(Kendra is a T10 paraplegic from Alberta, Canada, and was injured in 2018 in a recreational accident)
Ah the mountains. Born and raised in Alberta, they always felt like they were just in the backyard. Even though this particular “backyard” was still a few hours drive away. Nonetheless, seeing the mountains appear on the horizon as a hazy mirage; then, in what seems in no time at all, you are surrounded and dwarfed by them – this experience never ceased to amaze. As many times as I had seen it before, it always fills me with a sense of awe and wonder. Transported to a majestic, picturesque, otherworldly landscape, completely juxtaposed to the flat prairie plains.
The backdrop of endless road-trips. Timeless adventures. Good times and great memories. True Canadian style: summers spent hiking, camping and exploring; winters spent skiing.
As they say: the mountains were where I lived, and the mountains were where I died. Well.. almost died. Long story short: I was skiing and broke myself in half against a tree at 70km/h or so. First bones I ever broke. Spine snapped, vertebrae obliterated, severed spinal cord: my need for speed got the best of me.
In a way, I guess half of me died, literally and figuratively. Literally: physically my legs do not work anymore. Figuratively the old me is gone and with it there comes a loss of who I was. No longer being able to do so many of the activities I used to enjoy; at least not in the same way or capacity. One of the biggest struggles, post injury has been the loss of identity.. who I am without being able to do these things that used to make my heart so full?
Heading back to the mountains for the first time since my injury multiplied these feelings of trepidation and brought them into stark focus.
Truth be told, I was anxious my first planned trip back. I was worried I would no longer get the same joy and sense of peace, not being able to experience nature as I used to. As of course, nature doesn’t come with building codes, and is generally not exactly wheelchair friendly. I was afraid it would solidify my new reality as a spectator that I would just have to sit in the sidelines and watch it go by. Death to a life once lived.
But with death comes rebirth. In my case instantaneous death and rebirth into a whole new body and life. Despite the challenges, I am thankful for this second chance at life. I am thankful for the lessons learnt. Thankful for the people I have met. Most of all thankful that I can still create new memories with family and friends.
Trips back to the mountains seem extra poignant. Surrounded by the ancient majesty of nature and the hidden lessons within. At one time the rocks of the mountain were coral reefs at the bottom of a sub-tropical shallow sea.
Millions of years in the blink of an eye, the bottoms of the ocean have transformed into the soaring peaks in the sky. Snow-capped and hiding secrets of their past lives. A reminder that chaos and change are the only constants of the universe. Even for those majestic peaks that seem immutable through the lens of human existence.
I thank the mountains for their wisdom. Compared to geologic eons, our lifetimes are as delicate and ephemeral as iridescent soap bubbles floating in a summer breeze. Here and gone in an instant. But still with so much capacity to fill others with joy.
There is no fighting against the transient nature of life. The only logical reaction is paradoxically living both as if it is your last day on Earth, and like you will live forever. Both are true. Simple science, conservation of energy, you aren’t going anywhere. But you can never touch the same river twice. Change is constant. Life is constant transformation.
The old makes room for the new. Fond memories of the past nurture promise for the future. New places to explore. New adventures to be had. Seeing everything through a fresh perspective. An alternate reality that was under my nose this whole time.
I am happy to report escapes back to the mountains fill me with as much joy as prior to my injury. Although, I must note: a lot more planning is required, it is a lot more equipment to pack along, it is more challenging to find appropriate accommodation and activities are more limited than before. But all in all, the juice is worth the squeeze , as it were. I am thankful to still be able to enjoy nature, to try new recreational activities, and most importantly, spending time and making new memories.
There is still life to live, and memories to make. The thought of the contrary makes it that much sweeter. Live in the now, forget the past and don’t worry about the future until it is here.
Growth doesn’t happen inside of your comfort zone. Like a seed breaking through its shell into darkness, growth is messy and uncomfortable. At times it feels lonely and seems hopeless. Until you break through and fully bloom, petal by petal. Along the way, appreciate where you are, not comparing where you have been or where you thought you should be. Push. Grow. Persevere. Enjoy everything this crazy life has to offer.
Savour each ray of sunshine or cool breeze as if it were the last you would ever feel. Feel laughter reverberate through your body until you cry. Enjoy the magnificence of the world around. Imagine your eyes seeing everything as if it were the first and last time. Appreciating your ears for being able to hear voices of loved ones or the rustle of the wind through the trees. Grateful to be able to taste your favourite home cooked meal. Or to enjoy the smell of flowers in the spring air. The observed cannot exist without an observer. This is life. You are it. What a miracle to be anything at all.
When I find myself having a bad day, yearning for my past self and mourning future version that will never coalesce quite how I imagined. I remind myself of the uncertainty of it all. Nothing is guaranteed. So on that note, take nothing for granted, bask in the miracle that is existence, and live life on your own terms. My life is my own. Whether or not it makes sense to others or not. There’s no one to impress or compare, or a set structure you have to follow.
Tenacity and perseverance will transform your rock bottoms into your purpose and your mountain top. Everything else is stripped away. And you are left with the bare essentials. You decide what to live for, and what to fight for. “Doing what you can, with what you have, where you are,” Roosevelt summed it up nice. No energy wasted on regret or remorse. Rather using it as a fuel to build up a future and pave a road for others who come after you.
Taking a negative situation and transforming it into a positive. No one can change what has happened to them, but they can decide how they respond to the chaos of change. There is always a choice.
I choose a life of exuberance. A life of joy and laughter. A life of adventure. A life all my own. When there is no path to take, you must create your own. But continuing uphill inch by inch from rock bottom, you eventually find your mountain top, whether you knew you were looking for it or not.
Follow along with my adventures at www.wheeliegirltravel.com or my social media. I aim to inspire others to live life to the fullest. Educate others about living with a spinal cord injury. Striving to promote disability advocacy… and having some fun along the way. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Let the good times roll.
With love + light,