I used to think I was invincible.
That was until a chance accident left me without the use of my left leg. In 2008, I was offered my dream job: coaching gymnasts in Bermuda. Three years after my arrival in Bermuda, I was heading to work on what the locals call a “bike” (motorized scooter) when a car failed to see me coming, pulled out in front of me and crashed into my bike. The wreck left me pinned underneath my bike, and as I came to, I realized something was seriously wrong with my left leg.
I was unable to control my leg in any way, leaving me unable to stand up straight. Despite the Emergency Room’s initial diagnosis of only having a sprained ankle, I knew my injury was far more serious. After two weeks of confusion and pain, the parent of one of my students (who was a doctor) referred me to a sports medicine doctor who then referred me to a neurologist. Their diagnosis was that my sprained ankle was in fact a spinal cord injury, and that I needed to immediately leave my position as a gymnastics coach to prevent further injuring myself.
Each doctor I visited was more confused than the last, unable to provide any solution more viable than a clunky, uncomfortable walking boot. Finally, I was properly diagnosed with an incomplete spinal cord injury at L4 and a spinal syrinx in my neck. It was after that breakthrough diagnosis that some of my hardest physical therapy began, leading me to eventually regain the use of 75% of my upper left leg. This diagnosis also led me to being prescribed my first Allard ankle-foot orthotic (AFO) brace. The very same day I put on my first ToeOFF® brace, I went for my first jog since my injury! I called friends and family with tears running down cheeks. Gradually, I began adding to my runs mile-by-mile until a few months later I completed a half marathon.
After I got used to my new life with my AFO brace, the list of what I could not do started to become shorter every day. I do miss gymnastics and high heels, my new life as a dedicated runner is bringing me a sense of purpose and joy. In fact, I’m even back to coaching gymnastics and fitness classes—something I never dreamed would be possible in the years after my accident.
Since my injury, I’ve been able to go places I never thought imaginable, meeting so many inspiring people along the way. Qualifying as a disabled runner, I have been fortunate enough to travel all across the world for races in New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, and have completed the World Marathon Majors series! I’m the first disabled runner with a spinal cord injury to finish that series on foot!
Follow Wendy on Instagram @WendyGBird22.