Often we have experiences that inspire us to make a change but before we can make a real effort, we get busy, caught up and change gets put on the back burner. I was one of those people. I was successful, in great shape and thought I had it all figured out. Then one day, the life I knew changed drastically without me having any say in it.
On June 27, 2011, I was riding my motorcycle up a hill in Cochrane, Alta., lost control and ran into a guardrail. I broke almost every bone in my pelvis, hips, legs and back. My broken right femur severed my femoral artery and I almost bled to death. I was flown to hospital by STARS air ambulance, spent seven days on life support and when I woke up, I had no idea my right leg had been amputated 10 inches above the knee. I felt like my reset button was pushed and had to learn to live a life I knew nothing about.
Though my heart ached and I grieved for “old Michelle,” I chose to see the opportunity in my tragedy. It didn’t take me long to decide I was going to get back to doing the things I loved, with adaptations.
Right away I set a goal to become a Paralympian and to walk the fitness stage again — two things I loved prior to my accident. I pushed hard through five months of live-in rehab, I allowed myself to shed tears and for the first time in my life, I allowed my inspired mind to make positive changes. I believe we all have inner strength and I embraced mine to get back on my snowboard only eight months after losing my leg and while I was still walking with a cane.
I had days of frustration relearning something I was once so good at but, hey, I set goals for myself and I wasn’t about to let myself down. I was eventually offered a tryout for the national para-snowboard team and got back in the gym.
Last March, I made history with a group of snowboarders competing in the debut of snowboard-cross in the Paralympic Games, becoming the first female Canadian Paralympic snowboarder.
In the three years since my accident, I have relearned how to cycle, swim, kayak, wall climb, horseback ride, dirt bike, wakeboard and snowmobile. Though the Games were such an incredible experience, I still had a goal left to complete.
In November, I walked the fitness stage again, competing against 19 able-bodied girls. Last time I had competed was only 8 weeks before my accident, and I had walked the stage looking for a reason to change and searching for confidence.
This time, I walked the stage covered in scars, missing a leg and with love for myself. It was really cool to see the changes I had made, knowing that I consciously made those decisions with an open mind.
If I’ve learned anything since my accident, it is this: When you feel your worst and try your hardest, you gain the most. Don’t let it take tragedy to change what you want in life. Embrace change and work hard for what you want because no one else is going to do it for you.