A personal marathon

A personal marathon

Kimberly Kelley spends hours a day working out and she’s got the sculptured arms to prove it – arms emblazoned with lacy tattoos that bear the messages, “This too, shall pass” and “Fear is lack of faith.”

Kimberly does not lack for faith, at least not faith in herself. But, she is being seriously tested.

Less than a year ago, a car accident tried to claim the use of her legs. Tried, because Kimberly has no intention of giving up anything. She won’t even use the word that so many people have gently and not-so-gently attempted to force into her brain and into her soul: “paralyzed.”

“I refuse to see myself as handicapped,” says Kimberly. “I don’t even have a special license plate. I need to keep my brain believing that I will walk again.”

The accident happened on a rainy New Year’s Eve when she was driving from her home in New Hampshire to her mother’s in Maine. A single parent, Kimberly and her five children, ranging in age from 11 to 19, were planning to move to Colorado and she had some things she wanted to leave behind with her mother. Just as she crossed the Maine/New Hampshire border, she hit a patch of black ice.

“My Land Rover was top heavy,” she says as she describes what happened. “It went into a full spin and headed into a field, where it rolled over. I wasn’t wearing my seat belt. I usually do, but I was distracted when I left. I was thrown out and the minute I hit the ground I knew. It felt as if my legs were hovering above my body.”

Kimberly and her family did not move to Colorado. Instead, they moved to Maine, back home with her mother. Every day her children help strap her legs into specially made braces that reach from her hips to her feet. Then they wrap their arms around her and lift her up out of her wheelchair so she can stand. She has to lean against something sturdy for support, but all that matters is that she is standing.

“It’s important to be up,” she says. “To feel upright, tall, and physical – to feel pressure on my legs and for my brain to remember what it feels like.”

She made up her mind she would walk again during her first round of rehab.

“They were lovely,” Kimberly says, “but their philosophy was to teach me how to live as a disabled person. I constantly heard that I wouldn’t have the same life. It pissed me off. I said no thank you, and decided to fight.”

In June, she started therapy at New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland. To her great relief, she wasn’t told she had to learn to accept her disability.

“They told me,” she says, “they would teach me what I need now so that I can learn to walk again.”

She practices using parallel bars or a walker for support. Determination is written all over her face – it’s in her focused, steady gaze and in the set of her jaw. Slowly and deliberately, she moves one leg straight forward and then the other.

“I prefer to work hard,” she says.

Even when she seems exhausted, Kimberly walks. Once she had no feeling from the belly button down, and now she feels all the way down to the top of her thighs. Every change, no matter how little, is a good thing.

One step at a time. A cliche?, but in this case appropriate. That is how Kimberly Kelley must train for her personal marathon. First one step and then another and someday she will walk again. Don’t ever try to tell her otherwise.

Kimberly Kelley, 46, was in a rollover accident late in 2011 that resulted in paralysis of her legs. A single mother of five, Kelley refuses to entertain the possibility that she’ll never walk again. Her tattoo, inked since the accident, reads, “Fear is lack of faith.”     

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