It’s crazy how your entire world can be turned upside down in one moment. A snap of a finger and everything you hold close to your heart could be ripped away.
For my family, that moment happened when I was just six years old.
It was a normal day.
We were driving down an intersection in Arizona.
Me, my dad, and my brothers.
And then it happened. The collision that changed our lives forever.
A woman driving the other vehicle was distracted with her phone when she t-boned us. I walked away with barely a scratch, and my dad hurt his neck.
But unfortunately, my brothers weren’t so lucky.
Anthony tore his aorta in the accident, and Shaun, who was only three years old at the time, injured his spinal cord.
One of the images burned into my memory to this very day is Shaun lying completely still, waiting to be airlifted to the nearest hospital. All of these strangers had suddenly gathered around me, while I yelled and pleaded for my brother to wake up. But no matter how loud I screamed, Shaun was just lying there with his eyes closed.
I thought he was dead.
I truly believed one of my brothers died that day right in front of me. I’ve never been more afraid in my life.
Growing up, my dad always said we were a team — that no matter what happened, we’d always stick together.
That’s what families do, right?
Both Anthony and Shaun survived the accident, but Shaun has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. So the rest of us kind of banded together to do whatever we could to help take care of him after he was released from the hospital.
Anthony and I were the ones that would feed him, dress him — you know, all of the daily tasks people tend to take for granted.
My brothers and I took it upon ourselves to grow up a little faster just because there were so many things Shaun couldn’t really do anymore.
The injuries from the wreck left him paralyzed from basically the bottom of the chest down.
I’ve always felt like I had to protect him.
After all, I’m his big sister.
Nothing can happen to my younger brothers, or you’ll have to go through me. That’s how it’s always been.
And because of that, there was a part of me that was absolutely furious.
There was that initial fear when the accident happened, but it didn’t take long after that for it to turn into anger. I was furious at the situation that allowed it to happen with a distracted driver.
You just think to yourself; this is something that could have been avoided.
That anger in me didn’t start to subside until Shaun started getting into sports.
He started playing hockey and wheelchair basketball and made friends that were in similar situations as him. Even though I’m his big sister and always there for him, he kind of started to find his own way.
While I was going through my recruiting process for college golf, my dad learned more about the recruiting process for adaptive athletics. So, once I signed with Oakland University, he started to focus more on Shaun.
My brother ended up getting a full ride to the University of Alabama to play on their wheelchair basketball team. He made the under-23 men’s national team just this past December, and he’s also going to the next Paralympics.
It’s pretty cool to say my brother is going to be a Paralympian.
He has made the best out of a really bad situation that changed his life forever.
It just got me thinking about my own feelings towards everything that happened. Shaun has every right to be angry with his situation, but he isn’t harboring those feelings.
Of course, he didn’t get to that place overnight. Who could in that situation? I remember him undergoing all of these procedures in an effort to try to walk again. My dad took him as far as Panama for stem cell treatment.
We worked with multiple organizations to see if we could do anything to help him regain some mobility or feeling back in his lower limbs — until we realized that wasn’t necessarily ever going to be the case. Once we came to that realization, we began to focus more on what we could do with the situation we were handed.
Through that entire ordeal, I was able to grow in my perspective more from being involved in the disabled community. From all of this, I think I’ve been a more adaptive person, and I realized I couldn’t stay angry at the world forever.
Seeing Shaun go through his own acceptance and healing made me a little bit less upset. Just seeing him grow as a person and become more independent made me realize that everything happens for a reason.
You know, it’s kind of weird to say that I look up to a younger sibling, but from the bottom of my heart, that’s exactly how I feel about Shaun.
After everything he went through in that accident, to be able to come back from that and make it to a Division I college — it takes some serious resolve, strength, and determination to do something like that.
Those are all qualities I know I can work on more. Just seeing him come out on top and everything that he’s accomplished really makes me want to work even harder.
He hasn’t let his disability hold him back from living life, even though he was dealt a horrible hand.
Growing up, I always wanted to be that role model for my brothers. In many ways, that’s what pushed me to become a Division I athlete in the first place.
I wanted my brothers to know I got to this point from hard work. It wasn’t about talent, connections, or anything like that. It was due to me being resourceful and doing whatever I could to get myself to that position. And to think, Shaun ended up being my role model for those exact same reasons.
I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from everything is that you can persevere even through the hardest of situations. No matter what your circumstances are in this world, you can always get through and find a way to the other side.
I finally realize that sometimes things happen to make us better people.
Lastly, and most importantly, I want our parents to know how much I appreciate absolutely everything they’ve done for me and my siblings during these incredibly difficult times. We would have never been able to accomplish the things we did without their unconditional support and love. From the bottom of my heart, well, our hearts, thank you for everything. We love you!