After spending 4 months in a wheelchair, I was ready to get back on my feet again. At least until my left foot was still purple, and 8 of 10 of my toe nails had fallen off from the trauma.
Concerned, I visited my ankle specialist to find that the crushes in both ankles were not healing well, without cartlidge and underwent surgery to remove bone and implant hardware.
I have only driven stick shifts my entire life, and had moved from the blessing and comfort of my parents taking care of me, back to Columbus in hopes to start working again, and back to my home church. I needed a friend to pick me up and take me to my next post-operative appointment with the doctor for the next round of being in a cast. At least it was only one leg back in the cast this time, and not both of them like the previous months.
When she pulled up, I got on my crutches to hobble into the passenger side of her car, not knowing all the weight on my good ankle was still fractured as well. She drove with her leg curled under her, and the pedals on the steering wheel.
Meeting me with a smile, her own wheelchair was in the back.
Amanda was born with Spine Bifida, having multiple surgeries, but that didn’t allow life to slow her down. She wanted the most out of life. We met a year earlier as she worked the front desk of Massage Envy, while I was one of the therapists.
I loved her spirit from the very beginning. I wasn’t sure why she was in the wheelchair, I never did ask or let that get in the way. I wanted to know her outside of whatever the diagnosis was, it was irrelevant to the person I wanted to know.
It wasn’t until today did I find what it was as we met for coffee on her birthday.
While most people used asthma, arthritis, genetics, and just being too busy as excuses to not live a fulfilling life, Amanda romanced the world with her physical disability, to still be capable of making the most out of life.
To live intentionally, she dared and exceeded at Alaskan hikes, skiing, water skiing, mountain biking, and climbing. She didn’t allow the disability to steal life from her, but she lives with a genuine zeal facing things people only fear or wish they would do.
Three Years Later, We Meet Again!
“Hey birthday girl! I would love to see you for your birthday tomorrow, can I come over and visit?” I sent Amanda this text in hopes it was still the same phone number from three years ago.
“Hi Bailey! Yes, this is still my number! I’m out and about already, and went back to work by Monday.”
I had anticipated to bring her coffee while she laid in her bed recuperating while we shared the last three years of life. Amanda had broken her femur in three places less than a week ago. Being the largest and most painful bone in the body to break, surely she would be in bed, but no, she was already out of surgery with a big metal rod through the entire length of her femur and back to work.
I was flabbergasted.
Meeting the Birthday Girl
I wondered how she was going to maneuver herself out of the SUV and into her wheelchair with such a painful surgery, or how I could help. She takes off the wheels of her chair every time she gets in and out of the car in order to drive using her hands. She set the pieces of the chair together on the ground, ready to pull herself into it.
Amazed at her resiliency, but not wanting to get in the way of her routine, I held the chair from rolling away. “Thank you! Earlier today when I dropped off my dog, my chair rolled away and had to take off my boots and crawl down the driveway to get it.”
The chair doesn’t have any brakes on it. She wanted it that way instead of one of those power chairs. My adrenaline junkie friend has mountain bike looking tires instead of typical skinny ones so she could do more and be limited less. Another reason I simply love this girl.
We got our table in Bob Evans and we ordered our coffee and water to catch up on the last three years.
Not the Facebook messaging or texting, but one on one. Face to face. Real conversation.
I grimaced as I sipped my bitter coffee. I can only laugh as I hope to convince myself to someday like it. Reminds me of the movie Elf, when Buddy was sitting with his dad at work and drinking his first cup of coffee making the same terrible face.
Trying to keep up with her outdoor adventures on Facebook, I wanted to hear more about them and to congratulate her on being crowned Ms Wheelchair USA. A few months ago, I also wanted to ask her if she would consider competing in bodybuilding and ask if I could share her story on my blog and Facebook page.
People are baffled how she can be so active. Not only because she broke her femur in three places last week, but to do the things she does regularly; all the hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and skiing.
“Because I don’t know anything else,” she explained how she answers people that are perplexed by how she can do the things she does while being in a wheelchair is a permanent part of her life.
“When they crowned me Ms Wheelchair USA, I was so outside of my comfort zone. I think I stopped breathing and began hyperventilating. My comfort zone is out there, in the mountains, anywhere outdoors, not in here.”
Such a crown has established her a dream to be able to live a dream within a dream. The organization requested her to write out her Bucket List and they would help her achieve them all for a year. Being the representative of Ohio now, next year she is to compete nationally, and if she wins, she gets yet another year of Bucket Lists to cross off, but is in need of sponsors to cover the cost of entry fee and dress.
Secretly jealous of such an amazing opportunity, but I couldn’t think of anyone loving that more than Amanda. Someone who had already crossed off many things on the Bucket List that others only talk about but never put into action, and here she has the opportunity to cross off even more.
Meeting the Dalai Lama being the most important on her list. She wrote it first and last to make sure they didn’t miss it.
“He wrote a book on happiness and living a fulfilled life! I would love to meet him and hear how he has lived so fulfilled, and does it with absolutely nothing.” Her eyes got big to think about the possibilities of meeting him. The organization questioned, being that he lives in China, however, comes to Tennessee once a year to teach a three day class.
I was excited and told her I wanted to go with her. What an opportunity to learn from someone like that. The world has become sad and unfulfilled, because so many live for things that simply do not matter.
I loved that within my first few sips of bitter coffee, that our conversation went right to the real stuff. The stuff that mattered. It was more than talking about the chronological time line of the past three years, but real stuff. I love conversations like this.
But learn to be happy with nothing, is everything.
People want what is easy and fast. They don’t want to work. Life’s purpose becomes about the career, the money, the nicer or bigger house or car. It’s all things that will never satisfy. True happiness is found while choosing happiness, not with how much and what you have, but how you perceive and believe. Happiness cannot be bought or earned. It’s not about chasing the wind, for those things simply do not matter, but everyone gets caught there. A trap and an evil cycle. There is no life there, no fulfillment, however people keep going back for more. But learning to be happy with nothing, is everything.
I started illustrating in my journal the evil cycle of why people continue chasing the wind of foolish things. It’s the psychology in our brains, where it’s similar to the same neurological function when pleasure of some sort is experienced. It trains the brain to live cyclic for the next pleasure. This is common for people who struggle with sugar addictions, needing to eat comfort food, porn, or even chasing a life that doesn’t matter. A cycle that needs breaking in order to truly live freely and intentionally, but people fear it.
The pleasure stimulates and we keep going back for more. We believe it will satisfy, but never does, never will. It’s a toxic watering hole we go back for more. We need to train our brains to find pleasure in other ways instead of continue reinforcing the stimulus to going back for more sugary foods, porn, or other addictive behaviors. Those very things damage us and distract us from being more empowered and living more freely, to lives Christ intended. Addictions are chains.
I brought up the book of Ecclesiastes and she smiled. “I used to find that book so boring and depressing. Wondering how that could get in the Bible, but it finally rings true with me.”
Amanda nodded along with me that we get caught up in the things that don’t matter. We work and live for things that don’t matter. I now love that book, because it teaches me how to live for more important things that cannot be found here. Things that satisfies my spirit and soul more than any award, recognition, vacation, experience, item, or fancy house or car.
When Amanda and I worked together, she was a adaptive ski instructor at a local ski resort, and had asked me if I would be interested in instructing with her. It would be fun to help people do what they love even when in a wheelchair. However, that was the season I was on tour through western states snowboarding professionally in hopes to raise awareness to end child sex trafficking.
I came back from the tour a few months early, being that I crushed both ankles landing an 80 foot jump with my boots untied.
Since then, Amanda went on to a live a dream of hers. To be on the mountain all day in Montana; teaching people how to ski in an adaptive program.
She starting becoming ill, and hoped the Nyquil would help her recover. But after weeks of not getting better, her entire system fell syptic, her organs began shutting down, and her lungs collapsed.
Returning back to Columbus depressed. And to make it worse, the man she was with for seven years left her, saying she was too needy.
I didn’t ask why he left, because it didn’t matter. Amanda is a striking young woman with an intelligence and adventurous spirit. Not just any man can expect to be with a woman like that. It was beautiful to see how she realized how much better life was without someone trying to drag her down instead of build her up.
“I put my relationship status in God’s hands.”
“Then I realized I would never have done the things I’ve done in the past two years if we were still together.”
Since single, she has been to Ireland twice, traveled 7,000 miles across the country twice, has been water skiing, skiing, climbing, spent Christmas in the very cabin that A River Runs Through It with Brad Pitt was filmed in, and at 41 years old, crowned Ms Wheelchair USA. That’s alot more than most people attempt.
“Every morning since Montana, I realized it was going to be good morning. The sun is up. And I am awake.” Instead of taking for granted the smallest moments, she found the most gratitude for her life.
Others would tell her how boring it was that she wanted to take pictures of sunsets. I could feel the tears welling up inside me as I could see them form in her eyes.
“How can people tell me sunsets are boring? I shouldn’t even be seeing them. I shouldn’t even be alive right now. I should have been dead. I should have been dead many times over.”
Wow. Sunsets were becoming more and more beautiful in my mind as she spoke.
“My mom was told she needed to abort me. Doctors told her I would never be able to walk, talk, or sit up. If she didn’t abort me, then she should just put me in an institution and have other kids.”
Not only were sunsets becoming more and more beautiful to me, but the miracle of life that was sipping on her coffee right in front of me spoke dynamic volumes on how fragile, beautiful, and short life is.
“It frustrates me that people don’t appreciate the day they are given. When you wake up, it is a gift! And why the heck would anyone squander something like that?’
A few months ago Amanda was in the grand opening of REI, a store for the great outdoors. Someone said loud enough for her to hear, “I don’t understand why they let people in wheelchairs in here.”
Who has the sick audacity to say something like that?
It infuriated me and was probably a good thing I was not there, or perhaps I wish I was. If I could magically go back in time and be with her that day, I would have turned around to say, “Have you any idea who this is and where this woman has gone? What she has done and yet to do? She has experienced more Alaskan hikes, mountain biking, world travel, and more outdoor living than most people could ever dare to claim.”
It is true. Being in a wheelchair, diagnosed with Spine Bifida, does not limit this girl. She lives more than people watch movies about. We continued talking about our frustrations of people talking about the things they want to see or do, but only talk about it. It’s the people out there actually doing it and not talking about it that follow through with dreams. Without action, dreams are meaningless wishful thinking, and neither one of us fall into that category. We want life. We want the most of life. More importantly, what God has for us and how we can be used to help and inspire others to live.
She wants the most and she doesn’t squander it or waste it. Even when she researches exercises for for physical disabilities like her own, the professionals suggest arm circles.
The look on her face was priceless on how bored and unenthused she was. There is more than just arm circles this girl does.
She gets creative, and looks forward to getting to the gym and working hard. She explains how she puts on a harness and pulls a sled loaded with 180 pounds by crawling across the gym floor that gives her a full body workout. Impressively, she can also bench press 155 pounds.
I was excited to see if she would be up for the challenge of entering a power lifting meet to compete in the bench press and perhaps training for a bodybuilding competition if ok with her doctors. She already looked into the bodybuilding and wants to do it.
I loved the excitement in her eyes as she accepted the challenge. At that moment, we added two more things on her Bucket List of 2015. To bench press in a power lifting tournament and compete in the wheelchair division for bodybuilding.
Inspiring others to live this gift of life is a walking and wheeling testimony of Amanda Young.
Obviously, the meaning of life isn’t to simply see all the things you can do and how much experiences you can have, or we would be back at square one: chasing the wind of things that don’t matter.
What matters here, is that life is a gift. We need to realize this for we truly are not guaranteed tomorrow, nor our next breath, nor our next adventure.
Can you imagine if you lived a life as Christ intended for you, as the gift as he is to you?
Or as the gift your own life is? How you would live differently? How you would perceive differently? How you would believe differently? Those are things to mediate on. To ask God about, and start from there.
To answer not with your lips, but reflect it in your heart and in your actions.
Life is a gift, so I want to live it and believe it.
To contact Amanda for motivational speaking or sponsorships to help this woman continue inspiring the world, email firstname.lastname@example.org