• Sarah Foley

My Biggest Fan



I have come to realize how crucial it is to get extremely specific about what your vision is; what makes you happy and what will give you the life to look back on one day and be consumed with utter happiness and gratitude. That life that Grandma promised when she leaned down and whispered, “you can do anything and you can be anyone”. The life that as of now some subconsciously want to live through their kids because they are too scared to just do it themselves. Wouldn't life be grand if everyone was so focused on everything that made them happy, that positive manifestations were dropping like beautiful rain all around?


On Friday, May 12, 2017, I made a conscious decision to be my biggest fan for a straight 24 hours. I told myself for one day I would be the biggest cheerleader and root myself in every capacity. From the generalizations, I told myself as I was driving down Kihei Road, such, “You are the best wife. You are a fantastic mother. You are kicking ass at overcoming your disability. You are giving disability a fresh new face for everyone who watches you roll proudly down the street, break down your wheelchair to get in your car, and write on your laptop with utter intent at Starbucks”. As I went through my morning physical therapy, I brought my best efforts and grinned through the burning in my muscles as I visualized my core and hips working to the best of their ability. I made my physical therapists laugh and almost cry as I told them stories of my newly injured self trying desperately to figure things out.


I told of the days at Craig Hospital when I would often tell myself I was too sick to attend Wheelchair Class because it secretly scared the crap out of me. I was the only girl and in awe of what the guys could do with such ease. On the day of the fire escape stairs I didn't call out sick and it ended up being the hardest class of all. We had to go one by one, backward in our wheelchairs down the stairs, while holding the railings on either side of us to lower ourselves down each step until we got down to the bottom to safety.


The guys went their turns, their long arms reaching easily to both railings and smoothly gliding down as if they'd done it many times before. My turn came, my hands already sweaty and a crooked smile on my face as I cracked some random joke about my short arms to divert the terror lurking inside me.


I wheeled up to the edge, spun around, and reached for the railings. It didn't look good. I was able to either hold one tightly and not reach the other at all, or I could barely reach both, using every bit of finger strength I could muster. I looked up wearily at my instructor, silently pleading he would excuse me from this exercise, and just let me go back to the safety of my room via the elevator - the way God intended.




Instead, he got behind me to work as a spotter and told me it was beyond crucial for me to learn this in case I was ever in a fire. “Those elevators won't be working and it could be a matter of life and death,” he said. “Now go!” I had no choice, I knew this was important, but it didn't stop the tears from welling up. I mustered up every bit of courage I could find and slowly began my descent. First stair and my hands were already slipping. Second, third, and fourth, my fingers, hands, and arms are all on fire. Fifth, sixth, and seventh, the tears were now streaming uncontrollably down my face. I was bawling. Eighth, ninth, tenth, when was this going to end? Three more stairs.


Once I could feel I had reached the bottom, I let out a huge breath, which I'd been holding the entire time. Then I just let it out. I was crying so hard, sobbing between quick short breaths. “Why the fuck is this now our lives?” I cried. “What the hell is going on now that we have to do things like this? That was the scariest thing I have ever done and I just want to die! Fuck this shit! Fuck this wheelchair and my stupid legs!”


I looked up and all eyes were on me, none of them dry. Some guys were fully crying and my instructor was welling up as well. One guy who had usually been particularly quiet looked at me and just said, “I don't know why. This is horrible, and I'm sorry”. There were no words that needed to be spoken. We all had the same thoughts, we were all in the same boat, newly injured, terrified, confused, and just plain sad. I will never forget the look on his face and the faces of my peers. He was just blank, we all were, in awe that any of us were here, now, in this situation.


It's not something you prepare for or, even consider to be a possibility, but it happened and here I was making everyone cry about it. We sat for a few moments more, letting out the tears we had all been holding back on a daily basis before we had to compose ourselves enough to move on.


Then it was time for the next exercise, going down curbs backward with no assistance. Great. It was at that moment that I realized the brutal truth that I would never get a break from this. It would be a consistent, never-ending battle of just getting through life, backward and one step or curb at a time.


I didn't realize it at the time, but that moment taught me so much about the beauty of sharing sadness. There is something really special in finding others going through the same thing you are, and being able to look in their eyes and say you fully understand what they are going through. I guess that's why support groups are so helpful. The thing I hated most while I was in the hospital and even afterward, was the advice of those around me who were not in a wheelchair or injured. My least favorite was, “everything happens for a reason”. I never understood why anyone would say that in times of hurt or sorrow. You may as well of tell me, “you deserve this, and one day you will find out why”. I just wanted everyone to shut up, let me cry when I needed to and cheer me on when I did something great.


Ironically, now that is my favorite saying of all. I find so much comfort, motivation, and drive in finding my reason. Even better, is now I have begun to truly appreciate the process of finding it. I've stopped worrying so much about figuring it all out at once, for if I fully answer the question, the drive will fade away. I never want to stop learning and growing. I want to stop and smell the roses along the way, find the beauty in every bit of pain and see all areas of difficulty as the most rewarding moments in my journey. For a while, I was so hung up on finding my platform, finding what made me special or set me apart from every other girl in a wheelchair trying to become a writer and speaker. And then it hit me, all I had to do was tell my story. My story was unique, special, and inspiring just the way it was. I realized the more I tried to force something, the further away I got from my core self. I didn't need to be an Olympic athlete to get people's attention, in fact sometimes that's too big for people to relate to. All I had to do was stay true to myself, tell what gets me through my days, what ultimately got me down those stairs - and that is the choice to keep going despite the tears. It really is a matter of life and death, of living or fading away.


Today I am my biggest fan and it has paid off in waves. I have attracted lovely people all day. I have indulged in a green tea frappuccino with a cookie straw because it felt right and made me smile. I am sitting very tall at the Starbucks table, clicking away at the keyboard with excitement, as I have been dying to do for years. To be one of those people I always see doing the same thing and imagine them as very successful entrepreneurs who have the freedom to work from home or Starbucks, on their own time. That is a vision of success for me, the ability to work from anywhere at any time, writing words of hope and inspiration, sipping from a cookie straw, and making people smile along the way. That's a beautiful sight, and I'm mighty proud of myself - today and every day.

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