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September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month

Told Through Stories of Those With an SCI

The month of September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. As someone who has experienced the hardships of having a loved one affected with a spinal cord injury, raising awareness and knowledge about these often misunderstood injuries is something that is very important to me. For this reason, I wanted to not only highlight spinal cord injuries but also show the difference your mindset can make when approaching training, injuries, and even your everyday life!

I was fortunate enough to talk with Hanna Sheppard and my dad, Joe Cunningham, to see how having an SCI has impacted their lives. My dad and I were injured in a car accident in 2015, and Hanna’s injury occurred in 2008, after a swimming accident, at the age of 13.

Background

Prior to the car accident, my dad, a former construction worker, was used to being independent. If there was work on the car that needed to be done, he would do it. A sink that needs fixing? He’d get that done too! Now, one of the most challenging things he has experienced after his injury was this sense of helplessness. He had to rely on others for almost everything. He couldn’t feed himself, drive a car, or even put on his own clothes. This once independent man now had to learn his limitations and become accustomed to asking for help. But, nowadays my dad gains a sense of accomplishment from finding new meals to try and serving as the recipe-crafter for his friend’s home-brew operation.

Joe Cunningham

For Hanna, life before her SCI consisted of multiple sports, school, and the minimal responsibilities of being a teenager. Today, with her injury, she has found a new passion: the gym! Although physical strength will always pose a problem for her, due to partial paralysis stemming from Brown Sequard Syndrome, she has seen tremendous improvement in her movement and gait through going to the gym. Not only does the gym provide physical benefits for Hanna, but it also serves as mental and emotional therapy as well! She loves the feeling of an endorphin high, getting her heart rate up, and directly seeing results from her hard work.

Hanna Sheppard

The Challenging Days

As with training, recovering from an injury is a process filled with ups and downs. While it is easy to have goals and stay positive on good days, the bad ones truly help us grow. For Hanna, reminding herself challenging days are “only a DAY and not a bad LIFE,” helps her maintain positivity throughout the tougher times. These difficult days help her appreciate the good ones.

For my dad, focusing on the support he has through lifelong friends and family enables him to see past whatever difficult road is ahead. Rather than dwell on things he struggles with or cannot do, he chooses to focus on things he can accomplish and enjoys watching his friends do the activities that he currently cannot.

Flowers

Goals

One of the best ways to maintain a positive outlook through even the most challenging times is to set goals. While many of us have running and fitness goals, goals for everyday life are just as important!

Due to his paralysis, my dad has had to learn his limitations and adjust his goals accordingly. For years, he has kept our four-wheeler in the garage, simply happy to watch his friends ride it. This year, for father’s day, we purchased a UTV customized for him to drive. Rather than simply enjoying watching his friends go for rides, now, my dad’s goal is to drive his new toy along with them!

Hanna values happiness above all else and sets it as a priority. Chasing happiness has led her to start a new dream job after a long journey of tests and certifications! Maybe eventually she’ll even get a dog or her own apartment. Whatever direction life takes her, Hanna knows she wants to be happy!

2 Thumbs Up

One thing both Hanna and my dad have in common is an overarching sense of positivity despite the challenges they face on a daily basis. This is a theme we can learn from and apply to our own lives and training, especially when things are not going our way. By looking for the positives and focusing on the things we can do and control, we can find happiness and greater satisfaction in our training and all of our accomplishments!

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