I remember the night we met like it was yesterday. I was young, just 18 years old...a freshman at Purdue University and I hadn't really connected with a group of friends yet. I'd tagged along with some girls from the floor of my dorm to a party at a friend's apartment. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She was a junior and a member of the Purdue Women's Water Polo team.
She had a ton of friends at this party, but she sat and talked to me. I was so insecure. How could a girl like THIS actually care about some dorky freshman like ME? But, she asked me questions and really listened to my answers. It was clear that she wanted to know me. Not just because she was a leader of the club, but because she had a loving heart.
Over the next 2 years, Allison took me under her wing and mentored me, led a Bible study, prayed with me, allowed me to be completely honest with her and challenged me to become a better version of myself and to dive deeper into my faith. I looked up to her in a way I can't describe to you. There was a joy and a peace in her spirit that I've never found in another person since.
I remember the horrible phone call in 2001. I had graduated from Purdue by then and was making a decent living in Chicago, when my best friend called with the news that there had been an accident. Allison had been on the beach, having fun with a group of students and dived into a wave headfirst. The ensuing days were a nightmare for all of us that loved her...there was the initial worry that she wouldn't make it, then the frightening news that she was paralyzed from the neck down, prayers for complete healing and a firm answer of "no" from God on those prayers.
Floundering faith...tears of sadness...dreams washed away with that one ferocious wave.
But all of us should have known that Allison wasn't one to stay down. She had her dark time and moved past it. She came back...with style. From that point, our lives took diverging paths.
Allison fought through rehab and learned how to live in her new state.
I lived it up in Chicago, completely self-centered and pretty much gave myself whatever my heart desired.
Allison joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and continued to impact students' lives in a positive way.
I got married and had three little ones. All the while, I ate my feelings and abused my body with excessive food.
Allison found an amazing man and they got married.
My health declined to the point that I could not care for my family the way they deserved to be cared for.
Allison became active in wheelchair sports.
I became depressed and gave up on myself.
Through every adversity, Allison has been an inspiration. I'm sure there are many that find her inspirational because of her accident (and rightly so), but I must tell you...she was always this way. There was never a time when she was NOT an inspiration to me. And she continues to be one.
Why do I tell you this story about this beautiful and amazing woman??? Because, when I had my accident, Allison and I were finally on parallel paths...for a few months at least. My family had to purchase a new bed so I could sleep in the living room because I couldn't go upstairs with 5 broken bones. I was wheelchair-bound for at least a month and it's difficult to maneuver a wheelchair with a broken leg AND broken arm on the same side of your body. The most mundane, everyday things were impossible for me. The day I couldn't put my hair in a ponytail or, frankly, wipe my own behind in the bathroom, was a real eye opener for me. For me to compare my accident to what Allison has been through would be blasphemy. But...in some small and tiny way, I was able to get a taste of a COUPLE of the difficulties that she deals with on a daily basis.
This is why, when I run...it is not just an exercise routine for me. It is a life-giving activity. I saw this photo awhile back and thought of what I have come through...and, yes, thought of Allison:
In light of this deep gratitude I feel for running, I would like to dedicate my first half marathon to Allison - one of the brightest lights that's ever graced my life. When I take to that course in October, it will be her spirit that pulls me through those 13.1 miles. And I can't wait to see those beautiful eyes smiling at me when I cross that finish line.
Allison's take on life - in her own words (taken from her FB page):
"Had a diving accident in '01 that left me paralyzed and on a journey I would never take back. It's hard, don't get me wrong. I miss the simplicity of life...things I used to take for granted...like typing with all fingers!...and am sad from time to time when I can't do something I really miss doing. Yet, in the midst of all that, I have sooooo much to be thankful for. I pray that I would live for what I can DO, not for what I can't and think on what I have, not what I lack. I pray that God would use me far more than I could imagine...that I'd live a thankful life and maybe help others who hurt along the way. There is hope. Through Jesus Christ we have access to the Father and in the Father, we have life...true life. Life that will one day give me a new body. Life where they'll be no more pain, no more struggles, no more sin. Life that we can experience even NOW. I pray you know this life and if not, please ask me about it, cuz it was meant for you too!"