One Wyoming women captures the spirit of living life with a disability and lands this year’s Get Out, Enjoy Life top spot
The best moments in life often happen outside of our comfort zone says this year’s Get Out Enjoy Life Summer Tour 2017 photo contest winner, Ashlee Lundvall.
For Lundvall, leading an active lifestyle is just a normal part of her everyday life. The 34-year-old self-proclaimed “outdoor girl” says Wyoming begs you to get out and enjoy life and despite living with a T-12 spinal-cord injury, that’s just what she does.
Lundvall fell off of a hay rack and landed on the wooden handle of a pitchfork she had been using to feed some steers. The impact caused a blowout fracture at T-12 and a permanent spinal-cord injury. For the first time in her young life, she was forced to recognize her limitations.
“I suddenly couldn’t do something, and there wasn’t anything I could do to change that fact,” says Lundvall. “It took a long time, but once I admitted that loss, I was able to move forward and focus on what I could do. I realized that my disability didn’t make me weaker; it made me exponentially stronger because it forced me to work harder to achieve my goal.”
The defining moment for Lundvall came several months after her injury while still in rehab. She struggled with anger and depression, but was oblivious to how her attitude was affecting those around her.
“I finally noticed how hard the situation was on my parents, and I understood that this loss was not mine alone,” says Lundvall. “I made the decision there to want to and try to change my outlook, for my sake and for the sake of those who loved me.”
The name of the contest is Get Out, Enjoy Life and for Lundvall, keeping active has become a normal part of her daily life. She’s found the benefits of being active helps her physical health as well as her mental health. People living with a disability are three times as likely to suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other issues that can affect your quality of life.
“Instead of spending hours at the gym, I find that I do better by maintaining an active lifestyle and being as independent as I can possibly be,” says Lundvall.
“I find that if I sit around doing nothing, my mind wanders and I struggle with depression and other negative emotions. I don’t have time to be stagnant and feel sorry for myself; there are too many goals and activities that I still have to complete”
After her accident she assumed, like a lot of people do, that her disability meant she would be forced to remain indoors. Discovering that she could still go outdoors and live an active lifestyle saved her life.
Lundvall feels most at peace in the outdoors, and her best memories and incredible moments of healing have happened there. For her contest photo, her and her husband Russ and daughter, Addison, wanted to get one more day of fishing in before homeschooling and hunting season took over their busy schedules, so they headed to the Clark’s Fork River in Clark, Wyo.
“It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we enjoyed a wonderful morning of fishing before a storm blew through the canyon and up the river and sent us scurrying back to the truck,” Lundvall recalls.
“This picture shows me several things. First, that the outdoors doesn’t have to be a scary place for people living with a disability. With the right support system, adaptive equipment and adventurous spirit, anyone can enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.”
Lundvall’s photo brilliantly exemplifies the GOEL philosophy of being active, brave and adventurous and certainly gives us a glimpse into the beauty of her home state of Wyoming.
“I’m thankful to live in a state where I’m surrounded by views just like this on a daily basis,” says Lundvall. “This picture is an example of what a redefined life can look like. My ranching accident was over 18 years ago, and I firmly believe that all of the amazing things in my life are a direct result of that day. After choosing to redefine my life, I’ve found that I love it, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
Lundvall reached the rivers edge with the help of her Action Track chair, which happens to be her favorite piece of adaptive equipment. While she admits that it’s definitely an investment, she’s absolutely convinced how it has changed how she accesses the outdoors.
“On this fishing trip, we searched a few different spots before finding an area where I could get my chair down close to the river’s edge,” says Lundvall. “The path was steep and rocky, but I was able to maneuver independently for most of the way. In my manual chair, it would have been impossible to reach the same spot without serious damage to myself or my manual chair.”
From Four Sport athlete to Outdoor Girl
Fishing is just one of many activities that keep Lundvall active; her favorite being hunting. “I wasn’t a hunter before my accident,” says Lundvall. “[But] now my arena is the great outdoors. I love that hunting connects me to nature, pushes me physically and mentally, allows me to provide organic meat for my family, and places me in the largest group of conservationists in the world. Now, I can’t imagine my life without hunting.”
Lundvall encourages people to take the time to grieve after a SCI, but instead of allowing the injury to consume you, she says making the choice to move forward will help towards a better transition.
“No one can force you into an active lifestyle after an injury,” says Lundvall. “It has to be something you want. It really all comes down to a choice. Will you allow your injury to rob you of a wonderful life, or will you redefine your life and go forward with a changed attitude?”
Conquering the Fear
Lundvall has always considered herself to be a brave person. Like so many others living with a spinal-cord injury, the sudden loss of control and the unknown can be daunting to navigate.
“One specific thing that frightened me was falling out of my wheelchair with no one else around,” says Lundvall. “I had practiced recovering from this in therapy, but I was in a safe environment surrounded by medical staff. I finally had to make the decision to not let my fear overcome my desire for my own life. And guess what happened? I fell out of my chair when no one else was around. And I adapted and I survived.”
Get Out, Enjoy Life
For seven years, SPORTS `N SPOKES have presented GOEL in the hopes of encouraging people to get out and enjoy life through accessible travel, sports and recreational activities.
“What I love most about the Get Out, Enjoy Life contest is the variety in the submitted photos,” says Lundvall. “If society thinks that people with disabilities lead boring lives, they haven’t been paying attention. If you decide to live an active lifestyle, the paths to accomplishing that goal are endless. Sure, you may find some things that you don’t enjoy, but the journey towards the activities you will fall in love with is a lot of fun.”
The Next Adventure
As active as Lundvall might be, there’s always one more adventure she’d like to try and skydiving is high on her bucket list.
“I have friends with disabilities who have done it,” says Lundvall. “But my husband has firmly placed his spousal veto on the idea. Although, the twenty-year anniversary of my accident is quickly approaching, so maybe I can change Russ’ mind.”
“Start small and continue to challenge yourself,” says Lundvall. “Get outside your comfort zone and try new things. You might be surprised what activities you fall in love with.”
If you’d like to contact Lundvall, visit her website at www.ashlesslundvall.com