Former Patient Challenges Other People with a Disability to Make Lemonade from Lemons
Celebrate National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month by finding the possible in what seems impossible to accomplish.
By Alyson Roth
Former Shepherd Center Patient
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s such a cliché statement, but the truth is that you really have only two options in life: Be bitter, sad, angry and useless, or do the best with what you have, find your purpose, challenge yourself to be better and enjoy life with a sense of accomplishment.
After sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2000 in a motor vehicle accident in which I was a passenger, I had a very hard time accepting this “new” life. At Shepherd Center, I instantly became friends with other patients in similar situations. But at the same time, they did not fully know my life dreams that had seemingly disintegrated within an instant. My therapists were phenomenal, and Shepherd Center, as a whole, was instrumental in instilling in me a positive attitude, teaching me what I could do even if it had to be done differently and ultimately showing me how to live independently.
But I would be lying if I said I immediately accepted this new approach to life. I smiled a lot on the outside, but at night, I would cry myself to sleep. I knew life would be OK because of my strong faith, but I did not know how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be – let alone know where to find that “place.”The first five years were the hardest for me. I was not one who instantly accepted my disability – primarily because it was not something I caused. Nevertheless, once I came out of that fog, I slowly started to accept the various aspects of life with a spinal cord injury and learned how to marry aspects of my able-bodied life to my life in a wheelchair. I challenged myself to accomplish various feats that I once feared – whether it was getting in and out of a bathtub, learning how to catheterize on a bus, surfing in the U.S. Open of Surfing or hiking a non-accessible trail so I could enjoy the beauty of nature.
Taft Point is deemed a fairly easy 2.2-mile round-trip hike located in Yosemite National Park in California. The average able-bodied hiker could reach the 7,500-foot summit in about 30 minutes. After living and working in Yosemite National Park Valley for three months before my injury, I had hiked many park trails of varying difficulty but had never hiked Taft Point. I moved back to the area in 2013 and returned to the beauty of Yosemite, yet felt hindered in my desire for immersion in nature as I had experienced before my injury. I did not want to be confined to the accessible marked hikes (about 12 miles of paved trails.) I wanted to be freely surrounded by nature like I was once able to do without reserve. In November 2013, I decided to challenge myself by hiking a non-accessible hike – Taft Point – with the help of a friend, Paul Vasquez, aka “Yosemitebear”/”Double Rainbow Guy,” a well-known YouTuber who filmed the adventure. (See video above or click here.)
Reaching the summit was a powerful experience for me! The front of my wheelchair casters were literally three inches from the edge of the cliff. No bars were there to create a barrier so I didn’t go off the edge, and no blue sign with a picture of someone in a wheelchair was visible. I was one with nature, and for the first time since I had sustained my spinal cord injury, I felt an enormous sense of freedom. Even though I was still sitting in my wheelchair, I didn’t feel confined in any way. Was the 1.1-mile hike to the summit difficult? Absolutely! We ran into many, many obstacles that, for a moment, made me question if I should continue. It took me about 2.5 hours to reach the edge (compared to the average 30 minutes for an able-bodied person.) But with a huge smile on my face and a valuable sense of accomplishment, I became the first person in a wheelchair to hike that non-accessible hike.
I share all of this to say that each of us has accomplishments we want to achieve. No, you may not place your casters three inches from the edge of a cliff at 7,500 feet above sea level, but setting goals for yourself is something that helps turn those lemons into lemonade and makes life a lot more enjoyable. A feeling of accomplishment will sweep through your body and spirit, creating a sense of empowerment. It helps unite what you once knew to what now is thus, boosting your self-esteem, sense of purpose and overall happiness. I don’t ever want to be someone who says I didn’t do something because I didn’t try. With September marking National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month, I challenge each of you to try something new that you think may be impossible… and make it possible!
ALYSON ROTH, who has a T-8 spinal cord injury, was a patient at Shepherd Center in 2000. She has worked as an educator and advocate for wheelchair users and enjoys playing violin in her local symphony. Alyson was also crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2009. To read more about Alyson and connect with her online, visit her website at www.alysonroth.com.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.