It’s our last week to celebrate Women’s History Month and we are celebrating with a woman who is a lover of travel, shoes, fitness and sky-diving.
By Courtney Verrill
Amanda Young always travels in style with her shoes that stand out and a show stopping wheelchair. Young, who has traveled to 46 of the 50 states in the United States and seen all of Europe, prefers to travel solo. Although she lives with spina bifida and must travel everywhere in a wheelchair, traveling alone is her preferred choice.
“I travel alone almost exclusively,” says Young. “Doing so gives me a freedom to see so much and see it the way that I want to.”
Thoughts on accessible travel
“First and foremost, when I’m traveling internationally I understand that the history and the buildings are hundreds of years old, and I never expect anything to be accessible,” says Young. “But I’d never let the accessibility, or lack thereof, keep me away from a place if that’s where I want to go.”
If she needs help while traveling, Young is not afraid to ask a stranger, and she’s had good experiences with people’s willingness to help her.
“I won’t hesitate to speak up and find someone around that is willing to help me get into someplace, and I’ve never been in a spot where I haven’t found someone willing to help. Typically, speaking up and asking gets me into some pretty amazing spots – from the oldest pub in Ireland, to parts of castles that not everyone gets to see, to back roads of markets that others who aren’t familiar with the area might not see,” she says.
When traveling in the U.S., Young doesn’t expect every place she goes to be completely accessible. Luckily for her, she can transfer in and out of her wheelchair relatively easy, so she can step out if needed.
Tires that stand out
Young decided to put her own twist to her wheelchair by ordering colorful beach cruiser bike tires from a local bike shop in her current residence of Ohio.
“It [the tires] has changed the way so many people interact and perceive my disability,” says Young. “It went from awkward introductions and ‘oh we’re so sorry you’re in a wheelchair’ to ‘those are awesome tires! Where did you get them?’ What a conversation starter!”
With 18 different color tires to choose from, Young uses her wheelchair as a fashion accessory to coordinate with her mood, need, or her favorite accessory – her shoes.
Her love of shoes
“Oh shoes, my love affair besides adventure and travel!” laughs Young.
Her love of shoes started out with a simple pair of cowboy boots and has grown into a wild love affair.
“From cowboy boots my addiction found running shoes. I know Amanda, you don’t run,” she laughs. “But I do workout, at least six days a week, so I need running shoes.”
As she got older, Young became more interested in fashion and decided to be adventurous when it comes to shoes. She has shoes of all kinds, including high heels and the tallest boots she can find – but, she hasn’t always been so adventurous when it comes to shoes.
“It wasn’t until I ordered this last chair though, that I really came into my own as a shoe aficionado,” she says. “When I designed the footplate on my current wheelchair, I kept the footplate open with no cover on it, I could drop a super tall heel into that open footplate and wear the tallest heel I could find or wanted. Now, if you peek in my closet, I have boots in every shape, color and height since truthfully, I can wear them any day I want. The ladies that walk? Not so much. Hands down, one of the best things about my chair”
For Young, shoes are her outlet. Just as getting bike tires for her wheelchair, wearing adventurous shoes has changed the way people approach her and her disability.
Her love for fitness and sports
When Young was a child she walked with crutches until she had spinal fusion at the age of 10. Since then, Young has exclusively used a wheelchair. Not only does Young live with spina bifida, she is also living with shunted hydrocephalus, one kidney, and bowel and bladder issues.
Although these health issues have continued, Young has continued to live her life as she pleases and continues to be physically fit and very active with adaptive sports.
“I’ve been active ever since I can remember,” she says. “From horseback riding as a youngster to pushing races in those old chairs with my mother, track and field and wheelchair basketball as a high school student. I participated in team sports until college. After that it’s been all adventure sports. Downhill skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding, archery, air guns, mountain climbing, downhill mountain biking and throw in some four wheeling for good measure.
Young works out five to six days a week to keep in shape so she can be active in all her sports. She lifts heavy weights two to three times a week, cardio one to two times a week, and squeezes in yoga here and there.
“Fitness has become a part of the fun in my life. I work out with friends and that’s kept me accountable and given me some of my greatest friendships as an adult,” she says.
Being so active and involved in fitness has helped her stay physically fit so she is able to partake in travel and adventure.
Most important travel accessories
“My most important travel accessories are a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, a passport and my portable hand controls,” says Young.
Young makes sure she always has her portable hand controls in case she rents a car or if she has a breakdown with her own car. Her portable hand controls have gotten her out of trouble more times than she can count.
As for always having her passport, she believes it is a necessary accessory in case of a spontaneous decision to leave the country.
“They come in handy if you take a left turn and decide to head out of the country instead of around the corner. Life’s short, I want to see as much of this beautiful world we live in as I can,” she says.
The thrill of sky-diving
Young loves a good thrill, and sky-diving is an excellent way for her to get that endorphin rush. Rather than sitting and watching television, Young prefers to get out there and take part in adventures.
“Of course, I said to myself, ‘what the heck are you doing?’” laughs Young. “If you watch the first video [of her sky-diving] you’ll see one tiny finger holding onto the edge of that plane before I jumped. The first time the door opened, and there was nothing on my hip to lean against, and you look out into 10,000 feet of clear blue sky to the earth below – it is unreal. And then you dive, head first, and do a somersault, or two or three.”
Young may be disabled, but that does not matter to her when she is jumping out of a plane.
“My legs don’t cooperate here on earth but up there, legs are secondary. Yes, you need them to regulate steering and speed but you don’t have to stand up. It is the most freeing, unbelievable feeling I’ve ever had. You’re hurtling towards earth at 120 miles per hour and smiling the whole way down,” she says.
Women’s History Month
Young has admiration for many women, but the woman she looks up to most is her grandmother.
“She lived every day of her life. She took care of her family with grace, humor and love. She was kind but strong, and no push over. She was headstrong and gorgeous. She painted beautiful pictures with her words. She was adventure. She was imperfectly perfect and she was love. You couldn’t want much more,” says Young.
Advice to newly disabled women
“First and foremost, give yourself some grace and understanding. Take the time you need to accept yourself as you are in that moment, but always have goals to work towards. Make little goals that you can achieve and see success and big goals that get you up in the morning and let your soul burn a little. Find those soul burning things. Whether it’s sky diving, fitness, crafts, writing or painting – find those and work for them. Life is imperfect. If you expect perfection and positivity all the time, you’ll be miserable. Don’t accept that for your life. There are moments when I curl up and want to be a hermit and disappear. Do it. But give it a time limit – fifteen minutes. Then get your butt out of bed and go live. Go live the life you choose. If you’re struggling, reach out. No one will understand the exact struggle you’re facing, but we all face struggles. A support system is vital. Whether it’s friends or family. Find your people and build those relationships. Your disability is a part of who you are, not the whole entity. Don’t let it engulf you. Live with it. Embrace the whole of who you are. You’re not just one thing, you are so many things woven together. And if you only remember one thing, remember to laugh. Laugh as much as you can as long as you can.”