Recently I wrote about living apart from my husband so that I can pursue my dream career of modeling. Some of the negative responses surprised me; it was even suggested that it would be great if I got disfigured someday. Little did that person know, I've already taken that journey.
Nine years ago, I was 18 years old, about to begin my freshman year of college softball. It was spring training, and my teammates and I were on the dirt diamond, running high speed endurance drills where the coaches hit softballs cross-field to all different positions at the same time.
I was the catcher. All I had to do was toss balls from a big pile to my coach, who was drilling them across the field to my teammates. That day, I had the most coveted spot on the field. Until I reached down for a ball and my coach swung clear across my face, breaking every bone from one cheek to the other.
I fell to my knees and remember very little, except for hearing a teammate’s voice saying, “You’re going to be OK, everything will be OK.”
I didn’t want to know what I looked like. I didn’t want to see what others were gasping at. And above all, I didn’t want to admit that I was pretty sure my face had just been crushed by a bat.
After being rushed to the hospital, I asked to call my Mom, but the athletic trainer insisted that I wait until later. Once I saw the X-ray of my facial bones shattered like a broken puzzle, I went weak, knowing that my high hopes for just a large contusion or black eye were also crushed.
I was seen by the surgeon immediately, who gave me instructions to prepare for surgery the next morning. Surgery?! I didn’t want to know details about the operation, I just wanted the doctor to make me look exactly the same as before the accident. I had to provide him with a recent picture of myself so that he could try his best to put everything in the right place.
At the time, I wasn’t so worried about scars, but I was scared of going through an operation with a long, hard recovery. I didn't have much support except for a few saintly friends who checked in on me between their busy schedules.
Later that day, the same trainer took me from the doctor’s office and dropped me off at my car at the university. Later I drove alone to the nearest pharmacy, with tears dripping down my face and blood running from my nose. I gave the stack of prescriptions I’d need for surgery the next day to the pharmacist, who in turn, handed me several tissues for my bloody nose and asked if I was okay.
I nodded my head and walked over to a long row of neatly stacked toilet paper packages and tried to hide while I cried. At that moment, I was alone. So, so alone.
I finally was able to call my Mom and tell her the bad news. She immediately got in the car and made a six hour drive in four and a half hours. I went through surgery and the following two weeks were incredibly painful.
Having nasal packaging pulled out of your nose is like waxing the inside of your nose and stretching each nostril to the size of a lime in the matter of seconds. And you’re awake the entire time.
That year alone, I had maxillofacial reconstruction, a serious staph infection that flared up after surgery, a repeat case of mononucleosis with full-blown hives and two fractured metatarsals, one in each foot. To make matters worse, some teammates bullied me for not trying to come back and train hard a couple days after the accident.
There were also a few good eggs who really supported me. Girls who slept over on a couch to keep me company and make sure that I was OK. Girls who pushed me through my workouts to get back onto the playing field. Those moments of kindness have been burned in my mind forever.
Another challenge was dealing with people's reactions to my injuries. For weeks, I watched everyone wince with pain, every time they'd peer over their textbook to take a quick peek at me, or they'd turn around at the lunch table to see the girl with the cast on her face walk by. I felt so ostracized. It didn't help that I walked with a limp, which drew attention to the hard white cast plastered across my face. (Or was it the other way around?)
I thought about applying to a new school, to get a new start where people didn’t know me as "The Girl with the Face Cast," but that didn’t feel right. I knew I had resilience; giving up didn't feel true to who I was. So I chose to make the best of the situation, to tackle the obstacles with humor, patience and love.
I finished that grim first year in college. I traded in my athletic scholarship to begin living. Instead of playing softball, I chose to dedicate my next three years of school to proving that I was a survivor. A thriver, even.
With all of the adversity that I faced in my first year, I had enough fire in my belly that only helped me to graduate from the school of business, but to graduate as the student president of the business school. I then went on to my own several of my own businesses.
It took me about four years to heal completely; I was about 22 years old when I could finally look in the mirror and see the old me. The me without the disfigurement and swelling. The me that people had trouble seeing when they'd stare at my healing face.
That same year, I was approached by a model who suggested that I see an agent to pursue modeling as a career. It was exciting; I never truly believed that moving on from my injury could go so far as becoming a professional model. I let the idea sink in for a year, and after a close relative of mine passed away, I decided that life was too short and it was time to make my mark.
Sure, it seemed like a pipe dream at first, especially the idea of clients paying me to travel the world to take my picture. (In fact, it still sounds a bit crazy!) For years, I put in the hard work and have since built a tremendous amount of self esteem and confidence.
I wanted to stand up for people who had been through adversity, seen the dark side, and clawed their way back to the top (and even further). I wanted to encourage people to pursue their dreams and not let the devastating bumps in the road stop them from reaching their goals. I wanted to be the cheerleader and the support system that wasn’t there in my darkest hour, to champion equality and to be a symbol of hard work.
I remember seeing my first big magazine editorial in Elle Canada about body diversity. It went viral, perhaps because it stood for so many wonderful things that are right about our society. We're accepting bodies, we're moving on from trauma, and we're making something that was broken, beautiful again. This image will always be my redemption for the pain and years of seeing the healing disfigurement on my face, every time that I looked in the mirror.
Today I am a full time model and I have a blog, where I write about all things kind living: Cruelty-free food, fashion, beauty, and travel. I also speak publicly about overcoming adversity as a teen, and how to build a strong identity in a personal brand.
Now, I can live in the present, no longer dreaming, but doing. Sharing inspiration and blowing air back into that college girl’s fire, making it roar louder and grow larger with each person I touch.
If I can do it, then there’s no excuse why you can’t meet me here, at the top of the mountain that I’ve built from all of the dirt that life has thrown me.
Photo Credit: Michael Weschler