Two weeks before my fifteenth birthday on July 10, 1998 I was in a car accident that paralyzed me, killed my father, crippled my mother, and injured my younger sister. My older sister was not in the vehicle. I died twice that day but came back because I want to be here. I have a mission.
I am the founder of the first-ever online community for accessible travel, wheelchairtraveling.com, that works to empower people with limited mobility, their friends and loved ones to access and experience the world of adventure and leisure travel. I am an advocate for access equality, encouraging all to get out there and be, and a reminder of who we are.
Sweet Ashley, sitting in your favorite backyard tree, staring up at the night sky and pondering the great mysteries of the universe—I love you. You are a wise twelve year old and you're about to begin the journey you so longingly desire. You are ready for a kind of life that few seek. You want your mind, body and spirit to be tested and enlightened. You want to prove to yourself and the world what is possible—you will have all of this, but it won’t come by any means you can imagine.
A huge event will change the course of your life and all who are close to you. It happens right before your fifteenth birthday. “…I wish to be a famous artist, writer or poet from the age of fifteen to the rest of my life…” is what you have been praying for many years now. You will have a lot of support to help you through the transition and throughout your life, but ultimately you need to find the strength within. Connect with your soul; it is the only way to get where you want to go. Lookout for the well-being of loved ones, though they may not always understand you; what’s needed will stick.
Tell Dad you love him no matter how awkward it may sometimes feel, and look him in the eye. I know you are shy but you need to be brave and do this. Tell him how much he is appreciated. He sacrifices a lot. Listen to his lectures about the outdoors; it is not just about geology and geography. Nature is nourishing and grounding. Buy him dinner and take him to baseball games with the money you’ve saved as a gesture of your love and appreciation.
Writing is a great passion of yours and one of your greatest strengths so nurture it. It is a way for you to manifest who you are and will provide insight. You will write all kinds of pieces from informative and professional to insightful and poetic. You will be paid for some of this, but there is a deeper reason that motivates you. Your words will heal others. You will open the hearts and minds of many and it feels amazing! You will have adventures—meet the people and do the things that will inspire your writing. You will skydive, travel the world (A LOT!) and even have your picture in National Geographic (they will come to you). Be you and your life will unravel like a sublime serendipitous recipe. It is a gift with responsibilities and challenges, but you were born for this. You are ready.
You will require more patience than most, including for yourself. It is vital that you have patience for yourself. Imperfection is perfect. Focus on bringing peace and happiness into your own life so that you can give this to others. You are philosophical, but don’t take yourself or life too seriously—life is a perpetual transition. Lead by example; drink alcohol minimally.
When your legs become paralyzed, know that you are still whole and healthy - you will still love to dance and hike. Nothing about you has changed; you just need to adapt and it won’t be the last time. We are constantly evolving. The best wisdom about paralysis comes from others who are paralyzed, not the medical world. The body is designed to heal itself when given what it needs. Nothing is impossible. Seek alternative medicine like acupuncture. Know that food is medicine. You will have all the love and support in the universe you need. You have many angels to assist your journey so ask aloud; you are never alone. Sometimes this support may appear to be in opposition or no change at all, but it is merely navigating you to your chosen path. Listen to your heart.
A couple of things to remember to advance your journey. Everything happens for a reason. Everything is connected. Everything matters. Starting is not easy but you can do it. “Not all those who wander are lost” (J. R. R. Tolkien). Your mind is a muscle, so control your thoughts. “Happiness depends upon ourselves” (Aristotle). You love to love and be loved, and you will find a partner who loves to love you. It is a divine connection. The secret to life is that life is made up of small things in every way possible. This is it—nothing more, nothing less. Love is truth.
Loving you forever,
Ashley and I have been friends since Harvest Park Middle School, nearly 20 years. She is the most tenacious, beautiful, intelligent, and kindest person. She loves deeply from her soul and I've always admired her generous spirit. When I found out about her accident in high school - it broke me down. What gave me hope was seeing firsthand how gracefully resilient a human being could be. To this day, she continues to be an inspiration to me and so many others.