So as you all know I was involved in a horse back riding accident in mid October that left me with a concussion and a severe compression fracture on my L4 vertebrae. For the first few days I was stuck in bed, hardly able to move my toes but thankfully showing no real signs of permanent nerve damage. Bruised, broken and swollen all over, I was fitted for a very itchy and uncomfortable brace that I am pretty sure was constructed by no one less than Satan himself, and was sent home to rest up for what was predicted to be roughly two months. Two months of no bending, twisting, lifting, riding horses, or pretty much anything fun. At the time I was working as a large animal technician at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and due to my injury and inability to perform the requirements of the job I was terminated from their employment. So great, stuck in a brace with no horses, no work, and no income. Times were about to get tight for sure.
Just under the two week mark from my accident, I called a newer friend up, a Mr. Jesse Hutchison, desperate to get out of the house. I was going stir crazy and needed to see something besides the inside of my bedroom. With Jesse’s help in supporting me (like, literally. I physically needed help for almost every rock or step we passed) I was able to make it up the small Cascades hike that I had done dozens of times before while in attending college. What I had once considered an easy hike fit for kindergarten field trips had become not only a struggle, but an intense workout.
As the weeks dragged on my newfound free time allowed for the planning and plotting and concocting that is now turning into my Thru-Hike. Jesse and I began making it a regular thing to get out and take Scout, my now overweight beagle and long time hiking partner, on whatever hikes we could manage. Back brace and all, I got back in sync with the only thing I loved doing just as much as I loved working with horses. I took time back from my busy schedule of work and barn and work and barn and work and sleep and food and barn. I spent time with my family. I reconnected with old friends. I celebrated holidays without distractions. Jesse and I picked up my dad from the airport on his way home from Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day. I had time to start planning this thru-hike I am about to embark on. At first it seemed like my life fell apart right when it was coming together, but now I see that everything happens for a reason, exactly the way it is supposed to happen. I would probably be overworked and unhappy with my job still if my green little horse hadn’t spooked that day.
So Jesse and I hiked. We hiked everywhere, McAfees Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, Pandapas Pond, Tinker Cliffs, State Parks, National Parks, all over the local sections of the AT…. and with each hike I knew that although I was taking a huge risk, I was making the right decision to give up work for five to six months to backpack with my dog from Georgia to Maine. To WALK, 2,200 miles just six months after breaking my back. There are a million reasons why I am hiking, to raise awareness and support for the Christopher Reeve Foundation, to take a break from school and work in order to find out what I want to do with my life, to get into better shape and physically push myself, but on reason above all remains. I am hiking because I can. I am hiking in celebration of my life and my ability to do what so many others cannot. I am hiking because no matter what struggles life pushes at me, I know that I can overcome them and that I will always be able to keep moving forward.
Yesterday I went in to the Dr’s for ANOTHER series of radiographs and bending and twisting exercises. They have officially, FINALLY cleared me to lose the brace altogether. Sweetness….I still have a stunted range of motion, and I still have back pain that will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. But I am mobile, I can bend and move and lift and twist and even (slowly) run again. I can swim and go to the gym and carry my own groceries and tie my shoes and wrestle with our dogs and I even got a new job at a call center that, surprisingly I love. I have new friends and old friends and am happy. This broken back might have been just the thing the doctor ordered to set my life straight after all. =)