Twelve years ago, I was a passenger in a life-changing motorcycle accident. Photos of my injuries circulated the internet throughout the motorcycle community more times than anyone can count. There were aspects to my story that could not be photographed, like the healing process, personal change and emotional struggle. So, I wrote about my experience exactly a year after the crash. Little did I know that the article would go viral and forever dub me as “The Roadrash Queen.” That story continues to be used as a cautionary tale even today. However, what I wrote in 2006 is barely a fraction of my current reality.
After years of painful recovery, I am left with physical scars you can see, and emotional damage a camera simply cannot capture. When I first wrote about my injuries a year after the crash, I was barely able to recount my experiences without feeling sick. I had no idea the extent of the battle that still lay ahead of me.
Regardless of the changes my body had already gone through, the true struggle was yet to come. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered I was no longer the person I once knew. I was different, unpredictable even to myself, and my body was more and more unfamiliar. I had to learn that, because of the crash, both life and limb would never be the same.
To this day, when interviewed, I am repeatedly asked about the crash and my accomplishments. “What happened? What have I done since the accident?” The question I am never asked, however, is, “HOW ARE YOU?” Rarely has anyone had the courage to dive deeply into the long-term effects on my psyche and spirit. Perhaps it’s because opening Pandora’s box to discover the true meaning of “lifelong consequences” is terrifying. Trust me, I get it. Instead, let’s embrace it. I believe the true power of my story exists in that place we are all afraid to explore.
For 10 years I have honed my skills as a safety instructor and public speaker to try to reach my fellow riders. Those who have attended my presentations get an in-depth account of my life since being skinned alive. I wish it was easy to explain what it’s like to establish a way of living that deals with daily pain; a state of being I’ve simply named my “new normal.”
I’m 32 and I have arthritis in more places than most people twice my age. There are things I can no longer do that I used to love and would still love if I hadn’t ripped my body apart. I struggle every day to accept my physical limitations and embrace the fact that I might never again be the extremely athletic girl I once was. In my mind I am still that person, but my body simply refuses to cooperate. For those who have never experienced long-term disability, there is no way to describe the feeling that you are trapped inside your own body. Beyond the physical pain, there is no instruction manual for how to handle those feelings. I’m still trying to figure it out.
There is a constant internal battle that rages inside me. I have lost so much of my memory surrounding the accident, and yet the horrible vision of the crash itself stays fresh in my mind. Sometimes when I least expect it, an irrational fear that never existed before, and that I cannot control, takes over. I have flashbacks that paralyze me, some for a few moments and others for several minutes. I used to find myself wondering if it would eventually go away. I am still reluctant to say “PTSD” out loud because I’m terrified of the implications and what it might mean for my future. One day I will have to confront it head on.
Before the accident, I was selfish and impulsive, focusing solely on the quickest and greatest rewards for myself. Now, I look back on the fear and despair I forced my parents through, and it hurts more than any physical pain I’ve endured. My choices that day took away my ability to have children. Much of my battle has been trying to accept that I did this to myself, although unintentionally. These thoughts cause strong feelings of shame and sorrow that I cannot shake. I like to think that I have no regrets, but that is a huge lie I tell myself to get by. Guilt is such a careful con artist and I’m still attempting to understand how much it has forever changed me
The good news is that I now have more than just a survival story. Motorcycling is the greatest joy I have ever brought into my life. I share this part of my journey not so others will be afraid, but so my fellow riders might truly understand that the risk is real and safety should be taken seriously. I wake up everyday knowing that I can help motorcyclists not have to experience such things, and that truly keeps me going. I expose this part of my life as a way of connecting others to the reality of their choices both on and off the motorcycle. I urge my fellow riders to think about what matters most to them and make decisions based on those values. It is one of the reasons I am thrilled and grateful to be a guest editor and contributor with the WRN team.
Some days are harder than others, but I am always trying to learn more about my post-crash self. I have, hopefully, many years ahead of me, and I’m looking forward to more healing and a deeper understanding of this new normal. In the end, this is not the end for me. It is barely the beginning.
This story was also published by Women Riders Now.