Through Pain Came a Purpose

By Mary Catherine McDaniel. 

Three years ago as a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, my Chi Omega pledge sister and I committed to run a half marathon. It was on a beautiful sunny day that we planned a long run as part of our training. As I was stretching, slipping on my tennis shoes, and untangling my headphones, my friend called to say that she had a last minute meeting and couldn’t make it. Since I was halfway out the door, I decided to go anyway.

A paved trail winds through campus and empties out to a road. I had run about five miles when I came to a street with four lanes and a crosswalk. I pressed the button, waited patiently, and when the walk signal appeared I began to cross. Three cars yielded, but the fourth one didn’t. The last thing I remember is trying to brace myself against the vehicle as it struck me down.

I could neither move nor feel my body; I thought I was in a dream. Laying on the hot asphalt, I prayed to the Lord as I drifted in and out of consciousness. There were people screaming, sirens blaring, and someone held my limp hand. There’s a hazy recollection of the ambulance ride to the hospital.

Doctors, nurses, and police officials came in and out of my room in the ER. After many tests, they found the only major injury I suffered was a concussion. With no broken bones or internal injuries, to this day I continue to be grateful for this miracle.

Although a brain injury doesn’t appear as ghastly as skin lacerations or as serious as a cast, it can be even more debilitating and the recovery longer and more difficult. By that point in my life, I had already recovered from double-ACL reconstructive surgery on my knees and that did not compare to the challenge I faced healing from this brain injury.

I left the hospital and went home to the sorority house on campus. Even though I had been an honor roll student and I lived amongst supportive friends, I began to struggle the semester following the concussion. School, which once had been so easy, became a daily uphill battle. My professors, who knew I was in recovery, worked patiently alongside me. However, intense headaches and neck aches led to more X-rays and tests, and even my personality had changed. Flashbacks of the traumatic event came frequently. Running, which had been my outlet, came to a halt since I couldn’t exercise or do any intense physical activity. It was devastating, and I wondered if I would ever feel normal again.

It took months of rest, doctors visits, counseling, and prayer until things began to look up. Eventually my pledge sister, my original running partner, and I decided to run another half marathon. I couldn’t let the accident imprison me in fear and keep me from living my live; I had to continue running. Nearly two years after the accident, we ran the San Diego Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon.

“Although a brain injury doesn’t appear as ghastly as skin lacerations or as serious as a cast, it can be even more debilitating and the recovery longer and more difficult.”

A big contribution to my recovery and healing process was yoga. After the accident, several medical professionals recommended it for the physical, mental, and emotional benefits. I hated the first class, but had decided to give it two weeks to say I really gave it a chance. By the end of that time, I had fallen in love with hot yoga and started attending classes three to four times a week. I saw vast improvements in my flexibility and strength, and it helped me work through anxiety and stress. My practice has continued for about two years and I’m currently a member at Hot Yoga Plus in East Memphis. Since yoga has been such a positive and life-giving experience for me, I plan to get my teaching certification so I can help others experience all the benefits I have by practicing yoga.

As difficult as it was, I cannot allow my traumatic accident to define me and hold me back from the rest of my life. In the three years since it occurred, I’ve become an ACE-certified group fitness instructor and have taught classes at the University of Arkansas, my father and I ran in the St. Jude Half Marathon, my family and I completed New York City’s 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour, and I ran in the Memphis in May Sprint Triathlon.

We can’t always control life’s circumstances, but we can control how we react and respond. It was a tough journey, but my accident has led me to grow in many ways I never thought possible. It’s given me the opportunity to reach out and help others who have undergone traumatic events. All we can do is appreciate every new day as a blessing. Live it fully and embrace the life you have been given.

Photo by Philip Murphy.

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