She was in a wheelchair.
But that wasn’t the first thing I noticed about her. The first thing I noticed, the first thing probably anybody notices about her, was how beautiful she is. I’m not just talking about her gorgeous blonde hair, gathered that day in a messy top knot, or her ear-to-ear smile that set the room aglow. No, her beauty came from a much deeper place than that.
It was impossible to miss.
Her name is Kristen. And we met each other through YouTube.
Growing up, Kristen was a competitive gymnast, chasing her big Olympic dream. But her journey was stalled by a number of challenges. She often left gymnastics practices in severe pain. She was in and out of doctor’s offices, undergoing countless tests and injections for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Instead of going to prom or homecoming games, she was forced to stay home and ingest an ongoing cocktail of medications.
Her body wasn’t like all the other “normal” kids. But she kept fighting. She was determined to become an Olympic gymnast. Gymnastics was her life.
Then one day, everything flipped upside down. Kristen walked into the emergency room for what she thought was a minor infection, not realizing at the time that she wouldn’t be walking out. While in the hospital, Kristen’s body attacked her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told her she’d never walk again.
I first discovered Kristen when she left the best comment I’ve ever received on one of my videos. She was looking for tips on vlogging, and she randomly found my channel. Curious about this mystery commenter, I started browsing her channel. That’s when I came across this video of her telling her entire story. For all twenty six minutes, I was in awe of this woman, driven to tears by her admirable vulnerability and unwavering positivity. Kristen radiated love.
So how did we end up meeting in person (or IRL as the kids say)?
Here’s the part that will give you goosebumps:
Remember those doctors who told her she would never walk again? She said goodbye to them and found a place where the word “hope” is literally plastered on the walls. It’s called The Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
The physical therapists there are hopeful, positive, and strong-willed. Just like Kristen. And I know this because one of Kristen’s therapists…is my sister, Rachel.
I just happened to be visiting Baltimore the day Kristen walked (yes, WALKED) across the finish line of a 5K race, and broke down in tears in my sister’s arms.
Kristen is why I do what I do. Kristen’s story is just as beautiful as she is, and it needs to be shared. She is a reminder to love everyday, appreciate the gifts you have, and always keep fighting.
Do yourself a favor and watch Kristen’s story today. Let it be a reminder that there is still plenty of love in this world.
Happy Valentine’s Day,
*This story is shared with Kristen’s permission!