Something happened to me in Costa Rica. For the first time in 13 years since breaking my neck in 2010 I took a vacation for my 40th birthday with 6 incredible women who helped make this trip possible. I went on an adventure trip as I had become so accustomed to prior to my accident. I love the rain forest and I love the water. I found a beautiful accessible country with an incredible accessible travel agency to make my dreams come true.
It was an epic 16-day trip with ziplining to 11 different platforms, scuba diving for the first time in 14 years, narrowly escaping the heights of suspension bridges twisting and turning in the wind as I rolled my power wheelchair across, and so many other adventures. I was back. I felt like Ali again.
For the first 7 years after my accident, I pretty much lived in the hospital and traveled internationally for so many surgeries and secondary complications. Then I started figuring out how to navigate living my life with this disability. It took me a little longer than most.
I switched careers and built a beautiful life with great humans in disability inclusion, health insurance advocacy, and focusing my time mainly on paying it forward to advance societal change. My life is hard. So many of our lives with significant disabilities are hard. This is no secret. However, I have come to build a life for myself that I am proud of. I value people with strong moral compasses, ethical values, fun spirits, adventurous nature is, and a silly outlook on life despite seemingly insurmountable challenges.
For the first time in my life as I turned 40 this past March I felt as though I had finally blossomed into who I am supposed to be for the rest of my life. I am consistently pushing myself and I don’t know where life will take me from one day to the next, which is really exciting, because each and every day I work on constantly evolving as a person, an advocate, a professional, and a friend.
Over the last year I’ve been going through some significant changes throughout my life, both personal and professional, and I was chatting with my therapist prior to leaving on my trip that I was feeling extremely low even though things professionally were moving along quite nicely. She said something interesting to me that sticks with me every day. She said many people in their 40’s are usually at their lowest point in their lives. I wondered why.
She proceeded to explain to me that in your late teens and early 20’s the whole world seems to be open for exploration and then as you have children, have a family, start over working in your career, etc. your life starts to feel overwhelming. Many do not feel as if they have much control because they are going through emotions of the societal norms in life. I should note this is especially true for women.
She told me I was right on track for a midlife crisis so to speak 🙂 I giggled and thought to myself “okay great, I am not completely losing my mind. What I am feeling is completely normal.”
As I departed on this unknown adventure trip to Costa Rica not knowing what could or would happen even though I had planned so many details for the trip, being a ferocious researcher, I decided the moment I rolled on the plane that I was just going to let go.
This is very challenging for me to do. I planned all I could and I decided I was going to trust in the universe to show me what life had to offer. As the days rolled on one by one throughout the trip, I took advantage of every moment. Whether I was ziplining from the rain forest treetops to tilting my chair back and meditating by the hot springs in a gorgeous tropical climate I kept thinking to myself: “This is it. This is the life.”
I saved up and planned for nearly 2 years during Covid for this trip. It was worth every penny and I had a profound shift in my thinking over the trip.
Let me explain…
I love what I do professionally. As I mentioned before, I love to help people. I love that I found a career where I work with such caring people who actually walk the walk with respect to advancing disability inclusion in our society. I don’t mind working long hours because I know it may help a person who needs more than I do.
However, I also realize that I’m not sure I have been living as my true authentic self, at least one part of it, with respect to doing what I have always loved to do throughout my life. Dive into the unknown on occasion and just go with the flow. My disability prevents me from always being able to accomplish my deepest desires because I deal with a significant number of secondary complications on a regular basis. I’m always on guard. It’s okay, I’ve come to accept this.
I also work hard and think about life as I get older in a wheelchair. Each year my pain levels notch up just a little bit higher, bones get a little bit weaker, skin a little more sensitive, and energy levels wane ever so slightly. So, I found myself asking the question: WHY?
Why am I waiting to go on these adventures that give me so much joy? I do appreciate that my adventures might be a little bit too daring for most and that some may just simply like to take a food tasting tour throughout Italy or get outside more to sit by a lake and just enjoy the birds. Whatever your fancy, what are you waiting for? What am I waiting for? Why have I been waiting?
I couldn’t tell you. I suppose life was just getting in the way and I was falling into the midlife trap of working responsibilities.
On my last day I was sitting on the beach with my power wheelchair on hard packed sand alone for several hours on end, which was just glorious. It was comforting knowing that I had my group nearby if I needed anything, but invigorating and freeing just sitting by myself thinking watching the surfers beat themselves up as the waves pounded their surfboards.
I’ve come to a decision in my own life for myself that while I will continue to work my butt off to help the human race, I am going to take that time each year for a few weeks to do something I absolutely love and enjoy. I may not be setting myself up for retirement very well, but frankly, life in a wheelchair as I get older is just going to get more challenging. Am I going to wait to be more financially comfortable 10 years down the road to start feeling invigorated in my personal life when my body may not be so calculated and forgiving?
No! As of today, I make a solemn vow to myself to spend the time I have left on this planet each year doing something absolutely incredible with people who are so near and dear to my heart. I do appreciate I have the ability to do this and there are many who do not, but you don’t have to go on an international trip around the world to make this happen. What makes you happy? Why are you waiting to do it? What are you scared of? We all intuitively understand that life could be over tomorrow, but do we actually practice what we preach? I always thought I had and do, but not to this extent.
It’s incredible how a country, the people you surround yourself with, and one experience can profoundly impact you forever. It’s about the power of moments. I finished listening to that book actually and there was this one line that really stuck with me:
“It’s not about receiving the moment in life; it’s about seizing the moment.”
I am going to seize every moment, opportunity, and experience that comes my way. I am not going to be scared anymore to take that leap in whatever form that may come in whether that is in a professional capacity, personal, or in a life adventure.
What about you? Has there been a defining moment that has profoundly changed you? I would love to hear about it.
A few more for photos to make you smile and hopefully inspire you to go create your own moments.