I had just celebrated my 20th birthday, enjoying my sophomore year at Brigham Young University, dating my boyfriend of a year, A.J., and enjoying a great winter season. We would go up snowboarding any chance we got in between school and work to max out our ski passes. I loved shredding down the mountain, maneuvering my board over hills and through trees, and loving the perfect Utah powder. And the view from atop the beautiful snow-capped mountains, looking down into the openness of the valley surrounded by absolute stillness was unreal. The mountains were my happy place. Life couldn’t have been any better.
It was Thursday, February 5, 2009, beautiful weather, although not perfect skiing weather since it hadn’t snowed in a couple of weeks. The slopes were icy, which made it a little trickier to control my carving and my landings. It was near the last run of my day on my favorite trail. I went up the side of a hill to try out a new trick but didn’t land it. I got back up, pushed hard and got some momentum to do another trick off of a bigger hill. But I didn’t complete my rotation and couldn’t land on my feet, instead, falling straight on my back and rolling over several times. The wind was knocked out of me and my back was in excruciating pain. I remember trying to get up but not having any control below my waist. My body was unable to move, it was frozen—I was helpless and scared. All I could muster was a prayer to God for relief from all my pain and comfort over my fears.
Ski patrol arrived on the scene and did an assessment: my head was fine, my neck was fine, my arms were fine, my back was in killer pain, and my legs...oh no, I couldn’t feel my legs. I knew this was bad, probably broken bones bad, but I didn’t know just how bad. I remember asking someone to pull out my phone from the pocket of my jacket, so I could let A.J. know that I was in a bad crash and told him to meet me at the hospital. Ski patrol lifted me onto a stretcher, and I was life-flighted to the nearest hospital (the most expensive ride of my life and I can hardly remember it).
A.J. and his dad were waiting at the hospital when I arrived, ready to administer a priesthood blessing for me. I believe in miracles and prayers of healing and comfort, and I really needed that going into this surgery. I don’t remember everything that was said, but I do remember I was told that I would be whole again. Amidst the pacing of all the medical staff, the pain and cold, and feeling my snow clothes getting cut through, I felt peace as I dozed off into surgery. After 16 hours of surgeries, I woke up in the ICU, looking like Will Smith from the movie, “Hitched,” my face swollen all over. I was on a ton of drugs to minimize the intense pain, but I still felt tons of discomfort, grogginess, and nausea. I couldn’t do much on my own; breathing was difficult, eating was a chore especially with no appetite, and sitting...sitting felt impossible - don’t even get me started on bathing or the restroom situation. I had never, nor have I since, felt my body so weak and unresponsive to my commands. During this difficult time, the only saving grace was all of my friends coming and making me laugh during my time of need, telling AJ about my weird drug-induced dreams, and finishing off a the bag of chocolate cinnamon bears while watching the Lake House on Valentine’s Day without any recollection of doing so until A.J. and my siblings reminded me. The ICU was such a blur!
Ten days later, I was moved from the ICU to the rehabilitation unit to begin physical therapy to regain my strength and occupational therapy to learn how to maneuver life in a wheelchair. With injuries such as mine, I was stuck in what is affectionately known as a “turtle shell”, which I would have to wear until my spine was fully healed. I thought things were on the up and up, but then my health kept declining--I lost my appetite, what little food I ate wouldn’t stay down, and I was just skin and bones. After a series of tests, we learned I had pancreatitis because my pancreas was hit with so much trauma from the crash. I had no idea the pancreas could impact my health so much. I was placed on a feeding tube that bypassed the pancreas to provide some nutrients to my body. I was utterly miserable. And when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I got the news of my prognosis--I had a complete spinal cord injury, which meant permanent damage, which meant the chances that I would ever be able to walk again were slim to none.
Wow. This was worse than I could ever imagine. So much was running through my mind. Overwhelmed. 20-year-old, healthy, strong, independent me was overwhelmed. I remember just lying there in the hospital room, weeping for hours, just wanting to wake up from this nightmare. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life now? What about school, career aspirations, possibilities of a family, travel goals, sports?? Like a baby, I couldn’t eat or sit up by myself - let alone put on my own pants or even go to the restroom by myself. As someone who prides herself on being extremely independent, it hurt deep down to the core to feel so helpless; to now become so reliant and such a burden on others. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Try as I might to wish it all away, the prognosis wasn’t going to change and I wasn’t going to walk again. Each day after that, “why me” and a million “what if’s” kept running through my mind and stuck me into a deep, dark, dreary pit.
When there was nowhere left to turn, I turned to God. Overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness, I asked, “Heavenly Father, what am I to do now? How will I ever make it through this? Please help me.” I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. I was scared of what this new reality would look like. All I could see was physical pain, grief, depression, anxiety, anger, and it all seemed unbearable, and I wasn’t ready for it.
My answer came when a thought prompted me to stop relying on my own legs, but those of my Savior, Jesus Christ, to carry me through this life. He would be my legs now, and I could rely on His strength until I could find my own again. He willingly suffered all the pain and sins of the world for me and He knew exactly how I was feeling at that very moment. I need not struggle through this alone. He loved me and was with me, offering up no judgments, just patience and love. He wanted me to keep trying until I could find joy in this new life. The days ahead would be long and they would not be easy, but I knew I would find my way to become whole again. Tears of sadness became tears of hope, feelings of peace and calm overcame me. I knew He was with me and that everything was going to be alright.
I spent the next couple of months in the hospital, learning all I could and giving this no-walking-thing another chance. In full disclosure, there were some long, painful days in physical therapy and I was not always happy but I kept on trying. There were tender mercies along the way. I set little goals that would challenge and encourage me to keep pushing through. I chose to find joy and celebrate small victories along the way like pushing myself up a ramp. Little by little, I grew stronger, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I felt God’s strength and presence each step of the way. And life got better.
The accident is one of the greatest trials I have faced. From those initial days at the hospital, I never would have thought that life could be so good. The miracles didn't come in the way that I expected, but I see miracles everyday. I’ve come to realize that it’s those little moments when we choose to be brave, take on the challenge, and embrace the changes, that we come to understand who we’re capable of becoming and who God sees in us. Little choices I’ve made along the way like getting back on the slopes again, finishing school, getting married to my college sweetheart, A.J. and having three wild wee ones, and planning family trips abroad have shown me that I am stronger and more capable than I ever thought I was. I know who I am. I am Martina, a daughter of God, a believer of Christ, a companion, a mother, a friend, a scholar, a project manager, a disability advocate, a maker of lemon merengue pie out of lemons, a strong, independent, compassionate individual. I know that each and every one of us are so worthwhile to our Heavenly Father. Whoever we think we are, know that He sees our potential and the even greater person we can become. Have faith in Him and allow him to mold us into who He sees we can become. I have learned so much in these few years, and gained perspective on the most precious treasures of life. I understand so much more of the ways of my Heavenly Father and His timing in allowing us to learn and grow as much as we can on this earth. I find great strength and hope in knowing that He has a plan and a purpose for me. And like my blessing said, He made me whole again and I know He is always there for me. Most importantly, I know He loves me and He loves you.
I share my story with you to help you understand that life can change at any moment, and it's up to us to choose which direction it goes. I hope you will choose joy over sadness. Choose faith over fear. Choose today and forward over the past and regret. I hope you can feel God’s love for you on a daily basis, without the need for an accident to remind you that He is always there for you, and He sends angels in the form of family and friends to light your way and remind you of His love. I sure am grateful for these people in my life and I hope that you can find some good folks to share all your memories with as well. I love this perspective from Thomas S. Monson,
“There is no going back, but only forward. Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now, doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for the future…Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family.”