At the seemingly invincible age of 26 and looking for some excitement, I made a decision that would change my life forever. I went skydiving, but instead of the smooth landing I had been told to expect by our (later) criminally negligent outrigger, I slammed into the ground, breaking both ankles so badly that my feet were no longer connected to my body.
“Cast me up,” I told the doctors at the ER, unaware of the extent of my injuries and assuming all I had done was break some bones. “I need to be ready to ski in November.”
“How about we talk about you ever walking again,” came the doctor’s grim reply.
I did walk again, eventually, though never with the ease and comfort I once had. And the doctors were right about skiing, along with other physical activities I had previously enjoyed. Those days were over. I could continue to mourn what I had lost, or I could reimagine my life in a new way. I chose the latter, and not for the first time.
I grew up in a rural part of Iowa in what I think of as a Beaver Cleaver kind of childhood. I was waterskiing as a four year old and my dad, who had a terrific sense of adventure and liked to get us adrenaline-fueled toys when my mom was resting after an overnight shift at the hospital, got me my first motorcycle when I was only nine.
Those idyllic years were shattered by the tragic accidental death of my younger brother when I was just 17. The impact on my family was huge. For me, it meant altering my dream of going away for college, as I had planned. For my parents, with loving support and patience, it eventually led to an even stronger relationship. Life is fragile, I learned then; it should never be wasted.
After graduating from a local college, I set out on my own, first (briefly) in Texas and later ending up in Colorado. I worked hard, played hard, and made lots of new friends. It was a full life and not one I wanted to leave behind, even as I embarked on the slow, painful recuperation from my skydiving injury. My parents wanted to take me back to Iowa, but I refused. My legs might have been broken, but my brain worked just fine, so I kept working while navigating life in a wheelchair, then with a walker, and later on crutches. Typical movement ended for me the day I suffered that injury, but new dreams were emerging. I found outlets for adventures that did not require perfect use of my legs, one of which was scuba diving. Today, at the age of 58, I have completed 200 dives, with more trips planned for the near future.
The traditional road of marriage (I have yet to meet the man who would be my soulmate) and children didn’t happen for me. However, in an unconventional way, my dream of having children in my life has been realized. As an aunt to my sister’s five children and as an honorary aunt—the free-spirited Auntie Mame kind—to several others, I have developed relationships just as deep. In addition, being a single woman has given me the time to nurture deep friendships and the freedom to follow my dreams. I have needed to be brave, take risks, and accept/ask for help along the way.
One example of that took place five years ago, when I took an early retirement and moved to Cabo. I spoke very little Spanish and barely knew anyone, but I loved the place and wanted to live near the ocean. I bought a house, made new friends, and became an advocate for spay/neuter campaigns and assisting in pet adoptions in the US. Through that work, I was able to add to my tribe of beloved animal companions, a tribe which is a constant source of love, support, and joy. My animals are truly a blessing and I am so grateful for each of them.
Prior to COVID, I began to feel that as much as I wanted to be in Mexico, I missed Colorado. Mexico feeds my soul, but Colorado grounds me. I decided to return to Colorado part-time, still maintaining my strong ties to Cabo with intentions to return often for extended periods of time. It was a challenging journey, but my animals and I eventually made it back safely just as the country was locking down. In addition to spending an inordinate amount of time with my animal tribe over the next many months, I also discovered a new love: kayaking on Colorado’s lakes. As had happened so often in my life, I found a new passion just when I needed it most.
It is once again time to dream new dreams. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am grateful for all that has unfolded.
It’s never too late to live your next dream.