Ten years ago today I was in an accident that would drastically change my life forever. I went from living a very active lifestyle, working two jobs, and going to school full time, to being a t-9 paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. The anniversary of my accident seems like the perfect opportunity to share my story.
March 27th 2010. It started off like any other day. Somehow I managed to get the weekend off from work. A guy I had just started dating suggested we take his ATV's out to Christmas Valley, camp, and ride the dunes. I was all in, sounded like fun to me!
We got there, set up the camper, unloaded the quads and took off into 11,000 acres of rolling sand hills. We rode around for hours, trying not to get too far separated from each other due to my awful sense of direction. When we did finally decide to head back, I was in the lead with him close behind. Now just to clarify, I had a lot of experience on quads but on flat farm land. I had no idea what a blown out dune was until it was right underneath me. I went up what seemed to be a tiny incline only to find the other side had been completely blown out by the wind. My first reaction was to hit the breaks... bad idea. I flew over the handlebars and tumbled down a 50 foot drop with the four wheeler landing directly on top of me. The minute I landed I knew something was wrong, I couldn't feel my legs. My boyfriend ditched his quad off to the side and ran over to me. He knew that I was in serious condition but tried to keep me calm until someone could find a cell signal and dial 911. I knew I was paralyzed immediately, but what I didn't know was the extent of all the other damage. I had broken 38 bones, 8 of which were ribs, puncturing both lungs multiple times. I was running out of oxygen and no one had cell service.
Suddenly, someone was able to get one bar and make the call, but how do you explain where you are in the middle of 11,000 acres of sand that all looks the exact same? Thankfully they were able to get GPS coordinates from his call and pin point my location. The next problem was that Airlife couldn't land anywhere near where I was. They sent in a glorified ATV with a stretcher on the back. I was running out of oxygen and they still had to get me a couple of miles out to the helicopter.
Some people are lucky enough to pass out from the pain of such a severe accident, I was not. I remember every bit of it, the pain, the panic, EVERYTHING. When we finally reached Airlife my lungs were about 90% filled with blood. They gave me something for the pain and to calm me down. The last thing I remember was the wind whirling from the helicopter blades. Two weeks later when I came out of my medically induced fog no one knew how much I remembered, no one wanted to tell me my new fate. I had broken 38 bones, shattered my pelvis, lacerated my spleen, ten of those broken bones were in my back. When it was all said and done the only bone that mattered was my T-9 vertebrae.
I was extremely lucky to have a very talented surgeon, though his bed side manner was lacking. I'll never forget, he came strolling in casual as can be with a diet Pepsi in hand. He said, so you broke your back in a lot of places unfortunately you have a burst fracture at T-9. You are a paraplegic and you will never walk again. Also they had to do a tracheotomy because both of your lungs were punctured. You may or may not need to breathe like that for the rest of your life. Any questions?? (As he takes a sip of his Pepsi.) I had a million questions but all I could say was no, I'm good. I was so far from "good" it wasn't even funny.
I spent the next 3 weeks in the ICU as they repeatedly inserted chest tubes trying to re-inflate my lungs, the left one never fully cooperated. The following month was spent at inpatient rehab learning to do everything all over again, from a seated position. I had to relearn how to sit, how to balance, how to get dressed, how to shower... etc. I was blessed to have access to an amazing therapist, a sister who never left the hospital, a great group of supportive friends and extended family, and a truly amazing mother. I had a long way to go and no idea what my future would hold.
Remember that boyfriend I told you about? He became my caregiver, we bought a house together and tackled my new reality as a team for the next 6 years. Even though we went our separate ways, I wish him well and will always have tremendous respect for him and his family.
The first two years were the hardest by far. He had to help me a lot. I was depressed and in denial. Food became my coping mechanism I never wanted to leave the house or learn to do things independently because I believed this was all just temporary.
One day I looked in the mirror and decided enough was enough. I could sit here, overweight, depressed and wallowing in what happened, or find a way to rise above my circumstance. That day I made a commitment to eating healthier and finding ways to be more active. It wasn't easy, I failed, I failed a lot. What can I say, I love pizza. Eventually I stuck to it and it slowly became less of a chore and more of a lifestyle. I also began to explore the limits of what I could and couldn’t do independently. I was starting to realize that most everything was possible with hard work, creativity and a few adaptations. This new found outlook on life became addictive. I wanted to find a way to push the boundaries even further.
A good friend named Sal who owns a gym in Visalia urged me to compete in wheelchair bodybuilding. At first I was totally against it. My thought was people stare enough just going about my day to day life. Why would I sign up to have a big group of strangers and judges scrutinize every inch of me? Somehow Sal finally convinced me to compete. I never, in a million years would have imagined how important that decision to get up on stage was.
My first show was the Central California Championships. I won by default because I was the only women in a wheelchair there. That win did qualify me for nationals in Palm Beach, Florida. This was a much bigger stage with a lot more competitors and a lot bigger audience. In 2016 and 2017 I took the overall title and won in multiple divisions. Competing helped so much with my self confidence. The experience of prepping for the competition, working out, eating an extremely tailored diet gave me mental fortitude that I never would have gained otherwise.
I took a little break from competing and returned to school to finish my bachelors in business. Shortly after graduation I found myself back in the food service industry. Currently, I manage a restaurant in Central Oregon. You can also find me speaking to various groups about challenges and overcoming obstacles.
These last ten years have been a wild ride to say the least. I'd be lying if I said there haven't been a lot of tears and "why me" moments. At the end of the day I truly have so much to be thankful for. I'm blessed with an amazing family and have grown so much through all of the challenges I've had to face. Ten years later I can truly say I don't regret a thing. All of the experiences that come with this spinal cord injury have shaped me into the person I am today. I have a lot left to do and am genuinely excited to see what this next decade has in store.
- XOXO Alexis