Let me have the privilege of introducing you to Emma Carey, a girl who, despite facing unimaginable challenges in her life, at 25 radiates positivity like no one I’ve ever seen. Her near-death experience is one that will bring you chills, and make you appreciate every moment of life.
What’s her story?
At 20-years-old, and with her whole life ahead of her, she packed her bags to embark on a European adventure. Only a few days into her itinerary she headed to Switzerland and booked a skydiving experience in pursuit of her dream to soar over the Swiss Alps. On the 19th of June 2013, Emma prepared to make her dream come true, taking to the skies with nothing but pure excitement about jumping out of a plane. Something that was supposed to be an amazing, dream-fulfilling experience ended in a freak accident resulting from an issue with her parachute release. She hit the ground…hard, with an unconscious instructor strapped to her back (he survived with serious injuries), a broken back (at L1), sacrum and pelvis, chipped teeth and the realisation that she had no feeling in her legs. You can read more about her accident here, as what I really want to talk about is much more than her incredible story. I want to shine a light on her hero status as the true inspiration she is.
View this post on Instagram
So here is it… welcome to the spot where I landed. I’ve learnt on this trip that you never really know how things are going to make you feel and there’s no point in even trying to anticipate them. I went here ready to feel whatever I needed to but surprisingly nothing came, and I felt completely fine. As I looked around, all I could think was how the heck did we survive? How on earth were we lucky enough to land on grass?! The field is surrounded by alps, trees, cliffs, lakes, buildings… yet we landed right here, 2 metres away from a hard, asphalt road. That’s when I realised… this ground didn’t break me, not at all. It caught me. I learnt very early on in this whole journey that your happiness in life is based on one main thing and that’s perspective. Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. Whether you see a skydiving accident as lucky for surviving, or unlucky for happening in the first place. Whether you can forgive and find compassion, or hold anger and spend your life in hatred. Whether you are thankful for landing on grass, or resent that you didn’t land on your feet. Whether you are grateful for walking, or are ashamed of having a limp. People often ask me how I choose the glass half full option and to me it’s simple… I would prefer to be happy. This place changed my life in ways I’m still learning even five years on, but how lucky am I that I got to stand here today… STAND. On the same two legs which stopped working in this very spot. My friend once said something to me which summed it up perfectly. He said ‘the ground was hard enough to change you but soft enough to keep you.’ I like that a lot. PS. Sorry for the last photo… I couldn’t not 💁🏼♀️😂 PPS. Anyone else notice the difference in the sky?
Against all odds, and her diagnosis, she has retaught herself how to walk, giving her the remarkable status of walking paraplegic. As phenomenal a feat as that is, one she attributes to a combination of good luck and hard work, it comes with its own set of battles and challenges. Understandably, it took Emma time to adjust, come to terms with and accept the life she now lives, but she has been transparent throughout the whole process – openly discussing the time and hurdles it took to get her to this point of positivity. From her social feeds, people could quickly assume that she is a normal 25-year-old girl, living her best life – but her captions (which she treats as diary entries) don’t hide her humanity or injury. With a refreshingly honest approach she discusses her ups and downs, setbacks, and bad days, but through it all she comes out the other side with a smile on her face and something positive to say, and that is what is truly admirable.
View this post on Instagram
Last week on my stories, I shared a side of my life that not many people get to see. I say ‘side’ but really it’s more like a huge, gigantic chunk which takes up the majority of my mind. I filmed a different kind of ‘day in the life’ to show you some of the everyday things I live with because of my spinal cord injury. From what you normally see on my instagram, it probably doesn’t seem like my injury is very present in my life anymore, but in reality that’s so far from the truth. It’s a strange feeling to have people constantly telling you how well you’ve healed. On one hand you know they’re completely right. You know you’re indescribably lucky to have healed enough to live with the gifts of movement and independence. But on the other hand, sometimes it can be hard to feel ‘healed’ when your injury seeps into every single minute of every single day. Even in moments like this one 👆🏻 where I’m not doing anything in particular, it’s still on my mind. I’m concentrating on how to put one foot in front of the other when I walk, I’m thinking I better hurry up and get home because my pad is full and I need to do a catheter before it starts to leak everywhere, I’m thinking about how I want to take my shoes off to walk on the sand but I’m too scared I’ll get a cut in my heel if I’m barefoot. Sometimes I think my mind must have been blank before I was injured because I genuinely don’t remember what it would be like to not be thinking about these things at all times. I’m not saying this to say my life is hard (it’s not) and I’m not saying this for pity (trust me, I absolutely love my life). I’m saying this because I’m passionate AF about spinal cord injuries and I want to do my best to inform and educate anyone who wants to listen. I’m also saying this because it’s important remember that every single person has things going on in their life that we know nothing about. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, have a watch of my ‘day in my life’ story highlight. If anyone has any questions AT ALL feel free to ask. Nothing is off limits and I definitely don’t consider anything to be taboo, so ask away! 💛 ps. Also answering questions on my story x
Coming across Emma’s page and all the facets of her life that she shares on social media has given me a chance to reflect on what I would do in her situation, and whether I would handle it so gracefully. It takes an unworldly strength to react in the way that she has, and express it in the way she does. After a life-changing event such as this she could have easily thrown herself into the ‘too hard’ basket and let life pass her by. Instead, she finds herself sharing her days with her loyal audience, with no topic off-limits. She vocalises the not so glamorous parts of the lifestyle she now leads, the daily struggles she faces dealing with the ongoing issues from her injuries, and her raw and honest feelings throughout every stage of her journey, all mixed with the average life decisions you face at her age. This transparency is relatable to not just those facing similar injuries to her, but it speaks to and motivates people in any stage of life.
View this post on Instagram
One day when I was living in the hospital, the doctors decided I had to learn how to pee by myself before I could get sent home. Up until this point I just had a drainage bag attached to me. A nurse came into my room and said she was going to teach me. She told me to lay down on the bed and spread my legs. She attached a mirror to my thigh so I could see a part of me I’ve never had to look at so closely before 😬. She then handed me something which looked like a thick plastic straw and told me to look in the mirror, find my urethra and put the straw inside. I was so confused, the hole was so tiny. It was the most unnatural and difficult thing I’ve ever had to do and it took hours. I’d already been through some pretty weird and uncomfortable stuff but this was a whole new level. Not because of how awkward it was having myself and a stranger touch my private parts for over an hour. But because I realised ‘holy shit, this is how I am going to have to pee for the rest of my life’. It seemed unfathomable to me. It was nearly impossible to do it just once, how on earth was I going to do it 12 times a day? Was I going to have to find a bed, lay down, strap a mirror to my thigh, fumble for hours and drain my bladder into a plastic container every single hour for the rest of my life? No fckn way was I going to do that. She must have sensed my fear because she looked at me and said ‘Emma, you’d be amazed at what you can adapt to’. I didn’t believe her and I wanted to cry. But life went on and just then I woke up, walked to the bathroom, picked up a catheter, drained my bladder in a few seconds, went back to bed and thought nothing of it. It’s as easy as brushing my teeth. It’s as familiar as something I’ve been doing my whole life. Adaptability is something humans do incredibly well. We adapt and we make ‘impossible’ situations a part of our everyday life. Sometimes things will happen that aren’t a part of the plan. But I promise you, that thing you’re going through right now, that thing you think you can’t live with or without, that thing that seems impossible to ever comes to terms with.. you will. You’ll be amazed by what you can adapt to. You’ll be ok.
She now lives with the life motto ‘if you can, you must’, a phrase she coined approximately 3 days after her accident. Having no memory of creating this saying, she found it written in her phone notes sometime after the event and believes she was talking about running (a beloved hobby of hers). She had the intention to go for a run the morning of the skydive, however, made excuses and put it off (something we are all guilty of). In hindsight, she obviously now wishes she could go back to a time when she could run among other things, but instead of being sad over this, she chooses to live a life dictated by this self-written quote. Although for her personally it now relates to smaller tasks, it is something that each of us can live by. Most of us are lucky enough to have healthy, functioning bodies, something that we too often take for granted. Reading Emma’s story allows you to find new motivation, an excuse to get up and move your body in any way you can, a reason to cherish the small things in life you love, and a push to do them often.
Emma uses the amazing platform she has created to spread positivity far and wide, along with raising awareness for spinal cord injuries. Currently, she is writing a book on her journey and talking at events such as the League of Extraordinary Women and Business Chicks, all whilst working with the charity Wings for Life to raise money for spinal cord research, and managing her injuries. She shows her appreciation for the gift of life daily, and considers herself to be the happiest she has ever been because of her situation, rather than despite it. She has a wealth of knowledge beyond her years due to the lessons she has learnt from a near-death experience and she wants to share these with others, allowing people to learn from her without having to experience it themselves.
View this post on Instagram
Fun fact: If you were to ask me 5 years ago what my biggest fear was… I would have without a doubt said public speaking. I have always been incredibly shy, to the point where I actually found a way to avoid doing speeches throughout high school because they made me THAT nervous. As it turns out, the upside of falling from the sky is realising that if you can survive that… you can pretty much do anything. So with that in mind, I forced myself to conquer my fear. Public speaking is something that I still get super nervous to do, but once I start talking I don’t ever want to stop. I actually can’t believe how much I’ve fallen in love with standing on stage and holding a microphone. You know when something just feels right? Honestly it’s probably because I’ve always wanted to be a singer/performer like t-swiz aaaand this is as close as I’m gonna get because I’m tone deaf… but whatevs, I’ll take what I can get 💁🏼♀️. A few days ago I did my first big talk in front of a few hundred people at @theleaguewomen alongside epic humans like @yummololaberry and I absolutely LOVED it. It made me realize that this is exactly what I want to be doing, even if it makes me nervous. I’ll actually be back down in Melb again this weekend to speak at @businesschicks, is anyone coming?! It’s so crazy how my biggest fear turned into something I love so much. Life hey? It never ever stops surprising me! For anyone wondering how I push through the nerves, I have a little tip which you can use in any situation. Whenever I start to question whether or not I can do something, I tell myself ‘You’ve been through worse, this is easy. You got this’. Picture a moment that was incredibly hard to get through, and remember how you survived. Then realize that in comparison this is easy peasy. Oh and then do a power move like punch your fist in the air and yell ‘wooooo’ (not joking, I did this before I went on stage 😂)
What we can learn
Emma Carey truly is the girl who fell from the sky, with a story and attitude to match. Having read her story use it as a motivation in your own life, cherish every moment (yes, even the mundane ones), and live your life to the fullest for those who can’t.