I had just finished up an adaptive ski lesson in a collaboration between Spaulding Ski Club, part of the Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center, an arm of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, and New England Disabled Sports of Loon Mountain. Geoff, my husband, is the Technical Director for Loon’s Snowsports School, but on this day, he was teaching a mono ski lesson, his first love (before me and the kids of course). He and the Spaulding Ski Club travel around to different mountains partnering with a variety of snowsports schools, while providing instructors and equipment. He was working with Meredith on the Magic Carpet with an old friend David Blenkhorn, a veteran NEDS coach of at least 20 years, and Kathleen Salas, one of the therapists from Spaulding. One of Geoff’s absolute favorite moments in life is teaching a brand-new mono skier, as learning to ski is what literally gave legs to Geoff’s career after being paralyzed. He had been excited to work with Meredith as she was young, athletic, determined to learn despite only being eight months out from her accident.
When I came upon the scene, she had just linked three turns, no easy task. Mary Patstone, Director of Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers, stood there next to me with her camera filming and documenting the look on Meredith’s face in that moment- part exhilaration, part tears, part happiness, and part- oh my god- I really can be a skier again! What I heard was David yelling dramatically as she turned the ski, “What have you done with Meredith?”And her yelling back, fighting the tears at this point, “I am Meredith, and I’m skiing!”Then I’m standing there watching, listening, absorbing the moment, because those are the most special–the very moment when we begin to realize all that is still possible, and I’m now crying. I’m crying for Meredith- for her parents- for her teachers- for what is still to come in her awesome life- and for what she has already lost.
Fast forward two years as she is now “checking off a life bucket list item” when her TEDxNewport presentation is shared! Her talk is entitled “Why You Should Include the Adaptively Abled” and covers everything from her accident story to inclusive design to one of her biggest role models to adaptive sports. “I’m stoked to share my story and the insights I’ve gained since being thrown into this crazy beautiful life as a walking incomplete paraplegic!”
Almost three years ago, she sustained an L-1 burst fracture and mid-sternum fracture, when a piano fell on her, which left her paralyzed from the waist down and the hashtag #endpianoviolence. After a 9-hour surgery which fused her T12-L2 using rods, screws, a steel cage, and human cadaver, she had some function in her quads. Throughout her rehabilitation, she regained use of other muscles and nerves, and she continues to actively participate in her recovery, walking short distances without crutches but using AFO braces.
Meredith is a Clinical Specialist in the Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure division for Medtronic, a medical device company. More specifically, she provides the clinical technical support for pacemakers and implantable defibrillators. She spends part of her time in clinics doing device follow-ups with patients and the other part of her time in hospitals when patients get their device first implanted. “I am proud to say that after much trial and error; my team and I were able to successfully adapt my job as a Clinical Specialist to meet my mobility and stamina needs. Being able to return to the same job I had prior to my accident in essentially full capacity has been huge mentally and professionally. I have proven to myself and people both within my company and our customer base that having a physical disability does not make me any less competent than my colleagues. It just means I use a wheelchair in the OR and might struggle with product that is on the top shelf in closets.”
Her progress in three years has been a remarkable story to follow, and what began as an adaptive sport story success has truly mirrored her healing process. She has learned since first tackling monoskiing is that “that there is a very steep learning curve to the sport but that my passion for skiing runs deeper than my frustration from falling so much. I made big progress last season in becoming more independent in a monoski and as Geoff would say, ‘It’s just a mileage game now.’After each fall this season, I would say to myself, ‘I will not let a PIANO stop me from doing something I love!’Skiing has always been a recreational passion of mine, but what has changed since my accident and especially in the last two years is my involvement with swimming. What started as aquatic therapy to learn to walk again has turned into my new passion, my new motivation to get out of bed, and my new dream of swimming in the 2020 Paralympics for Team USA!”
Listen toMeredith Koch’s TEDxNewport presentation (starting at the 5 hour 54 minute mark) and follow her Paralympic swimming dreams in 2020, as she continues to be one to watch– and to learn from.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 7 and 6. Please check out her novel True North, website http://www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, @heatherkrill1 on Twitter, and, most recently added in the New Year, her Youtube channel “Writing from the Front.”