August 21, 2013
My name is Kris Gulden and I am honored to be writing for The HERO Blog.
I was paralyzed in a car vs. bicycle accident when I was 31 years old.
I have used a manual wheelchair for the past fifteen years.
I’m damn lucky.
My parents raised my brothers and me to be active and athletic kids, and we learned from their example that it was okay to challenge established rules.
There was not a softball league for girls in Northumberland, Pennsylvania when I was growing up, so I was the first girl in town to play Little League baseball with the boys.
When I was in the 4th and 5th grades, I was the only girl on Second Street Elementary School’s flag football team.
I was on the swim team and the diving team from age 6 – 13. I played field hockey, basketball and softball in high school, and when I was cut from the softball team as a freshman in college, I joined the women’s rugby club.
My brothers and I were always at the swimming pool in the summer, our family vacationed at the beaches along the east coast during summer breaks from school, and we spent many days and nights water-skiing and canoeing near our home on the Susquehanna River.
I was as comfortable in the water as I was on land, and the lessons I learned as a youngster have undoubtedly shaped my adjustment to living with a spinal cord injury as an adult.
After graduation from college in 1988, I moved to Virginia where I accepted a job with the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office. I later became a police officer in Alexandria. And when I wasn’t at work I was at the gym working out.
I started doing triathlons in 1991, and the more races I did, the more I wanted to do. I liked challenging and testing my limits. I wanted to run faster and ride farther, and when I set out for a bike ride on May 26, 1998, my years of training for triathlons (and a Bell helmet) saved my life.
I was rushed to the hospital with three broken vertebrae, a broken breastbone, a broken clavicle, two broken ribs, a traumatic brain injury, and a spinal cord that was bruised and displaced at the T4 level.
I was going to need all the training I had previously done to make it through the greatest endurance event I would ever face – life as a paraplegic (a sense of humor is helpful, too ;))
The last fifteen years have been a mixture of pleasure and pain, great joy and tremendous sorrow.
I’ve traded my running shoes for hand controls, surrendered the hobbies that sustained me, and retired from the job that I loved.
I never picked up my niece or nephew when they were babies, and I will never hike through the woods with my yellow Lab, Ocho.
But I’ve found new pursuits to replace the old – I ride a handcycle instead of a bicycle, I prefer kayaks to canoes, and I became a PADI certified scuba diver in 2011.
Scuba diving is the one activity where I can be totally free, and since my mom and brother have also become divers, I am able to once again share something I love with people I love.
While some people might think I dive in spite of my spinal cord injury, I think it’s because of my injury that I started diving.
The sense of freedom that I experience when diving is not something I would appreciate if I were not paralyzed. The peace and tranquility of being 40’ under the surface of the ocean are so polar opposite of the challenges I face on land.
The fish don’t care that I can’t walk, and I don’t need to be concerned about curb cuts or ramp angles when I’m gliding over a coral reef.
Becoming a PADI certified scuba diver gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and as was the case with triathlons all those years ago, the more I dive, the more I want to dive.
I started a web site, linked to here -–> www.paradives.net – to share my travel & dive stories.
I have also created a fundraising page, linked to here <– in support of Make A Hero’s production of The Current because I believe each of us has a story worth telling.
My hero Christopher Reeve once said, “Either you choose to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out into the ocean”.
I am fortunate to have loyal, loving and supportive family and friends who have always encouraged me to pursue what makes me happy, even if it seems risky, nonconformist, or unconventional.
I am damn lucky that those who are closest to me know the bottom of the ocean looks a whole lot better than the shallow end of the pool.
*** Make A Hero is a registered 501(c)3, non-profit, creating adaptive sports films and media content, inspiring individuals with disabilities to enjoy the freedom of participation in adaptive sports & recreation.
Please help us spread the word about Kris Gulden, the Make A Hero Cast, and everyday heroes, by sharing this post through the social media buttons on this page, learning how you can Make A Hero, subscribing to The HERO Newsletter, and / or giving a generous monetary donation. Thank you! ***