A little over seven years ago I was injured in an automobile accident and as a result I suffered a spinal cord injury and am now permanently a paraplegic. Now back then, I would have told a story about courage and optimism, a story of how I, or anyone, could make it through adverse circumstances. But slowly over the years I became much more pessimistic; with the help of too many negative influences and activities.
A person is pushed blindfolded into a spinal cord injury. I couldn't learn from a text how to live spiritually or mentally with this disability. I was instructed on how to do transfers, eat, exercise, but no-one prepared me for the stares, comments, heartless giggles, the constant race to prove to everyone that you are still a person. This is so exhausting.
The one thing I believe in is the future. Someday I will prevail over the self-oppression. You see, if you let yourself become one of those people, who believes what they hear and read, one who follows the masses of ignorance and hatred, you can never get ahead. This battle of self-education that I still face can only be won if I accept how my life is now. I still haven't done that as a young woman. It has become the hardest thing to face and accept as a truth.
So when asked to write about my life, I could jot down chronologically my experiences, how I dealt with each one and say that I am a better person and a happier one. I wish more than anything this were true in my situation but it simply isnt I look at those whose injuries are far worse than mine, but still, selfishly I can't find that push I need, or that happiness for the appreciation of my own. This injury affects all differently. I can only say that I will prevail someday, but on my own. You see it's all about the fight for independence: but not just physical accessibility. It's for the right to have our souls and our minds accessible to our selves again. Only then can I say, personally, that I have prevailed without any doubt in my mind, and follow that declaration with an honest smile.
With the above thought in mind, one could understand how importantsuccess would be. For a long time I searched for an activity or sport. I shied away from tennis. Having played before my injury, the thought of playing in a wheelchair was too painful and awkward. A friend of mine approached me with a proposal to start a disabled rowing program in the Hudson Valley. I agreed having no idea what exactly would happen.
The first time I went out on the Hudson River, it was early one morning and I remember feeling very excited. When I got out there with an able-body rower in the shell with me, I was free in a way. I rowed with excitement and determination; I can do this! I yelled to myself. After that we practiced off and on. With the help of a couple of newspaper articles, we had other disabled athletes interested. "We might have a team", I thought to myself.
During all this newfound excitement, my coach entered me in a Regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. I wasn't sure what to expect. This regatta was for disabled rowers ranging from brain injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, and even amputees. All were very competitive in each of their events. At the last minute I entered a "singles" race. I had never rowed by myself, and when I first pushed off the dock to line up under the bridge, I couldn't get away from the dock and almost glided into another boat. My coachs face revealed a gnawing hesitant worry. Then I had to make sure I didn't row into the side of the rocky shore. Once under the bridge I looked way up high to see if I was positioned correctly in lane 4. Then I started to cry. I was so scared. I finally realized what I was doing. I could swim on my own but that lane number was so high up and I was so small compared to it. I thought I would die of anticipation and fright. After a few minutes I was told to get ready by the man on the megaphone, and then we were off!
I rowed as hard as I could for those 400 meters. I knew I was ahead for most of the race, but I saw this other boat pass me. It didnt matter whether I won or lost. Now as I was approaching the dock I knew I could race the double with no problem. I didn't care - I did it. I succeeded and I had so much fun doing it: all by myself. I really do believe life is by your own perception. A positive one will grant you a victory every time.
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