Living life…Oh Yeah, and I Have a Spinal Cord Injury

Brandon and his fiancée

Guest post by Brandon Mantz

Love, generosity, adventure, and joy are things that fuel my life and comprise my identity. While these things don’t always come easy, I’ve learned that I’m most fulfilled when living with the intention to focus on these four pillars. To understand where and why I am writing this from today, it would make most sense to go back to December 8, 2018. 

While skiing in Breckenridge, I was in an accident in which I sustained a complete spinal cord injury, shattered T9 vertebrae, five broken ribs, a fractured shoulder, and three liters of internal bleeding. A flight for life helicopter ride off the side of the mountain, three weeks in the ICU, and seven weeks in a rehab hospital sound like very daunting stints, but it wasn’t until I was released from the rehab hospital that I faced my toughest challenge: resuming life as I had before paralysis. It’s an odd feeling to be deemed “healthy”, or as healthy as I’m going to get, and have that mean returning back to my apartment in a wheelchair. It wasn’t until I was back into the walls of my apartment—the space in which I used to live so freely—that reality sunk in. Activities like setting out for runs, cooking dinners, or even sitting on the couch all became very foreign. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.” While my ability to walk has been taken from me, my spirit will never be broken. The fact of the matter is, life for me with a spinal cord injury might look different than I had ever envisioned, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be amazing. Don’t get me wrong, living life post-SCI has not been a seamless transition of re-aligning my hopes and dreams under sunshine and rainbows. There are hard days, really hard days. I have consistent back pain from being in my wheelchair. I can’t control my bowel and bladder function, and the inability to access certain places is sometimes infuriating. My thoughts of things as simple as not feeling the sand between my toes, not being able to stand to give my mom a proper hug, or not walking my fiancée down the aisle can crush my spirits, but only if I decide to let them. 

So how did I get past the feeling of moving home and feeling lost? How do I get through grieving on days where I can’t do what I once did? It’s the realization that my goals and dreams still exist and can still be met. I can express my love daily to my family, friends, neighbors, and most importantly, to myself. This year I plan to get married, cross country-ski, compete in a CrossFit competition, off-road bike, travel to multiple states for both business and pleasure, and volunteer with a coffee company that supports nonprofits and makes the world a better place. Oh yeah, did I mention I’m doing this all while being in a wheelchair?

Mahatma Gandhi very accurately sums up my life after spinal cord injury with his quote, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Being in a wheelchair does not define who I am as a person, nor does it symbolize my disability. Being in a wheelchair has gifted me the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. With love, generosity, and adventure, I can take joy in the small things: even if it’s simply being alive.

If you see someone with a disability, get to know them, and pretty soon you’ll be blown away by their abilities.

Follow Brandon on Instagram @bmantz3

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