Photo by Layna Hendrich of PhotographyLayn

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Tough Stuff

In all of the years that I have been involved in public speaking, I have always stressed to audiences that the #1 rule when interacting with people with disabilities is to be open and honest with your questions. Personally, I would much rather people ask me a question than stare and wonder.

That being said, some questions that people have are of a more sensitive nature, and so I understand why they may avoid asking the tough stuff out of fear or embarrassment. Fortunately for all of my readers, I have been asked just about every question in the book, and I don't embarrass easily. And so this blog post is going to be about those awkward questions and their answers.

Obviously, some of these questions will have different answers, depending on the person responding and their individual disability. I will be writing from my own personal experiences with a T-12 spinal cord injury, with some information thrown in from input from my friends with similar SCIs. I am in no way going to claim/attempt to cover every correct answer for these questions. I will try to keep this post as PG as possible and stick to medical terms whenever I can. Let's do this thing!

Bowel & Bladder:

I thought I would jump right in to the most frequently asked question I receive. "How do you go to the bathroom?"  I was actually just asked this question by a curious, adorable fourth-grade boy on my recent trip to Ohio. Have I mentioned how much I love the honesty of children? Depending on a person's level of injury, control of the bowel and bladder are usually affected in some way. Some people can tell if their bladder is full, but are unable to empty it on their own. Others have no feeling or control at all.

When dealing with the bladder, a catheter is often used to empty the urine. A catheter is a straw-like tube made from plastic or rubber with openings on each end that is inserted into the bladder via the urethra. Catheters come in all different lengths, some have different tips, etc. (We often refer to them as "pee-tubes"). Some catheters are indwelling, which means they are retained long-term and usually drain into a bag attached to a person's bed, wheelchair, or thigh/leg. Other catheters are intermittent, or used for a short time and removed once the bladder is emptied.

If the person is unable to self-cath intermittently, the indwelling catheter may be used, or a caregiver may catheterize the person using an intermittent catheter. For someone with a lower-level injury, who is able to use their upper body and transfer on to a toilet, self-cathing is a great option, as long as you can find an accessible restroom. If not, as long as your catheter is long enough, you can empty your bladder in to a portable urinal, pop can, water bottle, blank canvas of fresh snow, etc. One of the perks of paralysis- girls can now write their names in the snow just like the boys!

If a person is not able to transfer easily to a toilet, a leg-bag can be handy, so that you don't have to find a flat surface to lay down on to assist the caregiver with catheterization. But that can be a hassle as well, not to mention time-consuming. Another option for folks who need total assistance to cath is a surgical procedure known as urinary diversion. Surgeons reroute the flow of urine so that it can be emptied through a tube in the abdomen into a bag, into an internal reservoir, or directly from the tubing into an external receptacle for disposal. Which means that I have some friends that can pee out of their belly buttons. How cool is that?

Paralysis not only affects the bladder, but the bowel as well. While most people cath every 4-6 hours (depending on how much you drink), bowel programs are very individualized. The bowel can actually be "retrained" after a SCI to work on a schedule. Most therapists are satisfied with the person evacuating their bowel every other day, while some prefer a daily regimen. Some schedules are very structured, while some are more relaxed. Without getting in to too much poo detail, you can visit this link to learn more about bowel management for people with SCIs. If you want to know more about how people poop, have a baby. You will learn more than you ever wanted to know about poop.


Another big question that people ask is about sex and having babies. Yes, people with spinal cord injuries can have sex and have children. And we are allowed to do so here on Earth with all of the able-bodied people. They don't send us to a laboratory on Mars. Shocking, I know. Let's start with sex. I'll try to be straightforward without being indelicate. But if you are a young person, this would be the time to exit the blog and go back to stalking your friends on Facebook.

I'll insert my little disclaimer here that I am a firm believer on a few items:
  •  Sex is a beautiful act created by God and meant to be experienced between a husband and wife.
  • While sex isn't the most important aspect of a marriage, it is certainly a vital one in a healthy and happy relationship.
  • A great sex life requires several things, one of the most important being great communication. This is crucial for any couple, disability or not.

Again, sex is something that affects people differently depending on their injury and gender. For men, their injury may affect their ability to have an erection and/or ejaculate, as well as a loss of feeling. Men can often be aided by medication and/or surgery in order to fully participate in sexual intercourse. For women, SCI can prevent the ability to have an orgasm, and again, overall feeling.

As mentioned above, communication is always important, but maybe even more so for a couple dealing with a disability. There is not a "rule book" for right or wrong; each couple gets to make up their own set of rules. It's usually trial and error at first, which means that lots of practice is needed! :) My advice for a married couple experiencing sex after a recent SCI would be to communicate like your life depends on it- and your sex life does! Don't be afraid to be vocal- your spouse is probably just as nervous as you are and is looking for direction. Be prepared for things to be different, but that's okay. Find what works for you and don't be afraid to be adventurous.

And then comes kids! Most men with SCIs can father children, although fertility procedures may be necessary. Women with SCIs are usually able to conceive without problems, but the pregnancy itself will probably be treated as a high-risk one.  For a more in-depth story of how this worked for me, you can read this blog post and the following entries.


Activities of Daily Living are another part of SCI that will vary from person to person. This topic covers transferring, bathing, getting ready, eating, driving, etc. Some people perform these tasks independently, while others require some assistance or full assistance from another person. There are also adaptive tools that enable people to gain more independence with their ADLs.

For instance, while I am considered to be fully independent with my ADLs, there are days when I am either too tired or in a rush, and Russ will help me pull up my jeans. If you ever want to experience a disability for a few seconds, try to put on a pair of jeans without using your legs. It's quite the adventure. And don't even get me started on pantyhose or tights. They are the devil. The easiest way to find an answer for ADL questions is to just ask the individual person. Here is a link to some pretty cool adaptive equipment if you are interested in learning more.


The above mentioned topics are what I am asked about the most, but there is a lot more to the story. While most people think that a spinal cord injury simply equals the inability to walk, there are many other complications that must be dealt with on a daily basis in order to remain as active and healthy as possible.

Paralysis mean that there are parts of your body that you can't fully feel. While that seems like something that might be a positive thing (no pain right?), it's actually quite dangerous. One of the reasons God created us with nerve endings is so that our bodies react properly to stimuli, whether it be heat, cold, irritation, pressure, or pain. When this brain connection is interrupted by a spinal cord injury, you must be vigilant about taking care of your skin. This is something that therapists will BEAT into your brain during rehab. If you don't take care of your skin, it will kill you.

You have to train yourself to become a protector of the places that can no longer protect themselves. This is something that takes time and discipline. After my accident, I set alarms on my watch to remind me to shift in my wheelchair so as not to put pressure on one area of my backside for too long. I wore thick socks or shoes at all times to protect my toes from injury and cold. I started sleeping with a body pillow between my knees and ankles to prevent pressure sores as I no longer move around throughout the night.

After fourteen years, I still have to remain vigilant about my skin. A single scratch can take months to heal properly. I am currently nursing a toenail that became ingrown before I even realized it had happened. Pressure sores, burns, and cuts can be grounds for hospitalization or surgery. I've heard horror stories of people that neglected their skin to the point where hip bones were protruding and amputations were necessary. On the flip side, you can be so careful and still fall prey to skin problems. Christopher Reeves was the face of SCIs and employed a team of top-notch caregivers and medical personnel. His cause of death? Complications stemming from a pressure sore. It's a very real, daily battle.

As mentioned above, catheters play a large part in the life of most folks dealing with a SCI. Unfortunately, anytime you introduce a foreign object in to your body, you run the risk of bringing germs with it. Urinary tract infections are common and can make you feel as if you have been run over by a semi truck. Not fun, but it seems to come with the territory.

The final unrecognized complication I will touch on is autonomic dysreflexia. Very simply, this conditions occurs when your body is experiencing pain that you are not aware of due to your paralysis. Your bladder could be extremely full, you could have a bad infection, a possible reaction to medication, an injury, etc. Bottom line, it can cause increased blood pressure, headaches, sweating, anxiety, decreased heart rate, stroke, and if not treated or relieved, autonomic dysreflexia can be fatal.

My worst episode of AD happened when I was pregnant with Addison. I was in my office at work when suddenly I felt light-headed, extreme pressure in my face, pounding in my head, and an overall sense that something was very wrong. Thankfully, I worked in a care center and my nursing friends took my blood pressure, which was extremely high. Down to the ER I went, where I was hooked up to monitors and my feet were elevated. Just like that, my vitals returned to normal and I felt fine. My OB-GYN concluded that Addison had shifted in the womb and was applying painful pressure to a part of my abdomen that I couldn't feel because of my paralysis. Once I changed positions and she moved, the pain was gone and my body stopped reacting to it.

I wanted this post to accomplish two things. First, I hope that I have answered a question that you have had but have never felt comfortable asking. Second, I wanted to show you the more intimate, personal side of spinal cord injuries and disabilities in general. You never know what a person is dealing with on a daily basis, even when they show a positive, happy exterior.

You might have noticed an underlying theme throughout this post, and that is that disabilities affect people in very individualized ways. With that in mind, I will be opening my blog for the next several weeks to guest bloggers. I have sent out a list of questions to lots of my friends who are wheelchair users. Guys and girls with varying disabilities will be sharing their stories with you, as well as providing insight into their worlds and how their disability affects their lives in a personal way. Stay tuned!

As always, if you have additional questions, or if I wasn't clear on something, please feel free to email me at, or private message me on Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

First Leg of the Traveling Tour

I apologize that it has been so long since my last blog post. I was gone for almost two weeks traveling, which I will share more about, and when I returned home, I got to visit our local ER and eventually have my gallbladder removed due to a massive gallstone. Fun times! I am thankful that it happened after I returned home, and that the surgery and recovery went smoothly. Here is a (gross) picture of the stone that tried to ruin my month:

The doctor said it was the biggest stone he had ever seen. I like to do things right!
I had an amazing time in Indiana/Ohio on the first leg of my travels for my Crown & Camo Tour. I flew in to Cincinnati on Saturday, October 19th, picked up my rental car, and drove to Indianapolis (Sadly, this day was one of my worst flying/traveling experiences in my life. I will definitely be writing a post on flying/traveling in a wheelchair at a later date). During the week, I stayed with my Mom and stepdad, Charlie. I spoke at their church, Pleasant Heights Baptist Church, on Sunday morning. What an amazing experience! The people were so open and friendly, and I was incredibly honored to be able to share my testimony during the Sunday morning service. Lunch was a blast with family and friends, I was able to meet a great friend later for dessert, and Sunday night we got to watch the Broncos/Colts game Sunday night (I don't want to talk about it...).

I enjoyed shopping/browsing Nashville, Indiana (Brown County) on Monday with Mom and Charlie, where my tire on my wheelchair decided to go flat. Pesky cactus left over from my hunt! Fortunately, it happened after we had finished our shopping, so we hit a bike shop on the way home and had the innertube replaced.

I was scheduled to speak at the Civil Rights Symposium for the Civil Rights Task Force for the US Attorney's Office on Tuesday, but due to the government shut-down, the conference was cancelled right before I left Cody. They will be rescheduling the conference for sometime after the first of the year, so I am hoping that I can make it back to represent the disability aspect of the symposium. I was able to have lunch downtown Indy with some of the ladies on the Task Force, which was great. Plus- I got to go shopping after lunch at Circle Center Mall- bonus! We met friends at Steak 'n' Shake for dinner that night (My 2/3 trips before I left- love that place!).

 Wednesday was a very special day for me. I was invited to return to my high school, Bethesda Christian School, to speak in several chapel services and enjoy an alumni luncheon. I started the morning with the upper elementary chapel, followed by the lower elementary, and finally the junior high/high school group. What a blessing! The kids were all so responsive and asked great questions after I spoke. It was encouraging to see how much everything has grown in the 10+ years since I graduated, and to know that the school continues as an opportunity for children to receive a quality Christian education. The luncheon was amazing as well, and I was able to see many of my former teachers and classmates. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

With some of the young people after the junior high/senior high chapel.

I drove around town for a while to see what had changed since I have been gone, and caught up with some old friends. We went out to dinner that night with my step-brother and his family. I haven't eaten out so much in my entire life- but it was good!

On Thursday, Mom and I were able to meet some friends for lunch and do some more shopping (also a theme for the week). I needed a formal outfit for an event on Saturday, and we had so much fun trying on dresses! I miss shopping with my Mom!

We met two of the ladies from the CareStar Indy office for lunch on Friday. CareStar is a care management service provider based out of Ohio. They are an amazing company, and a major sponsor of the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant. The organization generously flew me in for my visit, and it was wonderful getting to know their staff. On Saturday I drove back to Cincinnati to speak at their 25th Anniversary Gala. I was a beautiful event, and I can't say enough great things about CareStar, the people that work there, and the amazing things they do for people with disabilities.

Not too great at taking selfies- but had fun getting dressed up!
On Sunday, I drove up to Stow, Ohio, and dropped off my rental car. Lowery Lockard (Director of the Dane Foundation/Director of the pageant) and her son picked me up and took me to The Staybridge Suites. This is the same hotel where the pageant was held in July. Gorgeous, accessible accommodations and the staff is so friendly and helpful! I had such a great time catching up with the ladies who would be competing for Ms. Wheelchair Ohio the following weekend, as well as their families and some of the pageant volunteers.

On Monday morning, Lowery and I headed for City Hall to meet with Stow Mayor Sara Drew and two other city officials about the SOAR park (more on this at a later date). After visiting this boundless park during the week of the pageant, I knew that I wanted to work on a similar project back home in Cody. Everyone was gracious enough to share their knowledge and experience of building the wonderful park there in Stow so that I could take the information back home to Wyoming. I am so looking forward to seeing this dream become a reality for the children and families in Cody!

After lunch we drove to Redeemer Christian School in Cuyahoga Falls so that I could speak to the kids. Another great group with awesome, honest questions! I love speaking to kids about my story, as well as how to interact with people with disabilities. We can all learn something from the honest innocence of children!

I was able to meet with some of the staff of The Dane Foundation, the non-profit that presents the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant every year, for lunch on Tuesday before flying home that evening. Such an amazing trip, but I was also so excited to get home to Russ & Addison! I won't be traveling again until after the first of the year, so I will keep everyone posted on my plans. More updates to come!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hunt of a Lifetime- Extreme Wheelchair Hunting

Since I was introduced to hunting in 2009, I have always envied Russ' stories of being up in the mountains listening to the elk bugling, stalking the bulls, and strategizing to make that perfect shot. While I was very thankful for the opportunity to hunt in a blind in a "wheelchair accessible" area, and I had greatly enjoyed it in my archery hunts in the past, I dreamed of the full-fledged, all-terrain hunting experience.

When I drew my first bull tag this spring, I soon realized that my crossbow would not give me the yardage I would need to make an accurate shot on a bull elk in the area where I would be hunting. Once I knew I would have to shoot a rifle, the panic set in.

My first experience shooting a rifle was when Russ and I were dating in 2005. He told me he couldn't marry me until he knew I could shoot, so off to the range we went. When Russ set me up on the shooting bench and handed me his .30-06 rifle, I didn't know enough to realize I was in for quite a punch from the recoil. After taking the first shot, I knew my shoulder stung, but I was cocky after making a decent mark on the target and didn't hold it tightly for my next shot. Needless to say, shot #2 nearly knocked me off of the bench and bruised my shoulder badly. If you add my poor balance from my spinal cord injury and my daily dose of clot-preventing blood thinner, I quickly realized that shooting a rifle was not only a bad idea, but also a dangerous one.

Fast forward to 2013, and you can start to understand why I was nervous about my impending elk hunt. Fortunately, one of our Wyoming Disabled Hunters board members, Myles Haines, had struck up a friendship with a local Cody company, The Best of the West. BOTW is known for their long range rifle system with Huskemaw scopes, which can be seen in action on their hunting shows on the Outdoor Channel. They heard about my dilemma and asked that I come in to the shop to talk about a possible solution to my rifle problem, as well as the possibility of filming my hunt for their show.

When I went in to meet everyone, I was quickly put at ease by their kindness, confidence, and knowledge of their product. The rifle systems they produce are built with muzzle breaks, which minimize the recoil until it is virtually non-existent. You can actually spot your own shot through the scope because there is no movement after your shot. I was able to handle one of the rifles and see how the scope worked. I was told, with practice, I would be able to shoot at long range accurately and with minimal recoil. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Getting comfortable with the rifle at The Best of the West.

 I left the shop that day skeptical but slightly optimistic. We made plans to go to the local shooting range to try out the rifle, and Russ arranged to use his lunch break to go as well. We met back at the shop so that he could be introduced to the staff and crew, and we headed out to the range with Latt, a pro staffer, and Nate and Matt from the camera team. I was nervous and excited at the same time.

I was used to hearing people talk about making shots at 300 yards and under, so when they said they would start me at a target at 550 yards, I laughed a little. Surely I was about to make a fool of myself. What would make me cry first- the pain of the recoil or the humiliation of missing the target? So I put on my ear protection, got comfortable at the shooting bench, and listened to Latt as he instructed me on the rifle and scope. Once I was ready, I took a deep breath, released it slowly, and squeezed off my first shot.

I felt nothing- absolutely nothing. Addison hugs me harder than that rifle kicked. I was shocked. And I had only missed the target by about four inches. Latt showed me how to adjust the scope for the slight wind/snow we were experiencing, and the next shot was a bull's eye. At 550 yards. With no recoil. A fluke, right? We spend the next two hours having the time of our lives shooting at long range targets with different rifles, including Latt's 7 mm Mag. By the end of the morning, I was hitting within four inches of the target at 1120 yards (for those of you that don't shoot- that's really far- visualize 11 football fields...). And Russ got in on the action as well. We both left the range that day as believers in the BOTW rifle system. I had just shot for two hours and my shoulder didn't feel any different than when I had started. I was ready for my hunt.

I had been fortunate enough to draw my bull elk tag in Area 45, and our organization had been working with John & Carolyn Alm with Paint Rock Canyon Enterprises on the Hyatt Ranch. The Alms founded Camp Paintrock, which allows 72 “underprivileged, at-risk, but high-potential” ninth graders from the Los Angeles inner city area to spend five weeks during the summer at the ranch. They are amazing, incredibly generous people, and WDH is very grateful to bring our hunters, including many Wounded Warriors, to Hyattville to hunt. The ranch staff have built several accessible hunting blinds on the ranch, and the housing accommodations are also accessible.

Russ and I, along with Latt and Nate, arrived at the ranch on Wednesday night. We came in after dark, so we didn't get a good look at the place until the next day. We settled in for a quick night's sleep before leaving the next morning under cover of darkness. We met Terry Jeffers, who is a contract employee for the ranch, and would be our guide for my hunt. Terry has been involved with the ranch for over 14 years, and he knows the land like the back of his hand. He also knows the elk herds that live on the ranch and can predict their movements- at least as well as you can predict the movements of wild animals!

We set up in the first blind Thursday morning. There were several elk trails leading down to a creek, so we hoped to see some action. The blind was large- 8'x 12'- so we had adequate room for the five of us and the portable shooting table. We waited for a few hours, but never saw a thing. Terry mentioned that some cows had been moved down off of the mountain a few days before, and that it may have upset the elk herds. I mentioned to him that I was comfortable being outside the blind, and that I was willing and able to be anywhere on the ranch that he thought we could get to. Terry's response- "That changes everything." When I told him I was also comfortable taking a shot anywhere between 500-800 yards, he said, "That really changes everything." And so my extreme wheelchair hunting experience began.

We headed back to the ranch house to have lunch and restock with plans to be picked up by Terry around 4:00 p.m. We spent the afternoon drooling over a massive bull elk on the side of a hill across from the ranch house. Russ had spotted him through his binoculars, but he was in the ranch's safety zone, where we can't hunt. Smart elk! This just got us even more excited to head out, and when Terry arrived, we were ready to go.

We headed out on a different trail this time, out in to the heart of the ranch. We drove for a while and then Terry stopped the truck, and the guys bailed out to do some spotting. After seeing a small herd, we loaded back up and headed to where we could get into a better location. We all unloaded this time, and Terry tied a tow rope to the front of my chair. With Russ pushing and Terry pulling, we started off cross country. Nate started filming and Latt hauled all of our gear. I held on for dear life and tried not to look too crazy with the huge grin splitting my face. This is what I had always wanted, but had never dreamt possible.

Once we got close to our location, I got out of my chair and onto the ground. We wanted to be out on a rock ledge looking down on the elk, but once we left the cover of the juniper trees, we would be exposed. Latt crawled forward to get the rifle set up, and I followed him, pulling myself with my elbows while Russ pushed my feet. We got out on the ledge and starting getting comfortable. I had never shot lying prone on the ground, only from the shooting table, so this was a new position for me. The guys started spotting, and before long, they found a bull elk with a few cows. I got him in my scope and realized that although he was a decent 5x5, he had broken off his two front tines on one side. I felt comfortable letting him go, especially since he was the first bull we had seen. He hung out for a few more minutes, and then he and the cows ran up over the ridge and disappeared. We heard other bulls bugling, but never saw anything within range. It was starting to get dark, so Terry left to go and get the truck. We stretched out on the rock ledge for a while and just enjoyed listening to the bugling. There were several bulls blowing by this time- we think they might have caught our scent and were making their displeasure known. It was such an amazing moment; this was what Russ had told me about, and I was actually experiencing it for myself. I could have ended everything right there and been happy, but fortunately, my hunt was only just beginning.

We headed back home for dinner. Now that Terry knew that I had been serious about being hauled around, he had plenty of ideas for the next morning. I was a little sore, but it was so worth it. I fell sleep that night with a feeling of pure contentment. We headed out the next morning in John Alm's Toyota Land Cruiser, which quickly lived up to its legendary off-road reputation. Over the next few hours, we repeated a cycle of events. We would stop at a location, unload, and start off towing me in the chair. When we would get close to the elk, Russ and Terry would either drag me or carry me between them. Once we were within view of the herd, I would scoot or army crawl to where Latt would have the rifle set up and see if I could get the right angle for a shot. I learned several things very quickly:
  • Elk are very unpredictable creatures
  • Shooting prone on the ground is much different that shooting from my chair at a table
  • When there are large bull elk involved, grown men start talking in very high-pitched voices
To be honest, after doing this multiple times, and never feeling comfortable enough to take a shot, I was getting frustrated. My legs were not cooperating, and I couldn't hold my shooting position for very long without my muscles spasming.  I was determined to only take a shot if I was completely sure of myself, but I saw that possibility slowly slipping away. This was the hunting experience I had always wanted, but what if my body just couldn't do what I needed it to do? I felt so bad about all of the work my hunting team had put into making this work for me- I knew I had to keep trying. I was getting sore, and I was pretty sure I had separated something between my shoulder blades. Add that to the cactus I had crawled through and I could have called it a day without feeling completely ashamed, but I really wanted that bull elk.

Terry had one more spot that he thought might be a place where some of the elk might be. We headed that way in the Land Cruiser and unloaded. This time, Russ decided that carrying me piggy back might be our best option to cover the most ground. I don't think he realized how far we would have to go. Latt, Nate, and Terry went ahead of us to get everything set up and see if they could find the herd. Russ loaded me on his back and we started after the guys. We quickly realized just how far he would have to carry me. It's hard to explain to people what it's like to tote dead weight- especially when the person is over six feet tall. And let's be honest- I don't think anyone is worried about me being anorexic. Luckily, I married a very burly man, and we made it a lot farther than I thought we would before my arms gave out. At that point, Russ lowered me to the ground and he and Terry drug/carried me closer to the ledge. The guys had spotted several bull elk running around in the juniper trees below, I scooted/crawled the remainder of the way in order to stay out of view, and after resting for a few moments, got set up with the rifle.

Below me, multiple bulls were moving in and out of the trees. They were fighting, chasing the cows, and generally making complete fools of their male selves. What woman in her right mind wouldn't take a shot at that? For once, my body cooperated and after several attempts, I was able to settle in to a comfortable position. Unfortunately, the bulls were moving all around and in and out of the trees. I would follow one in my scope only to lose him again, and I was starting to get confused about which bull I had been following. To further complicate things, I had several pairs of eyes spotting bulls from their own, separate locations, and each was frantically whispering that a bigger one was to the left, or a real beast was to the right. It was hunting at its finest.

I finally focused in on a nice 6x6 with great symmetry. He might not have been the biggest bull down there, but he was a beautiful elk and he was staying out in the open. Latt verified my yardage, and I sighted in on him. I tightened my grip on the rifle, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. The bull stopped broad side, and I pulled the trigger. I watched through the scope as he went down. I started to chamber another round if needed, but he died quickly, which I am always thankful for. 545 yards with no recoil- I was beyond thrilled.

And then the celebration began. Everyone had invested so much to make this hunt possible for me. There were some tears, a lot of laughing, and smiles all around. The relief was palpable- I didn't realize just how much I had wanted it to be a successful hunt until that moment. I felt like I had been wrung out like a dish cloth, but it was so worth it. It had been the perfect combination of the right terrain, the amazing rifle system, and my awesome hunting team. We headed down to the elk for pictures and video, and then my four burly guys somehow managed to load the 800+ pound bull into the back of the Land Cruiser. It was the most redneck thing I have ever seen. Terry in the driver seat, Russ in the passenger seat holding my wheelchair frame, Latt, Nate and I in the back seat holding the rifle, my wheelchair cushion, and the camera, with a bull elk in the trunk, head hanging out over the tailgate with his rack tied up on the roof. It was amazing. We headed back to the ranch house in great spirits., thankful for the successful harvest and the bountiful meat it would provide.

Russ, Me, and Latt

Nate, Terry, Me, and Latt
Words cannot express how thankful I am for everyone involved in this hunt. To John and Carolyn Alm, for being so generous with their land and vehicle. To Terry, for hauling me all over the mountain and being willing to share his knowledge of the land and the elk. To Latt, for allowing me to use his amazing rifle, teaching me how to shoot it effectively, and coaching me through the entire process. To Nate, for following us on our insanely wonderful hunt and getting some amazing footage and proof of all of the craziness. And to my amazing husband, Russ, for being my best friend and partner in crime through all of our adventures together. He never doubted that I could do this, and it was his confidence in my ability that pushed me to finish when I wanted to give up. He would haul me to the ends of the earth without complaining, and I couldn't ask for a better man.

I never dreamed that a hunting experience like this would be possible for someone in a wheelchair. I am exhausted, incredibly sore, bruised, and scraped, and I will be picking cactus out of my body for a while, but it is such a sweet pain. I haven't worked that hard for something in my entire life, and it was all worth it. It just goes to show you that with the right support team, awesome adaptive equipment, a little creativity, and a lot of man power, you can do the seemingly impossible. I am officially ruined for life on any other type of hunting. Once you have experienced Extreme Wheelchair Hunting, you can't ever go back. It was definitely the hunt of a lifetime.

For more information on hunting with Wyoming Disabled Hunters, visit our website at, or call Corey McGregor at 307-899-0790.

To learn about The Best of the West long range rifle system and Huskemaw scopes, visit The footage from my hunt will appear on the Outdoor Channel sometime next year. I will post more information as it becomes available.

If you know an eligible child in the LA area, please visit for more information on Camp Paintrock.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

TEDx Central Wyoming College

I had the most amazing experience speaking at the TEDx event at Central Wyoming College in Riverton this past Wednesday. I had heard about TED Talks briefly before, but didn't really know a lot about them until I was approached about this opportunity. If you would like to know more about the organization, you can visit their website here.

I drove down to Riverton Tuesday night and checked in to my hotel. Dress rehearsal began at 10:00 Wednesday morning. When I arrived, I got to meet the awesome staff that I had been emailing and conference calling in the weeks prior to the event, as well as the other speakers. We ran through our speeches while working on timing, lighting, and other aspects of a stage production. After lunch I went to the public library (my all-time favorite place to hang out when I'm away from home), put my feet up in a comfy chair, and read for a few hours before we had to be back to get ready for the evening.

The night in Riverton was an independent ("x") event hosted by the CWC Workforce Development & Training office, and the theme was "Innovation: Bringing Ideas to Life." Ted Talks are different than other speaking events; they encourage an informal setting, with speakers addressing the audience like they were talking to a group of friends. Presenters come up on to the stage from seats in the audience, and they are encouraged to mingle and visit with attendees before the event, during intermission, and after the event. There were several speakers, and I will give you a brief bio on each, as well as a summary their topic.

The first speakers were a trio of young men who are currently making a film, Far From Home, based on the life of their friend, Brolin Mawejje, who came to the US from Uganda when he was 12 years old. Brolin faced incredible odds and is now working towards a doctorate in Neuro-Oncology at Westminster College. Additionally, he is also training to represent Uganda in the 2018 Winter Olympics in snowboarding; he will be the first person from his home country to participate in this event.

Galen Knowles, Director, Philip Hessler, Producer, and Adam Schellenberg, Producer, were amazing speakers- and they are so professional for being so young (Although Adam thinks I am old enough to have a 18-year old daughter. Adam, if you are reading this, I am still seriously considering putting tire tracks up your back :) ). Their presentation of this film, as well as Brolin's story, made me definitely want to follow their progress and see and support this documentary when it premiers next year. 

The next speaker, Maxwell Wessel, is a genius. After reading his bio, I had two thoughts. The first was that I was way out of my league speaking at an event with this guy. My second thought was that no one that intelligent would be able to hold my attention for long because everything he said would be way over my head. Thankfully, my second thought was wrong. (The verdict is still out on my first thought. I haven't seen the full playback of my speech yet...)

Maxwell spoke on innovation and failure, and why the creation of new, brilliant ideas are often not repeated. He used understandable examples and gave us all great tips on how to be fresh and innovative while pursuing our ideas. Very informative and held my attention- I felt smarter just being in his presence. Osmosis? Fingers crossed...

The final speaker before intermission was one of my personal favorites, Anne Even. I loved Anne for many reasons, but mostly because she was the only other female speaker, because she is a Mom of twins, and because she is a Tough Mudder. If you don't know anything about these events, you have got to check out their website. She's amazing.

Anne talked about labels and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. She was always labeled as a "non-athlete," a title she has completely obliterated. Anne was real and open and honest, and she was the only speaker that made me cry, which is a big deal for me. She was inspiring that night because she was completely outside of her own comfort zone speaking at the event, and it really made me take a look at my own life and challenged me to push the boundaries on my comfort levels. I may just have to look in to this Tough Mudder thing...

After intermission, I spoke. I usually don't get nervous when I speak, but something about this event had my stomach in knots. I don't know if it was the other amazing speakers, the time limit, or the cameras, but I was a hot mess while I waited in the wings with my student ambassador, Amber (who was an amazing assistant all night!). But something happened when I was introduced and got out on stage. I think it was a mix of peace that only could have come from the Lord (thank you to my friends and family who were praying for me!), the incredibly receptive, amazing audience, and the knowledge that the sooner I got out there the sooner I would be out of the spotlight! Either way, I felt good about how it went, and once the video is available, I will post the link for those who want to watch it.

Jason Kintzler was up next. Jason is the Founder and CEO of PitchEngine, a website that gets ideas out to the world. This platform completely transformed how PR departments share information. The best part is that Jason's company was founded and remains right here in Wyoming. How great is that?

Jason spoke about attainable innovation, and how we all have the ability within ourselves to make a difference in the world. He also talked about community and shared stories about the impact we can make when we have the vision and courage to push boundaries and innovate.

The final speaker of the evening was John Kanengieter. John has many years of experience training on leadership and team work- he has even worked with the astronauts at NASA! He is one of those guys that just exudes calmness- I wish he had spoken right before me!

John talked to us about taking risks with our minds, our hearts, and ourselves through showing kindness to others.  Only through taking a risk can we innovate and grow. By living our lives without a safety net, we can experience true relationships with those around us. He continually asked the question, "When is the last time you took a real risk?" It was very thought-provoking and a great way to end the evening.

I can't forget the MC for the night, Chris Jones. Chris is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Riverton, and he was perfect for the job of host for the event. He was funny, he put the speakers at ease, and he had a great rapport with the audience. We all loved Chris!

After the event was over, we were given a final opportunity to talk to people in the lobby. I was able to speak with a 12-year old girl who had come to the event after her Dad read about it in the paper. She was excited to learn about coming up to Cody next year to hunt with Wyoming Disabled Hunters. We are going to have a lot of female representation in the 2014 hunt!

I am so grateful and humbled to have been a part of this extraordinary event. It is definitely something I will never forget. As I mentioned before, as soon as the video becomes available, I will share the link with everyone.

Speakers at the TEDx CentralWyomingCollege event gathered for a group photo afterwards. (Ernie Over photo)

I am leaving next week for my bull elk hunt. I will hopefully have something exciting to blog about when I return!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Being A Wheeling Wife (Part 3)

Please welcome my first guest to my blog- my husband, Russ. I thought it was only fair to let him add his side to my last post, specifically on the real truths about girls that all guys should know. So here we go...

  • Girls don't understand that guys are a lot different from them
We don't hold on to things. We forget things pretty much right away. We are very basic, simple creatures- girls just complicate everything. And they never forget. Ever. Girls have laser eyes. If you do something bad, they can zap you with their eyes.

  • Don't get in to an argument, because you will lose
 Guys don't stand a chance in an argument against a girl. It's best to just say "I'm sorry, I love you, and you are beautiful" at the beginning of the argument and save yourself some time.

  • Any time you confront them with something, they will always have something on you
This goes back to the "girls don't forget anything" comment from above. Just when you think you have got something on them, they remind you that you did the same thing seven months ago. They remember every little thing you have ever done throughout your relationship. It's scary.

  • Girls get upset more easily over the little things
Girls can get their feelings hurt really easily. They can say something to you, and you could care less. If you say the same thing to them, it's the end of the world.  For instance, Ashlee got her hair done this week, and I didn't say anything right away, and she didn't like that. But I was watching this college football game and there was an awesome play and she wasn't paying attention and missed it. I got over it.

  • Girls poop too
Girls can talk all they want about how gross boys are, but girls can be gross too. I didn't think that girls pooped until I was like twelve years old. Now I know better. Girls may be more private about their gross stuff, but it still happens.

  • A girl can do something and it's fine, but if you do it, you're dead meat
Ashlee drove her car through our garage a few months ago. I mean she actually drove her car through the back wall of the garage.  I had to act like it wasn't a big deal and that I was just glad she was okay. I couldn't even get mad at her, or I was the bad guy. If I had driven my truck through the garage wall, I wouldn't be writing this blog post right now.

  • It doesn't matter how you say something, they will always take it the wrong way
 This happens all the time, but I can't seem to remember an example. But it happens all the time.

  • Even with all of the dumb things we do, girls are loyal and they stick with us
Girls are good forgivers, which is a good thing, because we do lots of dumb things. Girls have good hearts, and they put a lot of thought and effort into loving us. They work hard to keep our lives running smoothly. They make sure we have enough socks and underwear. They pretty much hold things together. They can be a lot of work, but we would be a mess without them. Girls are worth it.

Well, there you have it folks. A guy's guide to girls. Hope you enjoyed hearing the other side from a man's perspective- I know I did. And now I have to use my laser eyes on Russ for telling that garage story...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Being a Wheeling Wife (Part 2)

I asked Russ to go down to the basement for me to find some pictures for an upcoming presentation. He came back up with the pictures and something else. When we were married, we asked our guests to fill out a set of questions about how they knew us, their favorite memories, their funniest memories, and words of wisdom. Russ had found the stack of papers, and we had a lot of fun reading through them.

We saw the expected responses in the advice section. Here were the top answers:
  • Keep God first in your relationship
  • Never go to bed angry
  • Always say "I'm sorry"
Obviously, these statements are incredibly true, helpful, and biblical. They are the building blocks of any healthy relationship. But the more I looked through the pages, the more I realized that people aren't comfortable talking about the tough stuff, at least not at a wedding reception in such a public way. So I started thinking about some of the things that I have learned over the last seven years, that I wish someone had told me. Fortunately, I have a Mom who is easy to talk to and prepared me very well for being married, but there are some things that just have to be learned the hard way I suppose. Unless you read this post and believe the truths I am about to share with you. Disabled and able-bodied single women- write this stuff down...

  • Boys are gross
When Russ and I were dating, I thought he was the most thoughtful, well-mannered, clean man I had ever known. The first time I did his laundry after the wedding, my girlish notions died a quick, painful death.  Boys are hairy, smelly, and the cooties our Mothers warned us about do not fade with age. Be prepared to clean out bathroom sinks crusted with old toothpaste, nose hair trimmings, and the occassional dried loogey. And don't even get me started on what they do to toilets. Your Prince Charming will one day come to you with a bottle of Gold Bond Medicated Powder and ask you to apply it to a chafed area only doctors should visit. Be forewarned- they are gorgeous and we love them- but boys are gross.
  • Boys don't listen
This was a hard one for me, because until I figured it out, I took it personally.  I thought Russ didn't listen to me because he didn't care about what I was saying. As if my thoughts, plans, and suggestions weren't worth listening to. I would get mad and lash out when he didn't remember something I had discussed with him, or worse, if he totally forgot plans I had made. Now I understand that God made boys this way to teach women patience to prepare us for raising children. They need constant reminders passed along in a loving, gracious manner. And they need lots of them. Programmed into their phones. With reminders every fifteen minutes until the event. And lists. Lots of lists. This should really be in our wedding vows.
  • Sometimes, in order to get enough sleep to function, you are going to go to bed a little angry
I am a communicator. I like to talk things out until a consensus is reached, and by consensus, I mean that Russ now realizes the error of his ways and has come over to the side of My Truth.  Just kidding. Kind of. One thing I have learned, however, is that bed time is not always the best time to start an argument/discussion/debate over an important topic. When Russ is tired, he will agree to anything in order to be allowed to sleep. That doesn't mean I "win," it just means that his sleep is more important than talking out an issue that usually means more to me than him anyway.

So it plays out like this. We discuss. He tells me what he thinks I want to hear in order to sleep. He falls asleep. I sit up in bed for another hour rehashing the conversation and getting more angry by the minute. I seriously consider waking him up to continue the conversation that has been going on in my head for the past hour. I refrain. I get myself worked up for another hour before falling in to a fitful sleep. He wakes up the next morning having totally forgotten that we even spoke the night before, let alone what the main topic of the conversation was. He rolls over to kiss me good morning and quickly sees by my face that not only have I not forgotten about our little fight, but I've been up half the night struggling with it, and no, everything is not "all right."

Please tell me I'm not the only woman that does this...

Bottom line- men are much better forgivers and forgetters than women. And being a good communicator does not mean you "win" every conversation. And although some topics are worth staying up late to hash out until you reach reconciliation, sometimes, you just have to go to sleep a little angry and reconvene the discussion the next day.
  • Boys change after the honeymoon
This is something that we MUST explain to recently engaged couples. It would save a lot of heartache in those first few months if it was better understood.

Russ and I dated long-distance throughout our entire relationship. Which meant that every time we were together, it was for a short 1-2 week period before we would be apart for weeks on end. This meant that our time together was incredibly precious and every day was the best date ever all day long.

So after we got married, I assumed this romantic, snuggly, worship the ground I wheel on environment would continue. Wrong. Marriage is hard work- every day. When you take two, independent lives and smush them together, it's going to rock the boat a little. From schedules, to preferences, to simple, seemingly routine habits, combining two into one is sometimes a beautiful disaster. And oftentimes, it doesn't look anything like the relationship you had while you were dating.

Take the snuggling, for example. Russ was so affectionate with me while we were dating and engaged. And while this continued for a short while after we were married, it was like I eventually contracted the bubonic plague and nobody had thought to let me know.  We started in a full bed, which I loved, because you snuggled in order to not fall off of the  bed. But once we moved to a king, it was like we were living in different time zones. Once, Russ actually told me to roll over the other way away from him because I was "breathing his air." Seriously? I quickly realized that the romantic, affectionate boy I dated was not the man I married. He wasn't being deceitful- he was just caught up in the starry-eyed wonder of it all, and was putting his best foot forward in order to impress and win the girl. Once he had me, he didn't feel the need to impress me every second of every day. AND THAT'S OKAY. Because you know what? I'm his best friend, and he can be completely himself with me. And I know that when he does snuggle and buy me flowers and write me a sweet card, it is outside of his comfort zone, and it means so much more.

On the flip side, you should be warned that this comfort level will also bring out their, shall I say, locker room behavior, complete with sounds and odors no woman should ever have to endure. You want them to be comfortable with you. But save yourself some trouble and put some "comfort level" boundaries in place early on...
  • Sex is not a four-letter word 
Here's a good one. As I mentioned before, my Mom is one of my best friends, and I know I can talk to her about anything. So before my wedding, we had several discussions about what to expect on that first night together, and in the weeks and months to come. I am surprised and saddened to learn that this is not a common occurrence, especially in Christian households. It's almost like we have gone so far the other way from those who take sex lightly, that it has become a taboo topic.

I am in no way saying that every little detail has to be explained, and I'm not advocating parents sitting down with their soon-to-be-married children and sketching out stick figures, but you can talk about the act of sex in a beautiful, respectful way and take away a lot of the fear and anxiety of the unknown without spilling all the beans. A little mystery and intrigue is a good thing, and I'm a firm believer of remaining a virgin until you are married, but there are so many young couples who spend the first few months of their marriage in stoic silence enduring something that was always meant to be thoroughly enjoyed between a husband and his wife. 

Now, I know that sex can be an awkward conversation topic at times between a parent and child, so if you don't have the type of relationship with your parents that allows you to do this, find someone married who you love and respect, and talk to them. Seek out someone that will answer your questions and alleviate your anxiety. But you know what the best advice is that I would give a newly-married couple? Communicate with each other like your life depends on it, because your sex life does. Your spouse loves you, and wants to make you happy, so make it easier on both of you and be open to talking about anything and everything. I'm trying to be careful and remain age-appropriate with this blog post, so I won't go into any further detail, but just remember that open and honest communication, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable at first, can make all the difference in the world.
  • He needs your RESPECT 
I saved this one for last because I think it is one of the most important, and sadly, missing pieces of advice that is shared with young brides. In a world of feminism, civil rights, and equality, the last thing anyone wants to hear is the word "submissive." "Honor and obey" are being left out of wedding vows and women are feeling empowered to run roughshod over their husbands in a battle to run their homes and relationships as they see fit.  I always knew I would struggle with this. I am a stubborn, independent, strong willed woman, and with the struggles I have faced in my life, these character traits have served me well. Until I got married.

Russ and I did a Bible study a few years ago dealing with the topics of love and respect. One of the questions it asked in the beginning was, "If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only have one thing for the rest of your life, would it be love or respect?" An overwhelming amount of wives answered, "love," and the same majority of husbands stated, "respect." Both sides were flabbergasted by the others response. But it was just another reminder of God's perfect plan in creating two beings who are perfectly suited to meet each others needs because of their differences.

It has taken me several years, and I am still learning how to better myself in this area, but I have discovered how much my husband needs my respect and encouragement. If you've read anything about love languages, you know that we usually give people what we think they need, which ends up being what we need. So, as a woman, if I want to be loved, I try to show my husband how much I love him. I do his laundry, prepare his favorite meals, leave him cute little notes. Does he appreciate these things? Absolutely. But do they make him feel fulfilled and successful as a husband? That's a negative. You see, these are sweet, romantic gestures that I am craving, but they are not what Russ needs. He needs for me to be his biggest cheerleader. To support his leadership. To always have his back, be his confidant, and respect his position in our relationship. Because being a husband is tough. Russ will have a lot to answer for as the leader of our home when he one day stands before the Lord, and although I think I want this position at times, I know that it was never intended for me to fill that role, or attempt to take that responsibility.

If I had known how much harm could be done with a sharp word, a silent glare, or a few moments of sulking, I would have cut out my tongue and plucked out my eyes years ago. We see our husbands as these tough, invincible men. But I wonder how many wives today would be found guilty in a court of law for verbal abuse towards their husbands? I cringe when I hear women degrading their husbands in public, but is it any better if we do it in the privacy of our own homes?

I've heard women ask, "How can I respect a man who hasn't earned my respect?" But beware, because the flip side of that could be asked, "How can I love my wife when she hasn't earned my love?" Put into that perspective, in my mind, drives home the reasons why God commands men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. He never has to tell women to love their husbands, because that is our natural inclination. Oppositely, God never commands husbands to respect their wives.  We do what comes easily for us. It's the unnatural responses that require the greater effort. (And He never inserts the phrase, "Only when they deserve it," or we'd all be in trouble...)

We must share with young women the importance of respecting their husbands. And you know what? When we do, all of those nice, romantic gestures we were so desperately seeking will suddenly pour out of a husband who feels secure and encouraged by a wife who respects him and his authority and position in their marriage.

As always, I am in no way writing this as if I have mastered any of it. I fail daily, and it's only by the forgiveness, love, and patience of a God and a husband who love me unconditionally that I am given so many undeserved second chances. I have attempted to be transparent without seeming like a total shrew, but this topic requires complete honesty if it is to be of any real help to others attempting to manage this crazy thing called love. Please feel free to leave your comments, your own struggles, and pieces of honest advice you wish you had known early on in your relationship.

And if you are reading this post, and none of the above statements are in any way descriptive of your husband and/or your marriage, then feel free to keep your comments to yourself, because no one wants to hear about your blissful perfection without wanting to punch you in the face. That is all.   :o)

Obviously, these points are directed towards able-bodied and disabled people alike, but next week, I will focus on topics directly related to relationships involving a disability and how that effects the  grand scheme of things.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and put all of my words into better practice...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Being a Wheeling Wife (Part 1)

Since I spent the last three posts talking about Addison, I thought I should write at least one about the other favorite person in my life.

I was always boy crazy. And I'm still a hopeless romantic. I adore great love stories, I'm a wedding fanatic, and if the television show has anything to do with getting engaged, picking out your wedding dress, and/or planning the wedding, then I am sold. I had several boyfriends in junior high and high school, and I was madly in love with each one, just sure he was "the one," until he wasn't and the next boy was!

And then my accident happened, and I just knew that any chance at romance had just been violently swept off the table. What guy in their right mind would want to marry a girl in a wheelchair when he could marry someone who was able-bodied? I would be the single lady with lots of cats that lived alone and secretly envied all of her married friends.

So when I returned to high school after my hospitalization, and as I moved on to college, I was hyper-sensitive to male attention. If a guy looked at me twice, in my mind, we were headed to the altar. If I didn't get my hooks in the first one that showed even the slightest bit of interest, who knew if I would get another chance? This attitude of low self esteem and being perfectly happy to settle seems to resonate with lots of single girls in our society today, and not just those with a disability. I don't know the actual statistics, but I wonder how many unhappy marriages are out there today because women don't see their worth in Christ and choose to settle for second-best, or worse?

I wasted a lot of time, energy, and feelings with guys I had no business dating, let alone actually considering for a permanent relationship. I was headed towards being one of those statistics when I had an epiphany. If I truly believed that God wanted good things for my life, I had two options. I could be patient, and wait on His timing. Or I could accept that maybe He had a ministry for me as a single woman, whether it was for a time, or for the remainder of my life, and that He had promised to always be enough for me. If this was the case, I begged the Lord to take the desire for marriage and love out of my heart so that I could better serve Him. Either way, I certainly wasn't being of much use in my current state, that's for sure! I felt such peace at this admission, and I finally and unreservedly turned my social life over to the Lord.

I ran in to Russ two weeks later.

Does God have a sense of humor, or what? I honestly believe He was simply waiting for me to surrender the control of my love life, so that He could show me this amazing thing that He had planned for me.

My sister and I were visiting friends in Wyoming in May of 2005, and the church had planned a youth group activity. When we pulled in to the ranch, a young man came and helped me out of the vehicle. He had my chair put together, in the right way, and positioned in the correct place so I could transfer in to it. He proceeded to walk by me across the gravel parking lot, and expertly turn my chair and pull it up the steps into the building where we were meeting. Who was this guy? Most boys I had been interested in seemed to be only out to prove they could throw me in their truck with one arm. In complete contradiction, this guy knew how to help without being told, but still gave me my space and allowed me to be as independent as possible. I was amazed.

I quickly realized that we had met before. Russ' Dad, Kenny, has MS and has been in a wheelchair for many years. He was one of the first disabled individuals I had connected with after my accident, and he had let me drive his van with hand controls several years before, which was the first time I had driven since my injury. (On a side note, he told me he was taking me down some side, country roads. He proceeded to take me right down main street through the heart of town. I cried the whole time. Kenny laughed the whole time. I think we have it on video somewhere.) I had briefly been introduced to Russ the year before, but it was only in passing, and I didn't know much about him. We had actually met the day before my accident back in 1999 at a church softball game, but I didn't remember him. He says he remembered me because I was cute and I wasn't his cousin. :) (Most of the single girls in his youth group at the time were his cousins).

We spent a lot of time together that night, and I saw him again the next day while visiting Kenny, and again at church on Sunday. After the evening service, we (Russ and I, my sister, Russ' brother, and all of the cousins) all loaded up in Russ' new, beautiful pickup truck and headed to the pastor's (Preacher) house to hang out. Somehow Russ and I ended up on the back porch overlooking the river by ourselves, and the conversation took off. I found myself opening up to this guy about things I didn't share with just anyone, and he did the same. It was so comfortable, so right, that we didn't even notice how late it was getting.

Preacher popped his head out, and with a grin, suggested that Russ' brother take his truck to get the kids home, and then Russ and I could continue our visiting, and Russ would have his truck to go home later. Since I was staying at Preacher's, and was leaving with my sister in the morning to fly back to Indiana, this would be the last chance we had to talk. Preacher and his wife went to bed (although he told me later he had his window open in order to remain the proper chaperone :) ). I knew Russ had to be at work early the next morning, so we agreed we shouldn't stay up too late.

We talked on that back porch until 4:00 a.m. By the time Russ got home, he was able to sleep for a few hours before he had to get up for work. I was also up early for my flight, but strangely enough, I was running on pure adrenaline and excitement, and I didn't notice the exhaustion. We spent the next six months emailing, talking on the phone, and trying to visit each other every few months. We met each others families, continued to get to know each other, and started to talk about the future. And on a cold November night, at Kenny's house in Cody, Russ gave me a ring and asked me to marry him.

The next eight months went by in a whirlwind of wedding planning, my first year of graduate school, visits, letters, and dozens of nights falling asleep talking on the phone until the wee hours of the morning. It was amazing. I quickly discovered that Russ didn't love me in spite of my disability; he loved me because of it. The wheelchair was a huge part of who I was, and it had molded me into the woman he had proposed to. Russ had spent several years during college living with his Dad, and I firmly believed that period in his life was God's way of preparing him to be my husband. Although I was fiercely independent and could care for myself, the understanding, compassion, and servant's heart that had been cultivated during those years with Kenny were and continue to be some of the things that I love most about Russ.

We were married on July 29th, 2006. It was the best day of my life. Not just because of the ceremony and festivities, but because of what it represented. That day was a beautiful reminder of the love of God for His children, and of His joy to give them the desires of their heart. It spoke of His perfect timing, and the blessings we receive when we are patient and allow Him lead every aspect of our lives. It was a picture of waiting for His best for us.

Now, here we are, seven years later, and I couldn't be more thankful for Russ. He is my best friend, and a wonderful Daddy to Addison. Although he isn't perfect, and I'm certainly not perfect, we are perfect for each other. Through the good times and bad, I've learned so much about myself, about Russ, and about relationships in general, all of which I will share next week in Part 2 of Being a Wheeling Wife...




Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Being a Wheeling Momma (Part 3)

We celebrated Addison's third birthday Sunday, complete with a princess theme. I decided to make her cake this year, complete with homemade fondant. I was able to find an easy recipe online, and some really helpful cake tools at Walmart. I'm really happy with how it turned out and am looking forward to having fun with this new hobby in the future! I have a tradition of making her birthday dress every year as well, so this was this year's dress...

Looking forward to trying more elaborate cakes in the future...

So cute- but got sparkles everywhere!

I really can't believe my little girl is already three years old. After her birth, people warned me that time would pass quickly. Although the days seemed to drag until she was sleeping through the night, it has been a whirlwind since. I thought I would finish this three-part parenting series with some general thoughts and ideas about my experiences, and hopefully answer a few more questions that I often am asked.

First of all, in an earlier post, I had mentioned that one of the problems that I had during my pregnancy was the inability to gain weight. (Wish this was a recurring problem...) Although I wasn't really nauseous during those nine months, I did have a little trouble with my bowel program, so I always assumed that was the culprit of the weight loss. At my check-up the day before Addison was born, I weighed exactly what I did when I went in for my first appointment six months earlier. Addison was measuring small, but everything had always checked out with her development, so there wasn't ever any concern- it was just a little puzzling.

During the C-section, we soon discovered what the issue was. My pregnancy had triggered an over-stimulation of benign cysts in both of my ovaries. They were probably always there, but all of those fun hormones that come with baby growing had really wreaked havoc. I will attach a picture below. It's a little graphic, so if you are a queasy person when it comes to blood, scroll quickly! Ovaries are usually the size of walnuts. As you can see below, mine were slightly bigger...

Yes, those are my ovaries. They're not supposed to be the same size as my uterus...

Because my doctor knew that Russ and I planned on having more children, and because the ovaries themselves looked healthy except for their size, it was decided that they would be left alone until we could decide on a course of treatment.

We followed them via ultrasound, and for the first five months, they only caused me minor pain. I had an appointment with my OB/GYN in January, and he did a full exam. Since the ovaries hadn't shrunk, and there was a risk of them twisting and causing serious problems, he made plans to refer me to a specialist in Billings to seek further treatment options.

I woke up the next morning in a lot of pain, and I have a very high pain tolerance. I thought it was from the exam, but as the day went on the pain worsened, I got lightheaded and nauseous, and my temperature started to increase. Russ and I headed to the ER around 9:30 that evening, and after another ultrasound and some blood work, we left around 5:30 the next morning. We were able to get a few hours of sleep before heading to Billings, MT, to see Dr. Gibb, who is a gynecological oncologist. Even though they didn't think my cysts were cancerous, Dr. Gibb is the only specialist in a five-state region who handles this type of thing, so we were happy he was able to fit us in.

Long story short, after a long day of tests and exams, I was scheduled for a full abdominal hysterectomy the following Monday in Billings. The ovaries were taking over my abdomen, and the pain and risk of torsion/twisting was too great to leave them. Russ and I had prepared ourselves for this recommendation, and thankfully, the Lord had given us peace about it. We realize now how fortunate we were that Addison was conceived and delivered healthy, and that this abnormality would definitely threaten future pregnancies. I wasn't super excited about having this done at such a young age, but I would rather not have the threat of future problems hanging over my head as well.

The surgery went well, and they found that the ovaries were twisted, one three times around, which was what was causing the intense pain. Because of the amount of blood thinner I am on, surgery is a big deal, and has to be planned at least 3-4 days in advance in order to get my levels under control so that I don't bleed out during the procedure. So while I was under, they took out everything they possibly could to avoid having to go back in at a later date if I had more complications. I even teased the surgeon to check out any other expendable organs while he was in there, and if anything looked less than perfect, to just remove it! :)

We had always planned on having more children, but I guess the Lord, in His wisdom, know one child would be more than enough for us to handle! So to sum it up, when people ask if we are having more kids, the answer is no, unless God drops one in our laps! Since people in wheelchairs are not able to adopt internationally, and we never felt peace about actively seeking domestic adoption, we are happy in our current situation of a three-person family. Well, four if you count our dog, Shadrach. (And we do!)

I am continuing to learn more every day about parenting. Just when you think you finally have something figured out, the little boogers go and change everything on you. Here are a few of the things I have come to realize are essential to semi-sane parenting, whether you are in a wheelchair or not:

  • Accept advice, good and bad, from those around you, but in the end, YOU are the one that will know your child best. Trust me, I nearly killed myself trying to follow every book, website, and whispered word of advice from other parents. No one will love your child like you do, no one will understand your child like you do, and no one will ever take better care of your child than you. God gave that specific blessing to you, knowing your every strength and weakness, and He never makes mistakes. So take a deep breath, smile pleasantly at the experts and their usual good intentions, and go rock out being the amazing parent you are.
  •  Cut yourself some slack. No one is born knowing all of the answers to anything, especially not how to parent and care for a shrieking little banshee. Some days, I have to give myself this little pep talk every thirty minutes or so. As I mentioned earlier, you will never stop learning, so don't expect perfection from yourself or your child. ESPECIALLY not from your child. Especially.
  • Keep a healthy sense of humor. One of my and Russ' favorite expressions is, "It's a good thing she's cute!" If we didn't laugh at some of the parenting obstacles we have faced, we would probably be in the loony bin somewhere rocking back and forth in the corner of our padded cell. Discipline is important, and some issues need to be taken seriously, but try to enjoy the journey. Don't get so wrapped up in the responsibility that you forget to have fun. It goes way too fast to miss enjoying it!
  • Develop a support team. I am known for my independence, and have always prided myself in being able to do things on my own. This didn't change when I had Addison. Although I don't like to dwell on past regrets, if I could change one thing from early on, I would have reached out more. Confide in family/friends you trust that love you and have a decent track record of their own in the parenting field. And know that asking for help doesn't make you a bad parent- it makes you a better parent.
  • Work out a schedule. I'm not saying you have to go all hard core Baby Wise every time, but God created us in His image, and He is a God of order, and I firmly believe He made our bodies to function best in a cyclic pattern. It may not work for everyone, but give yourself and your baby a chance to find out if this rhythm will work for you. 
  • PRAY! I can't stress this last point enough. I don't know how Russ and I would have survived anything we've been through, including parenting, without the Lord's help, love, and guidance. He loves to teach His children how to be amazing parents.

I am obviously in no way claiming any sort of expertise in the subject of parenting, but I hope this series of blog posts had allowed you a glimpse into my life as a Wheeling Momma. As always, questions are welcome!

Next week- My Life as a Wheeling Wife!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Being a Wheeling Momma (Part 2)

I thought being pregnant and delivering Addison would be the hardest part of being a Mom. Boy, was I naive! Considering the pregnancy was fairly normal, and I was sedated during the delivery, I should have known that the craziness best was yet to come.

I am a type-A, OCD, planner. One of my favorite quotes is, "I adore spontaneity, providing it is carefully planned." :) So when we found out we were having a baby, my nerdiness kicked in and the research began! I read books, scoured internet sites and blogs, stalked carefully observed other moms with their children, etc. I had this.

And then we brought Addison home. Right off the bat, I knew she was trouble. This five pound bundle was willful, disobedient, and incredibly strong willed, all traits I know she got from her Father... She didn't do what the books and websites said she would do- actually, she usually did the opposite!

I quickly learned that this Mom thing was going to be tougher than I thought. And not because I was in a wheelchair. Parenting is just plain hard! But fortunately, as I would learn, very much worth it.

I discovered that if I used the good advice I received from others, and molded it to fit our situation and personalities, sprinkled in with amazing teamwork from Russ and a LOT of prayer, life began to make a little more sense with this new addition to our family. And while it's definitely a daily education, and some days I still wonder if I birthed the Anti-Christ, being a Mom is the best job title in the world.

When I think back over the last three years, I am thankful that God blessed me with a great imagination and a determination to make things work. After we got home from the hospital, a lot of my old fears resurfaced. What if I dropped her or rolled over her? How would I manage when Russ went back to work? Would I ever leave the house again? I decided then and there that Addison and I were a team, and that we would just have to figure things out as they came along.

So here are some of the things that we learned together along the way. Keep in mind, with my injury level, I have horrible balance, but decent upper body strength. So while these tips worked for me, everyone will need to modify things to work for you and your abilities.

Tip #1: Grab a baby doll that weighs around 8 pounds and head to the nearest baby store

We don't have a huge selection or showroom of baby equipment here in Cody, so on a trip to Boise for work, Russ and I stopped in to a Babies 'R' Us. I wanted to know what style of crib, changing table, car seat/stroller, etc. would be best for me without buying it first. Think of this as a practice run for building your baby registry. Try putting the baby doll in the cribs, taking it off of the changing tables, and pushing it around in some of the strollers that are out on display. If it's there- try it out. You would be surprised how many different styles of high chairs are out there, and they all open a little differently. You may feel a little silly with the doll at first, but it can be a lifesaver, and much easier than borrowing a real baby for the adventure.

Tip #2: Create your accessible happy place

In the house we brought Addison home to, her nursery was pretty tiny. As in I had to back out of it because I couldn't even turn around in my wheelchair. Definitely not ADA standards by any means. :) So I built my first happy place in our bedroom. Bad idea. Your accessible happy place needs to be somewhere where you can have everything you need for the first several months of your baby's life, but it also needs to be out in some room of your house that doesn't encourage hermit-ness. (My spell check is telling me I just made up that word...) In the bedroom, it was too easy to literally stay in there all day long. Not great for helping out that post-partum depression/homicidal/suicidal/I kept the receipt can I give her back phase that most honest Moms go through.

So I moved to the living room. Much better accessible happy place! I had my pack 'n' play (or bassinet) complete with changing surface and storage, my breast pump, several changes of clothes, spit rags, and a little section of anything and everything needed to change or care for a small human. This was all placed within reach of my couch. (Did I mention I was still recovering from a pretty gnarly emergency C-section?) For the first few months, I camped out here. I could feed Addison, change her, play with her, and take naps with her, all in my happy place. It was a great bonding experience (for the most part) as I learned all about her, her needs, her communication, etc.

After the first few months, this happy place evolved, but it remained in the living room. The pack 'n' play was on wheels, so if we had visitors, it was easy to shove in the guest room if needed. As Addison started to grow and get more mobile, and I regained my strength and own mobility, I was able to move to the floor at times with her, which was great for both of us. Once she started crawling, I used large toys and a new furniture configuration to keep her boxed in to the area where I was at if I was on the floor with her. Trust me- they are hard enough to chase down when you are in your wheelchair. Army crawling after them across carpet is not fun. They are fast little spiders.

Eventually, I didn't need the happy place any more, but it was definitely a lifesaver as I adjusted to my new role and responsibilities.

Tip #3: The art of lifting- get creative

One of my biggest concerns was always carrying/lifting Addison. Luckily, she was tiny to begin with, so I was able to ease in to the process. I found that when I wanted to carry her on my lap, a nursing pillow, like a Boppy, was invaluable. I could put the Boppy on my lap, and she fit perfectly between my body and the pillow. I've even heard of people using a bungy cord to secure the Boppy to the back of their chair to ensure it stays in place. If she was on the floor or other lower spot, I would always keep a blanket underneath her body, so when I needed to pick her up, I could just grab the corners of the blanket and use it as a sling to get her off of the ground and on my lap. Sounds a little primitive, but it worked great!

As she got older, and she was able to sit up by herself, she rode on my lap like a champ. I always kept one hand on her and did the whole "push with one arm, switch arms, push with other arm" that I do when I am carrying something in my hand. I have to say, I think kids with parents that use wheelchairs must learn superior balancing skills at an early age for survival purposes. She was also easier to get off of the ground once she could reach and pull up a little by herself. Pretty soon she was crawling up my legs to get in my lap. Oddly enough, that hasn't changed as her mode to get to Mommy as quickly as possible.

A lot of people will tell you to use a sling when carrying your baby. I tried a couple of different ones, but honestly, for me, they ended up being more of a hindrance than a help. I could never get comfortable in one, and they always rubbed my sides and shoulders when I was wheeling around. I know other wheelchair Moms who swear by their slings, so talk to your other Mom friends who have slings and see if someone will let you try one out. Aren't you glad you kept your baby doll from Tip #1?

Tip #4: Get out of the house

You have to do it sometime. I know it's scary, but it beats becoming a recluse. And we all know how important our independence is. My rule on this is, if you did it before baby, you can do it after baby. You just need to get creative. And patient. And you have to give yourself about double the time, at least in the beginning.

I know everyone gets in their car differently, and that some people transfer and some people stay in their chairs. Again, depending on your personal abilities, this is going to be a varied process for each parent. I found that I was able to put Addison in her car seat, leave it at the top of my ramp, go down the ramp, and then reach up and retrieve the car seat. I then carried it to the car on my lap, again using the one hand motion, and put it in her car seat base. Then I loaded the diaper bag, the stroller, and then myself and my chair. Labor intensive and a little time consuming, but I think most wheelchair users are used to things taking us a little bit longer. :) Once she was too big for her infant car seat, she was able to ride on my lap down the ramp, and I wore a transfer belt to keep her on my lap. Remember those annoying belts that the therapists used to transfer you in therapy? Turns out they make excellent child seat belts while on Mom's lap! In to the car seat she went, and away we would go. Unloading was the same process, just backward.

I have seen parents in chairs do this a million different ways, but bottom line, practice before baby comes and don't give up! Maintaining your independence is crucial, and being able to run errands and go to doctor's appointments with your baby is a great bonding opportunity. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy having Russ with me on multiple occasions to help out, but Addison and I figure stuff out together all the time on our own, and I think we make a pretty good team too!

Tip #5: Specific items that made it all possible

As a disclaimer, I am in no way endorsing these products, nor am I being reimbursed in any way for telling you how amazing they are. They are just awesome pieces of equipment that I found worked best for me. That is all.

Strollers: Baby Trend - Jogger Travel System

To me, this was the most essential piece of baby equipment when it came to maintaining my independence. Not only is this stroller easy to push from a wheelchair, but it's easy to load baby into, it has great storage, and it's easy to fold and load in to the back of my car. This thing changed my life. And Russ likes it too. Amazing product for wheeling parents.

Crib: DaVinci Parker 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

This crib has a sloped front, which made it so much easier for me to get Addison in and out of her bed when she was tiny and not able to reach for me. At this point, the crib mattress is still at the top stage, so she was easy to access. As they grow, the mattress lowers, but they should be able to help you out by reaching and pulling themselves up. Good storage underneath for extra sheets/blankets, and it has a matching changing table and dresser. This crib also converts and grows with your child. We are getting ready to convert Addison's to a full size bed this weekend. I don't want to talk about it.

Bath: Portable bath with shower unit

Of course, they no longer make the bath we had, but this one is pretty similar. I found leaning over a tub or even trying to properly access my kitchen sink was a chore, so this bath was very helpful. I could sit at the kitchen table and give Addison a bath. The infant sling was great, and the shower piece made rinsing her off so much easier- and fun! If needed, I could fill the tub with a pitcher, and empty it the same way until it was almost completely empty, and then dump the remaining water in the sink. Addison loved this tub too. As she got older and outgrew the tub, we eventually moved to the regular tub in the bathroom, but only after she was able to control her body movements a lot better. And even then, I usually had Russ get her out, just because a slippery, wiggling baby made this balance challenged Mom a little nervous. But, I still was able to enjoy bathing her completely indpendently in the beginning, and with minimal assistance after. I even know parents who use a laundry basket in the bath tub for making bath times a little easier. Again- practice! (Who knew you would learn to depend on that baby doll so much...?)

Baby Monitor: Something with a video screen

These can be a little pricey, but they are so worth it. In the wee hours of the morning, when you are sleep deprived and your back is killing you, it is so nice to be able to actually SEE your baby in the other room and know that they aren't dying as opposed to getting up, transferring into your chair, wheeling in to the nursery, adjusting a blanket, wheeling back, transferring back into bed, finding that perfect position with your body pillow to prevent pressure sores, and falling back asleep for a few more precious minutes, until you repeat the process all over again. These also come in handy when your willful toddler is supposed to be taking a nap, and you have finally stretched out in your recliner for a few brief moments of back pain relief, and you hear some noise coming from their room that sounds suspiciously like playtime, and you can tell them to get back in bed and stop doing specifically what they are doing, which really freaks them out because they didn't know you were watching them from the other room. Whew! Not that I am speaking from personal experience or anything. Get one!

Cart Cover: Leachco Prop 'n' Shop

I love, and continue to use, this cart cover, for many reasons. It fits every shopping cart I've ever come across, it has side pillows, it has storage in the back, it holds toys that can't be thrown on the floor, and it is easily cleaned in the washing machine. Love! I was able to grocery shop independently before Addison was born, and now, it is one of our favorite outings together. Once a week we load up and head to Walmart. I never knew grocery shopping could be such an educational experience for a toddler! It's great for social interaction, for learning about lots of different items, and for bonding between Mom and child. We are a good team on a normal day, but at Walmart, we are a force to be reckoned with. And a good cart cover makes it a much more enjoyable experience.

Safety Gates: Something similar to this

I used to think safety gates were my friends way of keeping me out of certain areas where they didn't want tire tracks on their floors. Could there be a more inaccessible product out there for parents in chairs? Fortunately, our first home didn't have stairs or any other features that I had to try and keep Addison away from, but when we built our current home, we put in a basement with stairs. At this time, we don't have the elevator installed, and I don't have a daily need to go to the basement, so they aren't a problem for me. They are, however, for my adventurous little girl. When I went to purchase a safety gate, I quickly found that these were definitely invented by an able-bodied person. Here are some things to look for when researching a w/c friendly gate:
  • Make sure the entire gate swings- those accordion fold things are a nightmare
  • Avoid the ones with little doors in the middle- they are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, and hopping over the little piece of plastic at the bottom of the opening is not fun and not conducive to actually keeping the gate in working order
  • Make sure you can access and operate the lock from both sides of the gate (I am positive these latches were invented by someone who HATES parents)

Obviously, this is not an all inclusive list of baby products, but it should hopefully get you started. There are millions of products out there, which can be great, but it is also a little intimidating wading through the variety, especially if you are a first-time parent like I was.

I use to worry about being a parent in a wheelchair. Would my child be embarrassed by me? Would they "miss out" on things because they didn't have two, able-bodied parents? I quickly learned that Addison having a parent in a wheelchair is actually a positive thing. She was introduced to people with disabilities from the beginning, and they are more "normal" to her than able-bodied individuals. She sees other people in chairs and is drawn to them, instead of being frightened as some children are. I truly believe that having a parent in a wheelchair will make Addison a more compassionate, grounded, well-rounded adult one day. She's going to change the world, and this wheeling Momma can't wait to see how she does it! Now if I could just get her to poop on the potty...

I'm sorry that this turned in to such a long post! I hope that it can answer some questions for some of the wheeling users out there, or at least open the door to some great questions or conversations. Please feel free to comment below, or on the Facebook link where I will link this blog post. And as always, you can contact me at with other questions or comments. Thank you!

(Another great picture from Layna of me and my mini-me)

Layna Hendrich/ Photography Layn