They say that life can change in the blink of an eye. There is no better example than what happened to me on July 29th 2015. I live in Huron County, on the “west coast” of Ontario, Canada where endurance athletes ski in the wintertime and swim, bike and run in the summer. On this particularly beautiful day while out on a 60 km training ride I was hit from behind by a car traveling at full speed. Thrown into the ditch, I sustained multiple life threatening injuries, including a T4 spinal cord injury that left me with paralysis from the chest down. I was forced from my two wheels on to the four wheels of my wheelchair – for the rest of my life. I spent 10 days in hospital and three months in rehabilitation – away from my friends and family. It was lonely, but necessary, as I had to learn how to live with my new body. In rehab I started to rebuild my strength and endurance and learn how to handle a bladder and bowels that did not function properly.
The local media covered my story because I had close ties to many parts of this small community. I was a secondary school science teacher and Nordic ski coach and had a close group of triathlon training friends. I spoke to the media about road safety and, with the help of my community, we started the Huron County Share the Road campaign. Our bumper stickers can be seen across Huron County and around the province. I also started to write a blog, to give my brain an outlet, a way to stop questions of the future from spinning around in my head. Now I write for lots of reasons.
Sharing my story has become a top priority for me – a way of reaching out to others in similar situations. I found that there was not a lot of guidance available to me, so I wanted others to benefit from the knowledge I had gained so far. As an educator I never like to miss an opportunity and I had learned that many people did not know what it was like to live with paralysis. I decided that the best thing would be to share it all. And so I do – I have written more than 100 posts that have been read by thousands of people. I write about paralysis, accessibility in our built environment, fitness and sport, relationships, driving, travel, kids, frustrations, chronic pain and depression. It has not been easy. My life, my family and my relationships have all changed.
When I left rehab I was told I had a 12% chance of recovering. So that has been my focus – twelve is not zero – and the only way to know is to try. It will not happen “just like that” it will take a lot of work. So that is what I do. I work on my body trying to make it move again. Physiotherapy four days a week, plus exercises at home, and it’s working. I have abdominal, back and hip flexor muscles that are responding. The hard work is paying off. Not only that, I am also hearing from people who are following my story, people who have been inspired to push through the difficulty that they face in their own lives. Because, let’s face it, everyone has adversity at some time or another, mine is just a bit more obvious when I roll up to greet you. Ernest Hemingway said it best: “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”
About the author:
Julie Sawchuk is a wife, mother of two, teacher, athlete and author. As a person with a disability she is working to change people’s ideas about accessibility, road safety and perseverance. She shares her ideas on her blog, as a speaker to schools and through the media. Julie’s blog “Living life with Paralysis” can be read at www.juliesawchuk.blogspot.ca