Then and Now: Craig Crosby

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on September 01, 2021 # Then and Now

Craig CrosbyIn 1990, when Craig Crosby was 20-years-old, he dove off a dock into shallow water and broke his neck. Despite the severity of the injury and the shock of the accident – he was saved from drowning by the swift actions of friends and rushed to the hospital on a helicopter – Crosby initially believed he would be okay. Propelled by a personality the size of his home state of Texas, he planned to push through the grim diagnosis and regain movement. But his optimism soon faded.

“All of a sudden, a week goes by, ten days go by, and you’re really not doing that much more than you were, and doctors are coming in saying ‘Hey, you probably won’t walk again,’” he says. “I had a big ‘Why me’ moment.’”

Anxiety replaced hope as he worried about how the injury would stamp itself across his young life. Would he be able to drive? Would he be able to have sex? When the hospital sent an individual living with paraplegia to share his experience, the difference in function from his own C5 injury felt vast, frustrating Crosby even more.

About a month after the accident, as he was about to begin rehabilitation, Crosby’s beloved Uncle Jerry delivered a much-needed pep talk.

“He said, ‘Well, big boy, this isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll get past it,” Crosby says.

The two were close, and his uncle’s words – blunt but determined – reminded Crosby of the wide-open future still ahead of him; the days of feeling sorry for himself were over.

“That was my mindset from there on out,” he says. “’I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to do the best I can with what I’ve been dealt.’”

Crosby plunged into a six-month rehabilitation program at a Dallas hospital that strengthened both his physical and emotional recovery. A robust social life among the half dozen young patients bookended the hard work of each day’s rigorous eight-hour therapy sessions. The families redecorated the sterile rooms, and with a steady stream of visiting girlfriends, the unit served as a bridge back to regular life.

“What we did was take ownership of the place,” Crosby says. “We played around, stealing each other’s cushions. We were making the best of a bad situation, making it normal. A new normal.”

Crosby carried his uncle’s words with him, whether in the dreaded and difficult respiratory therapy sessions or through the small goals he constantly set himself – like shaving independently as soon as he regained some wrist movement.

“I just tore my face all up,” he laughs. “But this was something I did every day before, so I was going to do it again. Over a period of a couple of weeks, I got pretty good.”

Instead of giving up his pre-accident habits and passions, Crosby adapted them around his injury. After leaving the hospital, he abandoned his patient uniform of sweatpants and embraced his old blue jeans. He began driving and dating again. And, as for heading out to a bar in his cowboy boots for a night of dancing like the old days – well, he did that too.

“It’s a mental game,” Crosby says. “You can be your own worst enemy.”

Ramps, lifts and accessible parking had been built at Texas Christian University because of his injury. When he returned for his junior year, Crosby welcomed the changes that allowed him to easily maneuver around campus but wasn’t immune to self-consciousness—wondering how he looked and what people would think. But he refused to let it derail the life he wanted.

“It was different, for sure, but I kept on keeping on,” he says. “I still wanted to graduate college. I still had the same goals. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to have a family. Nothing changed for me. The only thing that changed was my physical situation.”

More than 30 years after the accident, Crosby has achieved all those goals. His first hopeful instinct in the hospital – that everything would be okay – proved to be true.

After graduating from TCU, Crosby didn’t skip a beat: he lived on his own and built a career, moving from sales at an industrial supply company to IBM and eventually to Microsoft, where he is now an account executive.

In 2003, he met his wife Shannon through the online dating service Yahoo! Personals. The two shared a dozen increasingly long emails and heartfelt conversations before Crosby, who had not wanted her to “have a preconceived notion of the chair,” explained his injury. Though she was nervous, they went on their first date that night.

“Four months later, we were engaged,” he says.

The rest of Crosby’s story – including the arrival of sons Cole (13) and Connor and Cade (10-year-old twins) – remains happily underway.

Of course, there were bumps along the way, from adjusting to caregiving and enduring painful thoracic spine surgeries to conquering his vanity and accepting the necessary transition from a manual to a power wheelchair as he aged. But, again and again, Crosby pushed forward and focused on life’s joys.

On the anniversary of his accident, as he does each year, Crosby reflected on what happened and how it shaped his life. Like so many others in the early days after an injury, he’d felt fear temporarily smother his sense of what was possible.

“What I didn’t know in those first couple weeks is that you define your future – the chair does not, the disability does not,” he says. “Don’t lose sight of who you are and what you want to become. That’s really the key to the whole thing.”

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