Meet Tricia Downing, world-class athlete, author, keynote speaker, mentor, and Sports Women of Colorado Hall of Fame inductee. In her own words...
Sports and fitness have always been a part of my life. From the age of four, when I was first introduced to swimming, to now - in my 40s where sport is part fitness, part stress relief, combined with an outlet for my competitive nature, and a way to spend time with friends.
Throughout my life I have completely embraced my identity as “athlete,” loving the high I get from setting goals and striving to reach them. But I have also learned how important recreational activity is to my mental and physical health, and because of this, I work hard to keep fitness as part of my busy life schedule, making time for it even when there are so many things pressing for my limited number of minutes.
With fitness, I feel better, calmer, stronger and happier. It gives me perspective, creativity, new ideas, and allows me to unwind. However, I wonder if I had not had a life-changing accident if I would fully understand just how vital my sports and fitness are to the core of my being.
In 2000, I was a competitive cyclist and was thoroughly engulfed in my passion for bikes and bike racing. I spent all of my time either training, competing or spending time with my cycling friends. It was beyond passion, it bordered on obsession. In fact, the final year I raced my bike, I traveled across the country on a summer trek that would have me racing in eighteen races over twenty-three days, in three different states. It was a dream summer for me, and although my performances weren’t exactly where I wanted them, it was a great learning experience and I was ready to climb the ladder to cycling success.
When I returned home, all of that would come crashing to a halt in moments. On September 17, 2000, I was riding with a friend, when a car turned directly into our path, oblivious to the two cyclists crossing the particular side street the car was entering. My friend was able to dodge the car; but, riding behind, I had less time to react and the front wheel of my bicycle impacted the front corner of the car, launching me in mid-air. I landed on my back on the windshield and fell to the ground.
Lying on the ground, I immediately sensed something was wrong because I couldn’t feel my lower extremities. After hours in the ER and many tests, the doctors confirmed that I had been paralyzed from the chest down.
After the accident I would spend three-and-a-half weeks in intensive care, just over three months in a rehabilitation hospital, and emerge on January 26, 2001, as a completely different person—physically, mentally and emotionally.
It was a change that I don’t know if I could have navigated if it weren’t for my ability to return to my passion for sports. While in the hospital, I learned about the wide variety of adaptive activities in which I could participate. It took a couple of years to build the stamina and desire to fully buy into these new activities; but once I did, the dark gray cloud hanging over my head began to dissolve, my depression and moodiness lifted. I became more hopeful and started setting goals again.
Now, seventeen years later, I have adjusted to my new normal. Life in a wheelchair is no different than life before, except my mode of transportation. My reliance on sport has been a constant and a necessity. Now, I’m finding that as I get older and am approaching my 50s, it has become more and more important for me to be diligent about exercising.
My body hurts…partly from years in a chair, partly from a long competitive career, and partly from age. But movement is amazing medicine. It helps to keep that pain in check and keeps my mind positive, which is half the battle when combating chronic pain. Additionally, I find I am more productive and creative in my work when I have had the opportunity to move my body, whether I’m doing a hard fitness-building workout or a relaxing recovery ride.
I enjoy activities such as riding my bicycle, doing yoga (especially aerial yoga, as I have recently discovered), swimming and even the sport of shooting, which is a remarkable activity for mental focus and acuity (read more about my foray into the sport of shooting here: (http://triciadowning.com/blog/shooting-is-my-new-paralympic-sport-how-did-that-happen/)
But the greatest thing I have learned is that fitness and movement are for everyBODY. We can each do activities that positively impact our bodies. Some may require assistance, others can be done independently; but no matter how you choose to move your body, just move it.
It’s therapeutic for mind, body and spirit and will not only help you feel better and possibly live longer, it brings a certain happiness and contentment that can elevate even the darkest of days.
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