COMMUNITY STORIES | 10.6.2015 | BY JULIE SIMON
The journey started a few hours before the following post-surgery consultation and conversation that my husband, Jerry Simon, had with a neurosurgeon:
“She’s very lucky to be alive. She has sustained numerous severe injuries – many of them to the head and face. She has lost a lot of blood. She has a fractured sternum. A portion of her skull was dislodged in the accident…” (from the orbital socket to the crown of her head was torn off her body and retrieved from the accident scene) “...She has numerous facial fractures. We will take you back to see her. There is a suture across her face and forehead. Her head is very swollen. She will not look the same as when she left this morning.” By this time, I had kind of figured that out. WOW. Anything else? “She has sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)…” OK, no more questions… I really don’t need to know any more. WOW, talk about a wakeup call.
Fast forward to today...
My journey is about SO many things, but the topic of this specific journey is our trek up Pikes Peak as Team Simon for the 2015 Pikes Peak Challenge – a fundraiser benefitting the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. This is our second year participating and may remain an annual event. This year is special – the event is in September and this September marks the five year anniversary of my blessing in maintaining as a TBI survivor.
The journey starts early in Manitou Springs Colorado – 4:00 a.m. wakeup call to catch the shuttle for a 5:00 a.m. start time. The trailhead is bustling with activity as we begin the hike.
The first two hours we are hiking in the dark. We are fortunate to get far enough up the trail to see a magnificent sunrise over Colorado Springs and the Eastern Plains.
This hike is about so much more than achieving the summit of Pikes Peak. Before my injuries, my husband Jerry and I summited 45 of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains with summit elevation of 14,000 feet or higher.) The journey up Pikes Peak via the Barr Camp trail is a long day (over 13 miles and 7,400 feet of elevation gain) but it is nothing compared to the journey of recovery from a TBI. The journey up Pikes Peak has a definite end… the summit. The journey of recovery from a TBI is a lifelong journey. The journey of recovery is one of the highest “mountains” I may ever attempt to climb. I am grateful to have the opportunity and ability to partake in the Pikes Peak Challenge along with many other survivors and caregivers (I was fortunate to have my husband by my & our young daughter’s side, as a primary caregiver!) The support given by all of the volunteers is second to none in any of the events I have ever participated in.
Before long, we get our first view of Pikes Peak.
The halfway point of the hike is Barr Camp. We stopped for a snack and to fill up the water bottles. “Onward and upward” is Team Simon’s rally call and before long, we start off for the second half of the hike.
Pictured above is my stuffed mountain goat, who was named ‘Spire’ as we ascended the mountain this year, and deemed our Team Simon mascot.
I was also inspired to wear my “Wonder Woman” sunglasses! These were given to me for inspiration during my recovery.
“Onward and upward” applies beyond our rally call. It is an inspirational statement that a magnificent spiritual counseling teacher gave me during an extremely stressful and low point earlier in my recovery. I try to remind myself with it daily, and it continues to renew me, and literally applies on this climb! Much like the journey of recovery, the journey up Pikes Peak was a team effort. Our hiking partners were very supportive and we all provided encouragement for each other throughout the day.
The summit is in sight. We reach The 16 Golden Stairs. It's a little misleading, since it’s not really stairs, but a series of 16 more switchback turns to reach the summit.
We are so close to the top, and before long…..WE MADE IT!!!
Achieving the summit of Pikes Peak is a flood of emotions… HAPPINESS that we have achieved the day’s goal and that we have enjoyed a beautiful day in the mountains; PRIDE at thinking of how far we have come on the journey of recovery and how far all of my fellow survivors have come; JOY at being able to share the experience with my husband, great friends, and many other survivors and caregivers; and to some degree, SADNESS that the day has to come to an end, but the overriding emotion is mostly LOVE because I am thankful I got to share this journey again(!) with every single member of Team Simon and all the other participants and volunteers.
It truly was a special day, and thanks to the hard work of so many medical professionals, caregivers, friends, and family, I am blessed to LIVE and experience many more days like this. Achieving the summit is an accomplishment, but, as Jerry wrote in a card to me on my birthday a couple of years ago, “It’s not how you celebrate the summit, but how you weather the storm that matters.” Much like life, you don’t conquer the mountain, you only experience it, and I am grateful that by Grace, Love, Belief and Endurance, I am able to continue to experience the mountain of life, to make the most of each day I get, and to continue to traverse its slopes a while longer.
The journey of the last five years is not something Jerry or I asked for or would wish on anyone, but the lesson to me is that we are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for, and that our only limits are those which we place on ourselves. There are things that are more difficult for me than they used to be, and there are still some down days when I feel ‘victimized,' but over time I have come to realize that dwelling on the past only sets limits and boundaries. EVERYBODY experiences valleys on their journey through life, some more challenging than others. How you deal with them and move forward from the valleys is what matters. It's all about how you weather the storm. Rather than live like a victim and dwell on what happened, I try to keep moving forward, persevering slowly up the mountain, and live like a VICTOR instead of a victim.
Thanks for reading and please always remember- one baby step and one summit at a time: ONWARD AND UPWARD!!!! -Julie Simon