunity to reach out to help other people. Something that can help tip the balance from feeling like we are a passive sufferer, to someone who is making a valuable contribution to society.

Working Through Chronic Pain

Working full time is the goal for most of us – to earn our own money, pay the bills, put our skills and knowledge to good use, in addition to contributing to society. But for those who deal with chronic pain each and every day, this is not so easy to achieve.


Living with chronic pain can be debilitating, difficult to manage, incredibly stressful and for some it is sadly all-consuming. It is hard to focus on anything other than how you feel, thereby potentially affecting your personal and professional life, as well as your mental health and wellbeing.

No one wants to be out of work due to ill health. Aside from the obvious financial gain; work provides a purpose, opportunities to socialise, integrate with peers and further your own personal development.

Whether you commute or work from home, it’s important to find the method of pain management that suits you. Chronic pain can manifest in many ways, and as such there are several forms of treatment including medication, heat pads and even CBD oil.

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How to work through the pain:

Begin your day with strength and positivity: Try listening to motivational podcasts before bed or first thing in the morning. This will aid your mental health and encourage determination and perseverance to help you make it through the day.

Set the alarm: Seems obvious, right? But in all seriousness, this is an important step. An alarm will provide that extra nudge to get you out of bed. Position the alarm out of reach so that you’re unable to hit the snooze button or knock it over in frustration.
The earlier you start the day, the more time you have to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Rushing around will only add extra stress and inevitably exacerbate your chronic condition.

Learn to stretch: You might stretching is a bad idea for anyone living with chronic pain. However, in consultation with doctors and specialists, it can be of great benefit to devise a plan to stretch and exercise each day.
Stay as mobile and active as possible, but be sure to reserve energy and rest when necessary. Don’t force yourself to work through unbearable pain. This is counter-productive.

Comfort: Pay attention to your working environment – introduce furnishings and features for optimum comfort. Think about seating, cushions, footrests/stools and massagers.
Consider consulting an occupational therapist who will help to make your working life as easy as possible. If that means adding eight cushions of varying
firmness to your office chair, then do it!


Planning and preparation will result in good performance at work, despite constant chronic pain. Of course, it is sadly the case that many sufferers will never be completely rid of pain. But in order to work, and to work to the best of your ability, you need to formulate an individually tailored method of management. There is no ‘one fits all’ solution.

Interview | Author Amberly Lago

True Grit and Grace: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Former athlete and professional dancer Amberly Lago suffered a horrific motorcycle accident in 2010, which severed her femoral artery and shattered her right leg almost beyond repair.

Despite her debilitating, life changing injuries, Amberly has transformed her life and is now a fitness trainer and motivational speaker, inspiring thousands with her resilience and ability to thrive.  

In her remarkable memoir, ‘True Grit and Grace’, this Texas girl instills hope to keep moving forward by sharing the tools and strategies that have worked for her.

The determination, defiance and gratitude she demonstrates encourages readers to find resilience in their own difficulties. By refusing to give up, Amberly has admirably commited herself to regaining her active lifestyle, thereby proving it is possible to hit rock bottom and still find the strength to get back up.


1. Amberly, could you please tell us how your disability affects you and how you continue to cope with ongoing, chronic pain?

Following my motorcycle accident in 2010, I was diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. CRPS is known as “the suicide disease” because it causes constant chronic pain. It’s ranked highest on the pain scale and has no known cure. When I was first diagnosed, I was told I’d be permanently disabled and wheelchair-bound.

At first I lived in denial and pretended nothing was wrong. Behind my smile, I was dying inside from physical and emotional pain. Everything I read about CRPS left me feeling hopeless. Still, I continued moving forward, despite the feeling of a vice grip on my foot and battery acid through my veins. I tried every kind of treatment for my pain, including a spinal stimulator, nerve blocks, ketamine infusions, Eastern and Western medicine, and anything that claimed it could bring me relief.

It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I had CRPS and what I call my “new normal” that I began to show myself the self-love and self-compassion I needed to start to feel better. I wish I could tell you I found some magic pill or movement that relieves my pain, but the truth is, every day is different, and so are my pain levels. What works some days doesn’t always work the next, so I just keep trying, and doing, and praying.

When I am in pain, I go through my list of helpful tools. There is no particular order.

I practice mindfulness, meaning I do whatever I can to stop thinking about and focusing on my pain. I surround myself with positive people. No more doggy downers, only puppy uppers!

I count my blessings and practice gratitude.

I give myself permission to rest on a flare day and remember that I am doing exactly what I need to do. I am recovering.

I eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

I am on a sleep schedule (and yes, this means that I have an alert on my phone that tells me when it’s bedtime).

I am still learning to meditate.

I breathe deep breaths.

I pray.

I do everything I can to be of service to others. When you focus on the well-being of others, your self-pity disappears as you improve the quality of someone else’s life.

Then I repeat. Instead of allowing my pain to make me bitter, I do my best to appreciate everything I have, no matter how big or small. I will focus on the good in my life and let that be my medicine.

2. You endured incredibly trying times prior to your motorcycle accident, including parental divorce and sexual abuse. How has maturity and resilience helped you since your accident?

I learned from a young age to “cowgirl up” because at the time, there was no alternative. Dwelling on why reality wasn’t prettier wouldn’t have done a thing for me. It would have crippled me then, preventing me from achieving everything I wanted to and crippled me years later when I was actually crippled, preventing me from choosing nothing less than recovery. As weird as it may be to say this, I believe the pain and isolation I felt in those difficult times as a child were an ironic blessing of sorts. When you know from an early age that you’re on your own and can rely only and entirely on yourself, it’s as liberating as it is sad. But if you can take the sadness and self-pity out of it, then what you’re left with is a liberating sense of freedom—and, when trauma strikes, you don’t waste any time looking for someone to bail you out.

3. How and why did you choose to ignore and defy the doctor who abruptly told you that you would never function normally within society, not walk again?

Call it my stubbornness or my love of a good challenge or being in complete denial, but I wanted, more than anything, to chase after my daughter like a mother should and be free to do the things that make my heart sing, like hiking and exercise. Just because my body was “broken” on the outside, I was still the determined athlete on the inside. I learned to truly listen to my body and to be the healthiest I could be, despite my circumstances. We may not get to control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. So, getting on with my life was a series of three steps up (to the degree that I could take steps) and six steps back, both physically and emotionally. Every one of my surgeries, that totaled 34, I viewed as bumps in the road. I couldn’t think of them as anything but that. If I had, I would have given up. And nothing, not even a doctor’s advice, could get me to do that. Although I love my doctors, I had to think for myself when it came to my own health and happiness.

4. Understandably, you experienced severe depression following your accident. What was the turning point for you?  And how do you find strength and energy to turn such despair into positivity?

Somewhere in between surgeries number 28 and 34, I mentally spiraled into a deep, dark depression. I could feel myself giving up and giving in to the pain, and in that moment, I thought about my beautiful children, my family, my friends, and my clients, and realized I had better make a decision. I could go down the road of despair or down the road of peace and happiness. I immediately threw myself into a place of gratitude for all I did have in my life. Every time a negative thought crept into my mind, I replaced it with something I was grateful for. I threw myself into physical therapy and stayed active with my fitness clientele. Even though I couldn’t physically train them at first, I could still create their exercise plans and coach them over the phone. Being of service really took me out of my despair and gave me a sense of purpose and a strong feeling of connection.

5. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is also often referred to as “the suicide disease” due to the fact so many sufferers take their own lives. How did you overcome the odds and move forward in order to achieve your goals and live life to the fullest?

My heart sank the first time I learned I had what is known as the suicide disease. When I found out I had an incurable disease that would leave me in constant chronic pain, I defaulted to denial; it took me years to accept that I am a woman with a disability. It wasn’t until I completely accepted my disability that I could begin to heal—not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. I focus on what I can do and don’t get caught up in past accomplishments. I celebrate small victories along the way, whether being able to walk up the stairs on my own or walk on the beach with my family. I only look back to see how far I have come. I connect to my higher power every day and pray. Instead of letting my chronic pain detour me from my endeavors, I use it as a tool to connect me with others going through challenges and am reminded that I am not alone on this journey.

6. Throughout the book, you discuss the need for hope, acceptance and gratitude — to be thankful for all you have rather than looking to the past and what you have lost. Do you feel this is the key to getting the most out of life?

At first I was so caught up in my past accomplishments that I couldn’t live fully in the present moment. I went from being a dancer, athlete, and fitness trainer to fighting just to stand upright for a few seconds at a time. I was so embarrassed of my scars and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong with me. Allowing others to see my scars crushed me. Slowly, however, my perspective changed and I took ownership of my story. I then viewed my scars as battles I had won. Instead of looking down at my leg in anguish, I looked at it as a blessing. I still had my legs. Once I embraced my imperfections and learned self-acceptance, I truly began to heal and be comfortable in my own skin.

Without the traumas and heartbreaks of life I wouldn’t be able to serve the way I do now. It’s not about circumstances but about what you decide to do with them. I focus on what I am grateful for and don’t leave any room for self-pity. I make my purpose bigger than my problems.

As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”. I believe in miracles.

7. Your role as a wellness coach and motivational speaker involves supporting, inspiring and advising others. Why is this so important and how does helping other people through their difficulties benefit you personally?

I wanted more than ever to get back to my passion, which is working with people, but I did wonder who would want to train with me. I felt broken. I trained fitness competitors, boxers, and CHP officers for years—and then I found myself on crutches. I now needed my clients more than they needed me. I needed to get back to work. I needed to give my life purpose above and beyond trying to walk again. Purpose was what would save me mentally, psychologically, spiritually—and, for that matter, physically. Purpose was what would get me on my feet and, someday—as I prayed—running again. I did whatever I could to get myself stronger—and then came the miracle. Business began booming, and did so quickly because people saw me in the gym, in my wheelchair or on crutches, even pushing myself from station to station in a wheelchair. I became the trainer of encouragement who told people, Yes you can! and that was how I trained them. Speaking to groups of people, whether a gathering of youth or  business professionals, about overcoming obstacles is a way of connecting, and when people connect, magic happens. I believe we need to lift others up to be better ourselves.

8. What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

What I have learned in life is a series of choices we make regardless of our circumstances. I could either make the choice to give up and let my life be determined by my circumstances, or fight to create something positive out of my situation. My choice is to notice the gifts life offers, which are particularly plentiful when you look for them. I believe in seeing the good in every situation and learning something from it.

I believe we can have the life we have always imagined, even if our circumstances have narrowed our possibilities. My sincere wish is that my story will help each reader claim their own power and belief in themselves and their dreams, and find their own resilience to move forward and choose a life filled with laughter and love, even when things don’t go as planned. We can’t choose what life throws our way, but we can choose to be happy and live a full life, despite our circumstances. Through our trials, we can embrace our challenges, connect to our innermost resilience, and change our perspective on life. We are all strong, but together we are unstoppable!


I’d like to thank Amberly Lago for taking the time to answer my questions so considerately.

Please visit her website to learn more about her life and work as a motivational speaker.

TRUE GRIT AND GRACE: Turning Tragedy Into Triumph by Amberly Lago (Morgan James Publishing; April 17, 2018) – Available to buy now from Amazon.

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Scoliosis | Why I Chose NOT To Have A Spinal Fusion

In my latest piece for Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers, I explain how and why I chose NOT to have a spinal fusion, as a child.


My Experience

I was offered corrective scoliosis surgery at the age of nine.

Back then, I had a general diagnosis of congenital muscular dystrophy,and was able to walk short distances wearing leg splints. Many years later, my condition was specified as Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

At the time, I had no idea why I was going to see a Consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon. I was nine! To me it was just yet another appointment.

There was no faffing around; this doctor was straight to the point! I was told I needed imminent corrective surgery to prevent further decline. I was horrified to hear the graphic details, the lengthy recovery period, and how it could even prove fatal.

Of course, I now appreciate that with any surgical procedure, doctors are obliged to inform the patient of every potential risk and outcome, including death. But this was unexpected news to take in at a young age.

How I Made My Decision

As a child, I annually attended Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, where I saw a paediatric neuromuscular Consultant.

My parents and I were never given a prognosis nor any indication regarding if or how my condition might progress. Life expectancy was never discussed and no doctor could tell if I would, in time, come to rely on a wheelchair. We were very much in the dark, living day-to-day.

Frankly, these appointments frustrated and bored me to tears! We would wait hours to see the doctor, and would leave knowing nothing more than we did before.

I have, in all honesty, learnt infinitely more as an adult through my own research, social media and from others with muscular dystrophy.

My point here is that my parents and I had nothing to base our decision on.

It is now twenty years since I was told I needed a spinal fusion. This was pre-Google and pre-social media. We weren’t put in contact with anyone who had experienced the operation. So, other than a verbal overview from the Consultant, we had no other information or point of reference.

After leaving the appointment in a state of shock, my parents told me that ultimately the choice was mine. I decided I didn’t want to put myself through such an ordeal. I was, at that age, considerably more able than I am now, and none of us had any reason to think I would deteriorate as severely as I have.

Do I Regret My Decision?

At the time, it was, or at least seemed the right decision. I was able to weight-bear, finding clothes wasn’t an issue, I was pain-free, and did not require any inhalers, medication or respiratory support.

The procedure back then was very different compared to today, and I was very young. My condition was stable, I was happy and relatively able. Under those circumstances, the disadvantages outweighed the potential advantages.

However, I do often wonder how different my life, body and health might be had I said yes to a spinal fusion.

No one predicted that just a year after the offer was made, aged 10, I would become completely non-ambulant within a very short space of time. Had I any indication that this might occur, my decision may have been different.

Though my scoliosis was considerable, the ‘S’ shaped curve is now much greater. Consequently, my respiratory function is significantly affected and basic comfort is a distant memory.

On bad days, when I’m in pain and struggling for breath, or when I’m ill for months (yes, months) with respiratory infections; I do regret forgoing my one opportunity to correct my skeletal deformity.

But, what’s done is done, and cannot be undone. I’m stuck with me! I can’t change past decisions. I simply have to make the best of what I have and keep moving forward.


I’d love to hear about your experiences with scoliosis and spinal surgery.

– Have you turned down corrective surgery?

– Have you had a spinal fusion? If so, how has your life changed as a result? Is it better or worse?

Interview | Author Janine Shepherd

Here is my latest interview, with Janine Shepherd, for Disability Horizons.


Janine Shepherd: A Broken Body is not a Broken Person

Former elite athlete and celebrated author, Janine Shepherd shares her inspirational story in the best-selling memoir, Defiant: A Broken Body is not a Broken Person.

It chronicles her journey following a tragic accident that cut short her bid to compete in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Partially paralysed and suffering life-changing injuries, Janine made the courageous decision to let go of her former life and face adversity head-on, creating a new dream for herself.

Here I speak to Janine about her journey, the challenges she has faced and how she’s reinvented herself and her outlook.

Hit by a truck in 1986 during a bicycle ride in Australia’s Blue Mountains, Janine was not expected to survive. Told by doctors that she would never walk again, nor have children, she spent the next few years rehabilitating her permanent disabilities and defying all the odds.

A mother of three, best-selling author, public speaker, aerobatics pilot and the first female director of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Janine speaks candidly and with humility about how and why she reinvented herself and changed her self-perspective.


Janine, please tell us about your disability and how it continues to affect you.

The accident gave me severe spinal cord injury – I broke my neck and back in six places. After extensive surgery and rehabilitation, there was just about enough nerve connectivity to be able to learn to walk again, albeit with a significant limp.

Now, in addition to significantly wasted lower leg muscles, I have limited feeling from the waist down and chronic bladder and bowel dysfunction. I also have to self-catheter a lot, which results in regular urinary tract infections. Your readers might agree that these issues are possibly the worst part of living with spinal cord injury.

‘Janine the machine’ is how you referred to your old self – the elite cross-country ski racer. Do you feel this remains a true representation of your character? If not, how would you now define yourself?

Even though I felt that my body was ‘broken’ after my accident, I realised that my spiritual essence and mental toughness remained unchanged. I soon learned that being ‘Janine the machine’ had less to do with athletic prowess than unshakeable determination and persistence. Recognising that gave me the strength to reinvent my life in a most remarkable way.

Following the accident and being unable to walk, you focused on learning to fly. In your book, you state: “I had to find something to replace what I had lost in my accident”. Why was it so important to set yourself such an ambitious goal?

We often define ourselves by things outside of us – our jobs, our relationships, the roles we play in life. When we lose those things, who we are and everything we believed in is challenged. When we experience such immense loss in life, whatever form it may take, it is very easy to slip into despair, which is what happened when I got home from the hospital. Flying filled me with so much joy and gave me the inspiration and hope that I really could rebuild my life in an unlikely and extraordinary way.

The feeling of despair was almost inevitable. You state that you suffered depression on returning home after a six-month stay in hospital. How did overcome this?

I overcame the despair by throwing myself into flying as well as my physical therapy. At first, this was more discipline than it was a spiritual or emotional triumph. I simply interrupted the pattern of depression by charting progress on all fronts, no matter how incremental it may have been from one day to the next. This helped to refocus my life and channel my depression elsewhere. Hope and application proved to be powerful antidotes to depression.

You discuss your choice to keep fighting versus letting go and accepting not only your body but also the circumstances. This led you to stop asking “why me?” but rather, “why not me?” Why was it so essential to change your perspective?

Before my accident, I had led a very narrow life in that all of my friends were athletes of some sort. In hospital, I met so many other people, whom I would normally not have met. This opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone on this journey.

Even though we came from very different walks of life, we experienced similar struggles with acceptance and recalibrating how to live life post-recovery. Equally important, we had in common the typical hopes and dreams of anyone for a ‘normal’ life once we left the spinal ward.

You have faced great adversity on a number of occasions. Having rebuilt your life following your accident, you then later experienced the upheaval of divorce and financial ruin. What gave you the strength to once again thrive and persevere despite these challenges?

I developed a philosophy very early on in my days as an athlete called ‘loving the hills.’ One of my racing advantages was that I took on the climbs my competitors dreaded with a passion. That not only made me physically stronger but mentally tougher as well.

This proved to be more than just a training philosophy; it became my choice as a way seeing and living life. Ski races and life experiences are both full of hills; loving them not only gave me a competitive edge but also developed my resilience. So when faced with a life challenge that, metaphorically, looks insurmountable, I take that on as just another ‘hill’. Loving it, not fighting it, teaches me the lessons I need in order to grow into a wiser and more compassionate person.

One of the themes of your book is the concept of disability. You emphasise the importance of believing in the power of potential and adopting a defiant mindset, so that one may not be defined by their physical limitations. Can you share your outlook on disability?

I went from being a gifted, multi-sport athlete to having to relearn how to walk. So, it took me years to finally and fully accept that I am a woman with a disability. At first I felt embarrassed by many aspects of my spinal cord injury, bladder and bowel dysfunction.

However, as I look back and see how much I have achieved, despite my challenges, and how much I have overcome, I feel like the aspect of loss in my life is no longer something to try to hide. Instead, I’m proud of being able to acknowledge my disability and put my energy into making the best use of my gifts.

Despite your many life-altering setbacks, you write with great humour, humility and encouragement. How have you managed to maintain such a positive and empathetic attitude? And do you feel that humour is important in maintaining a healthy outlook?

I absolutely feel that being able to laugh at life is an essential part of the healing process. I tell others not to take life too seriously or you’ll cloud the experience. There are so many documented mental and physical health benefits of laughter. Humour helps me to deal with chronic pain, something that remains a part of my life on a day-to-day basis.

You state that the loss of your athletic career and your physical limitations ultimately allowed you the freedom to embrace life’s potential and infinite possibilities. This is a remarkably refreshing and open-minded viewpoint. How have you ensured that you are defined by your accomplishments rather than your broken body?

I believe that life is about loosening our grip on the things that we feel entitled to. Many of the ancient teachings state that this only leads to suffering. When we let go of the life that we feel we should have, we gain the freedom to see the world through new eyes, and create a more ideal life we can only then envision. This is the gift that comes from realising that life is not about having it all, but loving it all, even the painful parts.

Finally, what do you hope readers will take away from your memoir?

I believe that each of us serves both as companion and as mirror to those we meet along the way. When we accept that we are not alone on our journey, and just how precious and short it is, we become open to seeing the world from a perspective of love and hope.

We then understand that, despite the inevitable life challenges, we always have the choice to reinvent our lives and embrace the new with a sense of wonder and joy. My sincere wish is that my story helps each reader better connect with his or her defiant human spirit. And, that doing so serves to foster the pursuit of the uniquely rich, extraordinary life that awaits every one of us.


I would like to thank the wonderful Janine Shepherd for speaking with me.

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