Monday, July 30, 2012

Down the Streets of Dodge

Living in Southwest Kansas, options are limited for big ticket events unless you want to drive to Wichita or Kansas City.  The one event we can always count on is Dodge City Days. Voted one of ABA’s 2012 Top 100 Events in North America, Dodge City Days is a 10-day log celebration that includes concerts, a craft show, the rodeo, a professional barbeque contest, the parade, and a classic car show among many other things.

Growing up, I never missed the concert or the rodeo…they were THE events of the year. It was a time to see all your friends, catch up with others from out of town, and meet plenty of new people.

I haven’t been able to partake in the festivities since my accident; I’ve always been off somewhere for physical therapy or had something else going on. This year is no different – Saturday was the concert, but I wouldn’t even have thought of going because it was the day that Tracy and Ross tied the knot. The rodeo runs from Aug 1-5 and I will be in Topeka for a conference.

Ross and Tracy Smith

Although I won’t be able to hit up the “big ticket” items of Dodge City Days, I was able to be involved in the Dodge City Days/AMBUCs Parade! Instead of riding around in a slick car, waving to all of the parade goers, I was asked to sit in on the judging panel!

This year’s parade theme was “Still Taming the West” and let me tell you there was some great entries. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I thought us judges would leisurely get to watch the parade and circle some numbers as they crept on down the street. I was a bit wrong…well on the leisurely part anyways! I was circling and turning pages as fast as possible while trying to watch the parade as well. Much more stressful than I thought!

This year’s parade had 117 entries and among my favorites were the Credit Union of Dodge City, the Gunfighters, RUK, Victory Electric, and DC Diamonds. I was extremely impressed – there were some great floats and entries!

A big "Thank You" goes out to AMBUCs for allowing me to help out with the judging. 
I had a great time!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Letters from Home

The response to my last few blogs about my accident has been overwhelming – I can’t thank you all enough for reading! I received numerous comments and questions and even had a few suggestions as to what I could possibly write about next, such as what my parents’ reactions were to everything and was there anything that inspired me and kept me going?

I’m still working on having my mom help me write a blog about my accident from her view, so tonight I will write about my inspirations…what kept me going.

As soon as word spread about my accident, I received phone calls, emails, cards, flowers, and so many prayers from all over the place. I cannot praise my family, friends, and community enough because you could feel the love and all of the prayers that were sent my way...that in itself was what kept me going. It was one of my biggest inspirations.

I still have each and every card that I received while I was in the hospital and they mean the world to me, but I have three that I would like to mention. These cards and letters hold a special place in my heart and their words were so encouraging and so helpful to me that I feel forever indebted to them. 

The first letter came from Mr. Jared Estes, himself. For those of you who do not Jared, you need to get to know him. He is such an inspiration to me, as well as so many others. In 2005, Jared was in a horrific car accident – an accident that killed his wife, Paige, and left him with severe burns all over his body, especially his upper body. Throughout numerous years of physical and occupational therapy, multiple surgeries and procedures, Jared has prevailed and has done so with a constant smile on his face and the best attitude a person could ever have.

Just one year and a few months later after his accident, he sent me a letter with such encouraging words to never give up and work hard to complete my goals. In his letter, he also provided me some cash to “bribe the nurses with.” He guaranteed me that if I slip them a $20 bill, I would always get red jello (which we all know is the best flavor)! He also provided me with a bracelet that Paige had made – Jared wore this bracelet throughout his first year of rehabilitation and wanted to provide me with the good luck it had provided him...and let me tell you, it has.


I received my first bouquet of flowers the day I was moved from ICU onto the regular floor. It was an extremely colorful arrangement in a white wicker basket and had a few butterflies floating among the flowers. That same day I received a cute card from that same person which reads, “Emily - Smile, laugh, and keep strong. You are in my thoughts and prayers. –Butch”

On Sunday, July 30th, 2006 – just eight days after my accident, Butch Riegel was killed in a car accident. It shook to me to my core when my brother Jason called me to tell me the news and all I could do was cry and remember his words he wrote in that cute little card.

After my accident, Butch had told a close family friend that he just knew that everything was going to be alright and that I would be okay. I’m not certain if that was a premonition of sorts, but what I do know is that Cassidy “Butch” Riegel is my guardian angel and I feel as if he is constantly looking out for me. I hope to never disappoint him and I hope that he knows that when I take my first steps, those steps are for him.


Last, but not least, on August 16th, 2006, I received an encouraging letter from K-State’s head football coach Bill Snyder. His daughter, Meredith, was told she would never walk again after a car accident in 1992 left her paralyzed from the neck down. She defied her doctor's words and now walks with a cane, has obtained her a college degree, is married with two children, and operates her own private business.

His words and his own personal experience with his daughter’s injury so close to mine, gave me so much hope. It gave me a glimpse of what was possible in terms of life after a spinal cord injury and truthfully, it still gives me hope today. At the end of his letter, he wrote, “My thoughts and prayers will be with you each day. Get well and please come see me.” I don't know about you, but I think it might be just the time to take him up on that offer!


Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere, but for me I didn’t have to look very far…just in the stack of the letters from home.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back in Action

Gosh, I feel like I haven't had a MWKS event for quite sometime, but that all changed today because I had the opportunity to visit the town of Cimarron and speak at the local Rotary Club! I’m no stranger to the town that lies just 18 miles west of the streets Wyatt Earp once patrolled; my Uncle Gerald and Aunt Joan have live there for forever and my Uncle Dale just moved there within the past two years.

Candi, a friend and fellow Bucklinite, asked me if I would be interested in speaking a while ago and I jumped on the opportunity – I really enjoy these small, low-key appearances.

The Cimarron Rotary Club meets at Richie’s Diner and after getting caught in construction outside of Dodge City, we arrived just in time to eat some delicious turkey and all of the sides. The president then opened up the meeting and after reading the minutes and discussing the old/new business, I was up.

I spoke of my upbringing, my accident, how I came to be Ms. Wheelchair Kansas, and my mission and platform. I like to end my appearances with a question and answer session and usually I get really similar questions…today was different though. I was asked some really great questions about accessibility, ADA, pet peeves, therapy, and so much more.

It was a great experience for me and I really enjoyed speaking with the numerous members…plus I got to see a few old friends.

 Definitely a good day for Ms. Wheelchair Kansas!

Monday, July 23, 2012


Houston has great weather for about eight months throughout the year; unfortunately, I didn’t arrive during one of those months. It was raining when we landed and as soon as the door to the King Air opened, the humidity overwhelmed all of us.

I had no idea what was in store for me when the medical transport pushed me down the hallways at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), but I was ready to get started. I’m not sure I fully grasped the extent of my injury or realized how weak I was when I first arrived because I had in mind that this process would be similar to my rehab process when I tore my ACL. Granted, I knew this was probably going to be a longer process than three months, but I thought that if I busted my butt every day, I would overcome this challenge and would be walking before I knew it.

Physical and occupational therapy then began and I soon realized this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. My days were filled with hour-long sessions of physical therapy, occupational therapy, shoulder class, exercise, and group time. Occupation therapy was spent working on range of motion and hand function, learning to do things such as feed myself and brush my teeth, and we also spent a lot of time talking about equipment – splints, wheelchairs, etc. During physical therapy, we worked on strengthening muscles, trying to sit up on my own, and learning to do transfers, but the majority of the time was spent figuring out what adjustments we needed to make at home to make things accessible. Shoulder class consisted of working on my range of motion while our exercise time was just that – exercise…weights/bands, arm bike, etc. Lastly we had group time and we did a little bit of everything, but we baked cookies, did puzzles, talked, colored, and everything in between.

My Occupational Therapist, Liza
I know that I stayed busy with my therapy and did accomplish numerous things, but in all reality, this first stint of rehab was more for my parents, learning how to care for my needs. Trust me when I say that until you are faced with a spinal cord injury, you have no idea what it all entails.

Mom, Dad, and I 
Every week, we had rounds – it was a meeting with my therapists, doctors and head nurse to discuss our goals, how things were progressing, and any other kind of issues. I was just a couple of days in when I had my first meeting and when they told my mother and I that we would be going home in September, I was absolutely shocked. There was no way I would be able to go home in a month’s time – I was 15 days post-surgery; I could barely hold my head up; I could barely move my arms and I was just told that I have to wear this terrible neck collar for 3 months…how in the world was I going to go home?

When I was not in therapy, I cannot say there was a lot to do except on the weekends. My weekends were always filled with plenty to do because Zach would always fly down, bringing my dad and brothers whenever possible. When they were not around, the only other options were sitting outside in the sweltering heat feeding/watching the pigeons, watching TV, or hanging out with whoever was willing. I left the pigeon watching to my roommate, Marie, because she loved to sit outside, and feed those pigeons. She would order extra food at breakfast just for them. She was also a heavy smoker, who ran an underground cigarette operation. We would have random people and patients come into our room at all times to buy some smokes from her. I never got in on the action, but it was quite hilarious to watch.

Although I was not into the pigeons, I did sit outside a little bit. In fact, the first time I pushed my glasses up myself was when we were sitting out by the benches. However, my main pastime was watching TV and hanging out with TK and his family.

To my surprise, the month I spent at TIRR flew by and I felt as I had come quite a ways from where I started. Zach and Leigh picked us up on September 7th, 2006 and brought me home for the first time. As we landed in Dodge, we were greeted by numerous friends and family and after hanging out a bit, we headed home. Driving into Bucklin, Scott took us down Main Street where “Welcome Home” signs were everywhere and when we finally pulled into the driveway, all I could do was cry. My house was decorated with numerous signs and a whole party awaited us.

I was finally home…

Kirk, Toner, and I
The Airport Gang 
More than anything I want to thank everyone for all your prayers and support throughout the past six years. I would not be where I am today without my family and friends, especially those who never left my side throughout that first month – you may have been crumbling on the inside, but you always stood strong for me…you were my rock and my strength and you will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

Friday, July 20, 2012


The doors opened; we had arrived. After a chilly flight to St. John’s in Tulsa, I welcomed the extremely quick stretch of sunlight from the helicopter to the doorway to the hospital where I was immediately rushed to the Trauma ER.

I laid on a table, in a stark white room, with numerous nurses buzzing about all around me, taking vitals, putting in my IV, etc. They asked about any piercings and after I told them, they proceeded to take out my earrings and my belly-button ring. I was so mad about that belly-button ring…I hadn’t had it very long and here they were taking it out!

After numerous scans and x-rays, I vividly remember the neurosurgeon coming up beside me and saying, “I have good news and bad news, what do you want to hear first?” I do not remember what his good news was, but when he told me, “You’re paralyzed, you will never walk again,” I simply replied, “I think you’re wrong, but I respect your opinion.” This was the beginning of the dislike I felt for my neurosurgeon's bedside manner. It was terrible!

I crushed my C5 vertebrae, bruising my spinal cord at the same time (which caused my paralysis); but before they were able to perform the reconstructive surgery on my neck, they had to realign my spinal column. To do this, they screwed a device, similar to a C-clamp, into both sides of my head, right behind my ears. 15 pounds of weight was hung from this device off the back of my hospital bed. This was the how my parents first saw me...thankfully I do not remember their reactions. However, by 11 o’clock Sat. evening, everything was alligned and I was ready for surgery.

I was in ICU for a total of four days and my memory of those days are somewhat hazy. Two of those days were filled with surgery and I’m sure I was out of it, but I do remember certain people visiting, and a few heart-to-heart conversations. My last day of ICU, I remember quite well – all I cared about was to have my hair washed and my legs shaved. Deena came to my rescue and did both…even braiding my hair just as she had done before numerous MAYB summer games.

After being moved to a regular room, the next eight days were filled with visits from family and friends and lots of sleep. Physical and occupational therapy came in once or twice a day where we worked on sitting at the edge of the bed and working on the arm motion needed to feed myself. The first time I was able to skim a small bit of pudding out of the container and bring it to my mouth was a huge feat…I felt on top of the world.

Speaking of pudding, the food was terrible. I was extremely thankful to Zach and Kirk who brought me Wendy’s chicken nuggets and Olive Garden’s tiramisu multiple times.

On July 29th, one week after my accident, my brother Jason married the love of his life, Heather. I was to be a bridesmaid and after a long talk with them, I told them there was no way they were canceling the wedding. Zach stayed back with me as well as the Erb’s. I was absolutely devastated to miss their wedding but I still had the chance to put on the bodice of my dress and have a quick photo op with Kirk in his tux before everyone left. I remember Jason calling that night and yelling, "Em, I'm married!"

Throughout the twelve days I was in Tulsa, numerous phone calls had been made trying to figure out the next step as to where we would go next. Craig Hospital in Denver seemed to be the most logical place as it was the closest to home. My name was put on the waiting list and we did exactly that…wait. By the tenth day of so, I was medically stable and St. John’s wanted to dismiss me, but no beds were available at Craig. I was dismissed and readmitted each day until the social worker answered my mother’s plea about where else, other than Craig, I should go. TIRR in Houston was the answer and thankfully they had a bed open. The plan was simple in my mind – I would be dismissed and Zach would fly me down to Houston, but the doctors would not allow it; I had to have a medical flight. That itself was another hurdle, but Wayne made some phone calls, pulled some strings and got me on the next medical flight to Houston.

Tulsa was an eye-opening experience for me. Twelve days seemed like an eternity, but I was determined that after some intense physical therapy, I would be just fine. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


As I looked at the date today, I realized that in just four days I will recognize the 6th anniversary of my accident, the day my life changed forever. Looking back through my blogs I have noticed that I have never wrote in detail of what happened that day so I thought why not now? With July 22 right around the corner, I can’t think of a better time to write about it so the next few installments of my blog will be about the chain of events that happened six long/short years ago.

You may not remember what you were doing on Saturday, July 22, 2006, but the day is just as vivid in my mind as it was that day. My cousin Jeremy and his wife Stephanie had been going on float trips with some college buddies for years – several of my other cousins, as well as my brother Scott had joined them in previous years and they always talked about how much fun it was. I had to get in on this trip so on Friday morning my cousin Jared picked Scott and I up and we headed southeast to Tahlequah, OK to meet up with everyone. As soon we got there that afternoon, we had to pay for our rafts and everything we were going to need the next day, then we quickly changed into our swimsuits and joined everyone else who were hanging out in the river. That evening, Kirk and Billy joined us and while everyone over the age of 21 went to the casino, us three hung out with the people camping next to us.

The next morning I woke up to Jeremy cooking hamburgers for breakfast. After we all ate, we went up to the office where we proceeded to get on the bus and go up the road where the float began. We all got in, three to a raft, and headed out on our 2-mile trip down the Illinois River. We were having a blast, stopping to chit-chat and swim. Some ways down the river we had stopped to take our turn jumping off of a rope swing and then even further down the river we came upon a spot where the banks were lined with rafts and canoes and everyone was hanging out. This particular spot also had a tree whose branches draped over the river and a line of people were waiting to climb and jump from it. We parked our raft, checked the depth of the river, and got in line. Scott dove first, doing a one-and-a-half, and all of the people on bank cheered. I was up next and Kirk was right behind me…as I made my way out to the end of the limb butterflies crept into my stomach and I dove, a one-and-a-half.

The next thing I remember is floating to the surface of the water, facedown. I tried turning myself over, but my arms and legs just dangled beneath me and for whatever reason, I remember telling myself to blow bubbles until Scott comes and picks me up. After flipping me over, I vividly remember him saying “Em, you’re exposing yourself!” Scott helped put my top back in place and picked me up while Kirk stabilized my neck, and they carried me to shore.

People rushed around me and luckily two women from one raft and a man from another came to my side, two nurses and a doctor. Once I was lying on the bank, they stabilized my neck and looked me all over asking the standard questions, “Can you wiggle your toes?” “What about your fingers?” “Can you feel this…what about this?” I remember asking the doctor if I was paralyzed and he answered that my body may just be in shock – who knows if he really felt that have been the case, but it made me feel better at the time. Thankfully someone had a cell phone which actually had service and was able to call 911. We waited for what seemed like forever for the ambulance, but for some odd reason I was pretty calm.

When the ambulance finally arrived, things went fairly quick, or so it seemed to me. After bracing my neck and rolling me onto the backboard, we loaded into the ambulance and all I could think about was my brother Scott. Where was he and could he ride with me? Of course, he was right by my side. My ambulance ride was pretty short as we just went to a clear spot where the helicopter had landed.

As they were transferring me into the helicopter I remember telling the pilot, “Wow, I’ve never flown in a helicopter, my boyfriend is going to be impressed.” I have no idea what I was thinking, there was no way he was going to be impressed with all that was going on. I then asked if Scott could ride with me on this leg of the trip and they told me there wasn’t any more room so he would have to meet us at the hospital. As they were getting me locked in I was giving instructions, “Scott, you need to call Mom and Dad…I’m going to St. John’s in Tulsa.” “Kirk, please call Zach and tell him what’s going on.” I can’t even imagine how those phone calls went and honestly, I’m not sure I even want to know.

We then took off – it was about a 20-30 minute flight and I remember getting sick and apologizing over and over for puking. The pilot and co-pilot kept reassuring me it was okay, but I was not to fall asleep. They tried everything to keep me awake and my eyes open. Before I knew it, the doors were opened and we were there.

Friday, July 13, 2012

So Much to Do...So Little Time to Do It

Every year I dream of a perfect summer day…sitting out by the lake, catching a few rays with a drink in my hand and book on my lap, my friends all around. Every year I am somewhat disappointed…who (over the age of 21) has time to just hang out all day without a care in the world and nothing to do?

June turned out to be a pretty busy month between work and numerous MWKS events, but I was looking forward to July. It was going to be month of “perfect summer” days, but as we are almost half-way in now, my to-do list is getting longer and longer and my days of laying out in the sun are getting fewer and fewer.

Next week I will be heading out to Vail to celebrate Kirk and Sadie’s wedding and the following week Tracy and Ross will be tying the knot. In between the two, I get to speak at the Cimarron Rotary Club and help judge the Dodge City Days Parade! Then I’m off to Topeka for a 3-day coaching clinic.

August will be here before we know it and do you know what that means? The Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant! Holy smokes, it has snuck up on me and so these past few weeks I have been busy making travel arrangements, working on my speech, getting my wardrobe lined up, and so much more. My speech is my biggest worry – in fact, I’m still working on it, but I’m making progress and I think I’m getting close!

Between work, weddings and getting prepared for the pageant, I think July will fly by in no time…but I’ve deemed tomorrow a perfect summer day…the only modification will be trading the lake in for the 3 ft. swimming pool located in my background!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


July is a month full of birthdays – both of my brothers, my mom, and numerous friends all have birthdays coming up, but today I must write about a dear friend who made her first appearance in this world 26 years ago today.

I have known Tamren all my life - she is the friend I’ve known the longest, the sister I never had, and the best friend anyone could ask for. I think that we were destined to be best friends from the get-go…my dad went to school with her dad, her parents are good friends with my parents, and her brothers are the same age as mine.

Growing up, we were inseparable; I was always at her house or she was at mine and during the summer, we spent every day at the swimming pool. Throughout our 26 years, we have taken numerous trips, laughed a lot, cruised many country roads, and shared so many memories.

One of the many things that Tamren and I have in common is sports. Now I know what you’re thinking “here she goes with the sports stuff again”, but hey, growing up in Bucklin, sports is one of the only things you have as a kid! Nonetheless, back to the subject at hand – Tamren and I dabbled in just about every sport we could growing up and here are some of my best memories of each.

Swimming: Tamren and I spent every day, all day long, at the pool when we were kids. When we both were old enough we even tried our hand at lifeguarding, but I think in the end, we both realized that wasn’t the perfect job we expected it to be…especially after I crashed Joe’s bike off the diving board that one time.

Tennis: When we weren’t swimming, we often rode our bikes down to the tennis courts and hit a few balls around. We didn’t quite know the details of how the scoring worked in tennis, but from time to time, we would yell out “15-love” and call it good. We have never proclaimed to be Serena Williams or Anna Kournikova.

Cheerleading: Looking at us now, you would have never thought cheerleading would be our thing, but hey it was! I vividly remember us (as little kids) standing up on the far end of the bleachers behind the student section at ballgames doing the cheers right along with the high school cheerleaders. We attended all of the Mini Cheer Camps when we were little and we made the squad in both junior high and high school. What were we thinking?

Gymnastics: I think we both took formal lessons in this subject, but if I do say so myself, we honed our skills on the trampoline that sat in my back yard. We not only practiced our flips and jumps on that trampoline, but sharpened our ninja skills as well. Never did we know when my neighbor would come outside in the middle of the night cussing and waving what we thought to be a gun around. (*Not at us*)

Volleyball: Some of my best volleyball memories include Tamren. She was a setter and I was a hitter…we were the perfect pair on the court and we even had our own secret handshake. I remember attending camp in Salina with her and almost winning Sub-State with her, but one of my favorite memories with her was when we both went on a college visit together. She had already been at Garden one year, looking to make a move and hoping to play somewhere, and I was getting ready to graduate high school, looking to play somewhere as well. We loaded up in the car, headed east, and after touring the campus and meeting with the coach, it was time for us to workout with the team. We had both already determined this really wasn’t the place for either of us so after telling the coach we had no workout gear and that we already had some other plans…we hopped back in the car and made a beeline to the mall!

Basketball: Basketball was Tamren’s sport – she was our point guard and she was good. Like volleyball, I have so many good basketball memories with her, but I can’t help but think back to our MAYB days. We traveled around the state and down in Woodward, playing in super hot gyms throughout the day, and socializing with the boys at night!

Track: I was not much of a track star myself, but I have two good memories of Tamren and I running. The first was I think my freshman year, her sophomore year, and we qualified for Regionals in the 4x4. For some odd reason, we had some cheerleading event the same day. We ended up eating at El Charros after cheering, before running. We were almost late to warm-up and we were completely stuffed. Let's just say we definitely didn’t qualify for State that year. The second story I have of us in our running days was when we got on this workout kick one summer and decided we would run from town to her Grandma’s house, about 3-4 miles of pure sand and hills. By the time we got home it was dark and I don't know about her parents, but mine were worried.

I could go on all day about stories and memories with Tamren – she is a great friend and I’m not sure what I would do without her. We may not live just down the street from each other or see each other every day, but we seem to pick up just where we left off every time we see each other.

Happy Birthday TK! Love ya!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pride and Perception

Throughout my reign as Ms. Wheelchair Kansas, I have had the opportunity to attend numerous events in which the speaker would speak of “Disability Pride”. Although I had never heard of this term prior to MWKS, I fully understood the concept and what they were trying to display, but I just could not completely wrap my head around it.

I know this might sound odd to some of you, but I do not see myself as disabled. Yes, I know that I have a spinal cord injury, I cannot walk, and technically, I do have a “disability”, but I am not disabled…I do everything that I want to do in life and am proud of what I have accomplished thus far.

I read an article today about US Paralympian Nick Springer who completely summed up all my thoughts about the difference between having a disability and being disabled. He said, “a disability might be permanent but being disabled isn’t.”

That quote hit me like a ton of bricks because that is exactly how I feel!

I think like an Olympian…how cool is that? I will bask in that for just a quick second, but what I think it really boils down to is perception. How we see ourselves as people directly influences our mindsets. If you think you cannot do something, chances are you won't be able do it. If do not see yourself as disabled, you will not let things hold you back. You will learn to adapt and live your life just as you see fit. Keeping an open mind is a necessity.

So here’s the thing – I am proud of who I am and I am proud of my accomplishments, both pre-accident and post…if this makes me have disability pride, then perhaps I have finally figured it out. I'll leave that up for you to decide!

Nonetheless, check out CBS’s article on Paralympian Nick Springer – what a great role model and a kick-ass athlete, if I say so myself!