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.
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!”