It’s funny how we take for granted the little functions our bodies perform or the actions we complete with ease. How simple tasks like walking, blinking, washing our hands, and taking a shower are that we don’t even notice we complete these behaviors unless we actively think about it. It’s when we can’t walk without avoiding the cracks in the cement, wash our hands without making sure we’ve completed the process of soap, lather, rinse, or blink without counting. It is not until these functions are taken away or actions become increasingly difficult do we realize how meaningful and important they are in our everyday lives.
For Brooke Thabit, it’s no longer about appreciating these activities, but learning to live without them. This nineteen year old sunflower-loving beach-babe is confined to a wheelchair because of an accident that left her immobile with spiral cord injury. Before the mishap, Thabit joined a surf team sponsored by her local surf shop in Florida and was ready to begin her dream career. Three days into her senior year, she dove off a dock, misjudging the water to be more than knee-deep, and broke her neck. The incident left her paralyzed, with little mobility in her arms and none in her legs. Being in a wheelchair is now her life. She cannot get up and move whenever she pleases, she cannot wash her hands at a normal sink because of her wheelchair’s dimensions, and she cannot go to a hotel without bringing a lawn chair to put in the shower. These menial tasks we complete without a second thought are ones Thabit must over-prepare for and creatively alter because of her condition.
Don’t think for a second that this condition is holding her back. This girl has so much more life to live and is strongly motivated to become as independent as possible. Thabit is finishing up her last year of high school, traveling to the beach and living an active lifestyle by doing physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises at least four times a week. She is even working with robotic legs on a treadmill to help reconnect the nerves in her legs and retrain muscle memory.
“I was really active before my injury, so staying active is something that is really important to me. I love to work out. So I will go to the gym for two hours a day even thought it’s different. It means a lot to me. Walking with the robotic legs is really awesome. It was weird at first because I can’t feel my legs. It’s like a crazy feeling.”
Not only is she driven to strengthen herself, but she is also doing whatever possible to help others with the same condition. With Red Bull’s support, Thabit is an ambassador for the Wings For Life World Run. This run is completely sponsored by Red Bull so that one-hundred percent of the proceeds go to spinal cord injury research. And that’s not the only thing that makes this race incredible. There is not one location of the race, but over forty around the world that all begin at the exact same moment, whether that be 4:00 am in Santa Clarita, California, 7:00 am in Sunrise, Florida (which is where Thabit will be participating), or 1:00 pm in Munich, Germany. All participants run for thirty minutes before a “catcher car” starts driving on the same path of the runners. Once the car passes a participant, the race is over for that individual. What’s unique about this race is there are two types of winners: a regional and world winner. When the car catches the last running individual at each site, that person claims the title of the regional winner. The world winner is the runner who outruns the car for the longest time out of all the race locations around the globe. This event is extremely exciting not only because of its purpose, but also because it brings people around the world together to support one cause.
As an ambassador for this run, it is Thabit’s responsibility to bring awareness to spinal cord injury research by being a living example of those who this race is for. She also had the opportunity to help promote and kick-off the event by going skydiving with the Red Bull Air Force Team.
Feeling the chilly air at such a high altitude and being in free-fall, unable to hear herself scream because she is falling so fast are parts that make the experience the most exhilarating. The adventurousness and thrill that comes from tandem skydiving out of a helicopter 12,500 feet in the air makes her forget for a moment that she has paralyzing injury. It leaves her so overjoyed to participate in something where her wheelchair and condition don’t impair her. It may only be a minute in the sky, but it leaves her happy for days on after.
Personally, I’ve never been skydiving. After talking with Thabit, I cannot wait for the next weekend I have off so I can try this adrenaline rush for myself. I do, however, empathize with Thabit and her immobility as I had surgery on my right hip, twice. Now, I’m not saying my injuries are anything compared to her’s, but I do understand what it’s like not being mobile. The first time I wore down the cartilage and labral tissue within my hip from competing in college volleyball and cross country at the same time. About a year down the line, I was way too excited for breakfast, jumped out of bed, and snapped a piece of cartilage off. Yes, I know it’s a bit ridiculous, but it just goes to show that anything can induce an injury. From both surgeries and recoveries, I totaled about nine months of immobility. Being constrained for that time definitely taught me to be more appreciative of the fact that I can climb a tree, carry my own plate to the sink, cut the rug when the music is grooving, and continue my passion for running.
I am lucky to be a fully functioning human after healing from my own injury. After speaking with Thabit, it would feel absurd for me not to run this race. Running for a good cause brings good vibes no matter what. Running for a good cause that is helping someone you know means so much more. In May, I will be running the Wings for Life World Run in Santa Clarita, CA with Thabit in mind. I look forward to participating in this phenomenal event and helping spinal cord injury research progress. Just don’t remind me that I will be waking up before 4:00am to get to the starting line.
Known as The Intern,
Translating sports craze to ink,
Aim is empathy