“I’m Giulia. My story may seem similar to many others, but it has one very unique feature.
The story I want to tell you about starts on October 6th, 2011. I was 19, the summer was over and my little relationship with it.
We were coming back home by scooter when we slipped. Not a spectacular accident as seen in Hollywood movies. A simple slip. But I made a sharp backward movement and broke a vertebra in my spine.
The moments immediately after the incident are clear in my memory. I felt a strong pain in my foot (I thought I had broken it), which gradually rose to the back. In fact, a few moments later, I felt a piercing pain I had never felt before. Some time later, the ambulance, the siren, the lights.
From that moment on, my memories begin to fade and overlap with the stories of my loved ones.
I remember coming to the hospital and seeing the surgeon. Then, immediately after, my parents. The only memory I have clear in mind is a calm and warm hand that caressed me immediately after the surgery. To this day, I still do not know for sure whose hand it was, but I can tell you for sure that it’s one of the few soothing memories of that day.
A few moments after waking up from surgery, I realized that something big had changed. It was not yet clear what it was, but there was this feeling I had never felt before. I cannot explain it in words. I looked at my legs on the bed and they looked like someone else’s, as if they were not mine. They appeared dead, still. Not belonging to my upper body. To reassure my parents and my siblings, I told them I could feel their caresses and their hands, but unfortunately I could not.
I had a thousand doubts and questions in mind. I didn’t know anything yet because the doctors hadn’t spoke to me. My main concern was my family. They had already spent a very long time in hospitals. My brother had leukemia as a child (fortunately, he is now cured and well) and I didn’t want to revive this trauma. The hospitals, the doctors, the rehabilitation. All of it.
I immediately joked about the situation. I kept saying that thanks to my wounds, I would perhaps get discounts and be able to skip lines. My parents always got mad at me for these jokes. The truth is that sometimes you have to lie because you realize that it is more difficult for the people around you than for you, because everyone needs their time to feel and understand things. This has now become one of my strengths, because when you touch the bottom, or almost, you learn to laugh at everything, even the misfortunes.
The months continued to go on until the official diagnosis arrived: incomplete paraplegia. Spinal cord injury. I needed a wheelchair. For my parents it was a shock, almost as if they didn’t expect it. For me, on the other hand, it had been clear for a while… It’s not so hard to understand that half of your body no longer communicates well with the other half. It’s just complicated to work out that your body has changed, your life has change, and it will never be the same again.
My life before the accident has always been very active. I was a competitive volleyball and tennis player. I was also thinking of becoming a tennis teacher. My life changed in a flash that October 6th, 2011. I won’t hide from you that I had some very difficult moments. I honestly had to start from the beginning and I had no idea how to do it. But I knew that I would never give up. I wanted to go back doing the things I did before, to be independent, to be free again. I just had to learn how.
It has not been easy at all. I tried to react to this new normal as best as I could, but sometimes you can only, well, react. But over time, I got back on my feet… almost. Since that day, I have not walked again and I had to learn to use a wheelchair. We have a strange relationship, ‘she’ and I, a kind of love and hate! I hate her a little for all that she represents but I also love her because I know that without her I would not be able to do much. We’ve lived through many experiences together. It’s strange to explain.
But I found ways to regain my independence. Today, I drive. I designed my own home and especially my kitchen so that I can do everything by myself. I work regularly. But what really made me feel free and happy was traveling. And this is the second part of my story.
During my rehabilitation, I met a young physiotherapist, Andrea, who was doing his internship. I was his patient. We met almost every day for months and obviously started talking about so many things. One day, when he finished his internship, he asked me, ‘Why don’t we go to Australia as soon as I finish college and you’re discharged from the hospital?’ I was a little hesitant to be honest. I didn’t understand why he was asking me something like that. I didn’t believe him, but I said ‘yes’ anyway.
I was afraid to have a relationship again. The story with the boy with whom I had the accident with ended badly and I was convinced nobody would be able to accept me as I was. Everyone thinks that a person in a wheelchair looks forward to finally meeting their true love, the one that accepts them. But the hard truth is that we find it difficult to even accept ourselves. The thought of someone else accepting me was practically non-existent.
Honestly, I was very afraid to tie myself to someone again and I was afraid that nobody could love me like this…halved. But, as it turns out, he always remained by my side, for the first months as a friend until slowly I began to convince myself that maybe he would stay.
And so it happened! Our trip to Australia was only the first of many others.
Through travels, I feel free, myself. My husband inspired me to use this as a way to test our limits.
Today, we are now husband and wife, two inseparable traveling companions, each one needs the other. We are enterprising and stubborn, we aim for goals and we always reach them.
Together we have visited more than 23 countries and 80 cities. We’ve managed to reach Machu Picchu, the Great Wall, Japan, India, Bolivia, China, Canada and Sigiriya, a huge sacred boulder in Sri Lanka with 1000 steps! 1000 steps we did together… Well, he did the walking, and I clung to his back the whole time (but for those who are wondering, it’s still very tiring). My husband has literally carried me places I cannot access otherwise.
It is precisely through travels that I re-discovered myself, I rediscovered life. When I swim in the Indonesian sea or visit an archaeological site in Peru, I almost forget that I cannot walk. All of a sudden, it seems to me just one of the many joys that can be felt in life.
As always, I put a goal in front of me and reach it, one country at a time.
I have discovered that some people are much more open to disability and diversity. I have discovered that many cities are more accessible than mine and many limits that I thought were insurpassable are, on the other hand, feasible.
Being in a wheelchair, I learned very well what is impossible. It is impossible for me to walk from one day to the next. It is impossible to go back in time. It is impossible to go back to that thoughtless 19-year-old girl.
But, at the same time, I also realized that everything else is possible. It is possible to climb 1000 steps on my husband’s back. It is possible to organize a trip at 4,000 meters, and it is possible to travel around Europe by train with a backpack and nothing else (except for my wheelchair). You Just need to want it and never give up.
Many find strength in sport, I did not. I found it in my love for my husband and in my love for travels.
Personally, I don’t have valid advice for everyone to overcome their hardships. But I can tell you this: Look for what makes you alive, happy, and free. It can really be anything. Aim for your goal and do everything to make it happen. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible.
Get away from what others say. People judge and tend to conform, to do things always the same way. I decided that I would defy the rules myself and that it mattered more to get where I wanted to be than how.
Don’t worry if you have to lean against the walls with your head to avoid falling to the ground. The goal remains not to fall. Pursue your goals and be different. Remember that you are the exception and not the rule. I chose to be the exception.
You can lose almost everything, you can lose your legs and maybe even your wheelchair, but nobody can take away your determination and the will to make it.
This can only be your choice. Choose well, it’s up to you.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Giulia Lamarca, a travel blogger, of My Travels: The Hard Truth. You can follow her journey on Instagram and YouTube. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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