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When I was a kid I was the stereotypical “horse girl.” Like to a perfect T. Most of the people in my grade knew me more for my horse t-shirts instead of my name. For as long as I can remember, I built my image and self worth around being the “horse girl,” and as I got older, I transitioned from a horse-obsessed child into an athlete, with several accolades and minor injuries to prove it. By the time I reached high school, much to my parents' dismay, I had decided that I wanted to train and ride horses as a career and I thought nothing could stop me. In August of 2016, at the start of my senior year of high school, I had never been riding better, and everything was lining up for me to ride in college. I could not have been more excited about what the coming months would entail. And then, in a split second, everything changed. While completing a simple maneuver (flying lead change), I was maybe an inch out of position and I heard a loud pop like opening a bag of chips. While I knew instantly that something was wrong, it wasn’t until several rounds of x-rays and an MRI later that realized exactly what I had done.
Flash forward to March 2017 and I was having hip surgery at age 17 to repair several tears in my labrum and reshape my hip joint. Horseback riding, athleticism, and my life plan came to a grinding halt. Throughout middle school and high school, I had gone to church and considered myself a Christian, but I never took time to figure out what that meant for me. In my mind, all church was repeating back what I heard on Sunday mornings on cue like a show pony. So when my body was broken, God was one of the last things on my mind. Instead, the first thing I asked the nurse (probably eight times. Drugs and I were not made for each other), was when I could ride again.
It took almost two weeks for me to crutch to the living room with help, and for someone who spent way more time outside than in, there could truly be nothing worse. The only times I got out of bed were to use the bathroom or ride an exercise bike that I was required to have to ensure that my hip wouldn’t lock up. The first time I thought about God after having surgery was when I heard my mom praying and crying outside my bedroom door as I was in agony trying to ride the bike. I was seriously taken aback by this and I began to wonder if there was a bigger reason as to why this happened to me. This quickly turned anger and I refused to think about God or his plan to my life, or to turn to him for guidance; I was sure that God had forsaken me. So in response, I was bound and determined that I could get through this all on my own. And at first, I thought I had succeeded. While the first two weeks were brutal, I eventually convinced my mom to help me crutch around outside to the barn at our house. It was like being around horses again lit up my soul. A few days later ,I got to leave my house with a friend, and not long after that, I went back to school. Two weeks later, I lost the crutches and was excelling in physical therapy. It seemed like I would be riding in no time. And then I hit a major rode block when I went on the senior trip to Universal. It took about 20 minutes for my hip to feel like it was on fire, and while I should have been having the time of my life, a friend was pushing me around in a wheel chair all night.
I later discovered I had nerve damage that caused the outside of my leg to go numb if I stayed in one position too long or turned the wrong way. I, again, was devastated. I kept thinking, how can I return to riding this way? I receded to fake smiles and internal panic through the end of my senior year and starting college; until I had almost completely isolated myself to my college dorm. I kept telling myself that I could get through this. I swore to myself that this was something I could push through like any other obstacle, that I didn’t need help and could do this all alone. And at first I did. Four months after having surgery, a close friend let me borrow her horse and I rode around. When I got off, I don’t think that I had ever been in more pain. I again retreated into myself and relied on my inner grit and nothing else, swearing to myself I could get through it. Months went by and I tried working out in a gym, only to end up limping for days after doing the easiest of exercises. Months passed and I tried riding again only for the same thing to happen, only this time I believed that if I kept at it, it would get better, but it never did. At this point, I was so engrossed in my situation I had isolated myself completely in college. The only friends I had were my college roommate and a friend who stayed in my hometown an hour away. I consumed by bitterness and for the first time since surgery, I had given up on returning to the sport I loved. It was in feeling like this that I finally remembered all the Sunday mornings I had spent and church and all the lessons and verses I had spent my childhood learning. I then turned all my desperation towards God; I finally admitted that I was not strong enough, that I could not overcome this. In doing this, I felt that I had nothing left in me. I was just a shell of the person I used to be. I had lost my whole identity.
But God changed my whole perspective and showed me that I could not have been more wrong. Instead of relying on the tangible things in life like I had always done, this gave me an incredible opportunity to place my identity in who I truly was and not what I did. Yes, I was an athlete, but that did not define me. I was a child of God and nothing could ever take that away from me. For the first time in my life, my talent and ability no longer defined me, my relationship with God did. As months went by, things began changing. What’d been the worst thing that ever happened to me was becoming one of the best. Instead of isolating myself, I began to open back up. I started going to church again and made new friends. Instead of hating what had happened to me, I started realizing that while my strength had failed, God’s will had not, and I felt a freedom I had not felt since I had stopped riding. I learned how to lean into him like I never would have any other way. By removing all the pressure I had placed on myself to return to how I was before surgery, I was able to slowly return to being active through yoga and hiking. And while it’s taken me the better part of this year to say it, I am truly thankful this happened to me so I could have the opportunity to grow into the person I am being called to be. While I still am not sure where my life is going to end up, I am OK with that. By not pursuing a sport with all my being, I have found an incredible freedom to be part of things bigger than myself. I now know how to love who I am and not what I do.