Once an athlete always an athlete!

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on April 19, 2017 # Adaptive Sports

I am an athlete. I've competed in many sports in my life including swimming, soccer, softball, basketball, lacrosse and my favorite past time – field hockey. So when I turned 30 and was living in San Francisco, I was determined to take on a new sport, a challenge, representing my "Saturn Return" – a milestone endeavor. I joined San Francisco's Team in Training, a wonderful organization that trains athletes for various marathons, cycling races, or triathlons, while raising money to help find the cure for blood cancer through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was a no-brainer for me – I was determined to be a triathlete, one of the most difficult races, as it entails racing back-to-back swimming, biking and running all in one event – a challenging venture for any athlete.

I competed in my first triathlon in 2007 at the acclaimed Wildflower course held at Lake San Antonio in central California – notably the largest triathlon in the world with over 7500 athletes, known for its grueling and hilly course. I spent 4+ months training alongside my newfound triathlon besties swimming, cycling and running together collectively sweating our hearts out – all for a great cause. Many cold foggy Saturday mornings, our team spent stroking through the freezing cold San Francisco Bay, biking up steep unrelenting hills in Marin County and running the eucalyptus–clad paths of San Francisco's beautiful Golden Gate Park. We inspired each other, our friends and our families who garnered the sidelines, whistling and ringing in "more cowbell" to our victorious moments over the finish line.

I spent four years connected to the LLS mission and personally raised close to $15,000– with races completed in San Francisco at the infamous Escape from Alcatraz, three triathlons in Hawaii and finishing with the Nation's Triathlon in Washington DC on 9/11. Looking back, these were my greatest years and I am so proud to have been part of this organization; my Team in Training teammates will undoubtedly be lifelong friends.

And then in August 2014, the unthinkable happened – I jumped into a pool as I had done thousands of times before, but this time overshooting my dive breaking my neck at the C4/5 level instantly paralyzing me from the shoulders down. From that moment on, I would never swim, bike or run ever again. My life as an avid athlete was over and a huge part of my identity was ripped away instantaneously, never to return. It was a devastating and surreal reality.

But with any great tragedy, life moves on and the injured athlete must find a way to survive and compete once again. With the urging and positive attitude of my sister Alison to "get back into the game", I enrolled myself as a disabled athlete in the 10K/6.2 mile Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, South Carolina on April 1, 2017. Alongside my ever-supportive girl squad made up of, my mother Paula, sister Alison, aunt Debbie, niece Mariah and caregiver Linda briskly walked by my side almost 8 1/2 miles to our final destination in downtown Charleston. Independent of help from those around me, I rolled the entire distance of the course, across the beautiful white suspension Cooper River bridge, over the Charleston Harbor and through the downtown cobblestone streets to cross the finish line.

I utilized only my arm driver the entirety of the race, instead of my sip and puff technology – a physical feat as my arm abilities have slowly improved over two years post injury. And so it happened, on a beautiful sunny Charleston Spring morning, I successfully competed and finished in yet another race, proving that paralysis will not stop me. It was a grand day that I will never forget, for I realized once an athlete, always an athlete no matter what the circumstances may be. Competing in this event, even from a disabled perspective, demonstrates that anything is truly possible as long as you put your mind to it – and never let anyone, especially yourself, say any differently.

Keep on keeping on,

EB Forst