A fully-functioning body and the ability to walk is something most of us take for granted. Imagine if you can though, one day losing the use of your legs forever. This became Jodie Kroone’s reality three years ago when a cruel twist of fate snatched away her ability to walk. She was just 22 years old.
In the three three years since the fateful car accident that resulted in Jodie becoming a paraplegic, this beautiful woman with an unbreakable spirit and insatiable hunger for life has made it her goal to help others who are physically challenged by sharing her inspiring journey.
Blonde, with dreamy blue eyes and an infectious smile, Jodie is full of character. She’s gentle, but raw and honest with a refreshing sense of humour. Her wit is admirable and her story quite heart breaking, but she shares it without hesitation because talking heals and if she can change perceptions and help others to never give up, then she will never stop sharing.
“I was 22, celebrating my independence and a promising future ahead of me when an innocent night out with friends and the pressure of being tailed by two policemen on a quiet road late at night put me in a panicked state. I wasn’t over the limit (this was confirmed), and what was usually a regular route home for me turned into a nightmare that left me with a thoracic spinal cord injury. I remember begging for help … and then the Jaws of Life being used to extract me from the car.”
When Jodie’s parents arrived at the hospital they were told that her spine was badly damaged. She underwent two operations to fuse the vertebrae (the first of which resulted in her lungs collapsing and her being put on machines until she miraculously managed to breathe on her own). She then spent the next four months in hospital and at rehabilitation centres.
“Little did I know, this was just the beginning of many challenges I would have to face. Coming home to live with my parents again and having to rely on them for help with my daily routines was overwhelming but my family have been incredible. At some point, I realised I needed to mourn my previous life, so I could get on with accepting and adjusting to a new way of living.”
Now Jodie is a T3 paraplegic doing her absolute best to adapt and live a full life in a wheelchair.
“A lot of people think I’m paralysed from the waist down, but my paralysis starts from my chest because there is damage at my thoracic level, but my cord isn’t severed. My core is very weak and my balance is not so great. I have slight sensation in my legs, but no movement.”
In spite of it all though, Jodie is confident and tries never to lose hope. Her positive approach and openness have made her an inspiration within her community. She shares her stories of tragedy, recovery and go-getting adventures, all while pioneering for change and awareness through her role as Marketing and Public Relations Specialist and Social Media Manager for the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA). This October 8 marked the third anniversary of Jodie’s accident which, in the spinal cord injury word, she says, is called your ‘Life Day’ – the celebration of a second chance at life.
“On my first anniversary, only eight months out of hospital, I entered a swimming race called Capital K at Midmar Dam (not a disabled event). I completed it, thanks to aqua training in a heated pool with my swim coach and physiotherapist, Tarryn Filday, and I didn’t come last! I realised how much freedom the water allowed me – and felt how good it was to achieve this small, but important goal.”
Jodie has completed two Capital K races and hopes to do so every year as a way of reminding herself how hard it was in the beginning and what she is capable of now.
“When I think about my disability, I tend to split my body in two; the working and the not working. There was so much I thought I couldn’t do because of the physical limitations of being in a wheelchair, but part of my healing journey has included various physical therapies and experiences that changed my entire attitude towards my disability and, ultimately, my whole outlook on life.”
Volunteering at the QASA offices in Gillitts, Jodie met Dale Guthrie, an MSc occupational therapist in neuroscience, certified yoga and adaptive yoga instructor and founder of Holism Health. Her aim is to provide adaptive yoga, focussed on inclusivity in her classes, so that anyone using a wheelchair, crutch or walker can feel welcome.
“I had no idea how beneficial this would be to my recovery. I’d said ‘goodbye’ to yoga because I couldn’t imagine arriving at a yoga class in my wheelchair and expect the instructor to understand my limits but through Dale I have learnt that the essence of yoga lies in gaining mastery of your thoughts and bringing attention to your inner body. This is an advantage for those who no longer feel connected to their bodies. Gaining control over emotions and working through trauma is important for moving forward and this opportunity allowed me to feel liberated.”
Although she’s had slow progress in her everyday independence, there hasn’t been much change in Jodie’s initial diagnosis.
“I’m often asked whether I will walk again, and I have mixed feelings talking about it. Each case is unique. There is a lot of hope in medical advances, especially with the likes of Elon Musk around and human trials being FDA approved for 2021. I also get asked about whether I can have children, and the answer is yes! Getting married and starting a family was always on the cards for me and fortunately still is. Right now, I have an amazing boyfriend, Joel, who met after my accident and who has become my friend, my sounding board, my partner in crime and my pillar of strength. I still try to remain as independent as I can be though!”
Despite all her limitations, Jodie’s life is full of excitement, with skydiving shark cage diving being amongst some of her most recent adventures.
“I got a call from the guys at Durban Skydive Centre in Eston who told me about their ‘Free fly for Ferdi’ initiative (following the death of their friend who was passionate about adventure and skydiving) to promote adventure and keep Ferdi’s zest for life alive by giving others (who might not ordinarily have the courage or means) the chance to experience such a bucket-list activity. Soaring through the sky was pure freedom, and now, as an ambassador for ‘Free fly for Ferdi’, it’s my mission to get others to experience the exhilaration of skydiving.”
Jodie was also approached by a film duo who came up with an idea to produce a short, inspirational film about adventure without limitation. The film (which is on YouTube and titled T-3 – A Short Adventure Film) chronicles some of Jodie’s adventures, only revealing her disability right at the end.
“Doing ‘normal’ things makes you feel human again after feeling so defeated. If I can go on these adventures, despite my injury, maybe I can inspire just one other person in a similar situation to just give it a try. I actually think I’m more adventurous now than I was ever before.”
Jodie still has a few other things on her ‘bucket list’, including doing a TED talk, building her own adapted house, being a TV presenter and making an impact through community development. “I haven’t camped, sailed, gone horse riding or travelled abroad since my injury and I can’t wait to get to see what the accessible world looks like out there! Yes, I’ve had moments where I questioned if I could do this, but I’ve tried to embrace what I can control rather than focus on what I can’t. I hope to show others in similar situations to mine that there is much to look forward to.”
Venue: Talloula Botha’s Hill www.talloula.co.za @TalloulaBothasHill
Hair by: Shade Farrell – Strands Hair by Design @ strandshairbydesign
Dress by: Chanel Stone – @ChicaBoutiqueza
Make up: Jacqui Trinder, Accentuate Hair and Makeup, 079 541 2551, www.professionalmakeupartist.co.za