Kristina Rhoades had to learn how to think creatively when she became a mother of a little girl.
Before Kristina Rhoades could even walk or talk, she was involved in a domestic violence incident that led her to be injured for the rest of her life. At just 10 months old, the incident caused a T5 spinal-cord injury and she has been a wheelchair user ever since.
“Growing up, I was really the only person in a wheelchair I knew,” said Rhoades. “I was the only one in my entire elementary school, middle school and high school, the only one in my family, and I didn’t really have other people to look at to see how they were doing it, like how are you reaching something from the top shelf or how are you getting up steps when nobody is home or getting down the curb. So, I had to become a critical thinker and figure those things out.”
Rhoades doesn’t view her experiences and struggles as negative. A mother and entreprenuer, she’s proud that they’ve led her to think more creatively when it comes to doing everyday tasks. They’ve even led her to write a book.
Rolling with Purpose
Rhoades’ first book, titled “Rolling with Purpose” is on the verge of being finished. It is a collection of personal stories from Rhoades’ life and her disability.
“It’s my way of showing them that we can make any experience in our lives that are perceived as negative and turn them into power in the sources of greatest learning and a transformation for us,” said Rhoades.
“One of the things that I talk about is living with challenges and when you have a disability everything becomes just a little more complicated,” Rhoades said. “You have to become a critical thinker, whether it’s reaching something off the top shelf, parenting or traveling, all that kind of stuff you have to think outside the box and figure out a different way than you’ve maybe traditionally seen it.”
Sense of adventure
Rhoades and husband, Jacob, just recently packed up their successful lives in Atlanta, Ga. to start a new business in the small town of Monticello, N.M. that is the first ever totally accessible wellness retreat. Rhoades left her job as a national sales manager for Eldorado Mobility and her husband left his job in the film industry with all the confidence in the world to start this new journey. The wellness retreat will offer a variety of therapies, meditation, yoga and much more.
Rhoades and her husband love to travel and be outdoors, whether they’re rock climbing, hanging out at the beach, or just exploring their new town in the state of New Mexico. Rhoades and her husband love traveling to much that her 5-year-old daughter, Kamryn, had been on more than 30 airplanes before her first birthday.
“We believe that this world is meant to be experienced, so we try to do as much of that as possible,” Rhoades said.
Experiencing new cultures, languages and different people is very important to Rhoades and her family. Rhoades and her husband decided to homeschool their daughter so they could have the freedom to teach while they travel and so Kamryn can experience different places firsthand.
“We like to call it life-lead learning,” Rhoades said. “[It’s about] finding things that she is interested in and that we’re interested in as a family and learning about them and diving into them together.”
Rhoades is a huge advocate for people in the disabled community, https://www.kristinarhoades.com/. It started when she was in middle school and she got certified as a peer mentor and would talk with her classmates who were having a hard time. By the age of 16 she was certified as a suicide intervention and domestic violence mentor. This led her to become a life coach for people who need help or need to talk to someone.
“Our state of mind is really the most important thing in our lives, in our physical health and our mental health, they have a serious impact on how our bodies feel, what we believe we are capable of, and how healthy we believe we can be or the jobs we believe we can achieve,” Rhoades said. “Those things have real serious tangible impacts on our lives, and the more we believe in ourselves and the possibilities that this world has to offer the better off we will be. I became more and more passionate as I got older about helping people shift their perspective.”
Motherhood on wheels
Rhoades had wanted to be a mother as long as she could remember, so when she found out she was pregnant with Kamryn she was ecstatic.
“I like to say doctors never really told me I couldn’t [have children] but they never really told me I could either,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades had never known someone with her exact injury who had carried a baby full-term without any complications. This is where her idea of critical thinking and independence became very important.
“All the muscles that I use currently, I really had to change those muscles,” Rhoades said. “For example, just rolling up a hill I usually lean forward onto my knees and that’s where my strength is, but with a [pregnant] belly I couldn’t lean forward anymore and I had to stay back and kind of wheel up the hill without popping a wheelie and it was tough.”
While Rhoades had planned on having a natural birth, her body planned on delivering a whole different way. Rhoades was having contractions and was in labor – a month earlier than expected – but she was not dilating properly. The doctors scheduled a C-section where she could stay awake during the surgery, but that also failed. Because of a spinal fusion Rhoades had when she was younger, the doctors were unable to give her an epidural for the procedure and they had to put her under general anesthesia to deliver.
Being a mother to a newborn while in a wheelchair had a lot of learning curves. Rhoades doesn’t have great balance, so being gentle when moving her sleeping baby was nearly impossible.
“I had to lift her with one hand, hold onto my chair with the other hand and drop her down into the crib kind of like helicopter style,” Rhoades laughed.
Then, Kamryn started pulling herself up on her own at just 4 months old.
“I could stand her up and hold onto her hands and she’d hold onto my fingers and at 4 months old her little tiny, shaky legs would be standing up and I think it’s because she knew I needed her,” Rhoades said. “I swear that she learned how to help me at a very young age and pushed with her legs and she would do these little things that are just amazing. It’s miracle that babies can sense it.”
When it came to picking her daughter up off the ground, Rhoades came up with a very creative system.
“I would just come up and either make sure she had clothes on that were durable like overalls or onesies that I could literally grab the material on the back and grab her with one arm off the floor and into my lap so I could still hold on,” Rhoades said. “When she got a little big for that, I would wrap a scarf under her arms and make like a belt around her chest and lift her up off the floor that way, so it goes back to the creativity and figuring out a way to get it done. But now we got a pretty good system and she’s 5 and almost as tall as me. We are pretty much unstoppable and there’s nothing we can’t reach together.”
Advice to future mothers on wheels
“First of all, believe in your body and the potential of it. The human body is magnificent, we get a little bit lost in western medicine with diagnosis and limitations and why things won’t work and why we’ll be unhealthy, and if I had believed a couple of the doctors along the way that told me they didn’t think I could have kids I may not have had kids. So believe in yourself and the potential that’s out there. Second, it goes back to the critical thinking. There’s always a way we can figure it out and get it done, and the way that other people are doing it is not always the best way for us, especially if we have some of those physical limitations, we’re going to have to figure things out for ourselves and how it works best with our specific wheelchair, with our specific car that we drive. We’re all going to have to be creative and figure it out, but there is a way to do it and there are mothers doing it every day that have much less physical ability than I do are doing it and fathers, and so the belief in the potential in yourself and then to know that as long as you’re willing to think creative and stuff outside the box and make your own trail, there’s a way to get it done,” Rhoades said.