Those of you who know me, know I live Forward Focused. So often in conversation or when I speak, I will forget to mention that I lost my feet. While it is clearly a significant part of my story, it is just that…part of my story. It doesn’t define me, however I choose to define it. For the purpose of providing context, I will fill in the blanks.
I am a life long athlete, runner primarily and gym rat, fitness freak, wellness warrior secondarily. I once thought it was what I did, I have come to appreciate its who I am. You find those things out, when your world burns to the ground, you sift through the ashes and find what remains. That’s the beauty in “disaster.” I have also been a personal trainer and transformational coach most of my life. I was in school finishing my degree in Kinesiology and Sports Psychology, training for a half marathon, preparing for a fitness competition, and teaching my bootcamps when something just didn’t feel right. I knew I had not injured myself, but I was in extreme pain. One day I was sprinting up the convention center stairs in Irving, TX, and the next, I ended up in the ER with extreme lower back and hip pain. It was March 22, 2012.
In the hospital, they gave me morphine and sent me home believing it to be sciatica. On March 24, less than 48 hours later, I told my family that I was dying. They rushed me back into the ER, and I was almost immediately placed on life support. I was in organ failure, my blood pressure was tanking, my kidneys were failing, I had a heart attack, and they had to place me in a coma and pump me full of vasopressors keeping the blood localized to my brain and vital organs. I was not expected to live, and they told my friends and family to say their goodbyes.
After a week to two weeks in a coma and amidst baited breath, they said I just turned a corner one day. (I will leave out the majority of the details here, but I will share them in my book). When I came to, I recall the look in the eyes of the doctors and nurses. They could only describe it as a miracle. And they credited my heath going in. I was 118 lbs with little to no body fat. I was in peak physical condition. During my time in ICU, my weight ballooned to 160 lbs from fluid retention due to my kidneys shutting down, and I walked out at sub 90 lbs having lost 30 plus pounds of muscle. My body went from a masterpiece to a nightmare. I seized feeling like a human. I had to relearn all functions, and my mind could not grasp the gravity of it all. I had no context for something like this. I remember telling my boot campers that I would see them at boot camp that night. I did end up teaching boot camp again from my wheelchair when I had the strength to be in the world again.
I wanted a quick recovery, but this sprinter with long distance abilities in the physical sense was about to convert to long distance with sprinting abilities in the spiritual sense. It felt as if I had fallen off the edge of the world. Life was going on without me as if I had never existed. Time was flying by and I was baby stepping when stepping at all. During it all, I was too sick to endure diagnostics so they had to make their best guesses of what happened to me. It wasn’t until I went to get my bilateral below the knee amputation surgery that they finally looked at my right hip in depth (where all the pain had been all along). It was essentially destroyed from osteomyelitis, MSSA and septic shock. I had my amputation surgery on Nov 7, 2013 after undergoing limb salvage for nearly 18 months. The writing had been on the wall, but I needed to lay my head on the pillow without any doubts. When you have to take yourself like a lamb to the slaughter to have not only a good percentage of yourself removed, but the very instruments of your entire identity and form of self expression as well as provision, you need to eliminate doubts. In addition, there were many more dynamics at play of which I will speak about in my upcoming book.
After undergoing the amputation surgery, I was ready to hit the ground running, or at least quickly walking. The problem was that the original pain in my hip remained, and I wasn’t willing to consume enough pain meds to dull the pain becoming a prisoner to the prescription so I was a prisoner to the pain instead. If I would walk or rehab at all, I would end up in the fetal position for days. I had to wait to have my right hip replaced because I had to undergo extensive antibiotic therapy. They wanted to make sure they killed any possible latent infection before proceeding. During the summer of 2014, they did the replacement in two steps, two separate surgeries with antibiotics in between. I was what felt like a creature for years. The sprinter in me was screaming inside. The war horse wanted to run, and run FAST. Turns out, she had to crawl, and crawl slowly.
The thing is life rarely gives us what we want, but will always give us what we NEED. It is all happening FOR us even though it feels like it is happening to us. I believe that we each have individual purposes, that we were designed for a purpose and that life supports us in fulfilling them. We also have free choice. It is my greatest desire to live up to my innate potential, above all things. You could say it is my highest value. So life really delivered me a gift. When this all happened, when life as I knew it burned to the ground, I chose to step up. I chose to believe it was all happening for me. I chose to look for the good. I chose to allow it to make me better rather than bitter. I chose to be a victor rather than a victim. I chose to be grateful. I chose to be hopeful. I could have chosen the opposite. Sadly many people do. Though I am proud to be a part of a movement that demonstrates how the very thing that appeared like it would destroy us, actually can liberate us.
We are all living below what we are capable of. That is human nature. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what is possible. When we are called to life altering circumstances, we can choose to answer the call. Grit is a choice. And grace is always found in each individual moment. We never receive strength for the entire journey all at once. We choose it moment by moment. During the journey, there were many moments when I didn’t think I could go on. I wasn’t willing to end my life because that would mean quitting, and like I said, quitting is my greatest fear. However, I did ask God to have mercy on me by taking me out of the game Himself. He didn’t, and I thank Him every day for it. If only I could share with you what a sunset feels like to my soul. I carry deep scars with me, and I’m grateful for it, because I never take for granted the sanctity of life. There was a time when I needed all of the lights off and black out shades on my window. Light was just too great a contrast to the darkness that I felt. Now, I dance in the rays of the sun and salute the One who paints the skies. I have created the Phoenix Perspective to share with you how the fire is our friend, how if we allow it to, it can free us. Obviously the hope is that none of you experience pain and loss this extreme, however in pain, there is no comparison. Pain is pain. Pain and loss are guaranteed in life. We all experience it and we all struggle with it. I just seek to provide some context to it. To allow it to burn a little less hot, and to assign meaning and yes, even beauty to it.