In this time of quarantine, we’ve all learned to live differently, each in our own way, reflecting on what’s important in life.
But for me, it’s not a new normal. I feel like I started this journey long before COVID-19 arrived. For the past year, I’ve been in recovery from a traumatic riding injury—and I’ve been living a more grateful, simpler, and more thoughtful life as a result, one more focused on what really matters.
Ironically, horses came into my life as a solution to a health problem. Not the cause of one.
When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with a mild form of muscle weakness that affected my speech, coordination and the strength of my upper body and thorax area. It became important to start early interventions with speech and physical therapy. Along with the traditional modalities the doctors recommended, my mother placed me in what was a new idea of therapy at the time, therapeutic riding.
That was the ticket. When traditional speech therapy didn’t yield results, the therapist began to incorporate equestrian terms to encourage me to make sounds. For example, I couldn’t brush a pony unless I could mumble the “B” for brush.
So, it began! I had my first pony by age three and no intention to stop.
I started showing horses at age seven and worked my way up the divisions until I reached the international level as a young adult. I was training, at this point, under two Olympians. Now, I’m a 34-year old striving professional Grand Prix show jumper.
For the past several years, I’ve been building my career in horses. I competed and trained. I began taking on extras rides, working for a few wonderful families—experiences that would enhance my skills and promote my education in the sport. I am very grateful for those opportunities.
I also started my own horse transport company, actively expanding my business alongside my competitive career. In short, I was living my passion. My love for the horse and the joy of being outside and traveling is always number one for me.
Fast forward to April 9th, 2019.
I was visiting family in Scottsdale, AZ when an equestrian acquaintance asked for help with a young horse that needed exercise. I thought I had enough information about it regarding training, behavior and all. I trusted the individual.
With any sport comes risks, especially at the upper levels, and as a professional horseman, I’m well aware of the ones I take everytime I set foot in a stirrup. I just didn’t think I was about to take a risky ride that day.
When the rodeo ended, I found myself on the ground of the arena unable to move. I knew something was terribly wrong. What I didn’t know was that I would spend the next few months in the hospital.
I learned later in the emergency trauma room that I had broken my femur and left hip. I had surgery to repair and realign the femur, patched together with a titanium rod, multiple screws and a plate. I was told my mobility and most likely my riding would be off the table for the near future.
I’ve been in and out of rehabilitations centers and physical therapy clinics for a year now. I’ve learned more about how to walk than I ever imagined possible. And also about gratitude.
The amazing nurses and staff along with my immediate family—my mother and my aunt, in particular—have pushed me forward on a daily basis and continue to do so.
Each day started staring down a long road to recovery; some easier than others. I had to learn to fight through pain and new levels of stress brought on by my “new normal’.’ One-foot forward was always the key to get me going. I struggled to find positive things in each day.
Through it all though, I was constantly reminded how much I wanted to get back on a horse. The nurses, always quick with an encouraging word, would ask about my riding, my life travels, and my family history. Focusing on what I loved began to make the light at the end of the tunnel feel stronger. I was going to find a way back to the barn no matter what. Horses are my passion.
Broken hip and femur. Plates, screws and titanium rods. I won’t ever take for granted my freedom to walk again. I may have a limp now and be looking at another surgery, but I don’t need a wheelchair, or a walker, or to lean on my mother for balance. Occasionally, I still use a cane but even that is slowly getting better.
Every day, I seem to be getting stronger. Even the smallest improvement at this point is a gift.
This isn’t the life I imagined I’d have at 34. But it’s one I’m grateful to be living.
I am grateful to get up every day on both legs. I get to walk into physical therapy and push to continue getting stronger.
I’ve had and continue to have incredibly supportive family, therapists, sport trainers, coaches and multiple health professionals in my corner—people fighting to get me back to my dreams and goals. I can’t begin to thank these awesome individuals. They’ve stood by me during this challenging time, always putting my health, well-being and emotional journey first. They inspire me to strive to get stronger, to live each day to the fullest.
And it seems that might be the greatest gift from this experience. As we all continue to grapple with COVID-19, I hope that others have found their team of cheerleaders to prop them up and push them forward in the hardest hours.
I may be on the sidelines but I’m not out of the game. None of us are.
Patrick’s story originally appeared in Kerri Foster’s blog, Fostering Wellness & Health. Check it out!