Day 34 : A broken body isn’t a broken person

Cross country skier Janine Shepherd hoped to qualify for the Olympics, until an accident rendered her paraplegic. In this talk she tells the story of how she bounced back and learned to fly.
Janine manages to draw laughs from the audience when she describes her accident as ‘Having a really bad day.’ Most people could probably imagine nothing worse. she was hit by a speeding utility truck on a beautiful day in the Blue Mountains and air-lifted to hospital in Sydney. By the time she arrived, her blood pressure was 40 over nothing, she’d lost about 5 litres of blood, her head was cut open exposing her skull and she had broken over fifteen bones, including her spine in six places.
For ten days Shepherd struggled with the thought of going back to her broken body. She tells us of the sensation of drifting in and out of consciousness until after that time she made the decision to return to her body and the internal bleeding stopped.
Next doctors had to repair Shepherd’s bony injuries. Her neck fracture was stable but her first lumbar vertebra was completely crushed. Surgeons repaired this, fused her T12, L1 and L2 together and took out several broken ribs. When she woke, Janine was delighted because she could move her big toe. She thought she was still going to the Olympics. Then she was told she’d never walk without calipers.
Shephard describes with great honesty and feeling the time that followed. She was moved to an acute spinal ward, which she shared with five other people. This ward was her sanctuary; everybody else was paralysed and they shared their innermost thoughts and feelings. One day a nurse came into the ward with a pile of plastic straws. They threaded them all together and when they’d finished, he joined the straws so they were all connected. At that moment she says, they knew they weren’t in the journey alone.
Leaving the sanctuary of the hospital, Shepherd was told she was likely to become depressed. And it happened; she realised everything she’d worked towards was gone. She and her mother wondered if life would ever be good again, until Shepherd thought of her friends in the spinal ward. She realised that everybody’s life had been affected; that everyone felt pain. When she heard a plane flying overhead she decided if she couldn’t walk she might as well fly.
Shepherd then goes on to describe that journey. It’s a truly inspirational one. She pushed and worked and went through several more surgeries until she finally passed her medical and went on to receive her pilot’s licence. Within 18 months after leaving the spinal ward she’d received her commercial pilot’s licence and was an instructor in the school she’d trained at. She draws on the words of the philosopher Lao Tzu, “When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be.”
No summary of this talk could do justice to it’s power and the emotional impact it has on the viewer. Janine Shepherd isn’t just her body, just as we aren’t just ours. In her words;
All that matters is that we continue to fan the flame of humanity by living our lives as the ultimate creative expression of who we really are,because we are all connected by millions and millions of straws,and it’s time to join those up and to hang on.


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