Stories of Inspiration: Nichole Rider (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Nichole's story. Check out Part 1 by clicking here.

Nichole Rider in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Part 2, by Nichole Rider

A positive attitude and optimism have always been strengths for me. They carried me through those first days after the accident, and all of the years since. While the accident itself was horrendous, I had a profound intuitive sense that everything was exactly as it should be. My boyfriend at the time escaped with just a few minor scratches, but I didn’t blame him or feel enraged over what happened. I only felt total peace and forgiveness towards him from the beginning. I never questioned it. The only way I can explain it was that God’s grace came into my life, and for that I am eternally grateful!

After three weeks in the Ft. Collins, Colorado, hospital, I was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver. Craig is a world-renowned spinal cord rehabilitation center. The people at Craig helped me begin my new life. In my mind, I looked at it like a basketball camp: I was there to learn. It was the little things I did daily, along with my awesome physical therapist, and my sister, that allowed me to gain mobility in my arms and legs. Amazingly, within 3 months I was back on my feet! By no means was I running, but the relief and the elation I felt to stand on my own again is beyond words. Today, I am able to walk with two canes, but use a wheelchair to make getting around a bit easier.

In March of 1996, I was discharged from Craig Hospital to live with my parents. Going home for the first time was a big shock. I was no longer running the dirt roads and shooting hoops as I was the last time I was home. Now, I was relearning basic mobility. Just the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other was a struggle. The love and support from my parents and family helped me immensely. Without them, I would not be where I am today.

I also continued physical therapy three days a week, six hours a day, and with thanks to my physical therapist, I made great strides in regaining mobility. By June of 1997, I was ready to fly the nest again and I moved back to Laramie, Wyoming. My sister and I rented a house together and I worked on my degree in Social Science. I managed to walk to my classes using two canes. While moving this way was slow, I made it to all my classes and adjusted easily to life on campus. In 1998, I received my degree and soon after, ventured out into the work world.

In hindsight, my accident was as much a spiritual transformation as it was a physical one. I felt as if some kind of cosmic alarm clock had gone off and I was awakened into a new, deeper sense of what life is all about. Through this accident, I learned many lessons about love, life and people that would have been close to impossible otherwise. Sometimes people think I’m crazy when I tell them I would not trade my accident for anything. Yes, of course I would love to be running and jumping again. But this event gave me a deep understanding that our physical bodies do not define us. Rather, they are just a vehicle we inhabit for a few years while having this particular human experience.

After my accident, I was drawn to books about people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs). Through their stories, my eyes were opened to a new level of spirituality.  One of the most liberating things I initially learned or “re-membered” is that we are all just spiritual beings having this human experience. 

Eventually, the world of sports drew me back in. With a little research I realized amazing opportunities existed for disabled athletes! My first ride to freedom was getting on a handcycle and riding around the streets in Denver. Within a few weeks, I owned a handcycle of my own and spent my weekends in Ft. Collins, riding the bike paths throughout town. I rode at least 15 miles each time I went out, with my longest ride being 35 miles. That longer ride was a great accomplishment for me. When winter arrived, I put away the handcycle and tried adaptive alpine skiing. I was hooked! 

I experimented with other sports, too, including wheelchair rugby and kayaking. Wheelchair rugby was the closest thing to basketball I had played since my injury. Kayaking is something I had always wanted to try and but never did it as an able bod.
Through all of these activities, I felt exhilarated at experiencing life again.

By April of 2010, I found my next athletic passion in the sport of sailing. Sailing wasn’t a common activity in Wyoming so while I was on vacation in South Florida, I had the opportunity to get out on the water.  Wow! From the first time I was on the boat and I felt the water catch the rudder and the wind fill the sail, I was hooked. No engine, no motor noise. Just me and the wind. I felt as though I found home. Sailing felt like complete freedom for me!

Within six weeks of being on my first sailboat, I participated in the Wyoming Governor’s Cup. My racing career began. I participated in 12 regattas over those first two summers, earning the titles “US Sailing Sailor of the Week” and “Miss Congeniality" (for the Mobility Cup Regatta in Hamilton, Ontario).

Nichole sailing in Florida

In September 2011, I began doing motivational speaking. Soon after, the call of warmer winters brought me to Florida. I initially planned to be in Florida for only 5 weeks during the coldest part of the winter, but after the first week, I decided to move there permanently.

Recently, my twin sister and I had the opportunity to compete together again for the first time since my accident. We were asked to help a friend launch her non-profit organization, ThumbsUp International, which pairs able bodied and disabled athletes together to compete in events. My sister, her friend Janeen, and I participated together in the Miami Half Marathon. They ran the course of 13.1 miles in two hours, all while pushing me in an adult “baby jogger.”  It was an exhilarating experience but not completely satisfying for me as I wanted to be more actively participating. We’re planning for the 2016 Miami Half Marathon and this time I will be riding my hand cycle alongside my sister and Janeen, who will be running. 

Through the accident, physical recovery, and the years since, I never did get discouraged.  One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein:  "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving!" I believe the key to complete happiness and joy in life is the attitude of gratitude. When you operate from a state of love and gratitude, the energy of both you, and everything around you, shifts to something more positive and light-filled.

What motivates me today? It's my nature to strive to be the best version of "me" that I can be. I don't need to be better than someone else. I have come to such an understanding and knowing that we all come to this life with our special gifts. It is our job to discover our gifts, grow into them, and express them out to the world. My main goal today is just to show love and kindness in all my interactions with everyone I meet.  We all come from the same amazing Loving Source and when we re-member that, life is such a beautiful thing!

If I can just inspire one person a day with a simple smile, word of encouragement or a dose of my energetic enthusiasm, then I feel I am truly doing what I was meant to do.

Text and photos copyright Nichole Rider and Nancy Rynes, 2015. You may link to this page, but please do not copy it in any way without our permission.