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How This Woman Refused to Let Paralysis Undermine Her Optimism and Faith

by | Feb. 25, 2020

On this week's episode of  This Is the Gospelduring a weekend adventure, Utah State University track star, Brittany, fell in love with climbing the red rocks of southern Utah. And a moonlight repel from a 200-foot cliff with a friend was just the adventure Brittany was looking for. But that night, adventure quickly turned to tragedy, leaving Brittany with a life-changing diagnosis and leading her to appreciate a new relationship with her Savior. 

Read an excerpt adapted from her story below. You can also listen to the full episode here or read a full transcript here. 

In March of 2012, our coaches gave us the weekend off before outdoor track season started. I took the opportunity to join some friends down in St. George for a little bit of a spring break climbing trip. We started climbing at 7:30 a.m.— climbed all day—I fit in six runs in between and ended the night swimming. So when I got the invitation to go out for a moonlight repel. . . If you haven't gotten the gist, I was always up for an adventure. . . And so when I got that invitation I accepted and was all for it. And it was there that we went to Cougar Cliffs. 

Sitting at the top of the cliff, I was just looking up at the stars and had this peaceful feeling. And once we started the descent of the repel, I had no idea how big the cliff was. And so as we started rappelling, that rope was really heavy and I'd never done a repel like this before, of this size. The cliff was 250 feet. And so as the speed kind of picked up, I tried to slow myself down, and my hand was burning so badly that, it was just instinct to let go. We later found out I had a third-degree burn on my hands, so I had held on for as long as I could to try and slow my descent but. . . At that point, it was a freefall for the next 80 to 100 feet. I kept wondering, when's the ground going to come? And all of a sudden, just bam, there it was.

After the initial shock of the fall, I kind of came to my senses again. I looked up at the sky and how peaceful it was. And the fellow I was with had gone to call for help so, I was all alone. And I knew something was wrong. But as I looked up at the night sky, I just had this peaceful feeling again, and I thought to pray. I tried to roll over to maybe kind of kneel and pray and I couldn't even roll over. I didn't think anything weird of it. I just decided to stay on my back and look up at the stars and pray and it was kind of one of those desperate. "Heavenly Father, you know, please help me. I know I'm in trouble. I don't know what kind of trouble, but, like, if you help me in this situation, I'll do anything you ask." and maybe kind of bargaining with the Lord. But I just felt such peace as I laid there alone.

Slowly, search and rescue came and found me and started boarding me up. Life Flight had landed and they were getting ready to take me to the hospital. They life-flighted me to Las Vegas. They whisked me away into surgery, and I woke up 10 hours later, with my mother by my bedside. I was still intubated and couldn't speak and my mom was able to just sit by my bedside and read scriptures to me to help me calm down. I knew what had happened, but I didn't know why I couldn't talk or move. And so the scriptures were able to just bring peace.

I ended up with lots of broken bones in my legs, a burnt right hand and multiple fractures in my spine, including my T12 vertebrae, which burst instantly paralyzing me from the waist down. The official diagnosis was a spinal cord injury and paraplegic. I had been filled with a lot of optimism and hope in those moments that I was awake. And it wasn't until I had been moved upstairs and I looked down my legs for the first time. When I looked down, I wanted to see my strong running legs. But instead, what I saw were these swollen, lifeless, cut up and bruised legs. That was my first moment of kind of doubt and discouragement crept into my mind. And that was the first time that I questioned: "Who am I anymore?"

From Las Vegas, I was eventually transferred to another rehab hospital in Colorado, which was Craig Hospital. And it was there at Craig Hospital that I learned to live life again in a wheelchair. The simplest tasks became such a struggle to learn again, and from there I went through months and months of intense rehabilitation and physical therapy. And even after I was discharged from the hospital, I continued to learn how to walk. Once my bones had healed in my legs. I'd regained some muscle function and sensation in my legs enough to walk with a walker. And then eventually I learned to walk with crutches. And I can take some independent steps on my own, but I fall pretty quickly. It was an intense year of physical therapy and healing both spiritually and emotionally. 

It wasn't until about a year and a half into my recovery. And I had finally kind of slowed down and realized that this is permanent. My paralysis wasn't going away. And that's when I kind of hit my spiritual and emotional low. And those were the moments where I felt completely alone and wondered where that promise was that God had given us saying, "I will not leave you comfortless." There I was, feeling pretty dang comfortless and questioning everything that I had... I knew about our loving Heavenly Father. But I came to learn with perspective in hindsight, during those months of darkness and depression and grief, that Heavenly Father was aware of what I was going through. He had to allow me to feel that darkness. . . to feel that sadness, so I could understand what others have gone through and will go through and are going through. 

As I continued to do those small and simple things, there was no one light bulb moment when everything came together and I was happy again. It was more of a gradual coming back to myself. . . coming back to finding joy and choosing joy. Because we're taught that it's our reaction to adversity, not adversity itself, that that really matters. And so, we don't always get to choose what happens to us, but we always get to choose how we react. And I don't think Heavenly Father's upset with us when we feel the sadness and the darkness, but just as long as we still choose him at the end of the day.

My life now is nothing like what I would have pictured myself. If you had asked 21-year-old Brittany where she would be in seven years, I would not have painted this picture. But now that I'm living it, it's so beautiful, as I've become a wife and a mother and I still am able to be active and get outdoors. That looks different than what I would have imagined and what I would have preferred running on my own two feet, but I still able to get out there and live a full and beautiful life regardless of my abilities and my circumstances. And each and every one of us can live this beautiful full life that Heavenly Father has planned for us as we learn to be content with our circumstances. I learned this before my accident, during my accident and now still. It's so hard when those feelings of loss and grief resurface. But, then I look at my beautiful life and I realized that gratitude and grief can coexist. And so just allowing myself to feel the sadness, but then to look up and to look around at how beautiful life still is. I'm still me. I'm still Brittany. And that that has brought a lot of comfort to me knowing that grief and gratitude can coexist. 

Images: Courtesy of Brittany 
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